Last week, the Facebook account of the Santa Fe Comic Con thought it was doing the right thing by promoting local cosplay at the expense of more famous out-of-town talent. Emphasis on thought. The communications meltdown that actually took place ended up a public relations shitstorm.
Note: The convention deleted most of its Facebook comments over the weekend in the wake of the fracas, leaving archives like this to record the conversation.
It all began here, with this single, slightly snarky post from organiser and promoter Jim Burleson:
Like I said, a weird thing to bother making a public post about, but for a smaller con, it’s a fair point. While some cosplayers are indeed cosfamous, many aren’t; Facebook followers are one thing, but an ability to sell tickets to a show in the real world is something else.
Back to that tone, though...a few posters called Burleson out on it. And that’s when it all went wrong.
As posters began questioning the motives and tone of the con’s replies and comments, things got heated (Note: graphics and emphasis in these screencaps are not mine).
Anyway, this went on for thousands of comments over a couple of days, culminating in this:
And this killing blow from Meagan Marie, who poignantly in this case is both a famous cosplayer and a community manager:
Shortly afterwards, the con’s Facebook page went back and deleted most of the relevant posts/comments, issuing this statement
Which was itself later deleted after it was called out by commenters as a non-apology.
In the wake of the mess, I spoke with Jim, and he tells Kotaku that his core concern arose from queries from cosplayers whose “m/o is to get promoters to cover costs with the enticement of providing sexy models in super hero costumes with no understanding of our industry or the art of cosplay.”
When I pointed out to him that he’d been lumping actual talented, famous cosplayers in with his statements on paid models—hence people’s negative reactions to the posts—he continued:
The people I was referring to is an influx of agency models being brought in from other promotional jobs like red bull promos and alcohol promos and told to wear super hero costumes and to be sexy. They aren’t in the industry at all, have no connection to cosplay at all, and are attending our conventions to capitalize on the growing crowds and popularity of the pop culture phenomenon. Literally fake cosplayers. Ask them who they are portraying, “I don’t know, cat something”. Much of my explanation of what I meant from the term “boob models” was not shared as I pretty clearly stated it was a term describing the above scenario. And the “boob model” quote itself was my impression of a promoter agreeing to the ridiculous terms of a model asking to be paid to come because he wanted to hang out with “boob models”. His term -per me. Heck, promoters should be mad at me, not cosplayers. I was adamant that cosplay was so much more than boobs and leggings. That it was passion for the industry, dedication to the art, and love for the fans. Promo models being paid to sign us all up for a chance to win a free cell phone don’t even want to be there, but they are rocking that pikachu costume with the boob window.
Burleson also says that any sites archiving images of the deleted posts have done so selectively, obscuring a massive deluge of comments and messages calling him “vile names and descriptions”, and says “had I used even one of those phrases on my post that I’m being attacked for I would be in convention jail right now.”
“The majority of the negative comments are coming from out of state and out of the country who would never have supported the show anyway. The witch hunt thankfully is being guided by people who don’t interact with our actual fan base.”
“I love the art of cosplay but an internet famous cosplay professional In Detroit who would never appear at my event as a fan of guest anyway, really isn’t my fan base”, Jim adds. “I’m all inclusive and have no restrictions except public decency laws so they could come dressed as whatever they want and I would be grateful, but I’m not paying them. I have amazing local cosplayers and designers who do everything those pros can do and more.”
“I’m no misogynist, said nothing sexist or even referenced actual cosplayers at all. When pressed I stated I don’t pay cosplayers and think that professional model agencies are going to destroy cosplay. (Now thinking after this mess: if cosplayers don’t do it first)“
“I love cosplay and the art of cosplay. No qualified factors”, Burleson says. “All cosplay is exciting to me. But putting on a costume and buying Facebook likes doesn’t make you a cosplay professional. You won’t be a guest at Santa Fe comic con.”
Organisers of other comic and cosplay conventions, there are two lessons to be learned here. The first is to fully understand and appreciate the diversity, creativity and nuances of the community you claim to speak for.
The second is to maybe hire a specialist to do your public relations and communications work for you.