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What the Heck Went Wrong at Universal FanCon?

What the Heck Went Wrong at Universal FanCon?

What the Heck Went Wrong at Universal FanCon?

Instead of a weekend focused on nerdy diversity, attendees got a hot mess. 


Last weekend was supposed to be an amazing, new, and refreshing pop culture convention for the under dogs who often get left out at mainstream cons. The fans that look more like T’challa than Steve Rodgers. The girls who want to save the princess themselves. The people who always see their disabilities as the first thing on the chopping-room floor of the few character who reflect them. The boys who realized that they were boys after arguing with their brother that they wanted to be Han Solo, not Princess Leia. Baltimore's Universal FanCon was supposed to be a place for those of us who get overlooked, even in the places we are suppose to be the most seen. But instead, the whole thing turned into a dramatic, and viral, mess

Fandom is a place meant for counter culture, where mutants are the heroes, and a better world is always being sought after. It’s an escape from the darkness that lies right outisde our door. And while now a days most fan communities are more welcoming than others, you still run into the same old bigoted shit the rest of the world has to offer. (Except because we’re nerds, they’re not just regular Nazis, their fur Nazis. Ugh.)

So it’s not hard to see why a con not just accepting of, but focused on diversity, got everyone’s attention. Even ours.  (I, personally, was kicking myself for not snagging an artist alley table while I could, and planning how to get there next year.) The buzz for this show was real. But like many things, if it’s too good to be true…it probably is.

The first bad sign happened on April 20, just seven days before the con was set to start. Hotel guests began to get notifications that their hotels rooms were cancelled. Not good. Less good when people who work in the hotel biz stated that the most likely reason for this to be happening was the venue not being paid by their deadline.

Uh oh.

Twitter lit up with confusion and worry. Not just from attendees, but also those involved: vendors, volunteers, and guests were left in the dark for hours, unsure of what was going on. Finally, hours later, an e-mail was sent out (with many private e-mails shared in the CC field of the e-mail) announcing FanCon's postponement (and not much else).

Was there writing on the wall? Yeah, some. Their Kickstarter was too good to be true, promising extravagant rewards like hotels for the weekend, meets and greets, and a full weekend at the con all for less than a single night in a hotel can cost in downtown Baltimore. The amount of money raised was pitifully small for an event the size they were planning, and one of the people in charge has already pulled this scam before. The most damning? Their PR seems to be a bot.

Really guys??

In the following days, there has been finger pointing, and attempts to shift the blame. A FAQ (which currently dominates FanCon's homepage) was released with lots of apologies and suggestions for what to do in Baltimore, including going to see Avengers: Infinity Wars with the con runners. Unsurprisingly, many didn’t feel terribly pleased with that response.

You can get all the down and dirty deets over at Woman Write About Comics, who did some indepth, investigative reporting on all the minutia of what went down. 

What hurts the most is that this came from our own community, and instead of standing and taking responsibility for it (something always preached in the socially aware, woke areas of fandom this con was born from) they have vanished with all the money from the people they hurt. And I’m not just talking about hurt feelings here. Universal FanCon is refusing to give any refunds. From the gossip mill, it sounds like they are in the hole. Days taken off of work, money sunk into hotel rooms, plane tickets, and all those Kickstarter funds are gone for an event that will not happen anytime in the foreseeable future. What's worse is that many, many vendors and artists (working class folks who wanted to share what they loved with their community) are out thousands of dollars! (If you want to help them out, a virtual artist alley pop up can be found here!) 

Over on The Root, writer Clarkisha Kent talks about the frustration and betrayal of having a pillar of your nerdy community shattered the way Black Girl Nerds editor-in-chief and FanCon co-founder Jamie Broadnax has. Broadnax has been working to wiggle away from accountability, demoting herself across social media in various steps to distance herself from a con she once declared herself co-founder of. But at least she’s saying something. Most everyone else has ghosted out. While she is definitely laying out some sketchy stories, no one else has said much of anything at all. Noticeably, Thai Pham, FanCon’s "Vice President of Convention Operations and Entertainment," is very noticeably absent from the conversation. But it's not surprising, since this isn’t the first time Pham has had this issue. He fundraised and then cancelled Anaheim’s PrideCon 10 days before the start of the show in 2016. 

While the con is still so silent, it’s hard to know how much of this was terrible management was done in good faith, and how much was intentionally malicious. It doesn’t look great, and no matter how you slice it, a lot of people just hoping for something a little nicer in the world were just screwed over.

Whether this was just gross incompetence or a depressing scam, it’s still terrible to see. People who wanted to make the world made a little better got taken advantage of, and now it will be a little bit harder for those who are trying to do good. It's a strange thing to have your identity co-opted like this, but it is also an important reminder that those people are out there—and they suck. But don’t let them stop you from moving forward to make the world a little better and don't lost hope.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Terra Necessary

Terra Necessary is an artist, teacher, giant nerd, and probably an alien. She lives with her wife and too many kittens right outside of Denver when she isn’t traveling around the US peddling art with the Atomic Pixies, her comic collective.

Terra Necessary is an artist, teacher, giant nerd, and probably an alien. She lives with her wife and too many kittens right outside of Denver when she isn’t traveling around the US peddling art with the Atomic Pixies, her comic collective.