On this, the one hundredth episode of Nerd & Tie, our heroes give our review of DC’s Wonder Woman movie, discuss how said film was banned in Lebanon, celebrate 40 years of Star Wars, and continued to get confused by the ongoing progress on Sony’s Venom movie. Then we take on the con scene, where ColossalCon forced Colossus Con to rebrand, and Phoenix Comicon narrowly avoided tragedy.
Thursday afternoon a man carrying a shotgun, three handguns and multiple knives was arrested at Phoenix Comicon. The thirty year old man, who has not been publicly identified yet, was allegedly taking photos of police officers present. Authorities believe he had intended to harm or kill police, but was taken into custody before he was given a chance.
In response, the convention has banned all weapons from the event for the duration of the weekend, including props and toy guns. The convention will also be increasing security at the event, which they announced in an official statement on Facebook.
Conventions are, like any gathering, targets for potential hostile acts. Honestly, this reminds me of the two young men arrested in 2015 prior to the Pokemon World Championship in Boston, MA. In both of these cases, tragedy was averted because concerned members of the community alerted authorities when something just didn’t feel right. It should be noted that other cons taking place this weekend were already on high alert, due to the recent Manchester bombings. Alamo City Comic Con had already announced extensive security restrictions prior to the events in Phoenix, AZ.
We got lucky again, but only because people were vigilant.
Update: The individual arrested has been revealed to be a man named Mathew Sterling. Sterling stated to police he intended to shoot not just officers but also actor Jason David Frank. Sterling also had been intentionally avoiding weapon check stations, and was allegedly dressed in cosplay as The Punisher.
On this episode of Nerd & Tie we discuss the forthcoming return of the old school Cybermen to Doctor Who, how Logan is a film that finally does Wolverine justice, Twitch’s decision to stream all 831 episodes of Power Rangers, and then we dive into the con scene.
And we dive deep.
It’s a bit complicated, because comic writer Tom Taylor won’t do US based cons anymore, Phoenix Comicon sent out a third party survey that got weird, Anime Fan Fest has called it quits, STX Brazos Comic Con is incommunicado with its debtors, and the internet lost its sh*t because a small collectibles show called Elite Con banned cosplay.
And for some reason, we didn’t have anything readable in the mailbag. That hasn’t happened for a while.
It’s not uncommon practice for a convention to maintain a mailing list to stay in contact with their attendees and vendors. People sign up for these lists to get the latest news about their favorite (or not so favorite) cons, and it’s not uncommon for these lists to occasionally send out something non-con related that organizers might think would be of interest to their fans.
As The Geek Lyfe is reporting, Phoenix Comicon convention director Matthew Solberg thought he was doing just that when he sent out a link to a survey on Cosplay to the group. It was put together by long time Phoenix Comicon volunteer Connor Leshner who was working on a research project at Arizona State University, and sending it out probably seemed harmless enough.
But we’re betting Solberg probably never read the whole thing.
You see, what started off normally enough, with questions about whether or not couples had ever cosplayed together, took a turn that maybe some of the people who signed up for a family friendly mailing list weren’t expecting.
On the longest episode of Nerd & Tie so far, we mourn the passing of John Hurt, Warner Bros wants to make an American live action Attack on Titan, Star Wars Episode VIII finally has a title, the Axanar lawsuit has finally been settled, Jughead apparently isn’t asexual in Riverdale, Comic Excitement Convention flops, Phoenix Comicon has changed its staffing policies a second time, Angry Goat Productions is looking either incompetent or shady, and Evercon has filed for a restraining order against Scott Windorski.
Earlier this month Phoenix Comicon made waves when it announced that it was going to make its volunteers pay dues to a legally unrelated nonprofit. After a massive amount of community backlash (and admitting that the whole thing was to avoid labor law issues), Phoenix Comicon has decided to change course a second time. Now, instead of using volunteers, the event will now be exclusively run by paid staff.
As a for-profit convention, this avoids any labor issues which might have cropped up, and is in many ways a good step. Anyone working the event will need to apply for a position, and if hired will be classed as either temporary staff or an independent contractor. Workers will have to put in full time shifts during the event as well, instead of the shorter shifts volunteers used to usually work.
Of course, paying for this is going to be expensive to the con’s bottom line. To do this, the event plans on reducing event staff by over 1000 positions. Now, with staffers working longer hours, this may not have a significant impact on the event, but only time will tell.
In the end, it’s probably a step in the right direction for the con. Using a third party nonprofit to staff the for profit event might not have passed any more legal muster than direct volunteers would have, so this may have been the only way forward in the long run anyway.
On the latest episode of Nerd & Tie we start out by welcoming our newest host Gen Prock! After that we dig into the latest news, including how The CW has renewed all of their DC Comics shows, Constantine is coming back as an animated webseries, Charmed is getting rebooted for some reason, Awesome Games Done Quick has raised two million dollars for charity, Evercon booted artist/crafter Scott Windorski for harassment, Outlaw Comicon has lost its friggin’ mind, and Phoenix Comicon has made a controversial choice with its volunteer policies.
I mean, we definitely talk about Phoenix, AZ more than I’ve ever expected to.
One of the big legal quandaries facing for-profit conventions is the quasi-legality of a for-profit business using an unpaid, volunteer workforce. Phoenix Comicon seems to have come to a unique solution to the problem though: require all volunteers to join a separate, legally unrelated “social club” non-profit called the Blue Ribbon Army. Membership in the Blue Ribbon Army costs $20 a year, which means that any event volunteers must now pay $20 for the privilege to do so.
In an email to event staff, Matthew Solberg stated that the reason for this change was because volunteers were skipping out on shifts and not completing the work they committed to. And while that might be true, many other events are able to manage their volunteers well enough where this isn’t a mass problem.
There are a handful of volunteer and worker structures in the convention scene, but this one is just weird. You see, normally, cons fall into three types of systems: Volunteers get in free, volunteers get reimbursed for admission, or volunteers get their next con paid for. In two of those systems, volunteers give money directly to the con the first time around (and this would address Solberg’s issues). To have the volunteers join a separate organization, where they pay a fee they won’t get back, is just super, super weird.
And all I’m left going back to is the quasi-legality of volunteering for a for-profit organization.
By using a non-profit to staff the event, Solberg is attempting to create a loophole where he doesn’t have to pay his workforce (should the gray area most for-profit con’s volunteer programs operate in ever become black and white). But since the organizations are legally distinct, the dues from the Blue Ribbon Army can’t be reimbursed for working at the convention (as that could be seen as compensation from the for-profit company). It’s all very complicated, but no other reason really makes sense.
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