It was the best of cons, it was the worst of cons. The highlights as of this morning included hanging out with many Skepchick Network contributors, hosting an epic Quiz-o-Tron panel with Lucky Yates, Paul and Storm, Bill Corbett, Drew Curtis, Scott Sigler, Phil Plait, Molly Lewis, Ken Plume, and Joseph Scrimshaw, cosplaying as Wolverine (with several friends also gender bending Avengers), meeting loads of Skepchick readers and commenters, and meeting up with other awesome longtime and new friends like Adam Savage, Len Peralta, Mike Phirman, and Phil Lamarr.
As we have for the past several years, Surly Amy and I staffed a Skepchick fan table, selling (as always) our t-shirts, buttons, and jewellery. We talked a lot with a very nice man in charge of overseeing fan tables in our area (unfortunately I don’t recall his name), who helped us find a good spot for our table.
On Saturday, he came around and said he’d had a complaint from someone that we were selling buttons that were against the rules for fan tables. He explained the relevant rule, which on DragonCon’s site reads:
In deference to our dealers and exhibitors, who purchase a table or sponsor the convention, no general merchandise sales are permitted at concourse tables. You can sell logo merchandise from your organization and other items made exclusively for and by your club, band or organization. Dragon*Con does not charge a percentage of these merchandise sales.
(We hadn’t read (edit for clarity: were not aware of the existence of) that rule because Skeptrack admin Derek Colanduno arranges all the skeptic tables and we have no contact with DragonCon.)
I explained to the man that I personally make every button with my printer and buttonmaker, so by that rule they should be fine. However, I pointed out that I was selling Bigfoot air fresheners (like last year), which I don’t make and are not exclusive to Skepchick. I just think they’re funny and relevant. But, I acknowledged that that could be against the rule and if so, I was happy to take it off the table. The man thanked me for being flexible and told me to leave everything as is for now and that he’d run it past his higher ups and let us know if Bigfoot had to go. We thanked him for being fair and understanding, and Amy gave him a Surly necklace he had been eyeing. We didn’t hear back from him by the end of the day.
This morning, we set up the table and were having our coffee when Derek Colanduno came over and pulled Amy aside as I was helping a customer. Amy came back and told me, “We’re being shut down.” Derek had told her that according to his boss, there had been another complaint that we were in violation of the fan table rules. She asked to speak with the boss, who Derek went to fetch.
A few minutes later we were approached by
David Cody, who is apparently Senior Director and co-chair of the gaming division. (He didn’t identify himself but Derek gave me that name after our conversation.)
(EDIT: A few people have suggested this person was actually Robert Dennis. Because Colanduno hadn’t sounded sure when he gave me Cody’s name, I told him to get bak to me immediately if it was in fact someone else. When I heard nothing for six hours, I went ahead with the name he gave me.)
Cody pointed at Amy’s jewellery and said we could not sell anything on the table that did not carry the Skepchick logo. While we do have a few logo shirts and buttons and jewelry, most of our handmade stuff is related to science and skepticism but without garish branding.
We first tried to figure out why the rule changed from “logo merchandise from your organization and other items made exclusively for and by your organization” to “logo merchandise only,” but Cody did not acknowledge that the rule had ever allowed for non-logo merch. Then we wondered how we’d been able to sell everything in the past but not now, but Cody(/Dennis) simply insisted we were flouting the rules. When we kept asking questions, he told us, “If you don’t like it, I can call my boss, and believe me, you do not want that to happen.”
We were confused. Was his boss a vampire? Cthulhu? We asked him if he was threatening us and if so, could he explain what the actual threat entailed. He told us we had been warned twice already by convention staff that our merchandise was in violation of the rules. We said that did not happen and as I tried to tell him about our positive interactions with his staff, he talked over me and insisted we were lying about having been warned. I told him that it didn’t even matter because I was going to pack up the table no matter what, but at this point all I wanted was for him to stop treating us like garbage and attempting to intimidate us.
After I repeated several times that I was packing up and leaving, he finally left us alone. Amy immediately changed her flight to leave today. I packed up, got some lunch, and then went to the literature track where I spoke about women in Game of Thrones before a packed and engaged crowd that lined the walls of the room and filled all the floor space right up to the lectern.
Now I’m back in my hotel room wondering if I should go to my final panel at 7pm in the Skeptrack room. On the one hand, I do these talks and panels for the DragonCon audience, who are consistently wonderful and enthusiastic. But on the other hand, I’m exhausted and frustrated from the stress of dealing with all this.
I’m an “attending professional” at DragonCon, meaning that I get a free pass to perform on panels but I’m expected to pay for my own airfare and hotel, costs that add up to be nearly $1,000. I expect to take a loss, but selling some Skepchick merchandise at least helps off-set that loss. This year, I have hardly even made a dent in my expenses.
I have essentially paid hundreds of dollars to perform for free for a for-profit organization, whose representative berated me.
That’s a big deal, especially for someone like me who lives on a blogger’s salary. It’s such a big deal that in a way it undoes all the good that was done by every other hard-working and accommodating DragonCon employee and volunteer I interacted with this weekend. It means that if things are the same next year, I won’t be able to attend DragonCon again despite the requests of the many people who apparently enjoy my contributions each year. And this is all thanks to one DragonCon employee on a power trip.
Apparently, it isn’t the first time Cody has behaved this way. Small comfort. (Same edit: crossed out in case this is actually Dennis.)
Regardless, I do want to clearly thank everyone at DragonCon who made this an amazing weekend up til now, and to all my friends on Twitter and Facebook who have my back. I truly hope that next year DragonCon officials decide my contributions are worth keeping. If not, I’ll see you all elsewhere.