"Comic-Con comes to South Australia in 2012" read the headline, as part of an "internationally recognised comic-book convention" continued the article. Fans, media outlet: everyone was excited. Even Gail Gago, the Tourism Minister for South Australia let her enthusiasm get the better of her: "[t]he San Diego convention started with 300 people in 1970 and last year attendance exceeded 130,000," she said, fully believing that this Oz Comic-Con was affiliated with the globally renowned Comic-Con International. But it's not. Not even close. We decided to investigate: was this a genuine misunderstanding, or a great Oz comic con?
"I'm 13 years old. I have been asking my parents to go to Comic-Con in San Diego for over a year. I found out in the papers today that Comic-Con was coming to Adelaide, and I stood up and screamed. I'm sure a lot of other fans that have been wanting to go to Comic-Con got the same reaction — I'm going as Green Lantern and I know that I'll be spending quite a few bucks. This will be the biggest event in SA history. Well, that's what I think."
Thirteen-year-old Jack Bloomfield is excited. As far as he knows, Comic-Con International is reaching across the Pacific to Adelaide, providing him with an event he has waited a short lifetime for. A dream come true, Jack Bloomfield is excited, and he’s far from the only one.
If you happened to stumble across this article in Adelaide Now, you might have gotten the impression that Jack's dream did actually come true; that Comic-Con International, the globally renowned company, was bringing the Comic-Con brand to Australia.
But that is not the case. Comic-Con is not coming to Australia. And some people are a little angry at the confusion.
The Main Event
The event is Oz Comic-Con — a completely different event to the US show, put together by a completely different company, yet using the same brand as the 15-year-old San Diego event.
Immediately after our initial report on Oz Comic-Con we received a number of comments — emails, phone calls, messages — none of them were complimentary.
“This is purely two Australian businesses trying to use the Comic-Con brand, without permission, mind you, to raise awareness of their event,” read one comment.
The drama centred around a single woman: Carissa Avenhouse of Hub Productions — the company behind Oz Comic-Con, a woman who has been extensively involved in the local Popular Culture Expo scene for the last decade.
The 'Comic' Con
“I've been seeing this stuff coming and it's... well I'm biased, but I've certainly seen the press release which is blatantly trading on Comic-Con and its reputation.”
Bill Geradts is the creator of Armageddon and has been running events since 1995. He has worked with Carissa Avenhouse and Hub Productions before. In his own words, he was “glad to see the back of them”. He doesn’t understand why Hub’s event even uses the words Comic-Con to begin with.
“The people who are running this Oz Comic-Con are not connected with Comic-Con international in any way,” says Bill, “they are not even running a Comic-Convention. They are running an event. It's not a Comic Con regardless of what they call it. If it's a comic convention, it would just be comics and stuff. Fair enough San Diego Comic-Con and others have evolved — but they have their roots in proper comic conventions.
“They have been involved with Supanova, with Gen Con, with Armageddon. Not one of those people running those events is working with them in any capacity now.”
The Active Hub
The Oz Comic-Con reveal caused a stir in the tight knit Pop Culture Expo scene when it was announced. When we decided to investigate, there was no shortage of people willing to share their distaste for the event and the way it was broadcast across Australia. Very few, however, wanted to go on record, and those that did wished to remain anonymous. Bill Geradts was one of the few willing to talk openly about his previous relationship with Carissa and Hub Productions. Their business relationship did not end on good terms.
“I've dealt with them, put up with them, and got nothing but grief in return,” he claims.
“We did Adelaide and Sydney — Armageddon was getting a bit of grief for not doing these cities. Financially it was a problem for us, and there were many reasons why we didn’t want to go there again in 2012. There's no point in going public as to the reasons beyond behind-the-scenes stuff.
“However it certainly didn't help when we started looking into doing a show in Adelaide and, as soon as Hub heard we were looking into doing the show, they promptly sent out a press release saying they were doing Adelaide in April. They even handed out flyers at our shows. So there was no way we could run a show in Adelaide ourselves. How could we possibly do a show two weeks after theirs?
“It pretty much killed any hopes of us doing another show there. Their first act was to sabotage another event coming to Adelaide.”
For those involved in the local convention scene, the major problem — history aside — was Hub Production’s use of the words ‘Oz Comic-Con’ despite the fact Comic-Con International has officially denied any affiliation. It was use of those words that led press outlets to cover the show’s announcement, and many in the community resented that.
“They're clearly and obviously leveraging off the Comic-Con brand despite no affiliation to any of the North American events that use the name,” claimed one high ranking expo organiser.
Another organiser, Rob Brown, from Culture Shock Events, doesn’t necessarily blame Hub Productions for the confusion, but admits that Oz Comic-Con has benefited from the confusion.
“Hub never really stated that they were affiliated with Comic-Con International,” he said. “But the use of the words 'Comic-Con’ has confused a lot of people — that's why I came home to a barrage of calls and emails. But Hub is just running their own show that's similar to Armageddon and similar to Supanova and all the other expos that run in Australia. It's no different to any of them.
“If people automatically associate Oz Comic-Con with the US Comic-Con, then that's obviously from the press release. As for Carissa's intentions, I don't speak to her, so I've got no idea.”
Bill Geradts is far less forgiving.
“Should it be called Comic-Con? No,” he says. “It's not a Comic-Con and it pisses in the face of the two established events that are in Australia.
“I have no problem with her wanting to do a show. Fine. But call it something that you own! The amount of press they've gotten based on that name... and they've gone, ‘oh no, we're not saying we're Comic-Con’, but in practically everything they've been doing they're saying it's Comic-Con.
“It's like pointing at someone, accusing him of murder and then saying, ‘oh we weren't accusing you of murder. But if you want to take that implication because I was pointing at him and screaming 'murder'...’”
On the Defensive
“Do you realise that the Comic-Con name is used by 37 companies over the world to describe an event which is a comic convention?”
Carissa Avenhouse is defending her use of the Comic-Con name. She believes her use of the brand is no different from the way in which multiple other events use the Comic-Con brand.
“We use the name because it immediately advises people what the event is about. It’s not meant to infer that we have any connection to New York Comic-Con or London Comic-Con, or any other Comic-Con. The press release sent by our PR team also does not mention anything like that at all.”
She says any inference that Oz Comic-Con is affiliated with Comic-Con International is purely the fault of those misreading the press release.
Having looked at the document, it’s a fine line.
“Adelaide has been chosen to host the Down Under debut of Oz Comic-Con in 2012,” reads the press release.
“In the spirit of Comic-Con events throughout the world, globally recognised as entertainment industry powerhouses, Oz Comic-Con will be a pop culture expo like no other.”
The press release clearly doesn’t directly affiliate Oz Comic-Con with Comic-Con International, but it hardly dissociates itself either.
“That press release was sent out to the Adelaide tourism board, and it has been forwarded on from there,” claimed Carissa. “People have taken their own understanding from that. It’s out of our hands. They didn’t even contact us directly. The press release went to the tourism board and they moved on from there.
“We’ve never claimed that [we were affiliated with Comic-Con International]. No one in our office has ever claimed that. Our PR team has not claimed that. If people interpret it that way they are mistaken. If you look at our Facebook we have responded to comments confirming that we are not affiliated with Comic-Con, with San Diego or New York or London. We’re not associated with any of these organisations. But that is the name of the event because that is the kind of event that it is.”
Some Shape or Form
Others have raised concerns the event may not go ahead, pointing to a Twilight Expo that was cancelled weeks before the event due to low ticket sales and lack of star attendees. Instead of providing refunds, Hub Productions informed those with tickets that they had to transfer their ticket to another Hub event. For those with interest only in Twilight, this was hardly a fair solution, particularly so close to the date of the event.
“[Hub Production] do put on good events,” said one source, “but at the same time they have cancelled a lot of events due to lack of sales. Obviously, at this level of operation, cancelling an event takes on a whole new meaning. The show must go on regardless of whether guests cancel or sales are sluggish.”
Bill Geradts believes the show will go ahead, but wonders if the event is shaping up in the lead-up to such a huge convention.
“I'm doing shows in New Zealand — the Wellington and Hamilton shows — two weeks after she's doing her shows. We're 80 per cent full, we've been selling the show for two months. We've got all our details up. You go to the Oz Comic-Con site and, as far as I can tell, they haven't booked any exhibitors, they haven't sent out exhibitor packs, they don't have sponsors, they haven't confirmed their venue for Melbourne, but they've got dates up.
“They haven't done anything they need to do to run a show. And they're out there saying how awesome they are.
“I've dealt with Hub Production, and I don't like them, but I'm willing to admit I'm biased. My hope is that they will run the show well. Don't get me wrong — I hope, for the sake of the fans that this event is run smoothly, but my expectation is quite the reverse.”
Rob Brown, of Culture Shock Events, is the first to admit that his previous dealings with Carissa Avenhouse Productions ended badly, but still thinks that Oz Comic-Con will run in some shape or form.
“Our dealings didn't end on the best of terms, that may or may not be headed towards legal action,” said Rob. “Would I do business with her again? No.”
“Running these events is an extremely difficult thing to do; financially it's a huge undertaking. Adelaide is a difficult market in that it has a relatively small population compared to the eastern states. I know the event they're planning to run there is similar in size to the one Armageddon ran before, and I know that financially we had a tough time of it.
"I think it will go ahead. If anything Carissa will do everything in her power to make sure she doesn't look stupid. She's a smart girl. Just because we don't get on in terms of business relationships it doesn't mean she isn't capable of putting the show on. She's knows how these things work. It didn't work with her on Armageddon, it didn't work with her at Supanova, but she has seen how these things are put together.”
We asked Carissa: Will Oz Comic-Con run as scheduled? Does she have enough time to put it all together?
"I’ve organised events within three weeks," claimed Carissa. "I’ve been doing this for a very long time. The Adelaide one is booked in, everything is done. The packs will be sent out in the first week of the new year, so it will absolutely be an amazing event. We’ve been working on this event longer than anyone else has before they announced them. I’ve been doing this for a long time — we know what we’re doing.
"It’s not going to get cancelled," she continued. "Everyone that we’ve announced has signed contracts. We would not announce a guest unless we have a contract."
Carissa expressed disappointment that more people within the community haven't been supportive of her efforts.
"It’s very difficult when you aren’t trying to do anything except provide fans with something they like and you’re being attacked by people who are bitter and unhappy because they had the opportunity to work with us and chose not to," she said.
Bill Geradts has a different view.
"Frankly there is already Armageddon in Australia, there is already Supanova in Australia," said Bill. "There is already this kind of event in Australia. This is not anything new. This is not a revolutionary new event. This is the same old thing from people who think they know better than everybody else."
Ian Houlihan is the ex-director of Gen Con — his company went under, partly as a result of issues between partners in the Pop Culture Expo business. He doesn't understand why there can't be more co-operation between bodies.
"In the last 10 years, almost every major city in Australia has had some type of expo or convention from anime to gaming, from comics to Gothic Horror, and everything in between," he said. "What a lot of people don't realise is that there is a certain amount of antipathy that many of the convention organisers have towards each other."
"These conflicts historically have eroded many of the good events causing them to disappear, and in some cases prevented new ones from ever seeing the light of day. As a convention organiser in the past, I have certainly seen this first hand.
"All conventions should be benefiting from each other, not going out of their way to eliminate the competition in any way possible."