Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown

Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown

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 shut down 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:

Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown

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 them out on it. And that's when all hell broke loose.

Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown

As posters began questioning the motives and tone of the con's comments, things got heated (Note: graphics and emphasis in these screencaps are not mine).

Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown
Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown
Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown

Anyway, this went on for thousands of comments over a couple of days, culminating in this:

Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown

And this killing blow from Meagan Marie, who poignantly in this case is both a famous cosplayerand a community manager:

Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown

Shortly afterwards, the con's Facebook page went back and deleted most of the relevant posts/comments, issuing this statement

Cosplay Convention Suffers PR Meltdown

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 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 capitalise 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.


    Seems to me like the worst thing he did was not frame the original comment correctly. Then cue the outrage.

      Yeah, seems like they failed to distinguish properly between professional cosplayers and promotional models not so much in intent but conveyance of his argument. Problem being that the cosplay industry is still relatively nascent and struggling with perceptions of legitimacy and sexualisation so it's a sore point.

      Still, handled very badly and without much grace.

      Last edited 17/05/16 4:34 pm

        Regardless of the intent of his original post, he dug his hole a lot deeper with the whole 'not a real cosplayer' diatribe. I take real issue with anyone who makes an argument along the lines of 'you're not a real X' where X is an identity people choose to adopt.

          Even if they really aren't a real X, like the red bull promo girls/"I don't know, cat something" thing he described down near the end of the article? Something like that seems like it'd be pretty clear-cut.

            A lot of people start off in cosplay that way. What right do any of us have to say 'those people are shit and won't make it' and 'those people are legit and will'? Why not let nature take its course instead of prejudging people on spurious grounds?

              Isn't that the idea though? Letting them prove their worth by promoting the convention and bringing in more ticket sales, rather than paying for their whole trip just because they asked nicely?

                I don't care what his business choices were, I care about the self-righteous judgement he tried to pass on people. If he'd left it at his first poorly worded comment it wouldn't have blown up like it did.

              That's not what is being said. What is being said is 'these people are paid staff being deployed by a promotion agency trying to capitalise on the popularity of a hobby at the same time as using sex to sell' and not 'people engaging in a hobby they love'.

              While they are on an hourly rate, they are not engaged in a hobby. If they decide they love doing it and want to do it on their own time and money, it is a hobby. You're trying to make a moral situation out of what is a matter of employment.

              It's remarkably clear cut.

              There's plenty of issues with this situation but this isn't one of them.

                'Clear cut' is exactly what his posts weren't, even the people defending him here agree on that.

                  His 'posts', sure.

                  That comment? No. It's clear as crystal. He's not *creating* that distinction, it's a physical thing.

                  If you're dressing up in costumes as part of a job, that is a job.

                  If you're dressing up in costumes on your own time because you want to, that's a hobby.

                  Yes, some people may start off in cosplay as promo staff. The point he is making, and it's pretty straightforward, is that while that may be the case, until you choose to stop getting paid to do it then you are not a hobbyist.

                  If an analogy helps, I might work in a bookstore, and then one day decide to write a novel.

                  I'm not a writer while I'm just working in the store, no matter the possibly maybe one day perhaps chance that I will write something.

                  I'm a writer when I start writing.

                  Your job is not an 'identity' such as being a trans person, cosplayer or otherkin.

                  It's your job.

                  Before you conflate identity politics with employment, you really might want to consider the ethical, social and moral issues with doing so.

                  As I said, while there's plenty of issues with his comments, him separating hobbyists from paid employees is not one of them.

                  And if you're someone who allegedly cares about cosplay culture as a social and artistic endeavour, as opposed to a mercenary money-making T&A show run by unscrupulous companies, I sincerely suggest you take that idea on board and think about how you can maintain that separation.

                  Because that is what is coming, and coming fast, and I guarantee you and many other people in a very short space of time will be wondering what the heck just happened when this 'scene' is commercialised before you realise what is going on.

                  Welcome to late stage consumer capitalism, citizen. If there's enough dollars, it's a marketplace.

                  Last edited 22/05/16 11:48 am


                  Aside from the fact that's a false distinction (it's stupid to think just because you make money from something it's no longer a hobby), he makes more than one distinction in his posts. He said they don't pay any cosplayers and that's fine, none of the replies to him care about that. Some replies even specifically say it's not about that.

                  The distinction people care about was between what he considers 'legitimate' cosplayers (eg. he references how deeply the cosplayer knows the character they're playing) and models who are more interested in flashing skin. That includes the matter of being paid, but isn't limited to it. The words he spent on that distinction were condescending and insulting.

                  At times he very strongly blurs the line between professional cosplayer and 'clueless model' that it comes across as though he thinks they're the same. He creates dichotomies between the two, such as when he says:

                  Supporting local cosplay vs paying over sexual "models"
                  I deny attempts by posers to take our valuable resources to capitalize on the fandom of cosplay

                  In both these quotes he's setting up the dichotomy that you're either a local hobbyist unpaid cosplayer or you're a leech. He leaves no room at all for people who do cosplay professionally, still know the characters inside out and are able to make money from it. He lumps them in with 'the rest' each time he sets up these distinctions. That's insulting to every cosplayer who managed to find a way to make money doing what they love.

                  And that is evidently how many people even within the cosplay community he claims to be defending took his words. Meagan Marie isn't a "boob model", she knows her stuff and makes money from her work. I've never cosplayed in my life but even I can see that the things he said were insulting. His posts carried the attitude that he's an arbiter over what makes a 'real' cosplayer and that kind of patronising arrogance bothers me. I understand that you might not see it, but it's definitely there.

                  Last edited 22/05/16 1:22 pm

          Where do you draw a line? I'm just curious. If some guy has a questionable bit of cosmetic surgery done so he has Klingon forehead implants, he's still not a Klingon.

            I don't draw the line at all. It's not my place to say who's a True Scotsman and it's a fallacy to even try. I don't know about Klingons in the real life identity sense but if people identify as that, who am I to say they're not, at least from a mindset perspective?

          *shakes head*

          From birth I was a turbo nerd. Already consumed all the necessary anime/comics/books/movies/ fan fic theories.

      you know the old saying never argue with an idiot? they'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience, it sort of applies here

        Absolutely. He sounds like the kind of person who'll never back down or seriously contemplate his role in the outrage. So what's the point?

    Wow, what a train wreck. The non-apology was a mess, and even his responses to Kotaku are still trying to make excuses for his nonsense. He still thinks he did the right thing. What an idiot.

      Conspiracy debunker and a social justice warrior!

      Who do you attend these conventions as?

        You're a special person. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

          Anytime Kotaku writes about social justice issues I immediately think of their treatment of hulk hogan and how hypocritical this all is.

    I'd been attending pop culture cons since 2003 (stopped a few years ago due to burnout), and if there's one thing I've learned in that time, it's that high-level cosplay is never seen without tears and melodrama, both from cosplayers and event organisers.

    It's disappointing that nothing has changed in 13 years.

    Mountain out of a molehill.

      Damn Fake-mountains, chasing out the local molehills.

        The seriousness of the mountains is proportional to how much pebble they show off. If they show off too much pebble, they're not real mountains.

    The second is to maybe hire a specialist to do your public relations and communications work for you.


    Whatever his message, and whatever his reasoning, he forgot one of the basic rules for every forum or community (and indeed for life in general) - "Don't be a dick."

    I think it's hilarious cosplayers expect to get paid to go there.

      At this point, a well-known cosplayer is going to draw more guests than "that actor who had a guest spot on Buffy 10 years ago" and they'll probably charge about the same for an appearance.

        Fair enough.

        How many creepy comments would these cosplayers endure? Surely a few, just like the poor actors. I like to dress up as a character but no way could I deal with people asking for hugs, placing their hands on my hip or lower.

        "I love X character, you're dressed as X character... I love you?"

        Last edited 18/05/16 12:56 pm

          Yeah it would be horrible, like some website putting your personal sex tape online then claiming they should be able to keep it up under freedom of speech. I just assume if they wanted a famous cosplayers to attend they would have already hired them.

          Also I completely disagree that any cosplayers is the West are going to draw a bigger crowd than the majority of SciFi show actors. You might think this way because your super into cosplayers but the majority of shows draw more mainstream and geek audiences into buying tickets by having those actually famous in the mainstream.

          Last edited 18/05/16 12:58 pm

    I'm not sure how much of this was justified due to a "snarky tone". We get snarky articles here all the time, some of the responses were just as snarky... (This is why accurately using words and not appropriatong them is important) It just feels like almost no one has any sense of self awareness, here.

    They guy is an absolutely terrible communicator but I do believe he was not trying to be the kind of person that his obnoxious posts paint him as. Hope he takes that lady's offer!

    Kinda kills cosplay for me. I thought these guys were doing it on their own backs (or with sponsorship) but hitting conventions up for pay? Not unless they are hiring cosplayers.

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