Supanova Under Fire After Vendor Sells Merchandise Featuring Swastikas At Sydney Show (Update, Supanova Apologises)

Supanova Under Fire After Vendor Sells Merchandise Featuring Swastikas At Sydney Show (Update, Supanova Apologises)
Image: Supplied

Fans are threatening to boycott the Supanova pop-culture convention, where a vendor openly displayed fascist flags and merchandise at Supanova’s most recent Sydney show.

Multiple attendees posted on Supanova’s own Facebook page, and confirmed to Kotaku Australia separately, that they had reported the booth’s merchandise to Supanova staff from Friday, when vendors began setting up for the following day’s opening.

Note: Hosts and MCs have announced they will no longer work with Supanova following the handling of the Supanova Sydney event. Supanova made a public apology following those announcements; all statements are at the bottom of this story. The original story continues.

The material included flags and T-shirts featuring swastikas and ultra-nationalist iconography, including one flag sporting the text “Pink Fascism” and a bloody knuckle with a swastika in the fingernail.

A shot of one of the flags in question. Image: Supplied

The term “pink fascism” is rooted in a debunked conspiracy theory that homosexuals were a prominent factor in, or identified with, the Nazi party. It has gained prominence in recent years among arch-conservative movements worldwide, despite the clear and established history of Nazi Germany’s prosecution of homosexuals and associated organisations.

Other shirts and merchandise at the stand included a shirt saying “Just Hunting Bolsheviks”, another reading “Christian, Australian, Heterosexual, Pro Gun, Conservative, Any Questions,” and flags with the Japanese rising sun. A Eureka flag was also prominently displayed, which has been recently co-opted as the logo of the anti-immigration Australia First Party, although it has also been historically used by unions and other Australian protest groups in the past.

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Image: Supplied

Another shirt promoted a comic called Captain Kelly: Sky Commando, an Australian comic featuring a Ned Kelly-like figure who fights “Zombie Nazis for Allah”.

The booth, operating under the name Celtic Panzer according to reports and the official Supanova exhibitor list, has exhibited at Supanova Sydney before. The official Supanova schedule for 2018 and 2019 shows Celtic Panzer had a spot in the show’s Indie Press Zone both years, although Kotaku Australia makes no claims or assertions about what the vendor displayed in either of those years.

Photos and reports of the booth began circulating late Friday night, both on Supanova’s own page and other social media channels. Supanova responded to criticism by Saturday, and by Sunday morning announced on Facebook that the exhibitor had been “ejected” from the event. “This is in progress now with security present, and we are aiming for this to be completed prior to opening; though it is possible that this will still be underway after 10am,” Supanova wrote.

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Image: Supanova (Facebook)
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Supanova’s response on Twitter. Image: Twitter

Supanova did not respond to questions from attendees asking why the exhibitors were not removed sooner. Posts on social media show that Supanova publicly responded on Saturday to investigate “as soon as possible”, but more than 10 hours later the booth had not been ejected.

One attendee, who we are not naming to protect them from further online retribution, also told Kotaku Australia that Supanova staff asked the booth to remove the Rising Sun flag and material featuring swastikas on the Saturday, but the booth was permitted to continue operating. One user on social media reported being told by Supanova staff on Friday — the day before the convention opened to the public — that the vendor had “been banned already,” even though the booth remained throughout the Saturday.

Image: Supplied

Kotaku Australia has contacted Supanova for comment multiple times asking for a clarification on what background checks are done on vendors; what Supanova staff did upon receiving complaints on the Friday; why the vendor was allowed to continue exhibiting throughout Saturday despite displaying material featuring swastikas; whether the vendor received a refund on their booth fee and if they would be allowed to exhibit in the future; and how a Supanova vendor is able to display such merchandise at a family-friendly show. Supanova’s social media team responded on Sunday afternoon saying “this is a very busy time” and that they would “reply in full as soon as we are physically able”. The organisers, however, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, nor Tuesday morning.

It’s not the first time Supanova has found itself in controversy. A few years ago Daniel Zachariou, the founder and event director of Supanova, was heavily criticised for posting a petition on their Facebook page calling for the cancellation of transgender education in schools. It immediately sparked a backlash among Australia’s pop culture and cosplay communities — which are traditionally openly LGBTQIA+ friendly — and former high profile guests of Supanova called for a boycott.

“As much as I want to support events for gamers throughout Australia, there’s no way I’m going to do that when those running it post transphobic asshattery,” Liam Esler, one of the co-founders of the former queer-friendly gaming and pop culture convention GX Australia, said at the time.

Zachariou posted an apology afterwards, saying a new diversity panel would be introduced to Supanova shows and that he did not intend to promote any offensive views. “Both I and the team of Supanova are committed to ensuring it remains a welcoming, enjoyable and inclusive environment for all just as it’s always been,” Zachariou wrote.

Separately to this, Supanova also announced that their upcoming Perth show — originally scheduled across June 26 and 27 — has been postponed. The decision was forced upon the organisers, after the West Australian government closed their borders in response to the growing COVID-19 cluster in NSW. With Supanova’s staff currently in NSW after this weekend’s event, the timing meant there was no way for staff, or many of the scheduled guests, to get back into West Australia in time for the show.

Update 2:00pm AEST: Rebecca Borkman, the MC for Supanova Sydney and a regular host for Supanova’s events, announced on Twitter that she would no longer be hosting events for Supanova.

“It has become very clear to me that my ideals do not align with the views and actions demonstrated by higher management,” Borkman wrote.

When contacted by Kotaku Australia, Borkman added that she would “not be MC’ing for Supanova at all in the future”.

I’ve got a huge amount of respect for the team who work behind the scenes at Supanova, and would be overjoyed to work with them on other projects — but not under this banner and not under this event director,” she said.

Update #2, 24/6, 2:30PM AEST: A second recurring host, guest and cosplayer at Supanova, Scott Driscoll, has announced they will no longer be supporting Supanova following the handling of the Sydney event. “I shall not be returning as either MC or attendee,” Driscoll posted on Twitter and Facebook.

“Given the events of the weekend at Supanova Sydney and the reported reticence by management to get rid of a very offensive stall that made the event significantly less than safe or indeed family friendly, I could not continue to support the event in any manner,” Driscoll wrote.

“It’s been a fun 18 years with many fond memories. For this to be the end fills me with sadness.”

David A. Quinn, the head of MCs for Supanova, also announced on Facebook that they would no longer work with the event. “What should have been the simplest decision in the world, based on any metric of “what a superhero would do?” was prevaricated on, questioned and blocked. As a result, the public was exposed to hate, bigotry and harassment for far too long,” Quinn wrote.

For too many years, the wonderful, generous people working within Supanova have been caught up in scandal after scandal, none of them of their own making. Always due to bad management decisions and compounded by a failure by upper management to listen to the expert advice of the people on the team.

Each scandal also alienated or hurt members of the team, until bit by bit so many of them stepped down for their position. Worst of all, for each of these scandals that has blown up, every previous one is dredged back up again to remind those of us left, how many times it’s gone wrong and who has been hurt.

“As we walk on there are less and less footsteps and they get deeper and deeper as the burden became more and more. But sometimes there are no footsteps,” Quinn said.

Update #3, 24/6, 3:00PM AEST: Supanova has officially posted an apology on their Facebook page, saying “this should have been published immediately” and that they delayed so they could “take the time to write a sincere and genuine response to the situation”.

“What occurred over the weekend with the Exhibitor in question was, despite our team’s best efforts, a significant deviation from what we stand for. While we responded to complaints as they arose, removing offensive material from the Exhibitor’s stand prior to opening on Saturday, and ultimately ejecting them from the event before doors opened on Sunday in response to attendee reports overnight, the processes we have in place were evidently too slow to protect our community from the distress this situation has created.”

The post goes on to say that “none of this should have happened”, and that Supanova will be adding “more vigorous screening measures to improve our Exhibitor and Alley applications” to prevent such scenarios in the future.

To date, Supanova has still not responded for comment as to how the vendor was allowed into the show, whether their merchandise was checked and why the exhibitor was allowed to remain on the show floor throughout Saturday — even though Supanova security removed offensive material from the stand “prior to opening on Saturday”.

Kotaku Australia has also seen internal Supanova communications stating that Celtic Panzer, the booth responsible for selling the material above, has been banned from all future Supanova events. The vendor would also be “getting their money back”.

“Oh yeah, last thing, cancel culture really sucks,” the message from Supanova’s founder Daniel Zachariou added.

Comments

  • This reminds me of one of the old anime distributors back in 90s, Kiseki, which had a Rising Sun as its logo.

    Its strange, reading up on what they were actually selling and promoting they come across as anti-NAZI and anti-fascist. Which lines up with the impression that I was getting on Twitter on Sunday that the ones calling them Nazis and Fascists really had no idea what they were talking about and thinking that they had the sole gatekeeping rights to identify themselves with such stances.

    • I can’t get into this here, but anti-fascist campaigners have done a lot of research into the coded signals and language that certain nationalist groups have co-opted. It’s definitely worth digging into; apologies that I can’t really go into any detail.

      • All good.

        I knew some folks back in the 80s and 90s that were very anti-authoritarian, anti-fascist/Nazi that it gives me vibes about and would have been horribly offended to have someone calling them that.

        The artwork reminds me of their work which was promulgated through much of Australian media fandom. Its a very unique Australian art-style. Typically would have kangaroos and wombats doing horrifically violent things to aforementioned ‘baddies’. And of course you’d have swatsikas aplenty in it, albeit on the people they’re shooting and bludgeoning.

        I think the 4Chan thought experiment that actually has a swathe of society convinced that the Ok symbol is a right wing sign code for lulz shows that in some instances ‘secret codes’ can pretty much be a joke.

        Then on the flip side, I learnt from people I actually trust about the whole meaning behind different coloured shoe laces with Doc Martins, and that you really need to be careful on which ones you wear if you don’t want to have your head stomped in by the ‘anti-nazi’ punk brigade for wearing the wrong colours innocently!

        • Codes and symbols are only known to be what they’re used as, new meanings are made and accepted with all symbols as they remain in the public eye. The OK symbol was %100 benign and fine before the so-called experiment, but now it genuinely is used by fascists and nazis to identify eachother online. Even if 4chan’s intentions were pure (and they absolutely weren’t) – and the whole site wasn’t filled with actual nazis hiding behind ‘irony’ and memes – as benign as the OK symbol might be to most people it is or can be seen as a symbol of hate in particular circumstances.

          It’s actually exactly like your laces example – there’s nothing inherently racist about wearing white or red laces on doc martens, but it’s a code that communicates something. Just like white laces on some dunlop volleys aren’t going to communicate you’re a racist but white laces on certain types of boots will what the symbol is or was doesn’t matter – how it’s used, who’s using it and what it communicates does.

          The OK symbol has been used by nazis and fascists to identify themselve online, even if, of course, the majority of instances it’ll be used in are totally benign. Much like the swastika itself it had and has vastly different meanings and connotations depending on who’s using it and just because 4chan say it was a joke doesn’t mean it was, or that the effects of their ‘joke’ aren’t exactly the same as doing the same thing intentionally.

          • I don’t get why it’s so hard for people to wrap their heads around the idea of people using it as yet another in a series of dog whistles. You’ve already done half the work by saying some people believe it actually means that. Why would the fascist side have such clarity that they can’t possibly fall for the same troll? Is the idea of an out of touch boomer white supremacist really that crazy to you?

        • People act like you’re going to get bashed for wearing the wrong colours, the whole ‘umm, actually anti-fascists are the real fascists’ line of crap, but punks have been dealing with this for decades. They don’t see laces and charge. They can tell the difference between an oblivious idiot and someone actually making a statement. They don’t roam the streets looking for people wearing the forbidden clothes. They just know that when someone enters a punk bar covered in code words you don’t let them get comfortable.

          • Funny you say that they don’t since it was the punks that are saying that they do that.

          • Well, it would be very unpunk to embellish the truth in any way, so I guess you’re right.

      • Are such politically charged discussions against the job rules?
        Legitimate question. Behind the scenes stuff is fascinating, and I could easily imagine the guys who write the paychecks don’t want staff discussing certain volatile subjects.

  • Rumours have said that the Director, who said the anti-trans stuff, is actually friends with one of the sellers. (At this point in time, we’re unsure if this is true, as others have said it’s a security guard).
    But that wasn’t the worst of it. The director is an anti-vaxer as well.

    But back to the stall. These creeps were harassing people. It went as far as the stall owners telling certain people that they weren’t “Australian” because they weren’t the right “colour” and taking photos of them, without permission.
    https://www.pedestrian.tv/news/sydney-supanova-nazi-stall/
    The whole situation is messed up and I hope there’s serious repercussions for it

  • Can someone explain to me why the Rising Sun flag is offensive? It’s genuine question, I see it everywhere (even in Street Fighter II on E. Honda’s stage) and had absolutely no idea it was offensive.

    • Capcom’s actually gone and removed that from modern re-releases in the Capcom Arcade Stadium.

      The broader reasoning is because the Rising Sun is tied to the Japanese imperial complex, World War 2-era occupations. As a result, it’s looked down upon extremely strongly in countries like South Korea and China (but not Japan so much).

    • In VERY short and nuance-lacking terms, a lot of Asia see it as something of an equivalent to the Nazi swastika. It represents war crimes perpetrated in living memory.

    • It’s basically the japanese equivalent of a swastika. It’s a shame, too, because it’s such a baller flag. I love that design.
      They somehow used it in Red Alert 3 without issue.

  • Pathetic. And I dont just mean the selling of them but how really really lame the designs actually were, especially the finger one. Like some edgy teenager trying too hard to be edgy and just coming across looking idiotic instead.

  • Well, that’s disappointing, hearing about the director and whatever chain of fuckery and failure that allowed that godawful shite to make it on to the floor in the first place.

  • To be fair though, you’re always the first to go in to defend cartoons of sexualised children so I’m not sure you’re really the best person to listen to here.

  • Regardless what side of the fence you sit on whether you support or are against what this guy was selling and what it stands for, why the hell was this sort of stuff being sold at a comic/gaming convention to begin with? What does any of the shit he was selling got to do with comics or gaming that someone in Supanova management, gave the green light to this guy to sell his wares? Ignore the swastika and rising sun for a moment. Look at the rest of the stuff he is selling. NOTHING there relates to comics or gaming. It reeks of the seller being buddy buddy with someone high up in said management that he was given not just the ability to sell his non comic/gaming related shirts and flags, but that he was given such a large booth to start with. How would this guy be able to pay for the booth? I doubt he would sell much of his stuff there given the convention had NOTHING to do with the ideology of what he was pimping. Supanova keeps getting worse and worse with each passing year. Just put it out of its misery.

    • Previous Supanova stallholder here. Supanova doesn’t have any real vetting process for the people who apply for stalls at their events, especially for Artist Alley. They ask for contact details, insurance info, a stall name and then there’s a checklist of options for the kind of merchandise people sell, including ‘tshirts, prints, collectables, etc’. There’s nothing required for what those products are related to and Supanova presumes people applying to stall at the event understand the audience they’re trying to sell to.
      So all the person who had this stall had to do was fill in the merchandise section as ‘tshirts’ and they’re done.
      OzComicCon is different in they actually require people to show evidence of the works they sell in the form of social media/pictures/etc.
      It’ll be interesting to see if this changes in future. But i have very strong doubts on the matter. The behind the scenes communication is already terrible, so adding more work on Supanova’s end seems an unlikely response.

  • supernova and avcon have a habit of taking money and not caring.

    They both allowed cash converters modbury / hampstead to host a booth, despite both being a loan sharking agency. Our state has very strict laws over predatory lenders.

    Their primary function is payday loans and the stores have to have disclaimers warning people about whether a loan is the right financial decision for responsibility as well as offering contact details for support services.

    Their “gaming” stand ignored all of this and declared they were a retro museum. They had flyers and deals designed to try and get people into those two stores.

    On the outside it seemed harmless but they aren’t a retro gaming store, cash converters especially these two franchise owned places (not owned by corporate cc) do most of their business as payday loans and advantage buy ins (buying for less than fair prices from desperate people). The stand encouraged people to come in as well as bring their own “retro gaming gear” for a “professional appraisal” by a “gaming expert”.

    Given both events are full of kids, we’re not talking about getting adults in, we’re talking about them trying to get kids into the store and soften them up for the idea of payday loans, unfair buyins etc, they aren’t a gaming store, they’re a loan business.

    Both events ignored many complaints about the stores taking part as well as their framing of themselves as a retro games boutique.

    They also refused to eject them on the grounds of them selling counterfeit collectibles and games, as well as ignoring complaints against many other stands selling counterfeit gear.

    What is this store up to now? you will remember them for having their staff buy up a heap of ps5’s at launch and scalping them in alex walker’s other article with them lying claiming someone sold them the consoles (here’s a hint it was a staff member who preordered them in their name and sold them for a commission, very dodgy and illegal).

    • Thanks for the inside scoop. Cashies is so ubiquitous it’s easy to forget how predatory their underlying bread and butter is. Hopefully gumtree / FB marketplace etc eventually kills them eh.

  • I can’t believe that there’s this much shit over political symbols, but no one’s dived into the wealth of sexual harassment and creepiness that’s pervaded Supanova over the years, to the point where attending as a female isn’t worth it anymore. This story’s already bad, but Supanova (and other Sydney conventions) are an endless dumpster dive of appalling stories and treatment of attendees, volunteers and booth runners with the same behaviour happening every year and nothing being done to hammer home to morons to keep their hands to themselves.

    • Speaking for myself, i havent gone back to supanova after the first year it moved to Olympic park.
      None of my friends have gone back either. So to alot of people, we just dont know how bad its gotten cause we have gone in yeeeaaarrrsssss….

      • I’ve made sporadic attendances over the years chaperoning friends who wanted company on the trip in and out and it got progressively worse every single year. Think staff and volunteers on break in food queues being propositioned by convention goers/creepy low effort cosplayers bad. It wasn’t just the young people either being targeted, but women in their 20s, 30s and 40s being targeted because they looked “easier” than the decked out cosplayers who had rings of people around them. It only ever got worse and you’d never see security intervening even to protect staff.

        Oz Comic Con I went to in its first year and there were so many degenerates there harassing the staff out in the open that I never went back. They should replace every single security guard with police and by the end of the first day they’ll have arrested half the attendees.

        • Jeez, Im sad that its gotten to such a sad and sorry state.
          The worst i ever saw was the annual shitty deadpool morphsuit guy who thought it gave him free reign to be an ass and wouldnt be seen on day 2 after getting kicked out and the usual people who didnt follow hygiene standards, everyone else was made to feel welcome by everyone else.
          To hear how bad its gotten, man im i glad i stopped going.

          • The Deadpool morphsuit would’ve been a pleasure to deal with compared to all of the creeps slinking around who aren’t being as obvious about it. All of the normal people stopped going because of the creeps. Hell, I stopped going to SMASH because there was some psychopath running up and down violently attacking people while security was standing right next to him and did nothing. All of these cons are dysfunctional and they’re not “kid friendly”, contrary to their bullshit advertising. They’re long overdue for the media attention for it as well.

    • As someone formerly involved in organising a con that was a competitor to Supanova, I could tell a lot of stories about shitty behaviour from Supanova, but I also don’t want to get Kotaku sued, so…

      I will say that they were the one con dragging their heels on having an anti-harrassment policy back when every other Australian con (including ours) was rushing to implement one.

      And lets not get started on a certain cosplay judge who would get very, uh, touchy-feely with cosplayers in the cosplay competition (we banned him one year and he wrote a very uncomplimentary article about us because of it).

      • I’m thoroughly unsurprised that other con organisers would have horror stories about Supanova. I’d be down for Kotaku AU covering all of the shit from these conventions, even if it takes them a while to write the article, because management never seems to take action, especially at Supanova. I fail to see how they can be marketed as “child friendly” events with every single creep and sex offender in the area in attendance and never dealt with by security. There really should be more awareness before some poor bastard takes their kids to these events.

  • As soon as I saw the headline, I knew exactly who the store vendor was and the details provided confirmed it.

  • Everyone seems to have been totally oblivious to this for years…. or are they just feigning outrage to protect their own reputation?

  • I see my previous comment was removed. Probably because I have a low opinion of those who have an intolerance for freedom of expression. I guess one has to be quite careful these days when expressing a contrary opinon, much like one had to be careful 90 years ago. Pretty unfortunate that people can get branded ‘actual nazis’ but opinions about those who do the branding are ruthlessly culled from public view.

    • I dont think you understand free speech as it exists in our country, it is not a legal abiding law but a byproduct of living in a Democracy. As such ours has limits, hell even America’s has limits, ones the ‘omg you cant silence me’ type dont seem to understand.

      You and the fools who sell this merch can express yourself all you like, but just have to be willing to understand there are repercussions for doing so. That is how Freedom of Speech works. They might not be Nazi’s but they are still selling Nazi merchandise, but that is just as bad, at least Nazi’s believe their rubbish, these sellers are just making profit off them and unconcerned they are subjecting the general population to images of hate for profit.

      Maybe because there is a vast word of difference between the hateful world and the real world violence and death the Nazi ideals stand for and the people standing up to them dont have 80 year legacy of hate and death. One lot are dinosaurs, the other understand the only good place for dinosaurs is the history books.

    • As said last time, you’re someone who regularly deploys the ‘FREEZE PEACH’ argument over sexualised depictions of children. You’re not really a voice of reason here.

    • this site has a left wing agenda. speak common sense? banned. speak truth? banned. be careful. used to be the Australian content was good, but even alex is caught up in the agenda these days.

      • Stop wasting my time reposting the same comment (which, by the way, is complete garbage and against our community guidelines). This is like the fifth or sixth time: keep doing it and I’ll be forced to ban the account.

        • stop censoring me for no reason and ill stop reposting it. how is anything i said against the guidelines? just because someone has an opinion you dont like does not make it wrong. youre just proving exactly what i said.

          • Personal, ad hominem attacks on individual authors or the site has *never* been allowed. I also laid down very clear instructions a while ago that people were to help conversations move forward, not jam them up with conspiracy garbage.

            I’m more than tolerant of differing opinions, especially when they’re written respectfully. Talking about “caught up in the agenda” is some YouTube comment-level rubbish that doesn’t belong on these forums, and the site has no compulsion to accept it.

          • pointing something out is not an “attack”. but im happy to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

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