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ARTISTS BEWARE: WHAT REALLY HAPPENED AT OTAKON 2012 ARTIST ALLEY

I’ve had a lot of people asking me, “So what happened to you at Otakon?” I have quietly mentioned some of the incident with the staff we had this year, but I’m still keeping it hushed since I’m hoping to see it resolved internally and professionally… but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen, at least not in the way we were hoping. So now I’m turning to you guys, the artists of the internet, so you’ll know what kind of treatment to expect from the staff if you ever want to sell your art at Otakon. It’s long, so bear with me or skip to the bottom for the TL;DR version.

Around 10:00pm on Friday, July 27th, after a long first day of selling, I was asked to speak with Martin Matthews and “Dizzy”, the two heads of Otakon’s Artist Alley staff. They told me that my tables, (I had two and gave one to my table partner Finni as the ‘secondary artist’) were, “too close to being 50/50,” in fanart and original art, and asked me to take down some fanart and hang up more original art. I was confused, since I had carefully planned my display to be exactly 50/50 and knew Finni had done the same, but they weren’t interested in hearing my argument. I tried to show them which of my pieces were original since people often mistake our originals for fanart, and showed them how my catalogue of prints was divided perfectly in half, but they still insisted we were over the limit. They told me I had to take some fanart down and hang up more originals to be, “more like 60/40,” and to have my table partner do the same. Even though I was frustrated, I did as they asked and told Finni what they said about our displays. We were both really confused at this point and weren’t sure if they were doing this count by number or surface area, so she went to go speak with them to clarify the 50/50 fanart-to-original display rule.

A few minutes later I was asked by a staff member to come to their table. I was already a ball of nerves from the last encounter so I asked Finni to come with me. I’m a really passive person while she’s more assertive, so I felt more comfortable with her, especially since Martin is a large and imposing man. But when we got there, Martin immediately told her to leave, saying this discussion was a private one between him, Dizzy, and me. 

After she left, Martin turned on me, claiming Finni had, “verbally assaulted,” him, and that as the primary artist of our two tables he was holding me responsible for her behavior. I knew that couldn’t be true, but in front of him and alone I was too afraid to disagree with him. I apologized for her and tried to explain that she has a strong personality that might come off the wrong way if you don’t know her, but he wasn’t listening. He threatened me repeatedly, saying, “I want you to understand how close you are to being banned from the Artist Alley right now.” I continued to apologize, since that seemed to be what he was after. He then held up the Artist Alley contract right in my face and told me to read the third rule to him out loud. To my understanding, the rule was ‘interpretation of any rules will be left up to staff.’ I still didn’t know what had been said to make him do this, but I read it for him despite my confusion. Martin then told me that if she were to talk to him again he would ban us both from the Alley. His last instruction was to, “keep her in line." My blood was boiling, but I managed to hold my composure and just apologized again and again since I didn’t know what else to say anymore. 

After I was allowed to leave, I went back to my table to hide behind my display because I couldn’t keep it together much longer. Despite all the difficulties of getting there, I love going to Otakon’s Artist Alley. I work really hard and try my best to get there every year. I make plans a year in advance despite the table lottery and fly all the way out from California to attend, and I’ve been attending since 2008. Both of us have. It’s a special convention to me because it’s the only time of year I get to see all of my east coast friends in one place. And I really didn’t want that taken away just because one staffer didn’t like my friend’s tone of voice. I felt bullied and awful.

Once I calmed down, Finni told me she did not verbally assault Martin like he claimed; she only asked for clarification on the 50/50 rule, since they had been so vague. Yeah, she asked him assertively, but there’s a huge difference between being assertive and verbal assault. Verbal assault is oral or written speech that creates, or is intended to create, fear of physical harm. I’m not really sure how Martin turned a firm question into something as serious and dramatic as assault, but apparently he took it as a question of his authority and blew it way out of proportion. Offended, he sought me out in order to punish her by threatening to ban us both. But threatening to ban us when we were following his instruction and only seeking clarification was a hugely unfair abuse of this power as co-head of Artist Alley.

A lot of artists were upset for us and helped us get through the rest of the weekend by encouraging us to take this matter over Martin’s head to higher authority within the convention staff. Since then, Finni has been very proactive in communicating with the Otakon Chief of Staff, and it seemed like progress was being made… but we were recently informed that the only thing Otakon plans on doing is talking with staff, rewriting rules, and updating their FAQ. 

I admit, I was hoping to see Martin replaced for this, since I’d rather not have someone willing to threaten and scare artists into submission in charge of one of the largest Artist Alleys in North America. I’m also not the only case where he’s bullied or been rude to artists who were trying to follow their vague rules. But this solution is a very Otakon-like thing to do. When something goes wrong, they make more rules. Rewrite those rules. Talk with staff, make more rules. Update FAQ. Lots of talk, and no action. I was hoping to make this post with a happy resolved ending, but it doesn’t seem like Otakon is willing to resolve this beyond more talk and rule-making. So artists beware, the Artist Alley staff of this convention is likely to mistreat you, threaten you, and slam the banhammer down on you and anyone affiliated with you if they think you have so much as a toe out of line.

TL;DR - Finni and I went to Otakon’s Artist Alley and did our best to follow all of their rules. When the staff said we were breaking their fanart rule we followed their instruction despite our confusion. Finni asked them how we were breaking the rules and what we could do to fix it, and received no answer. As punishment for asking for clarification, the head of Otakon’s AA privately threatened me over and over with banishment from the Alley. This man has thoroughly abused his staff power on several occasions, and this was only one of them. Despite calm and professional communication with Otakorp on this matter, the convention has only resolved to revise their rules. Again.

And no, we never got that question answered.

[EDIT] The links to the Otakon forums work (for now) but since they’re in the Artist Alley forum, you must be logged in to view them.

[EDIT2] Thank you all so much for the support and suggestions, everyone. One of the main suggestions we’ve been getting is to take this matter higher in the chain of command… but if you’ll read back, you’ll see that we already tried that. That was the whole point of trying to keep this matter quiet and discreet immediately after it happened, so we could try to resolve this internally and professionally. Now, roughly a month after the incident, we have been told by Otakorp’s Correspondence Secretary and Vice Con-Chair, along with the Otakorp Chief of Staff, who recieved our formal complaint, that they are going to revise their rules and update their FAQ… and that’s all. We have not been banned, but Otakorp seems to be reluctant to take any other form of action for this beyond more rule revision.

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