Con Report: Mobicon Happened, and I Was There
Previously infamous for its harassment.
The following was originally posted on SheGeeks and has been republished with permission.
When you review conventions for a living, you find yourself at all kinds of cons that likely wouldn’t have hit your radar otherwise. Most cons you look forward to, some not so much. There is always one, however, that you almost want to avoid. I had never been to Mobicon before, and the stories of harassment from previous years didn’t exactly paint a sunshiny picture of this Alabama con, so I was a bit apprehensive about going. Then, there was a social media kerfuffle just days before the convention opened about one of the con’s most popular events, and I found myself considering cancelling. Clearly, I didn’t cancel. The point of this series is to shine a spotlight on these conventions, and it would be a disservice to my work, my readers, and to the convention itself if I allowed rumors to sway me rather than experiencing Mobicon for myself. So, I pulled on my big girl panties, made the decision to be as neutral as possible, and headed out to Mobile, AL.
Mobicon is in its 18th year, is run by a group of volunteers consisting of a Board of Directors and a Board of Governors, and is a registered 501(c)3 organization with a proud history of charitable contributions. According to their current President, Kim Lee,
“The [chosen] charity gets 60% of our net income plus all proceeds from charity auction. […] Last year we gave $7000.00 toThe Teal Foundation.”
Their current charity is Woody’s Song, a local school for children with autism, and Lee informed me that all of their students were even able to visit the convention this weekend. Though official numbers have not been tallied just yet, early estimates indicate they likely raised around $7,000 again this year.
One of the highlights of the convention for me, was the work of the folks at FOS Comics. In addition to their vendor booth, they also set up a mobile Gotham City Police Department (complete with a full sized mug shot board), and were serving arrest warrants all weekend. For just $5 you could sign a warrant for someone at the convention, and have them “arrested” by Det. Jim Gordon and the officers of the GCPD. The money they collected was split between Woody’s Song and a memorial fund for artist James Powell, a long time friend of the convention and artist guest who was tragically killed (along with his girlfriend and mother) in a car accident just one week before the convention. In just three days, they were able to raise $425, which translates into roughly 85 arrests. I was even arrested by Det. Gordon himself while fellow guest, Gillian of Cos Coutour, was arrested by one of the officer’s daughter (dressed as the 10th Doctor), and it was probably the best thing ever:
Despite their charitable work, however, Mobicon still harbors a reputation for elevated levels of harassment, and a general resistance to change. These stories and rumors were a large part of what made me hesitant to attend. I was delighted to discover, however, that Mobicon brought on Derek Barefoot as their new Head of Security. Barefoot, in addition to having an imposing physique, has a history in law enforcement/security and seems to be taking his position very seriously.
I had a chance to speak with him at the end of the convention, and he was very proud to say that security did not receive a single report of harassment during the con, and he was quick to credit a focus on organization and training with the success of his security team. According to Barefoot, he held several meetings and training sessions with his volunteer security staff well in advance of the event to ensure that each member was well versed in proper procedures for any incidents that may occur (up to and including filing paperwork and following up on incidents). He also increased the security presence around the convention and put his staff in bright yellow shirts to increase their visibility. Granted, having no reports of harassment doesn’t mean that no harassment occurred, but given Mobicon’s reputation, and the fact that I also didn’t witness a single incident, it’s a huge improvement that I see as a sign that Mobicon is acknowledging the problems of the past, and taking steps to make their event welcoming to all geeks.
Another sign that Mobicon is putting effort into embracing everyone, was the number of kids and families I saw thoroughly enjoying themselves throughout the weekend. It can be difficult to find a balance between kid fun and adult fun, and Mobicon seems to be putting real effort into finding that balance. While there were still plenty of “adults only” events and panels in the evenings, just about everything else was kid friendly enough that tiny nerds could be found around every corner. They even had an area set up called “Kid Con” where little ones could enjoy some safe, geeky fun (including foam lightsabers) while the adults focused on panels and whatnot.
The only issue I encountered at Mobicon was a lack of organization. Unfortunately, it was an issue that came up several times over the weekend. Panels were delayed because the previous one ran over, guests were double booked for appearances and panels (forcing them to chose between two engagements), some panels were either moved to a new time without any notice, or cancelled altogether for various reasons, and guests had to share signing tables on a bizarre, rotating schedule that had them to setting up and breaking down their tables multiple times during the day, and made catching a guest at their table a hit-or-miss endeavor. To make matters worse, the vendor room was set up as a winding dead-end that forced you to awkwardly back track your steps in order to leave. There was a decent flow while moving through the room initially, but once you reached the end and had to turn around to go back out the way you came in, it felt a bit like salmon swimming upstream.
Even with the few problems I encountered, I have to say that Mobicon pleasantly surprised me. Not only was harassment not at all the issue I was expecting it to be, but every staff member I encountered was friendly and as helpful as they could be in such a chaotic environment, the few panels I was able to attend were interesting, and the guests were all absolutely delightful. I particularly want to point out voice actor/director Richard Epcar and actor Jerrad Vunovich, who both repeatedly went above and beyond with their fans. I was able to spend some time away from the convention with each of them, and can comfortably say that they are genuinely kind humans. If you have a chance to meet them at a convention, do it; you won’t be disappointed. Epcar was even kind enough to allow me to fangirl out a bit, and film a little something especially for She-Geeks in his Joker voice:
The Joker totally reads She-Geeks!
Posted by She-Geeks on Saturday, May 23, 2015
All in all, I enjoyed Mobicon way more than I thought I would. There are still a few opportunities to improve, but this weekend seemed to indicate a desire to move the convention forward rather than allowing it to stagnate. One potential change has been the source of a social media headache for Mobicon is related to one of their most popular events, that also happens to bring in a substantial portion of their charitable donations: the “Slave Auction.” There is an increasing call for the governing body of Mobicon to officially change the auction’s name. Many feel the name is offensive and insensitive to the history of the area (The Slave Market, where slaves continued to be bought and sold for an astounding 50 years after slavery was banned, was located just 4 blocks from the convention site). Others argue that the name has nothing to do with human slavery, but is related to the slave/Master relationship in BDSM, and since the event is adults only, there is no reason to change the name. For those unfamiliar, these auctions consist of both men and women who volunteer to be “auctioned” off for charity. Generally, the volunteers will offer a specific, non-sexual service to entice people to “bid” on them (popular services include foot rubs, being a “date” to the con dance, carrying things, acting as a “yes man” or entourage, etc). I feel that it is important to note that these kinds of events have not been uncommon among conventions. Several conventions have had a “slave auction” or something similar for years, but of those who have not abandoned the auction altogether, Mobicon is one of the last that continues to use the controversial name. Personally, I would like to see the name changed. The name carries a negative connotation with it, has the potential to alienate new con-goers, and is (at the end of the day) inaccurate. Those who participate in the auction are not bidding on slaves. Period. Even when looking at the auction from a BDSM standpoint, volunteers are not signing up to actually be slaves. So why continue to call them that? Holding onto the antiquated and pointless name makes as much sense as continuing to insist that cat calling is a compliment.
According to Kim Lee, “the name change for slave auction in in discussions.” So, it seems we’re going to have to wait and see if the Board chooses to acknowledge the negativity surrounding the name, or to stubbornly hold onto an inaccurate name for the sake of tradition. Until then, let’s end this review on a high note with some fabulous vendors and some awesome cosplay, yes?
Eris Walsh (@SheGeeksBlog) is obsessed with Batman, Neil Gaiman, chemistry, Doctor Who, and baseball. She also enjoys scouring conventions for fantastic examples of cosplay craftsmanship and discussing role-playing games (both table top and LARP), comics, movies, etc. with other enthusiasts. Eris can also be found on her blog She-Geeks, where she writes about geek stuff; On Comicosity, where she posts comic book reviews; and on the Krewe du Who community webpage, where she posts weekly reviews of current Doctor Who episodes.
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