Authors refuse to attend Utah comic convention over handling of sexual misconduct complaint

Comic convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 25, 2015 | Photo courtesy of robertcicchetti, iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City’s annual comic convention is dealing with a rift over its handling of a sexual misconduct allegation that’s caused several participants to back out of planned appearances.

In a blog post Tuesday, young adult fiction author Shannon Hale accused organizers of the annual FanX convention of being dismissive toward harassment complaints and concerns from women. The post came after convention co-founder Bryan Brandenburg apologized Monday for seeming “insensitive to people’s pain.”

Jessica Nowan, left front, and Caitlin Grandstaff, right, stand in line for a comic convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center, in Salt Lake City, Utah, Sept. 4, 2017 | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

He said staff will undergo training for sexual harassment and added that a new policy has been written outlining possible sanctions when a complaint is made.

“I need to improve on listening and making people feel validated,” Brandenburg said in a statement.

Hale said the apology wasn’t enough to restore her confidence in the organizers. At least six other participants have said they’re withdrawing from the convention.

Earlier this month, Hale raised concern over comments by co-founder Dan Farr that seemed to downplay a complaint against author Richard Paul Evans for hugging a fellow panelist at last year’s convention. The anonymous complaint cited by the Salt Lake Tribune said the contact was unwanted.

Farr, however, told the newspaper that Evans is “very huggy and demonstrative” and that “giving that warm reception to fans is very positive.”

Evans, who created the “Michael Vey” and “Christmas Box” series, has not been invited back to the convention. He did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday from The Associated Press.

Hale said she saw a confidential report about the incident done by convention officials that raised “a number of red flags for me and a lot of language that seemed to belittle the accuser and protect the harasser.” Hale said she raised her concerns with Brandenburg but said she was initially dismissed.

Organizers of the convention did not immediately reply to a phone message and emails seeking comments on the report or the details provided by Hale.

“Maybe it is best that you sit this one out and then wait to hear how it went,” Brandenburg said in an email to her, according to a screen grab Hale posted online Monday. “I know in my heart that we take this seriously and I don’t think you get it. I have four daughters and I’ve been sensitive to these issues for decades, long before it became trendy with #metoo.”

FanX responded by posting part of the exchange on Twitter without covering up Hale’s personal email address. Brandenburg has since said that was inadvertent.

“I do not want to have anything more to do with them,” Hale wrote Tuesday.

Authors Margaret Stohl, Brendan Reichs, Ilima Todd, Ally Condie and actresses Arryn Zech and Lindsay Jones have said on Twitter that they also won’t be attending the convention this year because of the handling of the harassment claim.

Hale has written more than a dozen books, including 2006 Newbery Honor “Princess Academy” and “Austenland,” which was turned into a movie starring Keri Russell in 2013.

FanX was previously known as Salt Lake Comic Con but changed its name this year after a trademark dispute with organizers of San Diego Comic-Con International. Organizers expect more than 100,000 attendees over three days in September.

Written by JULIAN HATTEM, Associated Press

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Brian May 23, 2018 at 11:50 am

    What a bizarre world we live in where giving someone a hug in public is considered “sexual misconduct”! I understand it was “unwanted”, but so are telemarketing calls, someone talking during a movie, sitting next to a person with BO on the bus, etc. Lots of things we experience in life are “unwanted”, that doesn’t make them harassment or even inappropriate. This is ludicrous. If someone that hypersensitive wants to withdraw from the convention I say good riddance and take your drama with you. There are legitimate things in life to be concerned with. Crap like this cheapens the discussion and numbs people to real complaints that have merit. Cry wolf somewhere else.

    • John May 23, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      that’s why colleges need “cry closets”

  • comments May 23, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    people that go to these sorts of things are idiots

  • Utahguns May 23, 2018 at 10:50 pm

    “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” Mark Twain

  • Craig May 24, 2018 at 7:30 am

    “I have four daughters and I’ve been sensitive to these issues for decades” tells me someone is seeking reassons to be offended.

    It’s odd we need to be fearful of hugging someone. Experts used to advocate hugging; now its sexual harassment.

    As an emergency physician, I considered hugging a very important part of my job, of my oath.

    It’s very sad that some people go to great lengths to find unhappiness.

  • dogmatic May 24, 2018 at 8:22 am

    In these large crowds where many weirdos are in costumes and can’t be identified they become disindividalized and if you don’t like being groped than you have been misguided.

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