After facing an expected and continual wave of backlash for inviting Vic Mignogna to their convention as a guest of honor, Kitchener Comic Con has responded to the recent controversy by defending their extension of an invitation to the Dragona Ball Super: Broly voice actor, resulting in an alleged outpouring of fan support for the Canadian comic convention.
Following Bounding into Comics’ coverage of the calls for boycott against Kitchener Comic Con (KCC), KCC Director of Communication Cress Holmes reached out to the site, expressing interest in further explaining KCC’s side of the story.
As told by Holmes, the team was not ignorant of Mignogna’s current legal battle, doing their due diligence as representatives of a fan community and spending “the better part of a year looking into Vic’s situation.”
Holmes was not surprised by the backlash to Mignogna’s appearance announcement, explaining that the team had been “watching as a group of folks attacked, harassed and threw any and everything they could at conventions, venues, sponsors, vendors, guests” and thus “had a fair amount of an idea of what to expect when we eventually made the decision to reach out to Vic and confirm our commitments to signing him.”
According to Holmes, The KCC team has taken a stronger stance against bowing to harassment and intimidation since 2019, after the Con was accused of having a lackluster policy on sexual harassment. This stronger stance came after Holmes had to “field nearly 8 hours of questions from literally every local media outlet, and answer in-depth questions about the allegations that were made in that [previously linked] Reddit thread.”
Those allegations prevented Holmes from celebrating the convention’s Next Top Cosplayer event with the family of Michael Lee Fox. The event had specifically been created and dedicated to Fox, who had passed away from suicide the previous year.
“The final breaking point for our team taking a stand happened after our 2019 event, our year 5 show. One of our team members had lost his battle with depression shortly before the show, after being bullied into permanent silence. Still grieving, we knew Lee would want us to continue on. Lee was an incredible member of the cosplay community, selfless and never asking anyone for help. He was a pillar of the community who never shared his hurt, and unfortunately for the world, his strength finally gave out.
We had resolved to dedicate our 5th year event in his honor. I started up the “Next Top Cosplayer” https://www.kitchenercomic-con.com/nexttopcosplayrules competition, in his memory. With the entry fee being split between the top prize winner, and the Canadian Mental Health Association – donated in Lee’s memory.
We had invited Lee’s family to be a part of that event, providing his entire family with VIP Passes; Lee was an important founding member of the event and his fingerprints had been all over it.
Unfortunately, a few days before our event, the local “cancel” group decided to start up a reddit thread, after attempting to rile up trouble at our final volunteer meeting – making false claims that we lacked a policy to deal with harassment (You’ll find it here: https://www.kitchenercomic-con.com/policies). We have, since the event started, adapted the Anime North and FanExpo rules for harassment procedure, mostly because our volunteers and staff cross over with those events and are already familiar with them all.
So calls for boycotts and attacks for a number of different reasons began to swell online, because of this reddit thread – and unfortunately any attempts to answer them on the thread itself were met with hostility, heavy moderation from the biased moderating team, and downvoting from a subreddit community that was pushing an agenda. Any positive remarks about Kitchener Comic Con were immediately brigaded by members of the subreddit, leaving no option to officially reply.
The day of the event, being the media coordinator, I had to field nearly 8 hours of questions from literally every local media outlet, and answer in-depth questions about the allegations that were made in that reddit thread (the same thread being thrown around an entire year later – even after debunking and answering to all the claims).
I wasn’t able to spend the time with Lee’s family, his sister who wore his original Canadian Marty McFly cosplay to the show so he could be there with us. I briefly had a moment to greet them before having to handle an flurry of questioning, ultimately none of which even made it to press. No mention of the reddit thread ever made it to news, and none of the claims being made in it were ever proven to be credible.
After that incident, we resolved to not allow these people continually attempt to distract and attempt to destroy our event. They had been the cause of headline guests breaking contract due to these interlopers flooding them with false stories and harassment, so we were looking carefully at guests for the following (2020) year.”
Following Mignogna’s appearance at KamehaCon, fans began “asking if it would be possible to bring Vic back to Canada, get him as a guest etc.”
In response, the KCC team became “heavily invested into researching deeply…for the next few months” in order to properly vet Mignogna in the face of the sexual misconduct allegations.
The KCC team found that they sympathized with Mignogna and chose to invite him out of a feeling of solidarity with “someone who has been viciously attacked and his career torn to shreds, by a similar mob who has been attempting to do the very same to us and our team”.
Holmes notes that similar allegations have been routinely made against the KCC convention and staff, including claims of misogynistic and sexist cosplay policies, falsified financial reports and advertising, and interpersonal issues with larger cosplayers such as Brian Connor, “Kitchener’s Iron Man,” though Holmes denies the veracity of any of these incidents:
I’m about to do something that I never thought I’d have to do. The following thread is going to be the entire DM’s I’ve had with Brian Connor, the one who posted this about our convention. I’ll show you exactly how much we “exploited” him, in my DMs with him. pic.twitter.com/i8sOsgoBNU
— Crumbreon 🐌🔪💀 (@DarksideEevee) February 6, 2020
Holmes spoke with “several convention owners that he had been present at, speaking with attendees, and others” and found only stories of “overwhelmingly positivity.” Those conversations made “it clear that Mignogna would not be a threat to our attendees in any manner.”
Following the team’s independent observation and investigation into the situation, the “staff unanimously voted” to extend an invitation to Mignogna:
“We reached out to Vic, inquired about his availability. His schedule matched up with our tentative dates, and we continued to watch as things unfolded. We quietly polled people in our area to see what the temperature was, and general fanbase was in the region. Once again, we had overwhelmingly positive response with the worst replies being that they had no idea who Mignogna was.
With all that legwork put in, we decided in December to sign Vic to a contract, after our staff unanimously voted to do so. Knowing full well what backlash we could face.”
Holmes also addressed the criticism surrounding the February announcement of Mignogna’s convention appearance, stating that “this decision was made for two reasons.”
“Some have criticised us for waiting until February to announce him, but this decision was made for two reasons – Our first and most important reason was because after running events for nearly 10 years in THIS region (Waterloo Region) we noticed that the degree of excitement and hype has a very short lifespan, even with incredibly large names. So we didn’t want to announce TOO early, and lose all momentum going into the event, as well as we didn’t want to wash out our announcement with Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
The secondary reason was because we knew the local group would find any and all ways to attempt a cancel campaign and smear us to the public, our sponsors, the venue etc and knowing full well they were going to be absorbed into the larger whole that are attacking Vic methodically throughout every one of his convention appearances, and we needed to ensure we did our proper work to reinforce our position.”
Despite receiving extensive criticism and attacks for Mignogna’s invitation, Holmes shares that the team has conversely seen a swelling of support from fans and attendees, receiving “messages of support, encouragement, letters of thanks, beautiful tear-jerking stories, donations, songs, artwork, all from the fans who love and support Mignogna.”
“As expected, we had plenty of attempts to have our venue remove us, personal attacks being made against members of the venue itself, personal attacks against our staff, vendors and guests. We had some individuals go so far as to physically threaten some of our cosplay guests (whom I won’t name for safety reasons, but can provide their e-mails with redactions to prove this), and threaten rape for an attendee simply for supporting our event.
Needless to say, we had already planned to take additional measures for security before this but this heightened the need.
Our team remained steadfast throughout the onslaught, with many criticisms that we just weren’t bending to criticism. One thing I can attribute this to, full-credit, while we anticipated the backlash, we never could have anticipated the unprecedented degree of support WORLDWIDE we received.
We received messages of support, encouragement, letters of thanks, beautiful tear-jerking stories, donations, songs, artwork, all from the fans who love and support Mignogna – all of whom wanted to show us their thanks for us standing tall against the heat we received.
Locally, Nationally and Internationally. We’ve had thousands of people message us from our native Province, and countless more from around the United States and the World – as far as Singapore, UK, Australia and South America. We’ve sold hundreds non-attending packages and passes, where we will be mailing out convention items and autographs to fans world-wide, because they wanted to give back to our event. That showed us exactly how much it means to so, so many people.”
Holmes concluded their remarks by reiterating that “we are doing this for Lee” and remain dedicated to bringing “our attendees and fans the best possible fan experience”:
“We are doing this for Lee, we are doing this for our team and our community, and doing this because we love what Vic represents to his friends, family and fans. Our convention started as a comic book convention, and we adopted “Superheros” as a theme, after we noticed our attendees really gravitated to the comic book heroes and villains of Marvel and DC, etc. So, we figured what better way to exemplify that by making a stand for our fans, our city and our community <3
Despite all of the vitriol we have endured, we still are happy to go through all of it if it means we bring our attendees and fans the best possible fan experience. Because it’s about the next generation of con-goers, the next generation of comic book and superhero fans. It’s about bringing that magic back to them, and making the first experience of so many, that much more special. That’s what we focus on, not a handful of people with personal grudges, because we know who truly matters <3”
Kitchener Comic Con will take place this upcoming weekend, February 29th – March 1st, in Kitchener, Ontario.