This morning I caused a bit of a stir on Twitter. As 140 characters are not sufficient to explain anything much, I thought I should do a blog post as well.
The whole thing started when I opened email from the 2013 World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. This is what I read:
The World Fantasy Convention is essentially a literary convention, with a strong emphasis on the bound printed word – there is no masquerade, costuming or gaming. The Dealers’ Room is devoted to booksellers, specialty presses, and independent publishers, as well as high-end fantasy-related art and jewellery. No comics, T-shirts, DVDs or similar products will be allowed for sale.
What I highlighted on Twitter was that, despite billing themselves as a literary event, they were banning comics from the dealers’ room.
Lee Harris noted that the same rule applied in San Diego last year, and pointed to this page on the World Fantasy website which includes similar language. Brighton simply seems to have copied what previous conventions have done. On the other hand, I can point to the dealer information from the 2009 World Fantasy, which was run by SFSFC (of which I am a director) where the language is a lot less confrontational. (This may, of course, help explain why some members of the World Fantasy Board insist that 2009 was one of the worst World Fantasy Conventions ever. That and the fact that our dates overlapped Hallowe’en and we didn’t throw out members who wore costumes that evening.)
The point here is that controlling what sort of thing people sell in a convention dealers’ room is a sensible thing to do. No commercial operation wants to turn up at an event to discover that they have brought entirely the wrong sort of merchandise and nothing is selling. World Fantasy attracts a particular sort of audience, and if your business is selling action figures and movie memorabilia then you won’t do well there. Equally if you turn up with boxes of the latest Marvel and DC flimsies, or with piles of Twilight DVDs, your business will be slow. On the other hand, copies of Absolute Sandman, or DVDs of the fine movies made by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, would probably shift. You could probably even sell a few t-shirts if you chose them carefully.
So the point here is not about guiding dealers as to what sort of merchandise will sell, it is a question of language. It is a question of saying that certain items are “not allowed”. Why does World Fantasy use such language, when it clearly doesn’t need to? My guess is that it is because there are parts of the SF&F community that the World Fantasy Board despises, and the Board wants those people to know that it despises them.
The other point I want to highlight is the clear implication in the material I quoted that comics are not “literary”. Anyone who has been involved in minority politics can see what is going on here. The World Fantasy Board is trying to “pass for literary” in much the same way that some gay and lesbian people think that if they make sure that they conform rigidly to the gender binary when outside the bedroom, and have nothing to do with trans people, then they can escape persecution. Well guess what folks, it doesn’t work. No matter how hard you try to pass for straight, if you are staging something called the World Homosexual Convention, you are still going to get picketed by Fred Phelps and his gang. And if you are staging a World Fantasy Convention you’ll still get laughed at by the John Mullans of this world.
The sad thing is that, as Patrick Neilsen Hayden noted on Twitter, this entrenchment on the part of the World Fantasy Board is a relatively recent development. It is all very reminiscent of the old-time Worldcon fans who don’t want the “wrong sort of fan” coming to “their” convention.