If this seems hard to fathom, you have to understand how the fandom industry works — and how lucrative it is. Long forgotten sci-fi authors who toiled away in obscurity can achieve new popularity and legitimacy just by being included in the program. Up-and-coming artists have their careers made at these conventions. Dragon*Con is the tastemaker for sci-fi and fantasy fandom and no one hoping to sell books, comics, indie films, or memorabilia can afford to leave a bad taste in the organizers’ mouths.
I talked to Hart Fisher about the convention industry. The man behind American Horrors, an independent horror channel debuting on satellite television and on the subscription web service FilmOn, Fisher started out his controversial career making horror-themed comics like the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer comic. Years ago he too traveled the fandom circuit and witnessed the power promoters had over artists. He observed:
If you’re in charge of booking tables – you’re God.
In our conversation Fisher was, as usual, brutally straightforward in his assessment of the “little men” who get their first taste of power and use it to erase years of anonymity, unpopularity, and failure. With the power to make careers through convention exposure, promoters can extort anything from sex with models whose entire living comes from these appearances to the loyalty of the up and comers who desperately need to connect with audiences. And they can buy silence though promises of fame.
More importantly, he spoke of those who are cowed by the Ed Kramers of the world — starving artists, failed writers, and all the sundry performers and producers who seek fame and fortune in the subcultures where they themselves often started out as fans attending the conventions. “None of these kids know how to stand up for themselves … how are they going to stand up to someone in authority?”
He might as well have been speaking about the kids Ed Kramer allegedly abused. But we were talking about the thousands of aspiring writers and artists who end up selling their souls in one way or another to some pudgy baby boomer who has finally gone from“geek” to king, even if it’s of a small kingdom that exists only for a weekend. Hart Fisher did his last convention in 2004 and told me he won’t do any others.
But not everyone can swim against the tide, and the successes of people who toadied for Ed Kramer are hard to deny. Splatterpunk author Nancy Collins reaped huge benefits from her association with Dragon*Con, going from a comic book writer and novelist with a modest following to editing anthologies with Kramer that included stories from luminaries like Stephen King. Collins and her husband, the late shock filmmaker Joe Christ, later turned on Kramer when the allegations against him became criminal charges. Both of them had their careers destroyed as Kramer’s many supporters in the industry launched smear campaigns against them.