The Sicko Side of the Sci-Fi Circuit
Greed is a weakness that leads man down the road to sin. Most often it leads to the sin of omission: silence in the face of evil when that evil is a benefactor whose favor is needed to satisfy one’s greed. Too often we hear of people who metaphorically sell their souls to those who have the power and influence to help them succeed and too often we find that those people in power use others’ greed to satisfy their own deviant desires.
Ed Kramer, founder of the highly influential Dragon*Con, is one such person. From his humble beginnings in a Miami Orthodox Jewish community, Kramer used his vision, charisma, and the force of his personality to become the kingmaker in sci-fi fandom. In 1987, Kramer and several partners launched the first DragonCon as an attack on the staid and boring, family-oriented sci-fi convention industry that dominated at the time. That first convention was a rousing success, featuring big names in the industry like Michael Moorcock and Dungeons and Dragons inventor Gary Gygax. The formula Kramer had created for DragonCon’s success was simple: other conventions were where people went to meet their favorite celebrities, Dragon*Con was where you went to party with them.
But in this sci-fi carnival atmosphere, Kramer used his rapidly increasing influence to turn the party into a nightmare.
From the beginning rumors followed Kramer as he began to appear in public with a harem of young male sci-fi fans and those appearances made people uncomfortable. In a 2002 interview, Mike Dillson, the head of Dragon*Con’s operations and security for nine years, admitted that he had seen many instances of inappropriate behavior involving Kramer and young boys. One of those instances left no doubt in his mind as to what was going on:
Early one morning, Dillson recalls, he called Kramer in his hotel room to come down right away to sort out a snafu in the dealers' hall. "He came from the shower dripping wet and so was the little boy he had with him." Later, he says, he refused Kramer's request to take his young son on a caving trip.
It should be noted that Dillson didn’t alert authorities. In fact, for more than a decade Dragon*Con participants, from the celebrity guests to his fellow founders, witnessed increasingly obvious predatory behavior from Kramer toward young boys. But instead of a scandal, Kramer’s peculiarities became an inside joke:
The stories about Kramer, the sidelong glances and eye-rolling, the snickering behind his back were there almost from the start. What chum is to sharks, fantasy conventions are to teenagers, especially those who consider themselves misfits. Youngsters fill the gaming halls at Dragon*Con and are underfoot anywhere Magic cards are being traded. But for many that didn't explain why Kramer had a constant coterie of boys seemingly wherever he went."You'd go up to his suite to get passes or to talk to him and the room would always be filled with pre-pubescent boys," Johnston recalls.
Mike Dillson, who served as Dragon*Con's head of operations and security for nine years and oversaw a volunteer staff of 135, says Kramer "always had a legion of little boys following him around. 'Ed's boys' -- that's what we called them."
But while the rumors attained near-ubiquity, most people laughed them off or kept their suspicions to themselves rather than risk angering the master of Dragon*Con.
And Ed Kramer was the master. While he was one of a group of genre fans who founded Dragon*Con, Kramer was the most outgoing and confident, thus he became the leader. Kramer booked the acts, decided who got tables at the event, and was the gatekeeper everyone had to pass before being admitted to the wild, wonderful, and profitable kingdom. And that was enough to keep people quiet for over 15 years as Kramer allegedly molested children in their midst.
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.
But they weren’t the only people to benefit from Kramer, only to later have Kramer and company turn on them. In perhaps the most obvious display of the fickle and reckless abuse of his power, Kramer sued White Wolf Publishing, a company he helped to become one of the foremost role playing game publishers in the world, for money they had tried to pay him. He simply refused to cash royalty checks sent to him while claiming he wasn’t being paid. No one knows why he did this:
Beginning in 1990, Kramer also used his connections to help out a local role-playing game maker. He hooked the fledgling White Wolf up with writers -- including Collins -- and edited books for the company's publishing arm.
The next year, White Wolf made gaming history when it concocted the hugely successful "Vampire: The Masquerade" franchise. Thereafter, it became a major Dragon*Con vendor, renting a sizable chunk of the dealer space.
But now, White Wolf co-founder Steve Wieck says Kramer is suing the company to recover several years' worth of royalties and agent's fees; Wieck says checks were dutifully mailed to Kramer, but, mysteriously, he never cashed them.
"For whatever reason, he saw fit to sue us over money we're trying to pay him anyway," says Wieck, adding that Kramer has yet to explain his quarrel with the company.
Consumed by his power in the industry, Kramer began to flaunt his depravity openly. Joe Christ claimed that he saw Kramer bring a very young boy to the adult-themed GothCon 2000. There, Kramer was physically affectionate with the boy in the way one expects to see from young lovers and not a nearly middle-aged man and a child. Before his death this was the incident Joe Christ pointed to that convinced him the rumors of Kramer’s pedophilia were true.
Though it didn’t convince him to call authorities.
On Aug. 25, Gwinnett police Detective Curtis Clemmons phoned Kramer at home, told him of the accusation, and asked him to come to the station for an interview. Kramer said he'd be right over.In fact no one knows who finally called the cops on Ed Kramer. The rumor has always been that it was the ex-husband of the woman he was dating. That woman had three young sons and Kramer was accused of molesting one of them in an anonymous phone call. An innocent man might have been shocked and hurt by such accusations. Ed Kramer was simply angry:
A few minutes later, Clemmons received a frantic call from the boy's mother, who said Kramer had driven up to her house and was banging on the door, yelling, "Tommy! Tommy! Open the door! How could you do this to me?"
Trouble was, it wasn't 15-year-old Tommy (whose name we've changed) but his younger brother whom Kramer was accused at the time of molesting.
In November, he was indicted for allegedly molesting both boys during various sleepovers at his house in the week following Dragon*Con 2000.
A master manipulator, Kramer, still wielding the power of DragonCon, spent the early 2000s orchestrating a two-pronged defense against the criminal charges facing him. The first part involved feigning illness. The man who was an avid caver and partied like Gary Glitter in a Thailand boy bar was now suddenly a lifelong invalid whose condition was worsened by a stint in the Gwinnett County, GA jail. The second was to paint Kramer as a victim of a smear job by competitors. Celebrities like Harlan Ellison did interview after interview claiming Kramer was innocent and Dragon*Con fans crucified everyone who spoke out against Kramer – even the children.
In 2002, Kramer or his supporters somehow convinced Benyamin Cohen, editor of the Atlanta-based American Jewish Life, to publish a hit piece on Kramer’s critics that claimed everyone from the judge assigned the case to Nancy Collins and Joe Christ were anti-Semites. By that time Kramer had suddenly re-embraced Orthodox Judaism and claimed the judge, who was a Christian convert from a Jewish family, was ruling against him out of spite. Cohen picked out of context themes from Collins’ and Christ’s works to prove they were anti-Semites and quoted an inmate who claimed to be a reverend saying that Kramer was singled out by the guards for ill treatment.
The piece didn’t note that Collins and Christ were longtime friends of Kramer before the case, and when I spoke to Cohen he could provide no information on this mysterious reverend who has fallen off the face of the earth. That the piece did feature a quote from Harlan Ellison makes me wonder if the celebrity author didn’t pitch the piece to them as part of his campaign to keep his friend and promoter in the business. For years the piece was used as a fundraiser for Kramer’s defense, appearing on sites like Democratic Underground.
Cohen did admit to me, however, that he found Kramer’s embrace of Orthodox Judaism insincere and that Kramer’s “sudden devoutness” was an attempt to gain sympathy from the local Jewish community.
His malingering and grievance-mongering paid off. Kramer's lawyers were successful in arguing he was too sick to go to trial and he was under house arrest until 2008 when a judge ruled he could travel under strict supervisory rules. He had to report his whereabouts to Gwinnet County authorities once a week and could never have unsupervised contact with anyone under 16.
Ed Kramer broke both those rules earlier this month.
Kramer was found in Connecticut in the company of a 14-year-old boy and claimed to be his guardian. The boy was acting in a film being shot in Connecticut and according to police reports, Kramer was staying in a motel with the boy. Police say witnesses saw the supposedly infirm Kramer hiking the local trails, sans the oxygen machine he used as a prop for his successful bids to forestall justice. He’s out on $50,000 bond and is headed back to Gwinnett County to face a round of uncomfortable questions, including some from his own lawyer who was unaware of Kramer’s adventuring.
But oddly after this latest arrest, there is little in the way of public support for Kramer except the diehard crazies who can rationalize anything. This might be due to DragonCon organizers making it clear that Ed Kramer has had no official involvement in the convention since his legal troubles began. Without the power of Dragon*Con behind him, and having already burned many of his supporters with his lies, Ed Kramer is being abandoned to his fate.
There is no way the celebrities and performers who defended him all these years wouldn’t have seen Kramer – a man who can’t stay away from inappropriate situations while out on bail – indulging in his depravity. They all saw and said nothing because their success was more important than Ed Kramer’s victims. The fantasy industry hid the ugly reality of what this man was up to because they needed him, and now that they don’t they’ll pledge their loyalty to the next Ed Kramer and cover up who knows what for him. All for greed and the promise of fame, which in the world of sci-fi fandom is the mother of all sins.