Comic Publisher Tells Fan She is Too Old for Them: Editorial by Sheila Clover English

UPDATE 2PM:

 

I received a phone call from IDW Publishing’s Dirk Wood who told me that there was a meeting this morning and that their people have read this post.  According to Dirk they were all very surprised to hear that the rep in question made that sort of remark as he is not known for this type of behavior.  They will speak to him directly, but have not had the chance yet. They did not, however, want to wait before sending an apology to me, which I appreciate.

I felt they were sincere and that I was heard.  Regardless of why someone misspoke or had a momentary lapse and said something the wrong way, no one should ever experience what I experienced on Saturday. I encourage people to speak up when they can and make sure those you feel are being unfair to you have a chance to clarify themselves or at least understand your displeasure. I should have gone back or spoke up right there and then, but I was simply too tired and sick to cope without becoming emotional. But always speak up.  It allows you to feel empowered and them to have a chance at clarifying themselves or making amends.

They are sending me the Judge Dredd graphic! I am so very happy about that. And I’ve been invited to stop by their booth at San Diego ComicCon to meet them under better circumstances, something else I appreciate. As a fan you want to have wonderful experiences with who or what you love.  Fandom is a preserved sense of wonder that we all want to hold on to no matter what age we are. I’m happy to be able to remain a fan of IDW. – Sheila

 

BACKGROUND

 

Never too old for comics! Just ask the amazing Stan Lee!

Let me start out by saying that this one experience does not deter me from wanting to read or promote comics and graphic novels.  I’m not a fair-weather fan like that.  It also did not completely ruin my experience at BookExpo America.  I’ve attended as press at BEA for many years and have a great deal of respect for the event and still would highly recommend it to anyone in the publishing industry.  This was one experience.  Unfortunately, it is the one I am most likely to remember forever.

My company covers many events including BEA and including many ComicCons.  We own Behind the Mask which covers solely comics, manga, graphic novels and any derivative thereof.  In addition to being a supporter of the genre professionally, I support the genre personally and have children, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends that I have personally taken to comic events, sent comics or graphic novels too and supported their comic habit with gusto.

I have been fortunate enough to meet many famous people in the comic industry including Stan Lee, Mike Grell, Michael Uslan and many others.  At no point was I ever told, nor was in inferred, that I was not worthy of being a comic fan. Instead, I have always been treated with respect and enthusiasm. Always. It is part of the reason I promote this genre so whole-heartedly both professionally and personally.

My Daughter and Niece go to first ComicCon

Never in my wildest imaginings could I have foreseen the way I was treated on Saturday June 1st, 2013 after noon at the IDW Publishing booth during BEA.  I do not for a moment believe this experience represents the comic industry at all.  This was one person representing one company.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT HAPPENED

 

One of the display books I brought home

The final day of BEA is when many publishers will give away display items for us hardcore fans who stick it out to the bitter end.   I have family and friends who are avid readers and each year I look for books for them.  Many of the reps at the booths remember me from previous years or from other interactions during the year.  It is not unusual to have 100 books by the time I am ready to go home after BEA.  No book goes unread.  They are all treasures. Believe me, I have to pay for shipping, so I only take the books that I know I want.

As a huge supporter of the comic genre I had already been in the comic area, but went there again at the end knowing many will have additional display items to give away. It was near the end of the day for the event.  On this day BEA is open to the public so I figured there may be items given out just for this.  In addition to being an industry professional I am a fan.  I spend time, money and energy with this genre.

Most of the comic companies represented there did indeed have additional giveaways and display items.  Some of them have a limit on what how many things you can take and I did not at any point go over my limit.  I am very sensitive to the fact that other fans are excited to get these items as well. And because I’m in the book industry I know it’s important to the companies that they reach as many people as possible with their promotional items.  But, if there were new things that I was allowed to have you better believe I got them.  Often I will talk to the reps and we’ll share in our enthusiasm with such fun and excitement they give me a little extra something.  I don’t ask for it, they do it because they see how sincere I am in promoting this genre overall.  I say this to express my healthy relationship over the years with these companies.  They are all happy to speak with me and share our love of comics and graphic novels.

When I saw that IDW Publishing was giving away display books I was so thrilled! They are one of my favorite comic/graphic novel publishers and I had had my eye on a Judge Dredd graphic novel I would have loved to have. I was with my assistant and our new Director of Operations in the UK, but excused myself to get in line at the IDW booth.  There were two women in front of me, both of them in their 20’s.  One was a lovely girl with brownish-red hair and the other a lovely brunette.  So when I saw the rep, who was easily older than me, showing them special attention I thought nothing of it.  He wasn’t being overly flirtatious, but he was flirting a bit.  And by flirting I mean that he was smiling at them, talking to them, offering them a gift and winking at them when they made their choice.  I may not have even considered it flirting really if I didn’t know he was judging women physically, something I found out soon enough.  But, when a man judges a woman and finds them worthy or not worthy of a gift they can bestow on them, to me, that is flirting when they bestow that gift with a wink.

To each girl he said the same thing.  He looked at them as though he was unsure at first, then smiled broadly and said, “For YOU, you can pick ONE book.”  Then he would smile at the girl, she would pick the book and he would give her a wink.

I saw the much coveted Judge Dredd graphic novel and was so excited that I would get it! It was my turn and I picked up the Judge Dredd book with a huge smile on my face.  But, when I looked up at the rep he wasn’t smiling.  He looked down at me and I thought he was looking at my badge.  If he had said “I’m sorry, but press is excluded.” Or if he said, “Press has to wait till the very end of the day.” I would have been sad to part with Judge Dredd, but I would totally have understood that position.  There were readers in today and companies need to promote to new readers. No harm there. But, he didn’t care that I had a press badge.  Apparently when he looked me up and down like that he wasn’t concerned with that, because what he said was, “No. We’re only giving books to younger people.”  He didn’t even try to soften the blow.  I was not young enough to get the final day’s giveaway.  At first I thought maybe he was kidding. Some people don’t know when their teasing or actions are inappropriate, so I replied, “Really?” It was all I could think to say.  He looked at me in all seriousness, like he was sure I was going to argue with him over it and of course he knew he had all the power of the “last say” since he was the rep.  He then said, “Yeah, put that back.” He nodded toward the book in my hands.

This entire ordeal was maybe three minutes from the time I stood in line to the time I walked away, but it felt like an eternity.  There were people all around.  My first feeling was that I had been judged unworthy to the extent that I deserved public humiliation for my crime. People didn’t hear everything that was said, but they saw this man lose his smile when I came up to him, they saw him shake his head and they saw him force me to put the book back.  I wondered what those people thought I had done so wrong to be turned away like that.  And though I realize it may only be in my mind that every eye was on me, it certainly felt that way in that moment.

I had gotten sick the first day of BEA and ended up with laryngitis. I could hardly speak as it was and anyone who did speak with me those few days during the event can attest to how bad it was and how difficult it was for me to speak.  It was the final hours of the last day of the event and I was sick and I was tired. And then, I was treated like that. I had no fight in me. I sat the book down and prayed to God I did not cry in public over something that, logically, I knew wasn’t worth this inner emotional turmoil I was feeling.

I did not get his name, though there were only two reps there at the time. Him and a woman.  His badge was turned around, which probably was not on purpose and once he shocked me with his attitude and words I did what most victims do; fight or flight, and I chose to leave.

My assistant and our UK rep had rounded the corner and as I walked the few feet to where they stood my assistant immediately caught on that something was very wrong and rushed to meet me. She asked what happened, but it was so hard to talk about it I just gave her the gist of it and wanted to get out of sight of those people who saw me turned away.  She was irate. She wanted to go and confront him. I asked her not to. That entire section was full of readers, fans and press and I did not want that to be what people saw or associated me with.  I did not want an angry confrontation.

 

NOW WHAT?

 

You’ve been judged!

What I do want is an apology.  I want IDW Publishing to assure me that no one, women or men, will be discriminated against that way at any convention.  That they will be accountable for the actions of their representatives. I do think that, in all fairness, I should get the Judge Dredd book.  If I had been young and pretty I’d have it today.  If my money is good enough for IDW, then why am I, as a person, not good enough? Yeah, I want them to send me the book.

It has been suggested by some that IDW send me an apology basket of goodies. I don’t need that. I’m about to attend San Diego ComicCon where I know I will get LOTS of goodies. But, if IDW feels inclined to go above and beyond with their apology I would like them to donate appropriate books to my daughter’s middle school instead.

I’ve left messages with IDW Publishing, but in all fairness this experience happened later in the afternoon on Saturday with the social media starting on Sunday after a big convention.  They may not have had time to respond today.  But, if they have not responded within 24 hours I will assume they are okay with the behavior of their representative. If that is the case, I’m sure what little sphere of influence I may have will remember that. Not because I am the popular, young, attractive audience that IDW rep said they are looking for, but because I am not. I am the average American woman over 40.  There are not a lot of superheroes in comics who fit that description that I can think of, but there are a lot of us who are real heroes every day. Regardless of how I am treated, I will not let this make me bitter. And some days that is what qualifies as a hero.

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