Ross Lincoln is a Deadline contributor.
When it comes to fanboy festivals, Atlanta’s DragonCon is a far cry from San Diego Comic-Con for sheer attendance and participation of Hollywood studios. But the festival has grown from the 1400 who attended its first festival in 1987 to a high of 52,000 last Labor Day weekend. It is a major moneymaking event for the city, with geek icons from Stan Lee to Patrick Stewart regularly making appearances.
The festival, which this year runs August 30-September 2, also has an albatross around its neck. One of its godfathers, Edward Kramer, was arrested in 2000 in Georgia and charged with three counts of child molestation involving two teenage brothers. Owing to a series of legal maneuvers and health issues, Kramer has never been tried in criminal court, and after finally being allowed to post bond in 2009, he was even free to travel. That was until he was arrested in Connecticut in 2011 on charges of “risk of injury to a minor” after being found in a hotel room with a 14 year old, a violation of his bond agreement. Extradited back to Georgia last month, he is awaiting trial on the original charges.
This cloud has hung over the festival for years, even though organizers have tried since 2001 to sever ties to Kramer. They even once reportedly offered him $500,000 to divest his ownership stake and go away, to no avail. Kramer owns 31% of the festival as a minority shareholder, and he reportedly pocketed $150,000 from the 2011 DragonCon. Now, a group led by horror author Nancy Collins and Transformers producer Don Murphy is saying enough is enough, urging creative professionals to boycott the festival if organizers can’t get rid of Kramer once and for all.
In the 1990s, Collins had a professional relationship with Kramer that included co-editing an anthology of horror stories and increasing involvement in DragonCon. She broke ties with Kramer shortly before his arrest in 2000 as a result of what she says was the inappropriate interest Kramer had toward her 12-year-old stepson. After Kramer’s arrest, Collins was among the first to speak publicly against him, a decision that led to schism in the community between Kramer’s defenders and those who believed the charges.
Collins has long contended that annual DragonCon revenue windfalls have enabled Kramer’s defense lawyers to delay trial indefinitely with an array of legal maneuvers. “No matter what DragonCon does or says,” she wrote when calling for the boycott, “funds from the convention will continue to go to Edward Kramer until either he dies or the corporation that runs the convention dissolves and reincorporates under another name.” With Kramer’s recent extradition, Collins believes now is the time to pressure DragonCon to finally take action to cut ties to Kramer.
Murphy agrees. “There’s absolutely no excuse for the fact that one cent of this money should go to enable a pedophile to be free to molest again,” Murphy told Deadline. “I will do everything in my power to make sure that nobody associated with Transformers or Vampire Academy or any of my many comic book-related projects has anything to do with DragonCon while that’s still the case.”
Other supporters of the boycott include noted Swamp Thing artist Stephen Bissette, Marvel and DC comics writer Ron Marz, Girl Genius creators Phil & Kaja Foglio, Bubba Ho-Tep creator Joe R. Lansdale, screenwriter John Shirley, and A Distant Soil author Colleen Doran.
It is unclear whether public pressure will change Kramer’s legal position. Festival organizers said that their hands are tied, at least until Kramer is finally brought before a judge.
“It is our sincere hope that the end is in sight and that the upcoming trial(s) in Gwinnett County will provide a resolution of Edward Kramer’s guilt or innocence, and therefore a cause of legally divorcing ourselves from him once and for all,” festival organizers wrote in a Facebook post. “Since 2000, Dragon Con has been managed by three of the original co-founders, Chairman Pat Henry and board members Dave Cody and Robert Dennis. In that time the convention attendance has grown from less than 10,000 to over 52,000 fans. Our goal has been and will continue to be, to provide the greatest fan driven science fiction/fantasy convention in the world. We do hope that everyone understands that due to past, present, and possible future lawsuits we find ourselves unable to comment further on any matters concerning Edward Kramer. Please do not construe any future silence on the matter as a lack of concern on the part of the Dragon*Con staff and more specifically, our board of directors”.
Stockholders can’t be forced to sell shares they own outright. As for the suggestion of dissolving the DragonCon corporation, under Georgia law, voluntary dissolution can’t occur so long as a corporate entity has pending legal disputes, and as the convention alluded in its statement, Kramer is in a lawsuit with DragonCon over his rights as a minority shareholder. Neither Kramer’s civil attorney nor DragonCon would comment on that pending legal matter to Deadline.