When the organizers of Minnesota Fan Fest—a new comic and pop-culture convention coming to the RiverCentre August 19 and 20—released their costume, prop, and weapons policy last month, the local cosplay community reacted quickly on social media. Many cosplayers wrote that they felt portions of the policy were sexist, seeing that they specified which parts of the female body needed to be covered, and that the prop limitations seemed absurdly over the top. After watching a heated discussion about it on the Twin Cities Geeks Facebook discussion group, I reached out to Kristin Rowan, director of marketing, PR, and sales for Square Egg Entertainment, the parent company running the convention. She flew in from Phoenix, Arizona, specifically to have a listening session with community representatives from local Minnesota cosplay and geek groups, and I joined their meeting at Frankie’s Pizza off of Winnetka Avenue by Hot Comics and Collectibles to discuss the policy.
I especially wanted to hear what she had to say about the perception of sexism toward female cosplayers, specifically relating to the required body coverage. Kristin explained that this part of the policy had to do with the convention’s compliance with ordinances directly from local nudity laws: Minnesota statute 617-292, which defines nudity as “showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering, or the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple, or the depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state”; and St. Paul’s definition of certain sexual conduct, which prohibits people from being “unclothed or in such attire, costume or clothing as to expose to view any portion of the female breast below the top of the areola or of any portion of the pubic hair, anus, cleft of the buttocks, vulva or genitals.” Both Minnesota’s and St. Paul’s laws prohibit exposure of the female breast—including side boob—which led the convention organizers to include and attempt to explain that description in their costume rules. Essentially, fans attending Minnesota Fan Fest are subject to the same rules as someone might be on a public beach in St. Paul, which doesn’t seem unreasonable, really. I and others present suggested simply including references to the laws in the costume policy on the website rather than trying to explain them; the language has since been updated on the convention’s policy page.
The second concern I wanted to ask Kristin about was the perception that most props were effectively banned from the convention. This, it turned out, was a miscommunication—Minnesota Fan Fest is only banning weapons, fake and real, and not other props. But for those who may be unaware, there was an incident earlier this year at Phoenix Comicon (another event run by Square Egg Entertainment with over 100,000 attendees) in which a gunman entered the convention with real weapons and attempted to kill Power Rangers star Jason David Frank. Does that warrant banning water pistols or the orange plastic guns that I once used for a cheap Lara Croft cosplay? Like so many things, this issue is not cut and dry, and Square Egg has decided to err on the side of extreme caution, banning all gun replicas, whether or not they can be dangerous or look realistic. It keeps the company’s conventions consistent while keeping everyone safe.
A counterargument from some in the Twin Cities Geeks Facebook group was that the would-be assailant at Phoenix Comicon wasn’t a cosplayer—so why are cosplayers being targeted for their props? But really, this isn’t so much an instance of targeting cosplayers as it is a question of enforcement and consistency when it comes to logistics and maintaining relationships with convention venues, and it’s clear to me that in banning all props that look like firearms, Square Egg is acting in the best interest of keeping everyone safe at the con. After all, what is the discernible difference from a security standpoint between a person in street clothes walking in with a weapon and a person in spandex walking in with a weapon? Either, or neither, could be cosplays, but that is inconsequential because really the issue at hand is the potential weapon, and that is why there is a blanket ban. I can respect that a few cosplayers will be aggravated because their cosplays won’t feel as accurate, but I’m not going to let that ruin my time at a convention. (Besides, I have no doubt that the limitation on props that look like guns will lead to some even more creative props being created and displayed. And let’s be honest: Deadpool aiming a couple bananas at me is always going to be more awesome than any kind of guns.)
Among other concerns expressed by the cosplay community about the policy were the language referencing “excessive weight and size of props” and confusion around whether attendees could wear masks and other headgear. On this subject, Kristin told me about how someone had a fantastic Doctor Octopus cosplay at Phoenix Comicon one year, but the tentacles were so large that when the cosplayer went down an escalator, they were pushing people over. She also talked about cosplayers whose masks and headgear have obstructed their own lines of sight, causing them to be a danger to themselves and others in crowds. Although cosplay is an important part of convention culture, Square Egg wants cosplayers make sure their costumes are not a problem when it comes to navigating the con. Oversized props, wings, face paint, masks, and other headgear are most certainly allowed—as long as the wearer isn’t hitting or tripping other con attendees as they walk by, and as long as they can see where they’re going at all times.
After talking with representatives from local cosplay groups and listening to their feedback, Square Egg Entertainment has overhauled the Minnesota Fan Fest costume, prop, and weapons policy and also added a helpful costume FAQ page to clear up some points of confusion. Among other changes, the six-foot limit on staffs and props has been removed, and in general the language has been revised to make the rules clearer. The fact that the convention organizers proactively reached out to local Minnesota cosplay community leaders to facilitate a discussion about this, and flew into the state on short notice to do so face to face, speaks volumes about the sort of event they are trying to launch in our community. And really, it fits right in with some other things they are doing, such as offering free tables to local geek community organizations; reaching out to local comic shops, the Minnesota Comic Book Association, and local comic creators; providing discounts and comped passes for groups such as military veterans and Girl Scouts; and free admission to all kids 12 and under, making it much easier for entire families to attend. That all is certainly more than can be said for some other comic cons that have come into our market in recent years.
Although the policy of course could have been written more clearly in the first place, and although some people will still be unhappy with the rules, Minnesota Fan Fest responded to the community in a very respectful and receptive way. The organizers listened to concerns and made actual changes based on community feedback and suggestions. Really, what more can we ask for in a comic con? I can’t convince every single cosplayer to attend this convention, but I will personally be going, and Twin Cities Geek will have a table there right next to Geek Partnership Society. Many Minnesota artists and creators will be appearing as guests and panelists, plus local comic artist Dan Jurgens was an instigator in bringing the convention to Minnesota in the first place. All that gives me hope not only that Minnesota Fan Fest will be a good time, but that it will grow into a convention that can serve as another cornerstone of our geek culture here in Minnesota.