Dragon-Con, Atlanta’s yearly convention devoted to science fiction, comics and fantasy seems on the brink of being confronted with a harsh reality.
With new child molestation charges against co-founder Ed Kramer lodged by Connecticut authorities, and his re-arrest and extradition to Georgia, a nascent boycott campaign against the Labor Day extravaganza has gained steam.
Though his partners removed him from the board of Dragon-Con in 2000, when the first charges against Kramer surfaced, Kramer still holds a third of the company’s stock, and earns dividends from the lucrative enterprise — $150,000 in 2011.
North Carolina-based horror writer Nancy Collins — a former Atlantan and former Dragon-Con panelist — was among the early critics of Dragon-Con’s ongoing association with Kramer, insisting, after the 2000 charges, that the company sever financial ties with Kramer and forbid his supporters from using the convention to raise money for his defense fund.
The result: She was roundly criticized by Dragon-Con’s supporters. “I’ve had people threaten violence and death to me because of the boycott,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Kramer, who was known to host campouts and sleepovers at his house with teenaged fans, was charged in August of 2000 with abusing three teenaged boys in Gwinnett County.
His trial was postponed repeatedly, due to a series of health maladies, including spinal surgery. He was released to home arrest, on the condition that he report his location, and have no contact with children under 16. In the fall of 2011 he was arrested at a Connecticut motel, allegedly in the company of a 14-year-old boy, and this January he was extradited to Gwinnett County, where his earlier charges originated.
He is now being held without bond in Gwinnett.
It was the Connecticut charges, and a detailed account of Kramer’s saga published in Atlanta Magazine last fall, that convinced one-time Dragon-Con performer and customer Jim Stacy to stay away this year. “I can’t in good conscience have money that I’ve spent going to continue to allow him to skirt a trial date,” said the 6-foot-6 Stacy, a well-known figure in local theater and music circles. Stacy once performed at the convention in a Star Wars themed band (he was dressed as Darth Vader) and is the star of the PBA food series “Get Delicious!”
Stacy said he doesn’t condemn the entire Dragon-Con apparatus, but said he won’t contribute to Kramer’s profits. “What I do know, is he still makes money off of the con, and none of that money will be mine.”
Dragon-Con co-founder Pat Henry, who also owns a third of the company, bemoaned the boycott effort. “We care a lot about what fans think,” he said, but the criticism, if anything, inspires Henry to work harder. “We are going to build the best show we can,” he said.
Henry said his organization has tried to disentangle itself from Kramer’s ownership, offering to buy him out in 2004, 2006 and 2008. “I used to try to buy him out every week or two,” said Henry, adding that the $500,000 they offered for his shares in 2004 was high. “The company value was nowhere close.”
In response, Kramer filed suit seeking financial information about the corporation. Kramer’s civil attorney, McNeill Stokes, said no offers to buy out Kramer have arrived since 2008, and Kramer was seeking information “so he could determine what his stock was worth.” Henry said his partners were willing to share that information, but not until Kramer signed a confidentiality agreement, which, he said, was not forthcoming.
Stokes said said the two parties have begun to share information, which may lead to a resolution of the suit.
But Henry is doubtful that Kramer will ever sell his shares. “He has a total unwillingness to work in good faith.”
Critics have suggested that the corporation be dissolved and re-created under a new name, which Henry said isn’t out of the question, “but is not as easily done as one might think.”
Yet the economics of Dragon-Con can’t be wished into the Phantom Zone, nor would downtown businesses want them to be. The four-day event fills four hotels and sparks Atlanta’s most colorful parade of superheroes, villains and vampires. Organizers say the event puts $42 million in the pockets of Atlanta businesses.
Unlike the San Diego Comic-Con and others, Dragon-Con is a money-making operation, which has provoked additional criticism.
Don Murphy, producer of the “Transformer” movies (which have earned $2.6 billion at the box office), is a one-time Dragon-Con panelist who won’t be going back.
The for-profit nature of Dragon-Con is what chains the organization to Kramer, said Murphy. “The fact that it’s a profit motive is what’s keeping them from doing the right thing and getting rid of him.”
In the meantime, Kramer remains in custody at the Gwinnett County Detention Center, as the district attorney’s office makes plans to have him examined for fitness to stand trial.
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