With the proliferation of comic-cons and nerd-themed events in every country of the globe, there’s also growing controversy about convention organizers who may be shady or ill-prepared to throw such events. One show that has received a great deal of scrutiny of late is the Wine Country Comic Con, which will be held April 23-24 in Santa Rosa, CA. The scrutiny has led to some exhibitors and guests pulling out of the show.
The Comics Beat received an anonymous tip regarding the validity of the show and its organizer Uriel Brena, furnishing emails that contradicted WCCC’s claim that the proceeds will go to the Early Learning Institute, and two articles on the site Nerd & Tie published allege that a fake Facebook account, Frida Avila, was created by WCCC. The blog has also claimed to connect multiple erroneous accounts tied to the con to catfish attendees, Cosplayers, spam multiple Facebook convention groups, and comic book professionals.
WCCC has claimed that it will donate the proceeds towards an early learning center for Autistic children with speech and behavioral problems, because the con’s chairman, Brena, has a 2-year-old toddler with ADS. This center was originally going to be named Early Learning Institute and there was a GoFundMe campaign launched to build the facility, but there’s already a nonprofit organization with the same name that has been helping the community of Sonoma County for 17 years. The GoFundME has since been changed to support the WCCC.
The Beat contacted Early Learning Institute co-founder and executive director, Michele Roger, on Wednesday to clarify its involvement with WCCC.
“We declined to be involved only because this is not our mission nor do we want to start a school,” Roger said. “Nerd & Tie failed to realize that what they published will only make things worse for ELI and the families in need of our help,” Roger stressed. She feels that the negative press surrounding the WCCC and the link with ELI will deter potential donors.
Brena told The Beat that he would change the name of the school because he said he respects what they do and didn’t want to call his school a pre-school.
Brena claims that he never created fake staffer pages because he’s a husband and a father of three and doesn’t have the time.
When questioned about using Maridah’s photo or the WCCC’s rule page he stated “my webmaster told me we paid for the image, but I asked him to remove her photo and use a Cosplayer’s that’s attending the con.”
Wanted to clarify that WCCC is using a picture of me on their rules page, but I am not attending. They did not ask to use it either.
— Maridah (@maridahcosplay) February 26, 2016
Brena stated that the press has caused vendors and comic book professionals to request refunds and cancel their appearances because the Nerd & Tie posts suggest that “everything’s just going to end up in his pocket.” Brena stated that is not true and he’s only trying to help his community.
Roseland Lion Club head, Pat Sterck, stated that the 501c3 is partnering with the inaugural con. Sterck stated that the funds are going to support the new club house and pre-school programs. The relationship between the con and Roseland Lion club wasn’t clear until EIC asked that Brena change the language and remove the original GoFundMe page. It seemed as if the abrupt partnership was Brena’s way to backpedal and cover for losing the potential partnership with EIC, but Sterck suggests that there’s no foul play.
An additional source claims that there might be a “con war” between WCCC and the struggling Santa Rosa North Bay Toy & Comic Con.
“I do everyone’s shows. I support every local event and store,” said Santa Rosa Toy Con organizer, Mike Holbrook. “If he would’ve approached me right and probably tried to help him with his event,” Holbrook said. He described Brena’s tactics as aggressive and he didn’t appreciate his approach to gaining support from Holbrook’s Facebook friends. “(Brena) decided to go through my Facebook account and contacted my friends and family. Instead of call everyone individual I posted on Facebook that I’m not affiliated with this guy he got your info by mining my page.”
Despite the negative press WCCC’s inaugural con will take place at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24.
Henry Barajas is the co-creator, writer and letterer for El Loco and Captain Unikorn. He has also written and lettered short stories for two successful Kickstarter SpazDog Press projects: Unite and Take Over: Stories inspired by The Smiths and Break The Walls: Comic Stories inspired by The Pixies. He is the Newsroom Research Assistant for The Arizona Daily Star and was nominated for the Shel Dorf Blogger of the Year award for his work at The Beat. You can follow him on Twitter @HenryBarajas and Google+.