Fan conventions usually attract cashed-up propeller heads, not controversy. That was until July this year at Supanova in Sydney.
Supanova is one of the premier fan conventions in Australia, an annual expo pandering to devotees of comic books, sci-fi and fantasy, anime, gaming and collectables.
A gala for cosplayers and nerdy buffs, the interstate event has been a perennial attraction on the geek calendar since 2002. The expo attracted 160,000 goggle-eyed punters in pre-Covid 2019. The crowd is a mix of dorky teens, young children, gamers, autograph-hunters and, well, a lot of skinny Asians and overweight cosplayers. It is labelled an inclusive event, but as we shall see, those who talk of inclusivity mean selectivity in effect.
Supanova employs a full-time team of organisers and enjoys an enviable reputation for attracting appearances by guest personalities and movie celebrities. If dressing up as your favourite superhero in a lycra outfit and prancing like a show pony helps you cope with the turgid miasma of existence, this is your place.
There is no escaping the unashamed commercialism of the expo. After all, it is an expo. However, in July 2021, the founder and director of the Supernova Expo, Daniel Zachariou, stepped down following a threatened boycott by fans after complaints against a humble stallholder flogging edgy T-shirts, flags, comics, and military items. Both the trader and the founder became victims of the pernicious cancel culture.
The story was reported by gauche Pedestrian TV hack Julian Rizzo-Smith. Posted with the unwieldy header Sydney’s Supanova Criticised For Apparently Allowing A Stall Selling Nazi & Fascist Propaganda Into Artist Alley, his piece is clickbait for indoctrinated millennials and zoomers.
We shall examine the accuracy of the reportage, but first, we investigate the incident at the Indie Press Zone on the first morning of the event. However, in doing so, be advised no incident perse ever occurred. Likewise, the subsequent controversy never went mainstream. The affair generated online and escalated into a petition shared between social justice warriors and easily offended lifeforms. The majority of dedicated fans were not bothered by the stall. A search of social media finds only grinning dweebs waving toy light sabres.
Of the thousands that attended Supernova Sydney, an absolute minority were offended. Sadly, they were the vocal minority.
Exhibitors and the stallholders at Supernova prepared for the event dates by setting up shop on Friday. Celtic Panzer stallholder Mike McGann trollied in his merchandise and arranged his space at stall 54 on the busy grid. The spot cost him $600 for both days. It was an advantageous position on a corner providing two-way traffic between the T-section of the aisle.
Mike McGann cuts a curious figure. Lanky with jocund features, he is half-stooped from a years-long bad back and walks with a cane. He is as harmless as a butterfly. His choice of apparel bespeaks his obsession with military history. He once served in the army reserves and attends gun shows where he sells his wares. But he has no interest in shooting.
On Saturday, June 19, Mike returned with two helpers to prepare for a busy day. Before the doors opened at 9 am, a heavy-set grey-haired weary-eyed Daniel Zachariou strolled through the grounds, checking everything. He encountered Mike McGann. After a glance at a large black flag with a pink finger bearing a Nazi ring and executing a rude gesture with the message ‘Pink fascism out of Oz’, he said, “Take it down.”
Mike obliged. He was not too fussed since he was unaware when unpacking that he had brought it.
Therefore, one of the items at the centre of the impending social media furore was not on display on the day in question. On Friday, somebody took the pics that appeared on Twitter and in Sunday’s evening’s story by Pedestrian TV. That person purposefully moved his T-shirt rack to expose the offending elements of the flag, an act of trespass and tampering. Rizzo-Smith gave the false impression the flag remained.
Did the organiser visit the stall because somebody complained as early as the pre-opening setting up? Without a doubt, they did.
Regardless, before Supernova began, Mike was the subject of a cancellation operation by these woke kids. Some of the twenty-something aged artists from surrounding stalls monitored him all Saturday, exchanging texts, and taking pics when he turned his back.
Trade was brusque during the early part of that day. Three or four youths returned to his stall on at least two occasions and stirred a small fuss, although Mike isn’t sure what about, as he was serving customers. Michael’s nephew shooed them away. Mike’s partner Jan sat behind the table and took snaps of the kids just in case. A staff member asked her to stop.
And that was it for the day. Mike had made a profit on his outlay for the stall. In the end, his biggest-selling items were Viking drinking horns and his military helmets. Mike was unaware that evening an ignorant twenty-something gay writer for the online youth digital new service Pedestrian TV was about to see him cancelled from the event.
A comment on Twitter by one reveals the cabal had expected organisers would remove Mike on Saturday, proving they were aware of a complaint already made yet not communicated to Mike. Instead, Daniel had asked him to take down the pink-finger flag only.
Mike and his helpers returned on Sunday. Daniel and an entourage of security guards and volunteers in yellow vests confronted them. He introduced a man in an orange vest as the building manager. Then began the snow job.
The alleged building manager, bearded and in his fifties, must have thought he was a cop.
“I like to walk about and listen to conversations,” he volunteered mysteriously. Then he claimed that he stood outside of the stall and overheard someone use the words “queer” and “poofter.” McGann vigorously denied the allegations, although the manager did not directly accuse him. Those who know Mike say that he would never be so discourteous. His nature forbids it no matter what his political views. The building manager would not elucidate. Neither Mike nor his assistants recall seeing him on Saturday.
Daniel appeared indifferent to Mike’s protestations and led the group to his table. Laid across it was Mike’s illustrated series Captain Kelly. He pointed at a copy.
“This is one of Mike’s comics,” he told the posse, “It’s a bit like Captain America.”
That is the truth. Mike’s creation of Ned Kelly is a superhero in WW2, fighting Nazis and communists. They are more a collection of captioned pictorials than a comic book. These are the only materials that featured the hated swastika. Here is a key to understanding the quirkiness of Mike and the subsequent allegations used to cancel his stall. But we will get to that.
At this point, Danny issued him his marching orders. He gave no reason. Mike was stunned. Danny told him to pack up his stall, and the guards helped expedite his departure. As he walked away with the guards in tow, Danny promised, “I will refund your deposit.” He never did.
Mike was at a loss. As he left the building, a fogginess overtook his brain. The strength drained from his body, and he collapsed onto the bags of his T-shirts. Mike was undergoing a potentially fatal diabetic seizure brought on by the stress. Some “kind-hearted” strangers offered assistance when they noticed his distress. When his assistants returned, his nephew drove him to McDonald’s and revived him with a couple of burgers.
Rizzo-Smith, the sometimes pink-haired petal broke the story on the trashy Pedestrian TV on Sunday 20. He names a Twitter user Misspersephone that “wishes to be anonymous and has set their profile to private.”
The paragraph amounts to an admission that she took the photo, interfered with the property of Mike McGann, and has possibly stolen items. How could we know? Misspersephone has no qualms about violating the privacy of others so long as hers is protected. Such is typical of the kind of animal now calling shots on the socio-cultural stage in the West.
The article by Rizzo-Smith is immediately contestable in its claims opening with a leader saying, “Nazi propaganda was available for sale for a day at the Supanova festival in Sydney before the stall owner was booted.”
He lied. Was the lie due to ignorance of perception or outright malice? Was he taking the word of these highly-strung, offence-prone social justice warriors without question?
Rizzo-Smith highlights other flags hanging at the stall. None of these is fascist either, and yet he described them so. He did not check with Mike, and he did not even research the symbols. He called the Southern Cross a White Supremacist symbol. While he later retracted this, he did not apologise to Mike. His inexperience in this regard was a hindrance to his ability to report facts.
Meanwhile, the two black flags with seemingly occultist symbols they photographed are Celtic flags. The Imperial Japanese rising sun flag had Astro Boy at its centre. This witty slight on the imperial banner instantly disarm such allegations of fascism. But even if it was, so what? Who died and made these awful kids the arbiters of what is acceptable?
Social justice warriors inevitably cry out in pain as they hit you. They have grown up in a permissive world that reinforces their sense of entitlement.
The irony is that if propaganda exists in Mike’s offending creations, he is attacking this behaviour. That is the meaning of the pink finger. It has nothing to do with gay Nazis, as the far-left Guardian claimed in a fortification of this ignorance when it covered the story. He is calling these cancel-culture gays “Nazis”, and in their definition of the word, he is right. He never knew how right until he went to Supanova. Moreover, the term “pinko” is an expression from the cold war describing a communist.
Rizzo-Smith is treading libellous ground with his article. His reliance on the hearsay of agitators bespeaks the central force enabling this kind of social injustice to fester.
Rizzo-Smith repeats the claims of Misspersephone without question. He writes, “The person on Twitter also added that attendees have also been allegedly harassed by the stall owner asking what the flags meant and targeting attendees of colour.”
Targeting attendees of colour? These are serious allegations that Mike vehemently denies.
Misspersephone also fails to mention that the group were harassing the assistants at the stall. This incitement would logically have drawn the response, “Well, are you going to buy them?” as he repeats, “A friend of others was there, one asking out of curiosity what the flags meant and were told ‘well are you going to buy them?’ [The] stall owner refused to tell them. Immediate alarm bells.”
Misspersephone admits her friends were bothering the stall owner, but that is not how she tells it. As to ‘alarm bells? The only ones ringing bells were her friends and herself by their provocations.
The biggest lie Rizzo-Smith repeated was, “They then targeted one in the group, asking their nationality and denying they’re Australian being they were dark-skinned. They proceeded to take photos of the attendees without permission and then lied about it.”
Again, they do not mention, as is clear in the tweets, they took photos of Mike and his stall without permission.
In their quest to cancel Mike, it is more than likely they padded out their grievances with tall tales, believing the means justified the ends.
Claims that “When notifying staff and security, we were told this isn’t the first complaint. This isn’t the first time it’s happened,” we only have the unreliable third-hand word of an anonymous Twitter user as a source. He quotes the same Twitter user, “…Artists in surrounding booths were extremely uncomfortable and likely lost business due to people not wanting to ever walk down there.”
Pictures from the day show that the alley was busy, following the cycles. Furthermore, none of the booths we identified and checked via social media had posted complaints. We reached out to the assistant to ask if she could share the pics of the friends of the Twitter user. The one pic she had from the day was of a customer chatting to Mike. It appears that only those in a tight circle of Twitter users experienced this flag-and T-shirt onslaught against humanity. And for Rizzo-Smith to publish their fringe libel suggests he is of their acquaintance, making his objectivity questionable.
But what of Mike McGann? Nobody in any of the pieces that followed Rizzo-Smith’s libel has bothered to enquire.
Michael McGann’s presence at Australian fan conventions has spanned 50 years. At 67, he is a veteran and pioneer. At one time, he was such a fixture he entered fan convention folklore. He featured in a lyric of a song produced by convention fans, a spoof on the Major-General’s song by Gilbert & Sullivan. He helped to create the scene.
Michael is not merely a fan but an artist. Various online art sites feature his portfolio, again spanning decades of his work, while his oddball style attracts fans and buyers alike.
Not a complicated bloke, Mike is nevertheless a complex, and at times a combative character. Nothing about him is quite what it seems.
Comics, sci-fi, fan-based culture was his escape from a depressed childhood growing up with an alcoholic father in Sydney’s working-class Maroubra in the 1960s and 70s. His drawing provided an outlet for expression while he coped with the endless stream of abuse from his old man, who eventually killed himself by jumping off the roof of the hospital where he worked.
Mike left the family home in the mid-1970s when the police became involved after the pair finally came to blows.
While in his 20s, along with some friends, he joined the Australian Army Reserves. He figured that if he spent so much time wargaming and reading up on military history, he might as well try the real thing. His loyalty to the Australian Defence Force offers a clue about his invocation of its symbols and sentiment. Similarly, he recalls his grandfather was a part of the 1st Light Horse brigade, a fact that gives him pride.
Through his attendance at gun shows, where he sells his wares, he made the acquaintance of a seller. It turned out to be a notorious special-branch affiliated neo-Nazi. Through this person, he met other neo-Nazis, and his disdain of them is evident in his work, in which his character Captain Kelly brutally punishes Nazis. The very idea of Nazis is an anathema to his consciousness.
Mike met Supanova founder Daniel Zachariou in the early nineties. Not exactly friends, they nonetheless established a rapport through the convention scene. Daniel is a Christian and ran afoul of identity politics when he posted comments online opposing gay marriage. Daniel never quite knew what to make of Mike, yet he respected his work. Both came from an era when edginess was encouraged. This spirit is lost.
To understand Mike, one must apprehend that he is an anachronism. His tools are pen and paper. He does not use a computer or own a mobile phone. He only just learned the meaning of the word Woke. He has little knowledge of the world of identity politics but has a strong disdain for communists, again, attesting to his vintage.
Nonetheless, it is fair to say Mike is incredibly naïve about the times. If he had surveyed the scene, he might have realised some of his items were better suited to the event than others.
In our opinion, the T-shirt that is most borderline depicts a couple of Waffen SS on a motorcycle and sidecar. The caption reads ‘Just hunting Bolsheviks, the Eastern Front.’
This stuff is great for gun shows and the like, but probably not for an all-ages event centred around sci-fi and fantasy.
Then again, with merchandise for programs like Game of Thrones on sale, a show which is violent and pornographic and flouts taboos such as incest, a level of hypocrisy is at play in any attempt to invoke the moral dimension.
Mike has attended every Sydney Supanova for the past ten years. He also made it to a Queensland event. To his knowledge, there have been no complaints in that time.
Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that, having kowtowed to the cancel culture after declaring his loathing of it, the founder of Supanova got cancelled soon after he threw Mike to the wolves. Was it poetic justice? The campaign continued, demanding Daniel step down, which he did after a published apology from Supanova failed to satiate the mob’s thirst for blood.
Viewed from a particular angle, we see two men out of time. Mike is a veteran of Australia’s comic-book world, while the other founded the event in question. But neither has made the transition into the highly politicised and social-media policed world judging them.
Pointedly, they belong to an age that cherished creativity. A look at the work of those from the other booths at Artist Alley reveals a depressing lack of genius. Their work is mediocre at best. These kids have nothing to say, and their only skill is reproduction. The mentality that drives an artist to cancel another artist based on expression presents a paradox not understood by these kids.
At one time, artists guarded one another loyally. Ideas were currency, and thought was allowed to evolve freely. It is a sign of the times that, nowadays, thinking outside the square will be the end of you.
On the day, Mike was wearing his beloved Flying Tigers jacket, memorabilia from the 1942 war flick starring John Wayne. A decade after that film, Wayne was a leading figure in the fight against communism and outspoken on the blacklist against Hollywood stars and writers. Being as we are living another McCarthyist-style purge, it is especially ironic that he wore that jacket.
We approached Supanova for comment but did not receive a reply. ■