Since its founding in 2012, Denver Comic Con (DCC) has become a powerful force; it attracted 61,000 attendees last year, making it the fifth-largest comic convention nationwide. But as in comic books, with power often comes turmoil. Yesterday morning, co-founder Charlie La Greca posted an open letter on a new "Save Denver Comic Con" website alleging he was forced out of the operation and that the DCC and its affiliated nonprofit, Comic Book Classroom (CBC), are plagued with mismanagement. Now La Greca's former colleagues -- convention director Christina Angel and CBC education director Illya Kowalchuk -- have responded to his accusations. See also: Denver Comic Con rift threatens the event's founder and his original cause
In his letter, La Greca says he was removed from the organization against his wishes; that another co-founder, Frank Romero, resigned; and that the Comic Book Classroom board of directors walked away from an attempt to resolve matters through mediation and instead threatened him with a lawsuit. But Angel and Kowalchuk, who note they're also co-founders, say that's not the way events transpired. According to them, last spring before the 2013 convention, La Greca, then a boardmember, asked to get paid. As an all-volunteer organization, CBC doesn't pay its boardmembers, so La Greca stepped down and was hired as a three-month contract employee, helping with art direction for the convention.
"Over the course of the three months of the contract, he did his job to the best of his ability, and then after three months, his contract was not renewed," says Kowalchuk, who's reluctant to explain why. "I feel it would be unprofessional of us to discuss the circumstances around our decision to not renew his contract. It doesn't feel like the right thing to do out in the open, for Charlie's sake."
He later adds, "You have to have the right people in the right positions doing the right jobs. And sometimes, it's not personal. It's about having the best intentions of the organization at heart."
Yes, say Angel and Kowalchuk, late last summer, the parties involved did attempt mediation, but they say it was La Greca who sabotaged the effort, informing the board of directors that he'd obtained nonprofit legal counsel on the day they were supposed to discuss whether to continue with mediation. "He was the one who lawyered-up first and forced our hand to seek legal council," says Angel, although Kowalchuk adds that there is no pending legal action.
As for co-founder Frank Romero? "It's implied in Charlie's letter that we forced him out," says Angel. "That is not the case. He resigned for personal reasons. We are on amicable terms with him, and he is welcome to return at any time."
Angel and Kowalchuk also contest La Greca's claim in his letter that "since the 2013 convention, it seems the teaching and literacy programs have been nonexistent." They note that Comic Book Classroom, a comic literacy organization funded by convention revenue, is currently running a program in Alicia Sanchez Elementary School in Lafayette. While that's less programming than usual, they say that's because the operation has been busy gearing up for a far more ambitious effort than ever before.
"At the end of the 2013 convention, we realized we had been given an opportunity to have an organization that could go nationwide and could affect thousands of more kids," says Kowalchuk. To that end, they say CBC has been spending most of its time lately building organizational infrastructure -- developing ties with local organizations like PlatteForum, planning new curricula with schools like West Generation Academy and hiring a CBC executive director, Christine Tubbs, after a five-month process that involved vetting more than 250 candidates. Now they say they're putting the finishing touches on programs for this summer that should involve 300 to 400 kids.
And as for the $300,000 in 2013 convention revenues that La Greca alleges are unaccounted for? "It's not unaccounted for," says Angel. "We have accountants, we have bookkeepers; it's all accounted for." Yes, the convention grossed roughly $1.3 million last year, but just under a million of that went to convention-center rental costs, staffing, labor, taxes and the other overhead costs associated with running the event. The rest goes to help fund CBC.
Finally, Angel takes issue with the name of La Greca's new website: "Save Denver Comic Con."
"The con does not need saving," she says. "It is in good hands."
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