After sexual-harassment controversy, FanX says its founders are stepping back and it will donate to Time’s Up

With authors, celebrities and a major publishing house saying they will pull out of FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention over its insensitive response to sexual-harassment accusations, organizers say they will donate an unspecified amount to the Time’s Up campaign and reduce the public role of co-founders Bryan Brandenburg and Dan Farr.

Brandenburg set off a firestorm on social media this week by posting about best-selling Utah author Shannon Hale, who was questioning FanX’s handling of a sexual-harassment accusation against Utah author Richard Paul Evans.

Without contacting Hale, FanX social media manager Manda Bull posted Tuesday that the convention was inviting her to join a new committee to improve its recently revised anti-harassment policy. The author said Wednesday she’s not interested.

“They are not people I trust, and people I would want to associate with,” Hale told The Salt Lake Tribune.

“I do hope they find a diverse group to take part,” she said. “I hope they find a lot of women, and people of color, and people from the LGBTQ community. There’s always a danger that they will be in an echo chamber.”

Bull, who said she is becoming the convention’s communications manager, described the committee as independent but did not elaborate.

Other changes promised in Bull’s post: mandatory harassment training for every FanX employee, including Farr and Brandenburg; extensive harassment training for volunteers; a “Consent Is Key” campaign aimed at convention attendees; and more prominent display of FanX’s revised harassment policy on its website.

The changes and the donation to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund will be made between now and Sept. 6-8, when the convention will run at Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace Convention Center, the statement said. The fund is administered by the National Women’s Law Center to provide attorneys and public-relations help to women who have been sexually harassed. FanX did not commit to a specific amount.

Farr will remain in charge of booking FanX’s celebrity lineup, and Wednesday the event announced former “Doctor Who” star David Tennant would be coming. Brandenburg will continue to work with FanX’s marketing and volunteer teams, according to Bull’s post. Brandenburg “is stepping back from social media,” it said.

Hale had emailed Brandenburg about FanX’s response to a sexual-harassment accusation against Evans.

In response, Brandenburg urged Hale to “sit this one out,” to not attend this September’s convention. He followed that with comments many viewed as sexist and condescending. When Hale posted those comments on Twitter, Brandenburg countered with a tweet that included her private email address. The tweet was later deleted, and Brandenburg posted an apology on Facebook.

The exchange followed weeks of Hale and other authors working behind the scenes to prod FanX to investigate the Evans accusations and improve its anti-harassment rules.

Since Monday’s dust-up, two celebrities booked for FanX — Lindsay Jones and Arryn Zech, voice actors on the popular anime-style web series “RWBY” — have canceled their appearances. Several authors, showing solidarity with Hale, also have said they will skip the convention.

On Tuesday, one of Utah’s biggest publishing houses — Shadow Mountain Publishing, an imprint run by LDS Church-owned Deseret Book — ended its association with FanX.

“We do not now, never have, and never will condone harassment by anyone, toward anyone,” said a statement from the company, first tweeted Tuesday by Utah author Ally Condie and later sent to The Tribune. “We have very strict policies regarding our employees’ and authors’ behavior. We are disheartened by these reports, but are grateful they have come forward. Again, we take all forms of harassment very seriously, and we will not condone it.”

The Shadow Mountain booth long has been an anchor on the FanX vendor floor. The publisher sells copies of its many titles, most notably Brandon Mull’s “Fablehaven” series and Obert Skye’s “Leven Thumps” books. The booth also has been the go-to spot for book signings for nearly every author visiting the convention.

“Any visiting authors coming to the show will have a harder time doing the signings and selling their books,” said Bryan Young, an author and editor-in-chief of the website Big Shiny Robot.

It was the Shadow Mountain booth where, according to a complaint filed with event organizers, Evans harassed a woman at last September’s convention. The woman told FanX in a written account that Evans “touched me several times and went so far as to kiss my cheek. I had never met him before … but he made me very uncomfortable and even said, ‘You’re so pretty’ after he touched me, as though he couldn’t help himself.”

Evans says he is “repulsed” by accusations made against him. “This false reporting makes me sound creepy,” he said. “I told her she was pretty, kindly, as I said, ‘You’re pretty, that’s not going to hurt sales.’ I was trying to make her feel good. Again, I was congratulating her and I was in public.”

Bull’s post reiterated that Evans would not be a guest at September’s convention. “What the future holds for him at our events, I cannot say, that is not my call,” she added.

In an interview that aired Tuesday on KUTV-Channel 2, Evans told reporter Chris Jones that “there is a war on men, and that men — white men in particular — are under attack, oppressed by a changing culture, victims of an extremist feminist agenda.” Evans compared the plight of white men in America to “Jews in Nazi Germany.”