Editor's Note: Please see updates throughout this story.
Houston’s Space City Comic Con made national news this past weekend as stories spread on social media that Charlie Hunnam of the show Sons of Anarchy had been stiffed by the convention over non-payment of either his hotel or his appearance. When we got in touch with con founder George Comits on Wednesday, he had quite a different story to tell. It paints the actor and his entourage as bullies who broke contracts, ruined the event for fans and have put the future of the convention in jeopardy.
We reached out to Hunnam through Lindsay Kurtz at Brillstein Entertainment Partners, who responded, “We categorically deny the claims you’re making against our client and will not dignify this description of events with any further comment.” (Hey, we didn't make the claims. We're just relaying them.)
Updated 10:14 a.m. June 2, 2016: Although he didn't comment when asked by us, Charlie Hunnam issued a statement on Facebook this morning. It has been quoted below with a link to the full text.
Initial reports from bloggers like Ava Jade claimed that Hunnam’s credit card provided by the convention was declined and that his hotel, the JW Marriott Downtown, demanded cash for his room. Hunnam, apparently disturbed by this, tried to cash his check for his appearance and it bounced. Upset, he confronted Comits and demanded payment, only to be escorted off the premises by police. That’s the viral story; con screws over actors.
In a statement released on the actor's Facebook this morning after this story had gone to press, Hunnam admits coming to the convention "knowing that I was not going to be paid."
"On Saturday morning I arrived on time to the event and attempted to hold the event organizer accountable for what I perceived to be his gross misconduct," says Hunnam. "Without further recourse I was forced to suck up the grand injustice that was being perpetrated on us all. Therefore, for all of Saturday, I appeared at all scheduled photo ops and signed as many autographs as I could. The entire event descended into utter chaos at the end of the day and I was powerless to effect positive change. At this point I felt like I had to remove myself completely as I could no longer be part of this giant con.”
Hunnam also stated that he was in pain from a slipped disc in his back, and that his doctor had advised him not to travel, but that he did not want to let his fans down. He encourages those fans to seek restitution from Space City Comic Con.
Updated 11:52 a.m. June 2, 2016: After publication, photographer Alex Wolf and Charlie Hunnam’s associate Dan Misner reached out to make additional comments, included below. We have also corrected an earlier misspelling of Misner’s name and the claim by George Comits that Misner is a former Hell’s Angel, which Misner denies. He actually runs a fuel transportation service.
Here’s Comits’s side:
According to Comits, the problems began with who Hunnam brought with him on his trip. Rather than handlers or associates from his agency, he arrived with a quartet of bodyguards and an easily angered
former Hell’s Angel turned manager man to the stars named Danny Misner who had apparently never worked a comic book convention before.
“He was a very high-emotion guy,” says Comits. “Every time he got an answer he didn’t understand, he exploded. Thursday they got to the hotel and didn’t immediately find his name, and he exploded. I got calls from hotel security. I called them and straightened it out. Then they told them that the room and tax had been paid for by us, but they wanted a credit card for incidentals. That’s where the whole credit-card-declined thing came from. The rooms were paid for. The JW Marriott wouldn’t have let them stay in them if they weren’t.”
“That’s a big lie,” says Misner. “When we got there, the rooms weren’t paid for. George broke three contracts. The next morning, the manager of the Marriott came up to us and said the rooms had been paid in cash.”
Comits says he woke up the next morning to find that Hunnam and his group had allegedly tried to bill $500 worth of expensive alcohol to Comits’s room. The Marriott was not able to confirm or deny this when reached for comment by the Houston Press, and Comits says he will not have the final bill as proof for several more days. He admits that Hunnam’s appearance should have been canceled when Space City Comic Con failed to make his guaranteed appearance fee, but Comits says that Hunnam insisted on attending anyway.
Misner denies that Hunnam charged alcohol to Comits’s room. He says that they purchased a $160 bottle of wine from the bar and asked it to be charged to Hunnam’s room. When Hunnam checked out, Misner says, the management comped the bottle for all the trouble.
“On Friday they show up, and they go straight to the photographer because apparently the reason Charlie had come anyway was because we had already pre-sold $80,000 to $90,000 worth of photo opps,” says Comits. “He goes and says, ‘Give me that money,’ and the photographer told him not until he took the photos. Then they approached me, and Charlie was very nasty.”
Alex Wolf, who handled the photography at the con, remembers things differently. He says Hunnam approached him to find out what his cut of the pre-sales was so far, but that he did not ask for his money. Wolf says the actor was cordial throughout his time at the convention.
“He was always nice to me,” says Wolf. “As things went south, I could tell he was having trust issues with the staff, but at the end, when I paid him, he called me a stand-up guy.”
He also, like Misner, found that his rooms were not ready when he arrived at the hotel (there was one room, but he needed six for himself and his staff of 18). Only when he told Comits that he was going to go home to San Antonio did Comits get the additional five rooms.
According to Comits, Hunnam was worried that the autographs ($80 per signature, $100 per photo) wouldn’t be enough to make his appearance fee, and so Comits offered to write him a check as a security against the pre-sold autographs. When the money was tallied after the con, they could settle up. Hunnam agreed, but instead of holding the check, Comits says, Hunnam tried to cash it on Saturday morning, and it came back marked for insufficient funds.
There’s nothing inherently sinister in that. It's fairly common for comic conventions to run low on available cash in the middle of the event. Once the comic con is done and the money has all been collected over the next few days, that is the point at which everyone gets paid, not up front.
Comits denies the story that the account Hunnam tried to cash the check from was closed.
“Charlie came back and his entourage started strong-arming my staff,” says Comits. “One of my co-owners, Johnny Steverson, started paying Charlie out of the registration cash tills, which is not the way we do things. Charlie’s camp was terrifying everybody. He told all the other actors to only accept cash [instead of the pre-sold vouchers] because they weren’t going to get paid. He’s got this goon squad. On Friday he left this guy, Misner, beating on the walls of the office at NRG screaming obscenities and scaring everyone in the halls. He almost got himself arrested.”
When we contacted NRG Park about Misner's being confronted by park security, officials there informed us they were directing all media inquiries to Space City Comic Con and wouldn’t verify anything. Comits says he knows people took photos and videos of Misner, but these have not yet surfaced online. One con volunteer, who asked to remain anonymous, agrees with Comits's account.
“I didn't see Danny walk up, but he immediately began beating on the door and very loudly using vulgar language towards George and threatening to beat down the door,” she says. “Another agent, also waiting, who had previously been sitting on the floor to wait, stood up and asked him what he thought he was doing, and if he really thought threatening George's life was going to help the situation.
"He calmed down for a moment, but then immediately went at it again. More threats and vulgar language, until one of the cops/on-site security came over.”
Misner does admit to the incident in question.
“Yes, I was mad and a little out of control,” says Misner. “But there was a lot of money he was screwing us out of. The next day, I went to security and apologized. After that I never had another problem.”
After failing to cash the check and receiving money from Steverson, Hunnam and his entourage asked Comits to meet them in the office. Once there, Comits says, he was told to call every person he knew until Hunnam got the rest of his money or Comits was not leaving the office. When Comits refused, he says, Hunnam took his phone.
“I felt like I was in an episode of the show,” says Comits. “Charlie was insulting me, talking about my body and my useless life.”
Around this time, one of his volunteers entered the office with a box of money from registration. When Comits tried to take it, he says, Hunnam intercepted it, tore open the box and pocketed the money without counting it.
“It didn’t go down the way he said it did,” says Misner. “We were there maybe 15 minutes trying to figure out what we were going to do, and he had no plan. Charlie wasn’t even worried about his money; he was worried about all the other, smaller actors.”
Rather than Hunnam's ripping open the box and pocketing a wad of cash, Misner says Comits opened the box, they counted the money and gave it to Misner. He sent over a handwritten receipt for $6,000 as his proof that the exchange was on the up and up.
The massive Sons of Anarchy panel was a big draw for Space City Comic Con, for which Comits says the cast was paid over and above their basic con deal to attend. Comits says that after Hunnam stirred up the cast, saying they wouldn’t be paid their appearance fee, the panel was largely boycotted, breaking contracts in the process. This led to fan outrage on the convention floor.
“Fans don’t believe anything about their heroes,” says Comits. “When they paint us as the bad guy, the fans come after us. They go to the front and start cussing out the girls in registration. We had the police come disperse the crowd. NRG considered shutting the whole show down. I haven’t pressed charges against Charlie yet, but I’m considering it. No one touched me, but I was confined.”
Misner told us that the panel was canceled, not boycotted, because there was no sound with which to do the panel after Comits failed to pay the sound company working the event. This echoes another online statement against Space City Comic Con by the Harp Twins, who say that their concert almost didn’t go on because the sound engineers told them they had not been paid.
Comits also says that during the weekend, Hunnam would stop the photographer during his photo op sessions about every hundred people or so and refuse to take any more pictures until he was paid his share of the money, wrecking the photo schedule and leaving many fans unable to cash in the photo ops that had already been purchased.
Wolf said that Hunnam did insist on being paid after every photo shoot, but that this is not particularly unusual or out of the ordinary for a celebrity. Hunnam stopped for payment after every single and group session, Wolf recalls.
“Charlie decided to take off,” says Comits. “Like 500 people were in line for autographs. His people were completely ignoring the VIPs access even though they paid for that. All these fans got nothing. One guy I know waited for seven hours. He says he wasn’t getting paid, but probably pulled in between $100,000 and $200,000 easily in cash. On Saturday night, he checked out of the hotel, bought his own flight home and left without any formal announcement.”
The next day, Steverson told Comits that he had become a focus of fan ire and that the con board had asked him to leave, putting Steverson in charge. Steverson largely refused to comment when contacted, other than to ask the Press to call him the next day. Since then he has not responded to texts or voice mail messages, but did send a press release announcing his resignation from the convention.
"I am returning my percentage back to the company where George Comits is responsible for the debt in which he incurred without approval," said the release. "I sincerely hope he finds some way to make good on his promises as board members disembark from this damaged brand. I find his inability to cooperate leaves me no choice but to disenfranchise me from this brand. To be clear, one of the issues that arose was when the cast of the Sons Of Anarchy realized they were not getting paid and stopped honoring the VIP packages. Understandably the fans were outraged. George Comits then authorized the refund of VIP tickets and the VIP photo ops."
With Comits off the con floor, Steverson allegedly allowed Misner, who had stayed behind, to sit at the registration desk and continue to put cash into an envelope throughout the day. One of the volunteers working registration, who also asked for anonymity, describes the experience:
“Yes, he did grab money from me,” she says. “I was so pissed. They also said he had to stay with [registration] for a while. Yes, a very big biker guy was at registration for hours and hours on Sunday, had many people from Sons of Anarchy come and just take money from us. I am so pissed off at many of the people that run this con. I felt abandoned with the pissed-off fans. The poor volunteers working registration were called names by the fans. We are geeks. We’re not use to this kind of fan base.”
“I sat up there at registration like Johnny said I could to make sure that people got paid,” says Misner. “You have to understand, no one got paid. Not the other actors, no one.”
Wolf confirmed that he also never received his share of the money for his work, and that he was now $20,000 in the red from the con thanks to the many, many refunds that had to be issued. He says he is planning on pursuing action, but doesn’t expect to receive his money. Wolf also informed us that Hunnam had reduced the price of his pictures to help fans out.
“I’ll be at Comicpalooza next week,” says Wolf. “I’m writing this off as a learning experience so it doesn’t happen again.
Steverson also began issuing refunds to upset fans. However, since much of the revenue generated by the con was still yet to be deposited, these refunds sent the convention's bank account $157,000 into the negative. The convention was already reeling financially, having spent $40,000 fighting a trademark infringement lawsuit brought by the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau over the term “space city” earlier this year.
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Steverson's press release supports Comits's version of events, describing Comits's being escorted off the premises. Though Comits did say in an interview with us that he had authorized the refunds, he also stated he specifically asked people to wait several days in order to get everything straightened out first. With Comits off site, it appears Steverson was the person who pushed immediate refunds through before resigning his stake in the company.
“Some of the cosplayers and other folks didn’t even get their per diem money,” says Comits. “All because Johnny started handing out cash to this one guy on site.”
Comits called his board members at home, and says they had no idea about any vote of no confidence in him. He implored them to head to the convention and try to salvage the final day with big names like Doctor Who’s Billie Piper and Star Trek’s William Shatner.
“At this point the company can’t operate,” says Comits. “Hunnam’s attorney is making insane claims. He’s going to sue us for millions.”