Last night, the creative team behind a highly anticipated fan-made Persona 5 anthology zine announced that its project lead had confessed to spending $27,600 CAD (approximately $21,300 USD) of the zine’s funds for “personal use.” The money was originally intended for printing and shipping unofficial art and merchandise to customers. One of the fanzine’s artists claimed that the lead organizer, who goes by the handle Ree, spent the misappropriated funds playing Genshin Impact.
Showtime is an unofficial zine featuring the characters Joker and Crow from Atlus’ popular RPG Persona 5. In response to the alleged embezzlement, the project’s five remaining staff members removed Ree from the moderator team (which means “management team” in the zine world). However, they said that they can’t take legal action, as all Showtime preorder funds were processed through Ree’s personal account, and the team never signed contracts with her. The mods intend to host a fundraiser to fulfill outstanding pre-orders.
Kotaku reached out to the staff of Showtime, which declined to comment. Kotaku also reached out to Ree, but was not able to get a response by the time of publication.
The fanzine alleges Ree lied to her team members and faked screenshots for months, hiding evidence of the financial misappropriation. However, the project had been in trouble for a while.
In January, Showtime tweeted that its shipping moderator had contracted coronavirus, but the comments under the tweet pointed out that customers had not received transparent communication about the zine’s shipping status for months.
On May 2, Ree stepped back from shipping orders, but retained sole control over the project’s finances. The graphic designer Aryll acknowledged customers’ concerns about the zine’s financial situation, and Showtime released its financial spreadsheet a day later. As of May 15, the project had taken in nearly $90,000 CAD (~$69,600 USD).
After word of the alleged embezzlement emerged yesterday, Zubatzo, one of the zine’s contributing page artists, tweeted that the moderators had trusted Ree because she had previously moderated five successful zine projects. In now-protected tweets, she claimed, based on a message that Ree had sent to other moderators, that Ree had spent the funds on Genshin Impact and takeout food.
Kotaku was not able to independently verify these claims, but Ree told GamesRadar that she spent the money on Genshin and things like plushies, zines, and day-to-day bills. In any case, the mention of HoYoverse’s smash-hit mobile RPG set off significant discussion about the dangers of gacha games. Some Twitter users have pointed out that it’s mathematically improbable to spend the entire misappropriated amount on Genshin, and others have blamed the general unprofessionalism and lack of recourse in zine projects.
Here’s what we do know: Fan-produced zine projects like Showtime are risky creative endeavors. IP law means that companies can decide to sue artists who create fan content, especially if said content is sold or otherwise produces income. The risk is even higher for queer artists who want to create LGBTQ content featuring official characters.
The legally gray environment of fan communities can foster creative expression, but it also means that creators don’t typically sign enforceable contracts with one another. And customers don’t have easy recourse when their promised merchandise doesn’t ship for months. As such, we can view the Showtime incident, in part, as a regrettable outcome of how fan communities are forced by IP-holding media corporations to essentially operate in the shadows.
According to its statement, Showtime’s remaining moderators spoke to an attorney on June 22, but were told that they cannot pursue legal action against Ree. The Showtime team promised to provide a new financial sheet as they attempt to fundraise postage to fulfill the remaining preorders.