2020 Report Day: Day Three– Interviews!

As we were writing this series of round-ups, a question occurred to the Daring Men of Comic Journalism, quite possibly for the first time in all of comics history…

Is having a middle-aged man explaining what it’s like to be a woman in comics... to women… Is that ‘wrong’? Especially if that man, by any criteria of the human endeavor, suuuuuuucks?

I just laughed at how crazy that question was, and started crushing beer cans against my head. But as time passed, the question kept nagging at us, until an idea occurred, again quite possibly for the first time in the history of the Daring Men of Comics Journalism:  

What if we talked to girls??



As mentioned previously, Jhayne has perhaps been the person to have assumed one of the more vital leadership roles in connection with the Warren Ellis situation. She has made sure that this moment in time is being handled in a way that ensures that the women who feel they were mistreated are having a voice (at least among themselves), while working to protect those women from a comics internet eager to ignore, harass and mistreat them.  

As depressing a task as that must sometimes be, as exhausting as that must sometimes be, Jhayne has truly stepped up in this moment-- she has refused to look away.  

And so we greatly appreciate her sparing a few moments in what must have been a challenging month to entertain our questions.

Jhayne, let me just start by asking-- how are you doing? People who have jobs where we have to care about other people-- I don’t know if other people understand the toll of those jobs. How tired it makes you! Having to care! Having to listen to story after story where it’s hard to see the good in people!  

Are you holding up okay? Are you finding ways to take care of yourself in all of this?

I’m exhausted, of course, but aren’t we all right now? Simply trying to keep up with all the constant barrage of horrific news is enough to drain the soul from one’s body. But aside from *gestures widely at everything* and some family things, I’m surprisingly good. I’d be feeling much worse if this project hadn’t happened when it did. The SoManyofUs group has been one of the most supportive and energizing parts of my life this year. I may have gathered everyone in one place, but their crackling smarts and skills are what transformed a bunch of strangers into a community and brought www.somanyofus.com into reality.

Everything we accomplished has been a giant group effort, powered by mashing all our talents together. Knowing that if any of us encounter a tough problem, we can tap into that power-house, if only for sympathy? I’ve found it a game changer. 

So, as for what’s being discussed on the “chat server” you set-up: I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to try to dig that out of you, if you don’t want to talk about it.  I know there have been rumors about what’s being said there, but I just want to ask you generally:  

How would you describe the tenor of those conversations, generally? In my life, what I’ve seen is that… People put band-aids on their pain. The pain is there, but they have a band-aid that lets them move through the world. But then, there are those times when you rip the band-aid off, and those can be very difficult moments to watch happen.  

The stress of what we’re doing has been incredible (and doing it during a deadly pandemic while the world falls down hasn’t helped), but it’s been equally incredible to be suddenly plunged into a space where other people get it, and can relate to how traumatizing your weird and terrible experience might have been. 

It can be hard to talk about the damage he inflicts with people who haven’t gone through it. To be able to share the intimate hows and whys of that damage with others who’ve been there, without having to worry about how you sound or being willfully misunderstood? It’s a small miracle. For some folks, the catharsis has been immense. One person even reached out to me to let me know they’re no longer planning on killing themselves.

Not to say it’s going perfectly. Everyone’s different. As with any support group, YMMV. But on the whole, we’re mostly managing to support each other, sometimes in unexpected ways. For me it was like abruptly discovering I’m part of an extended family I didn’t know existed. A big messy group of far-flung cousins, all cheering you on, holding your hand while you cry, sending you great memes, and helping get thee to a therapist. 

The tone’s been less fraught since we launched. It was stressful putting so much of our private lives out into the open and things got tense as we tried to brace for what felt like an inevitable tsunami of Comicsgate type sexists. But then we launched and the public reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The crushing hate-wave never came, so we’ve been able to relax back into caring for each other more than worrying about potential backlash. It’s been helping that we’ve been receiving messages of support and solidarity from all over the world. (Bittersweet: also welcoming more of Warren’s targets into the fold, who didn’t know our group existed until it got media attention.) 

I feel like the Ellis Situation was at least initially “misunderstood” by a certain audience and that “comics journalism” failed to explain it generally to people.  

I’ve had to see a lot of horrible people with horrible opinions online, while reading tweets about this situation for research. It’s really left me tearing out my hair. Or just having to read comic articles that are 90% quotes of other people’s tweets, presented without any explanation or context, followed by a couple paragraphs praising Ellis as being a “genius” (which just seems very inappropriate to me). I found myself getting really angry writing about it all.  I kept thinking about how Andrew Breitbart’s heart exploded while he was tweeting on his toilet. I kept thinking “Aaah, I’m Breitbartin’! See you in hell soon, Andrew, you piece of shit!”  

Do you feel happy with how this has been covered?  

There’s a few things that I’ve been having a hard time with. For one, this isn’t a comics story. Warren might work in comics, but we don’t. From what we’ve gathered, he deliberately filtered for targets that weren’t likely to end up interacting with any of his colleagues. And if they did, he ghosted them as soon as he found out. 

Yet because of the comics angle, sexist idiots are shouting that we all agreed to get sexy with Warren to.. get ahead in comics? My dudes, while I agree that sexual exploitation of newbs is a story repeated in every single industry, especially creative industries with gatekeepers that stand between talented hopefuls and success, pushing that concept as normal, excusable, or otherwise acceptable? Makes you part of the problem! You’re not a nice guy, you’re a “nice guy”. Plus, if they bothered to read our site, they’d see this clearly isn’t a Weinstein situation. Warren’s game is isolation and power, not tit for comics tat (if you’ll excuse the pun).

Secondly, many of our loudest detractors have been banging the but-he-didn’t-rape-anyone drum, as if that’s the only kind of abuse that “counts” (I worry for everyone quarantined with those guys) or ignorantly declaring that adults can’t be groomed, because “grooming” is only done by pedophiles. Which is bonkers, because it’s not even like grooming adults is rare! If grooming didn’t work on adults, would your neighbor’s grandpa have sent all his money to a fake online girlfriend? Would we still have cults? From the outside, if you ignore facts or the reality of his methods, it might be possible to paint Warren with a “he’s just a bad boyfriend” brush, but none of what he does falls into a regular “relationships are hard” bucket. Grooming, by definition, isn’t a normal relationship between two peers, even if it feels like it is from the inside at the time. It’s abuse. Check out this bit from a creepy religious article about grooming, 7 Steps to Grooming Your Young Christian Wife

The term is often associated with pedophiles preying on children, sex traffickers conditioning women for prostitution or husbands conditioning their wives to allow them to abuse them. [...] But from a Biblical perspective, grooming when used in the sense of a husband conditioning his wife to be in complete subjection to him and molding her behavior to his preferences is not evil or immoral. But rather, these actions are righteous, holy and required of husbands by God.” 

Yikes, right? That was published recently. Grooming is real, terrible, and happens all the time. So what I’d love is for there to be more articles that dive into that, rather than focusing on Warren’s lurid proclivities. 

All that said, the vast majority of attention we’ve received seems to be from adults, with adult levels of emotional regulation and compassion, not angry kids who don’t understand power dynamics, so even though there have been some, as you say, “horrible people with horrible opinions”, it’s been easy to ignore them in favor of people who are actually interested in the tough conversations required to make things better. 

When we do have problematic people tweet at us, btw, I’m one of the designated few who wade into it, because ignorant vitriol just rolls right off me. Why would I respect the opinion of a stranger who doesn’t treat others with a baseline of respect? 

I’m also keenly aware that there’s a lot of misinformation out there, so if it seems like someone’s just struggling to understand, I’m happy to spend some time educating them. Though there probably should be, it’s not like the average high-school has classes on recognizing stuff like “love-bombing” or other warning signs of psychological abuse.

Perhaps there’s things going on behind the scenes, but as someone who’s not privy to that, I felt a real upset that more wasn’t said in support of your group publicly from comic pros.  

I saw a lot of Sensitive Male comic pros who are saying things like “I’m not happy hearing about women getting mistreated” while studiously and resolutely avoiding mentioning Warren Ellis or Cameron Stewart by name.  Comic Pros are pinning “I Promise to Be a Good Men” badges on their chests, while avoiding discussing the real details of what happened or why it’s wrong. 

Am I being unfair? Do you feel like the comics community has been on your side enough? Would you like to see them doing more?  

Unfortunately, because I’m not in comics, I’m out of the loop on all that. I didn’t know the name Cameron Stewart until this summer. (Or Jason Latour, who I’ve also suddenly heard a lot about, all of it frankly awful. What a nightmare. How do, comics industry?) 

But I get you. I’ve been experiencing a similar mismatch of words to actions. People I’m acquainted with have been popping up via back-channels with messages like, “I believe you”, but not, say, telling anyone else about what I’m doing or otherwise supporting us. There’s zero benefit to lying about this kind of thing, why wouldn’t they believe me? Was that ever a question? I’d certainly hope not. We made a whole website, maybe share the URL around instead of sending me a patronizing note? It feels like there's suddenly a lot of people struggling with guilt who want an ally cookie, a pat on the head to feel better, but aren’t willing to risk anything to get it. 

If someone wants to claim to be a good person, they need to back that up with action. What steps are they taking to guarantee that the vulnerable in their orgs are better protected? What structural changes are they tackling to prevent these harms from happening again? Are they putting money into a fund to support people hurt by their colleagues? Wearing a pin that says “I’m not a jerk” doesn’t make it true. There needs to be action and evidence, not only intent. 

While I expect many of the people avoiding those hard conversations do so because they’re comfortable with the status quo, (the programmer problem: the system works on their machine!), I suspect the larger majority are uncertain what to do, where to start. It’s work to make change happen and hold people accountable. Not only that, you have to examine your own history through a different lens. Think about how many times a guy you know has brushed a friend off with “he’s just handsy”. Replace that with “he touches women without their consent” or “he’s known for sexual harassment”. How’s that feel? Would you still tolerate that person? Would you want them in your friend group? Would you still put them in close contact with potential targets? Would you put them in a position of power?Let’s say that hypothetical handsy friend is really fun. He’s super funny! He pays for drinks! What if he’s great, what if he’s a delight? Does that make that math harder? If so, do you think of yourself as A. Part of the problem or B. Still one of the good guys

Do you experience hope? I’m just a cynical person, generally. I have the defeatism of a certain kind of immature Gen X man to me, in ways that are not flattering to discuss. Hope is not something that is easy for me.  

I do. Movements like #metoo have been changing the landscape, in more ways than we can likely see without the perspective of time. We’re only one group of many who are calling out abusers this year. It’s hitting every creative industry, all at once. 

Brains tend to focus on the negative when facing the unknown, it’s part of what kept us safe from lions, but social change usually brings more positive than negative. History’s really busy being made right now, in every direction, so there’s no way to know how this moment of time will ripple out. 

So while we might seem to be sliding backward on a lot of fronts *coughs* fascism *coughs*  the kids seem alright. We’re not shouting into the void. There’s a real possibility that things will change. 

Jhayne, I hate taking up as much of your time as I have. I apologize for my selfishness here. But why don’t I conclude with this: is there a question I should have asked you instead of what I’ve asked you?  

I don’t really know what I’m blind to, what I have blinders to because I’m some dumb dude with a dumb dude brain. I feel like “Oh if I were a good person, who knew about feminist theory and empathy and hygiene and who the cool bands are, I’d have known to ask you about X or Y or Z.”  

Great question! What ARE we doing next? We’re writing a post-mortem of our work, what worked, what didn’t, to release as a So Many Of Us Best Practices Manual. When we’re done, we’ll have a PDF to share that I hope becomes a vital resource. 

We know there’s a demand, because we’ve already been helping other groups across the world follow in our footsteps, offering what we did as a template to others who want to try and shout truth to power. 

And oh! That’s another great question! How best can you help us? Tell people we exist. Leverage our Resources page, do the reading, do the work. www.somanyofus.com may have come from a place of pain, but it’s not made of pain, it’s made to help people grow and make things better.

Outside of that, the next time you encounter something unethical, I hope you embrace this Lily Tomlin quote, “I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” Everyone is capable of moving the needle forward, because every little bit counts. This year we took on a chunk of it, maybe this year will be your year, too.