Today will conclude our series of recaps. Thank you for joining us for the last three weeks. I apologize that I didn't include jokes about Scott Allie's haircut but I couldn't quite find the perfect place to include the many that we wrote. But to wind this up, I wanted to ask four questions:
Where Have We Been?... Why are Things like This?... What Do We Want?... and Where Do Things Go From Here?
QUESTION NUMBER ONE:
WHERE HAVE WE BEEN?
My first time summing up the comics news for this website was in 2013.
My recollection is that most weeks, the events that I described were mostly pretty corny.
Cut to 2020:
(1) Sexual Assaults and Batteries;
(2) Ritualistic serialized emotional abuse;
(3) adults with sexual interests in minors or women only just barely past the age of consent;
(4) Comic writers demanding (a) golden shower action, (b) automotive bang-sessions, and/or (c) Mexico-based BDSM.
(5) All of these stories have been circling substance abuse problems, though the accusers have had to take great pains not to talk about those issues too much, lest Comic Book Men hide behind our sympathy for “addiction issues”.
(And we’ve only really heard alcohol mentioned. But Meth? Hey, man-- this is America. We might just not have heard the meth stories yet).
Comics kept saying they’re going to “do better”, “this time we mean it”, etc.
But things seem to be only getting worse and worse.
Let’s consider a timeline of *just the last seven years* in comics (and I again preface this by reiterating that we are referring only to allegations made online and not making representations of fact as to what “actually” transpired). And this timeline will be a limited one-- I might forget a story here or there-- there might be really big stuff that I’m just blanking on-- there might be stories that were in deleted tweets that we can no longer confidently cite, etc.
But just think about the last seven years:
Janelle Asselin tries to write about a comic book cover. Brett Booth becomes offended and fan escalation mounts from there, with Asselin eventually receiving slur-filled messages from fans that read, e.g., “We won't quit. We won't stop attacking. We won't give up. Ever.”
Also, webcomics’ Yale Stewart apologizes for sending unsolicited dick picks; a Salem retailer was accused of having fired an employee for complaining about a “rape room”; and 25% of survey respondents reported being sexually harassed at a comic con (8% report being groped, assaulted or raped).
NOTE: A recent online twitter poll conducted by Heather Antos revealed 40% of 939 survey respondents “experienced predatory/aggressive/inappropriate sexual behavior from a member of the community either digitally, publicly, or privately.”
As documented on the Journal website previously, that year included discussions about Chris Sims, Scott Allie, and Nathan Edmondson. The Edmondson situation inspires Brian Wood to urge the comics industry to join injury-loving fitness cult Crossfit.
The Eddie Berganza situation at DC Comics is exposed to the comics audience. Nothing is done, except that, per a 2016 Bleeding Cool article about Scott Lobdell, Comic Book Resources deletes “forum threads about Eddie Berganza's repeated alleged sexual harassment.” But DC did promise to “expand training”... like Mike Richardson just did!
Also, an open letter was posted to cartoonist Paul Pope that begins with the following accusation: “Paul Pope, you are a sexual predator.” And the President of DC Entertainment supposedly had to meet with an artist who had made allegations about time spent with an unidentified senior DC art director:
“I didn't feel safe anymore so being intoxicated I thought pretending to be passed out would help me. Not a good idea at the time. I felt his hands go up my shirt and start feeling more of my body.”
DC, its creators, and its fans weren’t planning to do anything about Eddie Berganza-- they weren’t even pretending to care-- but a spectacularly unlikely set of dominos falling leads to the commencement of the Me Too! movement, which finally allows reporting about Eddie Berganza (and additional Berganza allegations) to get noticed in forums outside of comics, creating external pressure that ousts Eddie Berganza from DC.
Meanwhile, more on Nathan Edmondson, and male comic fans angrily struck back against female Marvel Comics employees for posting... a photo of themselves enjoying milkshakes. And one of my favorite places in my city was destroyed and every good memory I have of it ruined when movie theater Cinefamily became a subject of national disgrace-- you can read a discussion of cartoonist Sammy Harkham’s alleged involvement in Cinefamily here.
Horrific allegations were made about DC Comics star writer Eric Esquivel, while famed Green Lantern writer Gerard Jones plead guilty to possession and distribution of child pornography. Also, a 95 year old Stan Lee was accused of showing his excelsior to nurses. And there were significant changes at the highest levels of IDW, which occurred after rumors that a former employee was contemplating a sexual harassment lawsuit. There was also a discussion about Image Comics creator Brandon Graham and his relationship with trans women-- there were diss comics (?). And I think this was the year that Blaise Larmee and Andy Burkholder were the subject of allegations that I think might have lead in some way to books being pulped by publisher 2d Cloud.
Oh and by 2018, the anti-milkshake contingent in comics had fully evolved into Comicsgate, an anti-woman anti-trans anti-diversity harassment mob. Comic creators and comic publishers avoided standing up to Comicsgate at first… until they targeted Darwyn Cooke’s widow, inspiring some comic creators to criticize Comicsgate. For example, Cullen Bunn heroically stated “I might go so far as to say most of the people associated with [Comicsgate] aren’t bad people.” Oh wait, hold on, maybe that’s not a perfect examp--
DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics creator Jai Nitz allegedly attempted to “mentor” a much-younger college-aged woman by asking her “how often do you masturbate” and forcibly kissing her. And also: Hope Nicholson at least partially seemed to admit that the Huffington Post article “I’m a Man and it Took Me Years to Recognize I Had Been Sexually Assaulted” was about how she’d treated a male comics writer.
Over the course of this series, we have talked about each individual story separately. To keep things clean and organized, we've considered each set of allegations separately, in isolation, as if in a vacuum, even though one story often may have triggered another being told, overlapped another temporally, etc.
But each story nests within a Context.
Part of that Context: the multi-year experience of hearing about this bullshit.
Year after year of it! It feels like the same 10 people get ineffectually angry-- This month, they’re angry at me! Other times, maybe I’ve been one of those 10 ineffectual people!-- and at best, occasionally a Single Bad Apple here or there gets taken out of circulation (though maybe not forever).
But despite this Context, the actual industry either sits silently or tweets some vague platitudes. Waiting for this to blow over? Planning great improvements behind the scenes? Scared of drawing the attention of a no-win internet to themselves? Speculate as you'd like about the reasons; the Great Silence of it all continues.
If the idea is that 2020 is the year that the comics industry has seen the light, well...
Dan Didio, one of the key individuals running the Berganza-promotin’ era of DC Comics, the Lobdell era of DC Comics, the "yell at fans asking DC to hire women" era of DC Comics... Dan Didio finally “departs” from DC Comics.
People’s lives had been effected by all of the stories we’ve discussed. DC lost women who worked for them. Dark Horse lost women worked for them. Comics chased away women. And...
And it didn’t fucking matter.
Nothing mattered. To any of them.
II. QUESTION NUMBER TWO
WHY ARE THINGS LIKE THIS?
A. Whose Streets? Their Streets!
For years, “we need to get girls into comics” was this Goal that some people in comics had. But I always got the feeling that there were prominent voices that would question that Goal-- deride it; snort at it; lecture the rest of us about how their malformed “history” wasn’t on our side.
I couldn't find a single perfect example of this, but here's a discussion of a Paul Levitz quote from a 2010 Comics Journal interview that you might find interesting-- though I think the fuller quote in context actually makes a more interesting point about the critical importance of diversity within the editorial staff, which perhaps gets overlooked.
But so, with that in mind, imagine with me, for a second, a foot race-- not even Tortoise vs. Hare, but Tortoise vs. Tortoise:
Tortoise A: How much were women in comics seen by Comics as aberrations? And how much did that lead to abuse?
(And perhaps, if allegations are true, we might stack Dark Horse, Brownstein, Berganza, Lobdell, etc., on the back of Tortoise A).
Tortoise B: How much did Comics cheer, “Women are in comics … and they love me” -- how much were they seen as trophies? And how much did that lead to abuse?
(And perhaps, if allegations are true, we might stack Warren Ellis, Jason Latour, Cameron Stewart, and maybe “more to come” on the back of Tortoise B).
...which tortoise wins that race, do you figure?
Let me put it another way-- I wrote an interview out for a cartoonist whose work I quite enjoy. She didn’t want to do the interview, in the end (understandably! smart choice! good for her! I applaud it). But here was one of the questions I had for her. Maybe you can answer it, instead-- play along at home, kids:
You’ve had a rad career that-- I think you can hear me just wanting to go full “Chris Farley Show” on this interview! You’re a solid, experienced cartoonist with real, laudable work under your belt. And comics is your industry as much as it is anyone’s.
But then I imagine in my head the Mainstream Bro. And I wonder if to them, they think they’re comics. The “real” comics, and not silly frippery like webcomics or kid’s comics-- the vanguard, the ones behind the steering wheel of Destiny. And that when they’re out there mistreating people-- it’s because they think they own something that other people don’t.
Do you feel like this is your industry and that you own it as much these Comic Men do? And do you think if I were to ask them, behind the scenes, where the internet wasn't watching... Do you think they’d answer the same way?
B. Free Entrepreneurs
The Daily Beast’s reporting is especially excellent when considering the economic dynamics at issue here. My favorite part of it focused in on the issue of exploitation and comics’ generally low wages, the terrific section that begins “The comics industry has long been synonymous with exploitation.” I think that section’s worth reading, and you would be rewarded for considering it-- namely, as I understand the point being made, the idea that the economic precariousness of working cartoonists creates "unofficial patronage networks" where "powerful members of an organization or social scene" control opportunity and are crossed at their peril.
I don't want to repeat or regurgitate those points, but so. But I can share a thought I had while reading that section, a thought I might have had before, maybe you've had before-- what does success in comics look like to you?
Maybe to you it looks like Stan Lee-- but probably not Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko, whose work he took credit for.
Maybe it looks like Robert Kirkman-- but maybe not if you had to sue Kirkman.
Maybe it looks like Jim Lee-- how did dealing with Jim Lee work out for Alan Moore? How long before Moore’s books got pulped?
Usually, the way we think about "capitalism" in comics is to think about these big corporations and the little-guy cartoonists who they exploit. But the little guy cartoonists? Maybe they're not just a “pool of exploited labor” but small business owners, “entrepreneurs”-- who comics history tells us are equally likely and inclined to be would-be tyrants themselves.
Maybe all the different forms of exploitation in comics (of which we now only talk about one sliver) should invite more suspicion that for many, it might itself be an unspoken part of the goal line, the bleak pot of gold at the end of a miserable rainbow.
C. Not Enough Barbecues
As I've gotten older, at least, I find myself just more admiring of the normal, happy schmuck living a normal, happy schmuck life working hard to take care of their normal, happy-from-the-outside-seeming families.
I've never been any good at that kind of thing myself, but that seems like a pretty good deal, they got going.
Those people don't really have BarCons! There aren't Normal Schmuck conventions; Normal Schmucks don't give themselves awards (though if they did, people would generally care about them exactly the same amount as they care about the Eisner Awards).
They just have barbecues... but barbecues are better; usually there's music; the food's tasty; remember going to barbecues before the world ended, back during the Before Times??
It's fun, finding out about weird artists, wild art communities, all the oddities that any kind of "show business" accumulates around itself. Closest thing there is to going to Wonderland. But after the world ends, what kind of sicko wants to go to Wonderland? I just want to go to a fucking barbecue.
(Also: a movie theater-- holy shit, a movie theater).
Let me put this another way, for the vegans reading this: perhaps the conception of the typical comic artist that the internet constantly pushes as just being someone who "loves comics so gosh darned much", without any consideration that there might be anything weirder than that going on, anything inherently unhealthy going on to people who feel this compulsion to live their life surrounded by fantasies of life as a Cosmic Battle filled with Tormented Romances and Spectacular Passions...
Perhaps that also fails people in fundamental ways.
D. The Great Loneliness Saga
The first time that I remember a sizable number of comics people getting mad at me was in 2009.
Coincidentally, it was also the first time I wrote about how comics depicted women.
I was just writing about some junk comic or another, but how I remember it: people got pissed. Twitter was only about 3 years old at that point, so I wasn’t used to it yet, back then-- how irritated it can get, how quickly.
There was a Secret Lesson about social media I didn’t understand yet, which I can share with you, if you'd like: it doesn’t matter what you write. People who link to what you write will add their own editorial spins, and after a while, the thing that people are responding to? It's not what you wrote-- they’re responding to the discussion of the discussion of the thing you wrote. When they read what you wrote (and with reading comprehension skills being what they are after years of our education system getting slashed to ribbons), that’s the lens they view it through-- they read it expecting to get angry, too; wanting to get angry, too; looking for reasons to get angry, too. They want in on the Discourse! They want to fit in with their Angry Friends by also being angry about the Thing They’re All Angry About that Day.
But I didn’t understand that back then, so that first time around sucked. Years later, it’d be hip for comic creators to pose about how woke they are, how sensitive they are-- they’re all the Great Allies of Feminism, it turns out! Representation: so important! But in 2009, it wasn't hip yet-- so those exact same comic creators did not seem thrilled with hearing me say the way they were writing about women in junky, soon-to-be-forgotten comics seemed messed up. I got disgusted e-mails. There were angry tweets (long since deleted). "Snark! Word Salad! Hipsters!" And Comics’ Most Serious Critics circa 2009? The most serious of serious critics? They yelled that women would never care about the Marvel Comics characters so I was just wasting everyone’s time-- "Marvel Comics?! When I could've been writing about Renee French instead! For shame!"
I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. Because it was enlightening. But one downside: comics felt like a lonelier place to me after that first time.
One, I suddenly felt truly outside of it, in a way I hadn’t before. But also two: you can’t look at other people the same way after that experience. Because everyone else suddenly seems so lonely, too.
They don’t want to say anything that people might not like-- they’re scared people won’t like them, if they do.
Which is fine, if you’re just talking about some Marvel comic. Everybody compromises about something, to live in the world. But when you’re talking about anything more important than that…? When you’re talking about a dysfunctional industry with a long, established track record of having failed to fix something, anything that was wrong with it…?
How much have people stayed quiet about? Not just because they faced retaliation, not just because they’d be risking the careers of friends, but because they wanted to be a Good Pal and Friend to the Comics Community. Because they wanted to belong. How much has been excused, in their silence?
How scared are people of being alone?