Heard any good gossip lately?
"There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen. I am the Walrus." -- Vladimir Lenin
Once again, we find ourselves with a plague of scandals engulfing the North American comic book industry.
Or more accurately, remember that one, ongoing scandal that people working in comics have steadfastly ignored for years and years? The one about the dehumanization of and callous mistreatment of female creators, female fans, and female random passerbys?
Comics has to deal with that one. Again. The Comic Book Boys never did anything, all of the many other times they were asked to not dehumanize women, except congratulate themselves. So, it’s scandal o’clock. Again.
And the victims we have to discuss are again relatively powerless young women. And again, there are stories of sexual grodiness, which fans are again reacting to by... attacking the women who were victimized.
And again, comic book’s many Princes of Maine and Kings of New England are rushing to find a way to pat themselves on the back, despite having done nothing.
Nothing except… *squints at notes* destroying a charity…??
Tucker, what the hell have you talked me into writing abou--
For the next three weeks, at least twice a week, I'm going to talk about those recent events, at numbing length. We're going to come to terms! There's going to be special surprises! And we're all getting a virus-- the virus of understanding!
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: our discussion is limited to what has been publicly alleged. We are not ourselves affirming those allegations, merely reporting and commenting on them. If we seem to treat those allegations as "true", it is only for purposes of argument, and reflect statements of opinion, not representations of fact. We are not making any representations of fact, and will try as best as possible to make that clear by using terms like "allegedly" as much as possible-- but if we "miss a spot" that does not mean we are stating anything definitively. Again, this writing is purely opinion. The Comics Journal also is not responsible for any side effects you might have from the virus of understanding, such as nausea or pregnancy. Finally, it is the Comics Journal's position that there should be places where people go to slow dance, as adults, as in a lot of ways, that would be better. Generally-speaking.
We note at the outset that there is, among other coverage, a comprehensive Daily Beast article summarizing the state of affairs in comics in a far more concise manner than what we will be offering.
My goal here is (a) to preserve some of the smaller details that a single article can not, especially as those details continue to appear and disappear at a head-spinning clip, with many individuals tweeting and then deleting “statements,” deactivating Twitter accounts, deleting web-pages, making dramatic promises that vanish, etc., and (b) to be a little more of a wallow in the details, and more editorial; probably more goofy and lame, as I can only offer you the perspective of a stone-cold dumb-ass, which the Daily Beast might frown upon.
Choose your own adventure!
There is terminology used over this series of articles that might be unfamiliar to readers. I will provide definitions for a few of those terms here, but we will also define additional terms as necessary as we go along.
Allure Magazine described grooming as follows (internal quotations omitted):
“Grooming is the slow, methodical, and intentional process of manipulating a person to a point where they can be victimized. After [the perpetrators] find their targets, they then gain trust and move in from there. No one is immune to grooming, though some are more susceptible than others — including minors, because of their naiveté. [...] [Grooming] can occur at any age, and it has a great deal to do with gullibility, insecurity, religion, and culture. [...] The whole idea of the grooming is it’s a slow process and that’s why, psychologically, [it] can be so damaging — especially if the [victim] is young because they don’t always know what they’re falling into.[..] The slow process of building trust and establishing secrecy as normal can make it hard for both victims and victims' acquaintances to recognize grooming for what it is.”
Here is a (uncharacteristically useful) Quora about how grooming differs from “ordinary courting,” which hones in on one of the key differences being a significant power imbalance driving the romantic relationship-- “When one person courts another, the two people are engaging each other from a place of relative equity. They have equal power; there's no clear overriding power dynamic at play. Grooming happens in contexts where there (a) is significant power imbalance; and (b) the sexual pursuit is from the person with greater power, of the person with lesser power.“
See also, this article which begins with a quote from Michael Samsel: “At the beginning, all behaviors are positive. Slowly, abusive elements are added in amounts that surprise the survivor to an extent, but do not push alarm to a high level. Over time, the inappropriate comes to feel normal.”
The point that “Grooming can occur at any age”, in particular, seems to have eluded some people. The grievance isn’t the age of the victim-- it’s that people are being “groomed” (i.e. conned) to confuse abuse with “romance”.
The term “Bluebeard” is occasionally used, as an allusion to an an old story beloved in France. Essentially, a wealthy, powerful, respected but ugly French man with a distinctive blue beard has been married many times, but his wives have all mysteriously disappeared. Bluebeard goes to his neighbor and demands that he get to marry the man’s youngest, most vulnerable daughter. Bluebeard dazzles her with his riches but insists she obey his strange, unexplained rules-- and when she disobeys, she opens a secret room in his house, a room in his house filled with the bodies of his dead, disobedient wives, hanging on hooks.
The story apparently has many variations, but you get the point-- Frenchmen: terrible at interior decorating.
Or as Kelly Faircloth writing for Jezebel maybe more aptly described it:
“Their defining characteristic is the heroine’s sense that something is dreadfully off; their prevailing mood is one of anxiety and dread. The heroine enters a situation—whether as a new wife or as a companion or nanny—where there’s a secret that is known to everyone but her. She is surrounded by characters who know that something is wrong, but their own agendas bind them to silence, so she’s never provided the full truth; instead, she’s left to fend for herself. Much like all the women who walked into rooms with Harvey Weinstein without knowing what the entire industry seemed simultaneously to know, occasionally reference obliquely, and ignore rather than act.”
If you see the term Bluebeard being used, think of it from the point of view of the young wife:
- She finds herself in a pseudo-romantic relationship with a more powerful person, but one where she begins to feel that something is not right-- that their “romance” might be more about that person enjoying his control over her than feeling an affection for her.
- There are rules never explained, and the consequences of breaking them are severe;
- The young wife experiences all of this while having to also suspect that she is not the first treated in this way, and to know in her heart that she will likely not be the last.
- And the young wife is made to feel crazy for having any anxiety… because those surrounding her say nothing about how she’s being treated, how others have been treated by the man… perhaps because those surrounding her themselves covet the riches, fame, power of the man.
Hrm, no clue what that means. I’m a man, and apparently none of us know what one of those is.
“PANDERING TO THE LADIES”:
What I was doing with that last joke, enormously successfully, to the cheers of ones of people (i.e., My Mom, who thinks I’m a special boy).
Let us also begin by reminding ourselves that there have been other “controversial” periods of time in comics history-- times where the foundational ideas of the industry have seemed shaken for all involved.
The fight over the Miracleman childbirth issue. Kirby’s lawsuit to have his pages restored to him. The distribution debacle and collapse of the market in the early 90’s.
Comics have not often been the better for these controversies, but it has survived them.
There was the time of Doctor Fredric Wertham, the greatest boogeyman of Comics History. Wertham wrote a book Seduction of the Innocent where he wrote about how the comic books industry would corrupt the youth.
From what I gather, Wertham worried how the outlandish content of comics might effect impressionable minds-- it wasn’t like he thought that people who made comic books could run around trying to literally have sex with children. That would be unthinka--
CAMERON STEWART ALERT!
Paging Doctor Wertham! Doctor Wertham, please report to Emergency!
Who is Cameron Stewart?
Cameron Stewart is a 44-year old Eisner-winning Canadian cartoonist who has worked frequently for DC Comics as a writer or artist on titles including Batgirl, Catwoman and Seaguy.
Have you heard about someone in comics being sexually creepy?
DC Comics: Now and Forever.
He also worked on Fight Club 2, one of those (numerous) little details to 2020 that make it sound like our universe is a computer simulation that’s crashing.
The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club.
The second rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about what the Canadians are doing to our local Girl Scout troops.
The third rule of Fight Clu-- wait, where are you going???
What Allegedly Happened?
On June 15, 2020, Montreal-based artist and model Aviva Maï tweeted about being “groomed and gaslit by men in their 20s and 30s as a teenager.” About a half hour later, Ms. Maï clarified:
“I’m talking about Cameron Stewart. The comic book artist. We met when I was 16 and he was in his 30’s. Maybe 32? It was 2009. We flirted by text and went on one date. In 2009. When I was 16. We stayed ‘friends’ for a long time after that and he’d sometimes text to say that he was sad he missed his chance to date me. A couple really uncomfortable times. Took me a long time to realize what had actually happened, what he was doing, and that we were never actually friends. I’m only posting this because he’s worked on a lot of comics directly aimed at young girls and women, and I want them to know what kind of person he is. It’s never felt like “a good time” to say this because there isn’t one, but I’m saying it anyway. That’s it. Now you know.”
Actress Natasha Negovanlis tweeted that she had “similar stories about him that I don’t feel comfortable sharing publicly at this time but it’s nice to feel less alone.”
And comic creator Kate Leth replied to Ms. Maï: “Hey, me too. I was 19. I’m really fuckin sorry he caught you in his web.” Ms. Leth later added that she believed Stewart was 32 at the time of their interactions.
Note: by the end of June, Ms. Leth would herself be the subject of her own controversy, as she would be accused on June 23rd by Caitlín Rosberg (part of the Eisner-nominated AV Club’s Comics Panel team), and then later by several other people, of “tanking one of the biggest spaces for women in comics to talk about harassment and help maintain whisper networks”, including by “fostering a racist environment” before “abandoning the whole community,” referring to a retailer organization known as the Valkyries, reported on here. As of July 6th, Ms. Leth had issued a statement about the situation, promised to take a “harder look” at how she treated people, and took an indefinite break from Twitter.
On June 16, 2020, a third party claimed that they could vouch to having seen “the pain and shame [Stewart’s] behavior caused” Ms. Maï. Also, Darwyn Cooke’s widow Marsha Cooke tweeted about Stewart in a series of tweets: “I witnessed CS’s predatory behavior, I’ve been warning people for over a decade.” Ms. Cooke added that she allegedly knows “there will be others” with stories about Stewart because “I saw it happen”-- that Stewart “acts normal but is trying to date teenagers.” She later added, "whether or not he waited until these children were of legal age is irrelevant to me, he abused his power and "fame" to seduce very young powerless women, was told many times it was gross and to stop, he did not.”
On June 17, 2020, Ms. Maï added that she had been contacted by 14 other women with “similar” stories. In the replies to that tweet, one reader tweeted that she had gone on a few dates with Stewart when she was 18 and he was 34: “Looking back, it was seedy and grooming. What normal 34+ y/o has an age limit that low on Tinder?”
Furthermore, Ms. Maï’s thoughts on Cameron Stewart could be seen to prompt other women to share similar experiences with still-unidentified “40-year old cartoonists."
On the same day, Scottish writer Evelyn Hollow also posted a lengthy statement about her relationship with Stewart, which began with “flirting” messages in 2011, when Ms. Hollow was 17 and became sexual thereafter when she was 18. We will omit some of the details therefrom, as they are perhaps Ms. Hollow’s story to tell and not ours to exploit, except to note three things:
- Stewart is described as “passive aggressive” and “quite lonely.” (Hollow doesn’t suggest that Stewart was purposefully keeping her away from his peer group in order to isolate her, but a reader might perhaps draw that conclusion.)
- “Just remembered the time I opened up to him about failed suicide attempts & he told me “well if it didn’t work why didn’t you immediately try again?” I just thought it was insensitive but now I realise, with adult perspective, a grown man in his 30s who knew I was a big fan of his work basically groomed me from age 17, started a sexual relationship with me at 18, and by the time I was 22 was encouring my suicidal tendencies.”
- Ms. Hollow’s conclusion: “Cameron hooking up with me when I was 18 and he was in his mid-30’s isn’t illegal but it is morally bankrupt. Especially since he started hitting on me when I was just 17. That’s predatory, especially when it appears he has a history of this. [...] I don’t know if I can definitively say he ‘groomed’ me, I need more time to process this, but all I can give you is this account of our ‘relationship’ and you can draw your own assessments.”
Finally, one small detail in most of these accounts keeps catching for me: Stewart allegedly made drawings for all of these women-- drawings of them, their favorite cartoon characters, etc.
I don’t know why my eyes keeping snagging on that bit, and I just include it here in case it makes you also feel like there’s a winter inside of you with endless clouds that sunlight can never crack apart, for reasons you know you’ll never find the poetry to express.
How did Cameron Stewart respond?
Cameron Stewart responded by locking his Twitter account and Instagram account. There was at least one report that on Instagram, Stewart’s Instagram story was a “screenshot of a song called regret,” which is coincidentally the name of my favorite Sam Hunt song.
Stewart also allegedly reached out to Ms. Hollow with an e-mail she reprinted entitled “An Apology” where he states that he has sought out counseling and is “profoundly sorry” and
...devastated to hear that you said that I encouraged you to commit suicide. From the bottom of my heart I swear to you that I never would have knowingly or intentionally said that, and can only blame a failure of communication on my part to have ever given you that impression.
So, yeah: Stewart said that he was devastated that a woman he allegedly groomed had misheard him.
The Comic Book Industry: still batting a thou on apologies!
Controversy! The Comic Book Business Reacts!
Cameron Stewart had his defenders. For example, Conan artist Patrick Zircher, who industry peers apparently commonly refer to as the “Mike Love of comics”, tweeted in support of Stewart for a significant period of time. Despite hearing multiple people saying they were hurt by Stewart, right in front of him, Zircher seemed to argue that these women weren’t entitled to feel hurt.
Whatever you might think about the merits of his argument, the timing was not ideal: generally speaking, you just may not want your first reaction to hearing about a grown man's "relationship" with a 16 year old girl to begin with "My take is...". But unfortunately, due to the quarantine, Patrick Zircher couldn’t just go door-to-door in a children’s cancer ward and personally tell each dying child his opinions about whether they deserved pain meds. So, I guess this was the next best thing...?
After being criticized, Zircher then switched his twitter to Private Mode, hiding in a “safe space”, just like Conan would have. He was in Private Mode for most of the time while this was being written, unfortunately, only thereafter switching back to public mode (curtailing a full accounting / celebration of those tweets).
Reactions to Mr. Zircher’s tweets include “Fuck you”, “LOL FUCK YOU AGAIN”, “Fuck off lmao”, “wow you suck”, “it reads like the scientist from dawn of the dead yelling at the camera man”, and “IMO fuck him.”
Some also suggested that this was the second time Zircher had rushed to the rescue when a male comic book artist was accused of sexual misconduct-- perhaps implying that Zircher's motivation wasn't to contemplate morality, so much as to lecture young women, just like any two-bit deeply-insecure internet Reply Guy showing up in random women's tweets to tell them what's what. Young women, notoriously eager to hear what the artist on Conan thinks about sexual mores!
In response to criticisms of his "takes" (and despite having stated in 2018 that "ultimately SJWs are just the people who care"), Zircher approvingly tweeted a characterization of the people on the internet mocking him and insulting him… as being like “McCarthyism!”
Ah yes, one remembers Joe McCarthy’s famous question at the HUAC Hearings: “Have you now or have you ever been a grown man who gave himself the nickname Patch on the internet? LOL Fuck you dude.”
Besides the chinstroke-bonfire of the Mike Love of Comics, the more interesting industry reactions were perhaps those of Stewart’s colleagues in the Toronto comics scene.
For example: Marvel/Image creator Chip Zdarsky. I had purchased some comics directly from Cameron Stewart at a San Diego Comic-Con (somewhere between 2003 and 2009?). At that time, he was tabling with Zdarsky, among others, so Zdarsky was the first name that came to my mind when the Stewart news arose. And indeed, Zdarsky commented on June 17, 2020:
“I shared a studio with Cameron in the early 2000s and it was a running joke in the studio that he was a serial dater. He was in his late 20s and his dates were usually in their early 20s. It seemed harmless, it seemed like he was in a phase of life the rest of us couldn’t relate to. After we went our separate ways I would hear stories, some first-hand, showing that this was still the case well into his 30s. I never questioned him on it, never confronted him on it. It all just struck me as sad. If there’s anything the last few weeks have drilled into me it’s that it’s not enough to just stand on the sidelines shaking your head. We all have to actively work to make everyone feel welcome, to call people on their behaviour, to be a part of the process no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. I believe the women coming forward and I’m sorry I stood on the sidelines. It’s not who I want to be, and I’ll work harder to not just listen, but to act. To have the hard conversations with friends and acquaintances.”
Zdarsky then asked that people not praise him for his statement.
At Chip Zdarsky’s request, the Comics Journal will therefore not be including the lengthy section we had planned thanking Chip Zdarsky for being longtime friends with Stranger Danger.
Zdarsky’s statement apparently has now been deleted, though. UHM: why did he delete the tweet about how he wants to make everyone feel welcome? Did he reconsider that? "You know on second thought, making people feel welcome-- will I have to pick them up at the airport?" That… the making people welcome part part sounded good..? "I deleted the tweet about how I don’t murder." So, that means… Wait- what?!
Ramon Perez, the current Managing Director of RAID Studios issued similar tweets on June 17th, that “Cameron Stewart was a colleague, who I had known through the Toronto comics community. We also shared studio space as part of the collective RAID for several years. I never imagined that his serial-dating habits - which were often gossiped about within the community - concealed a pattern of unethical behaviour.” He added that he was “heartbroken that our inaction was as much a part of the problem in creating this unsafe environment” and apologized to Ms. Maï.
And again on June 17th, RAID itself tweeted from an official studio account that they were “appalled and saddened.”
...the reaction from Comic Books: Maple Leaf Division was a little strange, if one takes a step back from it:
“I knew that Cameron Stewart was a serial dater but I didn’t know anyone was 16! I thought Cameron and I were both good people who loved Labatt’s Blue and supported our blackface-wearing Prime Minister, just regular old good Canadians-- I didn’t know him rampaging through a crowd of 19 year old girls while in his 30’s actually hid *far more unethical behavior,* ya hosers.”
I just have never heard the phrase “serial dater” before which all these Canucks seem to have landed on. “We knew he was *solemn voice* a serial dater.” Did I miss “serial dating” being a phrase we all know now? Are serial daters something they have in Canada but we don’t know anything about here in the United States, like Health Care or manners?
A lot of Comic Book Dudes seem to believe there’s two stories here: (1) the siren-going-off “16 years old” story and then (2) the “girls over 18” story. But it’s just one story, though, isn’t it? It’s one story-- not a story just about the specific age of the girls (though that part… not great, fellas!...), but how they all seemed to feel that Stewart wanted them at a point in their lives before they would know that what he was up to was creepy, that what he wanted was not a real relationship of co-equal partners but something far darker, lonelier, and sadder. It’s one story: how they seem to have felt preyed upon because of their naivety; desired not for who they are but for this quality they possessed-- the quality of not seeing immediately what he was (allegedly) up to, a quality of "not being old enough or experienced enough to ask questions"!
If true, I don’t think that’s a story that we should suddenly be okay with when someone hits an arbitrary “age of consent."
Also unimpressed with this Canuck-ery? Ms. Maï, who on June 19th tweeted:
“I've considered a lot of the guys from RAID friends for years now. Not anymore. I told multiple men who shared a studio with Cameron about what he did. None of them were surprised. I heard the "oh he's gross with girls" line.”
Finally, as for publishers, Stewart has lost work therefrom as of the date of this publication. Namely, he has been removed from an unannounced DC Comics project he was working on and lost cover work on Image Comics’s Ice Cream Man.
If there's any truth to these allegations, that would be pretty awful, right?
Of the stories we have to discuss, the Stewart accusations are the easiest to condemn:
“Don’t! Don’t do that! Neither text nor date children! You’re not in a 70′s mid level rock band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom! You are not a KROQ DJ in 1982! You’re not 1990’s Jerry Seinfeld, saying ‘What is the DEAL with these people’ to the delight of millions while rolling around on a 18 year old who you met when she was 17! You are not beloved actor Paul Walker (RIP) in the 00’s! There are limits, except when there are not, which is frighteningly often!”
But of all of these stories, maybe it’s also the one that I probably should feel most implicated by...?
I mean, I’m a middle-aged guy. And I’d like to think my interests in the opposite sex have evolved and broadened and deepened as time has gone on. But if I had to “interrogate my sexual interests”-- and I used to interrogate them every night, before the Lexepro hit... Would that be a comfortable conversation for me to have with myself? And would it be a comfortable conversation for other people in line at Starbucks to overhear, because sometimes I think out loud?
I think that could get pretty dark, pretty fast, just considering the culture that surrounds us isn’t one that ever, ever hesitates to sexualize young women. Our culture would sexualize a 12 year old girl in a heartbeat if it meant it could raise the price of tea cozies by two cents. Our pop culture constantly celebrates abusive relationships, in particular. The Twilight novels were criticized for romanticizing abuse and getting us all horny-for-days for full-length khaki skirts. The recent Star Wars movies turned out to be about being hot for a Nazi. I could talk about Pretty Little Liars, at length, as is I’m sure is common for middle-aged heterosexual men. And of course, comics had its great contribution to the genre, with DC Comics’s Harley Quinn media empire, a sustained propaganda campaign by DC Entertainment to promote abuse and/or Hot Topic and/or Jared Leto… All bad! ALL BAD!
But in my defense, I am certainly not a serial dater. If I tried to be a serial dater, I’d be Trix serial because there would immediately be a crowd of young people screaming “this is not for you, silly rabbit” at me. I could not get away with anything-- I would not have the artist of Sex Criminals “not noticing” what I was up to or whatever the hell (The book is called Sex Criminals! The simulation is crashing!). I just don't think I get the part where you say to yourself "oh, she doesn't understand who and what I am" and then high-five a mirror and keep going, on your way to winning a Worm Decathalon. I'm not the greatest guy, but I don't think that I can relate to that part!
But the portrait of Stewart presented by his accusers is perhaps one not too unfamiliar to comic readers-- a portrait that many comic readers should recognize: that of a man who got to a certain age, got to a certain point in his development as a person, and just … froze there. And then, he couldn’t get himself unstuck.
I think I know what that feels like.
You can certainly see that same story at every comic convention-- you can see it being sold to people as a new national religion. The nitwits yelling at Martin Scorsese last year for not respecting Thor 2: The Dark World? I have a pretty good guess what church they go!
And I remember the sort of online communities that Stewart would have likely been around as a young artist. I remember the imagery of women on those. The male cartoonists of an earlier era of internet message-boards constantly expressed identical visual interests as Stewart: it was always very young girls. There are artists on now long forgotten forums that I don’t know if I ever saw them draw anything, anything!, besides 15 year old girls licking giant lollipops.
Part of me wonders if the time those men spent drawing pubescent girls over and over and over-- struggling to illustrate the texture of a teenage girl’s flannel pajamas… If that doesn’t dig some wrong kind of groove into a person’s medulla oblongata.
I’ve never really thought seriously about drawing being a potentially harmful activity before this Moment, but suddenly now it seems like I should entertain that possibility in a way that I would have scoffed at before.
Was I a fool to ever see it any other way? Have I been a fool? Should I have been wearing the pants of a fool? Oh no, Fool Pants!
Although: look, I’d like to believe you can date outside your age group, without “grooming” people. Age gaps never sounded easy to me! But I’d like to think that’s possible-- I mean, I’m not a cop! I like minding my own business! If it's just a sex thing (and everyone involved knows it's just a sex thing) or something transactional? Enjoy! Enjoy your sex! But if it's supposed to be more than that, if it's sold as a "real relationship"? Heck, I would still like to think there are good relationships that people seem to have had even when not of the same generation.
But when you see fans online making that argument when discussing Stewart specifically, there’s a defensiveness and a refusal to hear what these women are describing-- and how sharply it contrasts with normal relationships.
They are just not describing normal, healthy-sounding relationships-- the phrase “encouraging suicide” really shouldn’t come up in those! Talking about Batgirl pajamas? 100% Hot, God is real, Si a todo! Talking about Batgirl pajamas "my mom bought me" when talking about a 30+ year old man? Go directly to Jail!
They’re describing the second act of an Ari Aster movie.
One Last Thing...
I know Cameron Stewart is devout fan of Twin Peaks... a show about how society avoids looking directly at the victimization of teenage girls. If these allegations turn out to be true, I kind of selfishly want to know…
Who was he rooting for? What show was he watching? Who did he relate to?
Or as a guy who lived in Toronto, did he view Scott Pilgrim as the Shakespearean tragedy of a Canadian getting distracted from dating a High School girl?
What was going on over there with the Stewart boy??
Are these the most important questions we can ask at this time? No.
But should they be asked? Also, no.
Would any reasonable person ask them? Definitely not.
But we’re going to ask every question we can anyways! We’re going to solve this Crazy Thing called Life, you and I! We’re gonna do it! I believe! We have this! WE HAVE THIS!
(Narrator: “He did not have this.”)
TO BE CONTINUED ON WEDNESDAY.