• Mockingbird 8 Featured Longform 

    The Comics Industry Is Dying, And It’s Up To Us To Fix It

    By | October 28th, 2016
    Posted in Longform | 18 Comments

    Comics has a problem with harassment and abuse.

    Well, comics actually has many problems, but one among many is in how a certain sect of comic book fans believe they can treat those that are different from them. This is has been going on from years, but we’ve reached the boiling point of stories like these happening on a near daily basis and it is, in no uncertain terms, killing this industry.

    This week Chelsea Cain, opened up about the harassment she was receiving as the writer of Marvel’s “Mockingbird” series. The most unfortunate aspect of this is that the reaction to this is that it’s nothing new. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It is something that every woman in this world faces while existing online. I’ve experienced it, you’ve likely experienced or you know someone who has. Cain left Twitter after speaking out about this abuse because she was dragged into what can only be described as an idealogical war. I don’t blame her, I’ve been on the verge of leaving Twitter myself more than a few times.

    But I cannot abide that this existence is something women must put up with to work in comics.

    After first mentioning that she was experiencing more harassment from strangers online after 8 issues of “Mockingbird” than after multiple best selling books, there were many quick to rush in to deflect the conversation as they always do. It’s not comics, they said. It’s the internet. It’s the world. It’s human nature. Please don’t blame comics for the few outliers who thinks this way. One of the proponents of this argument was Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel’s most prolific writers.

    It want to just leave this interaction here for you to witness.

    This is a woman opening up about the abuse she is experiencing because sects of this industry feel it is in their right to bully and harass anyone who disagrees with them ideologically out of the industry followed by one of the most prominent men in the industry telling her not to blame comics. You know what, though, he is right in a sense. It isn’t comics. Or more, it isn’t just comics. It’s the entire world. Anyone who doesn’t fall into the camp that has been socially conditioned to think of themselves as the societal norm (meaning white, straight, cisgender males) has faced harassment at some point in their lives. Some face it daily.

    But you know what? This is our backyard. We are the industry. From publishers to editors to writers to pencillers to colourists to inkers to letterers to marketers to journalists to readers and everything in between, this industry exists because of us. We shape it in our own image. If something has to change, it has to come from us. No one is going to make this go away for us. And something has to change. The people in this industry have to be protected from this kind of hate. Change has to come from on high.

    This is a Marvel comic that has been at the centre of controversy and you want to know the perspectives of some of those working at Marvel? We already know what Brian Michael Bendis thinks, he wants to live in a bubble where he thinks of himself as the perfect ally for writing black kids as superheroes while doing nothing to actually help the real people in need within the industry. Axel Alonso, Editor-In-Chief, issued a statement on Twitter that he condemns online harassment. Cool, way to make a stand.

    How come, then, not even a month ago you claimed you were the “furthest thing from a social justice warrior”? Why would you specifically distance yourself from the language that these harassers uses to attack the people who work for you? Is it because you don’t want their attentions turned on you? You want to claim you’re an ally because the fictional characters in the stories you publish aren’t white, but the most you can offer a woman who worked for the company you’re Editor-In-Chief of is empty platitudes on Twitter.

    Then we get to the real derailment of the conversation. You know the one. Someone brings up the fact that there is a documented history of cis white straight males in the comic book industry who go out of their way to abuse the creators of books they don’t like and the people who could actually speak out against it… bring up sales. Here’s what Nick Spencer had to say:

    Continued below

    So, you see: it’s fine to harass and abuse comics creators online… as long as you buy Nick Spencer’s comics! Let me shine a light on a hard truth here. The guys doing this? They don’t buy comics. They’re guys who download scans on 4chan. They’re the guys who host their own websites dedicated to pirating comics. Those “blogger types” (or Tumblr users, as Tom Breevort loves to point out) love your product more than you “Wednesday Warriors”. Those blogger types are the ones who dedicate themselves to their comiXology pull list, who share their comics and trades with their friends. They’re the ones exploring the universes you write for in fan fic.

    Those blogger types are the ones you’re supposed to be protecting.

    To bring everything down to sales also highlights a logical fallacy in Spencer and Breevort’s attempt at derailment: “Mockingbird” and “Nighthawk” were both cancelled before they hit double digit issues. They’re both comics that were inherently political in a way that Spencer’s Wednesday Warriors hates. In “Mockingbird”, Cain wrote Bobbi Morse as an inherently feminist superhero. In “Nighthawk”, a black man in Chicago beats up racists with a steel pipe. They’re both comics using superheroes to explore progressive politics.

    But as we all know, superheroes are “conservative by nature”, right?

    Instead of weathering the pushback and putting their weight behind these creators and actually promoting books like these, Marvel decided to go the easy route and continue to promote a white man making a living in writing black kids while putting actual creators of colour out of a job.

    This industry has been poisoned and it’s not by the SJWs and it’s not by the feminists. It’s by the persistent and systematic abuse of progressive and diverse comics who are trying to evolve this industry past it’s limitations. To look at this situation and tell readers that the way to fix it is to double down on a broken industrial economy in the direct market system and just do it better than those on the other side is to not understand the underlying problems with comics.

    This industry has to change, it has to evolve. The way comics are distributed to readers needs to evolve past the stagnant stopgap of system set up decades ago. The creators are treated by publishers needs to evolve to allow them greater freedom through better contracting and better pay while setting up ways to protect them from abuse both online and in person at conventions. We need to be the ones policing ourselves and it needs to start with people like Axel Alonso, Tom Breevort, Dan Didio, Jim Lee and the heads of every major publishing house in comics. To make a quick buck out of diversity and representation while leaving creators and fans out to dry is at best negligent and at worst complicit in the harassment they face.

    Comics have seen a larger resurgence in audience growth and diversification in the last decade than I think it ever has. The eyes of the world are on us and what they see are creators and fans being bullied out of the industry at an alarming rate. We need to shape and it needs to come from within and it needs to come from the most influential and most well known of us.

    Otherwise, I don’t want to know what the state of comics will be in another five years at this rate.

    Alice W. Castle

    Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears her, Alice W. Castle is a trans femme writing about comics. All things considered, it’s going surprisingly well. Ask her about the unproduced Superman films of 1990 - 2006. She can be found on various corners of the internet, but most frequently on Twitter: @alicewcastle


    • Jason Karlson

      Great article, would like to see you follow up on this again! Your reviews are brilliant too

    • Princess Pat

      Fantastic read, thank you Alice.

    • Jeremy Carrier

      you had a good point until you fucked it all up

    • shawn

      The way Bendis and Spencer leapt to defend/refute what happened is just as disgusting as what people were saying to her.

    • Grace

      I appreciate your broader argument and call to action regarding harassment and abuse within the industry. It’s unacceptable that Chelsea Cain did not feel comfortable and safe after moving into comics, and I agree with you that it’s up to everyone in comics to fix it. I agree that creators need to be paid better and given more support both behind the scenes and publicly to keep marginalized voices in the industry.

      But this is also lazy and irresponsible journalism.

      1) “We already know what Brian Michael Bendis thinks, he wants to live in a bubble where he thinks of himself as the perfect ally for writing black kids as superheroes while doing nothing to actually help the real people in need within the industry.”

      Help whom? Chelsea Cain? Who defended him, yesterday, on Facebook, saying that she found his remarks (which were not limited to “its not comics”) supportive, that he got her a meeting at Marvel in the first place, and that “we’ve had larger discussions that provide context for his remarks”? (https://www.facebook.com/chelsea.cain.96/posts/10154675919945850)

      Criticize him for saying it’s not comics, criticize him for not (visibly) doing more, absolutely. But excluding Cain’s perspective, which runs directly contrary to yours, is irresponsible.

      2) Oh boy. The Nick Spencer thing. I don’t agree with his argument. I agree with you, that harassers are frequently not people who buy comics, and that his argument was a derailment.

      But, you are also badly misrepresenting his argument.

      Because if you had continued to read his tweets, you might have understood that he was this: That the harassment of Chelsea Cain was inexcusable, that “comics has a fucking huge harassment problem,” and that Cain’s spike in harassment this week “started bc trolls were gloating about cancellation of a female led book,” which Cain herself said in the statement you linked. That “we need far more diversity both on and behind the page,” and that the way to protect the progress that has been made is to ensure diverse books don’t get cancelled, which can only be done by buying them. “Buy Batwoman. Buy Midnighter & Apollo. Buy Wonder Woman. Buy Cyborg. Buy Deathstroke. Buy Green Lanterns. Buy Bitch Planet. Buy Pretty Deadly. Buy books with diverse leads/teams. At every publisher. It is the best thing you can do to make more of these books happen.”

      These are direct quotes from his Twitter before this article was published. You can search them.

      Again, do I agree with him? With the last part, sure, but I think it was poorly stated, and I don’t think it’ll stop harassment. I think he’s poorly conflating a couple of issues. Yet here I am, representing his argument honestly.

      You can do that, too, instead of saying, “So you see: it’s fine to harass and abuse comics creators online… as long as you buy Nick Spencer’s comics!”

      Next time, do your research thoroughly, especially when quoting people on social media, and especially when quoting conversations between friends where you may not have all the information. Anything less is unproductive at best and repulsive at worst.

      • And let us not forget that Spencer himself received death threats online for his Captain America-HYDRA twist at the end of the first issue of his story. It could help put things in context.

      • RDB

        Thank you!

        The Twitter link to the article says that Castle goes “deep into the topic of comics and harassment, and yet she only picks the tweets that are easily twisted to make Spencer look like a selfish dismissive jerk.

        Scrolling through Spencer’s twitter feed makes it clear that social justice, representation, in comics as well as behind the scenes, and the fair and respectful treatment of women creators and women in general, is obviously important to him.

        Whether you agree with him or not on how important sales are for supporting diversity in comics, you have to at least acknowledge that he’s making the same point that Castle makes in this article: Speaking out on twitter is good, but not the most practical way to make change.

        For Spencer, practical support comes in the way of sales. For Castle, it requires professionals standing up and fixing the system from the inside.

        I don’t see this as an either/or situation. Both points of view are valid and important. People in the industry need to take a gamble on risky projects, like Ms. Marvel, Mockingbird, etc, but those gambles will only pay off if the fans buy the products.

        And I’m all for journalists, critics, and people in general calling out sexism and mistreatment when they see it! That’s supper important. But being fair and accurate is also important, and when you mischaracterize what someone said, especially when that someone is arguably on your side of the issue, then that’s not helpful.

    • Clucaran

      I’m from Spain and we have a diferent society here. Obviously nobody should be treated with the disrespect this woman has endured, no doubts here. But I have seen here or in other webs that some people have a problem with white guys writting black characters and, not being versed in the nuances of american ethics, this confuses me a little. Is a good or bad thing that Bendis writes Miles Morales? Should he step down and let the title in the hands of a black writer?

      • RamblingMoose

        That’s a really good question, and I will do my best to answer it. I don’t know if I can speak for all of society, but I will try to speak for myself.

        Bendis is operating from a place of privilege within the comics industry. A place of EXTREME privilege. If he writes a good comic, it’s usually a success and if he writes a bad comic, Marvel will still promote it twice as hard as a riskier idea by a lesser known creator. And that (IMHO) is unfair. Nighthawk deserved at least as much promotion (more in fact) than any Guardians of the Galaxy comic Bendis has done. But instead, Bendis gets spinoff after spinoff and a miniseries too.

        (In defense of Marvel editorial, Occupy Avengers seems to be their attempt to take a bunch of less successful political books and give them another chance.)

        I think Bendis should be commended for the way he has been uses his position. Since the beginning of his career, he’s boosted minority characters (like Luke Cage!) and in recent years he’s created new ones (Miles and Riri for example). He’s doing a lot more than other folks in the same position do.

        But for Miles to represent the nuance of his life experience, at some point he should be written by someone with similar experiences. Bendis’ Miles stories feel a lot like his Peter Parker stories. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but if we are going to celebrate a half-Black half-Latino superhero who goes to a charter school in Brooklyn, seeing those experiences represented in his creative teams would be helpful. Not all at once necessarily, but someone who understands the Black experience, or what it means to be mixed race, or how it feels to struggle to get by in the outer boroughs of New York will add something to the character that (again IMHO) has been lacking from Bendis’ stories. If we only allow Miles to exist as a Bendis character, we’re saying we celebrate diversity, while depriving actual non-white people of jobs. And on a level, that is hypocritical.

        My two cents.

    • This is a fantastic piece Alice, I love all these people saying your misrepresenting Nick Spencer. Why engage the piece when you can get mad for Nick Spencer.

      • RDB

        Half the article is about the response by men who work at Marvel. Pointing out how those responses are being misrepresented *is* engaging with the piece.

        The author raises good points about how the industry needs to do more for creators, and how the most well know and influential voices need to speak up. But to dismiss those who have spoken out and twist their words around is very counter productive.

        Like Grace points out above, there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing or critiquing someone’s ideas, but if you don’t present those ideas accurately, then you’re not arguing with that person, you’re arguing with a straw man.

        • It’s not misrepresenting Nick Spencer or anyone else here. Nick Spencer’s thread was far worse then she made it out to be. It’s horribly awful to LGBT fans but that has little to do with the piece.

          • RDB

            I’m sorry, but I still have to disagree. Most of the article is about what these people said. If the author is misrepresenting what they’ve said, then it hurts the bigger point she’s trying to make with the piece.

            I’m definitely on the side of the author here when it comes to the
            bigger picture. The comics industry needs more diverse creators and
            characters, and needs to do more for their employees who face harassment
            and abuse.

            But portraying someone as being on the side of the trolls and abusers because you don’t agree with their understanding of how companies like Marvel and DC decide what titles to invest in, doesn’t help.

            I don’t want to retype everything he said word for word, but basically Spencer thinks the people who hate diversity celebrate when books like Mockingbird get canceled. He *wants* to see those books thrive and survive, and for that to happen, people have to buy them.

            He’s not saying that’s a good thing. He’s not ignoring the issue and then telling people to buy his book. He’s not even encouraging people to only buy Marvel. He’s simply saying that if you like diversity in comics, both within the page and behind the scenes, you *have* to support them financially.

            Marvel and DC will not give priority to books and creators who aren’t going to make the companies profit. That they’ve targeted books to women, LGBQT, and minority readers shows awareness of those untapped markets. But if the investment doesn’t pay off, they’ll stop. If only straight white male characters sell, then that’s what they’ll focus their efforts on. That’s why we, the customer, have to support those “risky” projects, to prove to the money-counters that these are stories and creators worth investing in.

            Spencer wasn’t defending the trolls, he wasn’t dismissing the treatment of Cain. And I haven’t seen anything he’s said that’s negative or hateful towards LGBQT fans. He’s clearly anti-harassment and pro-representation. He made it even clearer after his original thread. To portray him otherwise, is to misrepresent him.

            And I’m not harping on this because I’m some Spencer super-fan. He seems like a decent guy from what little I’ve seen, but I don’t know. Maybe there’s something I’m missing?

            Anyway, I’ve made my points. Don’t want to keep dragging this out. Agree or disagree, either way, take care!

            • it’s easy not to see how it’s harmful if your not part of the community it’s harmful too.

    • Giomson

      Honest question, but why do I only read of problems like this in connection with Marvel oder DC? I mean, there are other publishers out there who have great comics running at the moment with a wide variety of casts, creators and topics and they have to make profit from what they put out too. Why do creators stick to Marvel, if Marvel is treating them in this way. Yes, I know, Marvel and DC are the greats and have all the might, but I for one feel, that especially Marvel is getting quite lazy in its content and quality overall. Or maybe it’s just the titles I am getting at the moment. But honestly, whenever I buy one of Images titles and read them I am getting the feeling, that I just read something that meant something to me, that included a fair bit of worldbuilding and atmosphere. Those are the feelings that no Marvel title to date was able to invoke in me while reading. I for one know that Marvel titles are the first to go, when money is tight. There are so many original and enticing titles out there, I honestly can not understand why Marvel is still that strong.

    • harvin

      Great article, so much there I agree with and would like to see change. Gamergate brought much of this into the spotlight, but I never felt like the game industry did more than throw out a few safely supportive soundbites. As a medium, comics have historically been at the forefront of social justice, I hate to see an opportunity to further this legacy be ignored.

      I think Bendis’s point was that the issue is a systemic one of institutionalized sexism. Unfortunately, his three word reply also missed the fact that Chelsea Cain was specifically talking about how this institutionalized sexism plays out in the comics industry. That said, I do not think that Brian Michael Bendis is the enemy and Ms. Castle’s statement about him claiming alliance because he has non-white characters is a cheap shot. Bendis is Jewish and is the parent of two black daughters, I dare say he is keenly aware of oppression, racism, and sexism. He is exactly the kind of man who is likely to be a strong ally, and some conversation rather than accusation would likely elicit a positive response. Or, at least I hope so. I apologize if that sounds in anyway like I am invalidating Ms. Castle’s anger, I certainly do not mean to, I agree whole-heartedly that the industry has to change and evolve.

    • Vish Sarmalia

      You are saying that the reason for cancellation of “Mockingbird” and “Nighthawk” was that people were uneasy with these comics’ “inherent politics” and they could not handle it.
      Have you considered that may be it was because of poor writing and not because it was by an outsider?
      cuz shitty writing is just shitty writing?

    • Zero2SixtyTimes

      I think the author here is making a pronounced jump between Chelsea Cain’s issues with online trolls & twitter in general, to the focus of her piece. In reading Cain’s statement nowhere do I see the correlation that the author makes regarding a lack of promotion from Marvel, a lack of social defense from Marvel, nor that the comic was cancelled due to its subject matter. Without digging too far into this (as both Grace & RDB have published very informative comments) I can only assume that the author is expressing some of her own issues into the argument.

      This isn’t an effort to dismiss the author’s piece. But, as a minority myself, my advice to those who feel this way would be to make their criticisms quick, precise and always forgiving. It is easier to turn the tide of culture by showing you are the better person than by slinging stones at those that slung them at you. I believe Chelsea Cain did this very successfully, something that isn’t touched upon in the article.