Content Warning: References to threats and harassment
In the comics community, we have a serious problem of harassment. For a whole variety of reasons, sales of superhero comics have been lacklustre in recent times and form this a so-called ‘#ComicsGate’/’#MoveTheNeedle’ movement has arisen, and like their gaming counterpart, it’s essentially composed of vile people directing abhorrent abuse at creators, predominantly those from marginalised groups. These harassers see the arguably minimal inclusion of voices outside of the norm, that norm being cisgender and heterosexual white men, as a threat to the comics they (claim to) know and love. To get caught on the specifics of this and the truly terrible people involved – here’s a brilliant Daily Beast article which performs a deep-dive into this:
So you would think that in the midst of all this hatred there would be a response right? A rallying cry from all those involved in comics seeing their colleagues and/or friends being constantly harassed, to kick these people out of our communities? But that has simply not been the case. Whilst there are some exceptions to this (Tamra Bonvillain, Magdalene Vissagio, Darryl Ayo, Greg Rucka and some others), the vast majority of big-name creators have stayed quiet about this abuse and ‘trolling’ – only occasionally involving themselves in symbolic gestures that whilst significant, aren’t maintained for an extended period of time. A positive example of this was #MakeMineMilkshake where creators came out en masse in support of Heather Antos and a group of female employees when they were harassed after posting an innocuous group photo of them drinking milkshakes in honour of Flo Steinberg, a trailblazer for women in comics. Yet the inconsistency of this is shown when shortly after, there was an attempt to drum up the same level of support for trans creators who were being mobbed and disgustingly misgendered at the time (#transcomicslove) and the Greek chorus of voices in support of #MakeMineMilkshake largely fell silent.
This silence is not only disappointing but incredibly dangerous, the trolls and harassers in this movement perceives there to be some sort of conspiracy in the industry intent on ‘forcing a progressive agenda’, so a lack of response means these Comicsgaters assume that said creators have been ‘silenced’ or ‘suppressed’ and that they secretly support their hatred – despite how in the majority of cases this isn’t true. So the default tactic of many creators of staying silent and hoping they go away will not work – as has been proven time and time again by their attacking of creators who actively ignored them. This is also shown in how with their forebearers in #Gamergate, the silence from mainstream games media allowed them these harassers to continue to victimise women – especially trans women.
Additionally the problem lies not only with silence, but with the false equivalences drawn up between those within the #Comicsgate movement and those opposing their bigotry and harassment. Ostensibly a balanced approach would make sense, as generally speaking, when in reasonable dialogue it makes sense to take the views of both sides of an issue into consideration – but the key here is that these people aren’t reasonable. In a sense, this reflects the state of politics, with people like Trump or UKIP supporters being so aggressively unreasonable that there is no real possibility of a reasonable dialogue. Yet the embedded instinct to present both sides means that some of these hateful views are presented as if the same level of credence as people just asking to be treated with basic human decency.
One way in which this is epitomised (in comics) is in a 2016 interview in which David Gabriel (Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Marvel) says ‘what we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity…. that’s what we saw in the sales’ despite how there were a wide variety of factors and the truth of the matter is far more complex. So in essence, the views of a fringe group were being given far more credence than they deserved – he later reneged on this statement but the point about forced false equivalents still stands and the damage was done. People in positions of power (whatever form that takes) treating these views as if they’re anything other than the counterfactual rhetoric of bigots empowers these people to continue their lies and harassment and hatred as they see this, often well-meaning but ultimately harmful, approach as validation and approval of their ideas.
It must, of course, be acknowledged that there are risks to making a splash in this way, many people who speak out against this stuff get abuse on a regular basis. Not to mention how speaking out against a fellow creator may threaten the job security of the person speaking out – but there has to be a line drawn at some point. If those with influence stay quiet, then the system in which bigots and abusers get away with their heinous acts is perpetuated ad infinitum, with everyone who can say anything continuing to be too scared to say it. So people need to be trailblazers, they need to stand up and speak against the hatred and abuse instead of just making broad and ultimately meaningless statements that don’t address the issue of these toxic people head – on. This responsibility lies especially on those with far too much power (whether direct or reputational) to be easily silenced/blacklisted – it shouldn’t just be the responsibility of the marginalised and the targeted to carry the weight of speaking out against bigotry.
All in all, whatever part you play in the comics (and other nerdy) communities, you have to consider that these are your friends, your fans, your colleagues – your communities. And it’s your silence that allows people to continually be hurt for merely existing inside those spaces.