Comic book industry professionals are facing off against each other in a heavy, no-holds-barred debate over diversity in comics and freedom of speech.
I first fell in love with comic books when I was a socially awkward, pre-teen who’s parents moved around a lot. My parents weren’t in the military, we just had to relocate every so often because things kept getting messed up. Adult things that I didn’t understand at the time, outside of them fighting a lot.
Truthfully, the first comic I picked up was an issue of Avengers during Operation: Galactic Storm, but the X-Men ended up being my favorite characters. Their adventures didn’t just provide me an escape, they gave me hope. Hope that there were strong female characters able to hold their own and not depend on anyone or anything to save the day. Hope that no matter how different you might be from other people, you will find the family you belong with.
I remember hearing people say that comic books the “male version of soap operas,”which made me feel even more awkward about my love for them. However, that was almost twenty years ago and things have definitely changed.
If you tried explaining the debate currently surrounding Comicsgate to someone not familiar with the industry, they would look at you like you were insane (believe me, I tried). Comicsgate states that diversity in comic books, both as characters and creators, have destroyed the industry at the hands of so-called SJW’s (social justice warriors, a term I fiercely despise), taking particular aim at people of color and/or LGBT individuals.
On the other side, we have basically everyone who is just trying to put out the best comic books possible, regardless of what characters look like or who they are. It’s 2018, I’ve had friends of color and different orientations my entire life, and I even live in the Deep South, so it boggled my mind that someone would feel so strong about not including more minorities in comic books that they would resort to hurling sexist, homophobic, transphobic and racially-charged insults across the internet. I wanted to learn more about what made each side tick, surely there was something that I was missing, this whole mess couldn’t be just over diverse characters, right? So, I started at the beginning.
Comicsgate was a a term officially coined in June 2017 when a group of female Marvel employees took a group selfie, each one with a milkshake in hand, as a toast to the recently departed Flo Steinberg, one of the first female publishers at Marvel. Since we all know that the internet can be used for both good and evil, angry fanboys took to Twitter to denounce the very idea that women worked at Marvel.
The women, including Heather Antos, at the time a Marvel editor, were called “fake geek girls” and “the creepiest collection of stereotypical SJWs anyone could possibly imagine.” One woman was even singled out as being “the ‘false rape charge’ type,” as a reminder that sometimes people suck beyond the telling of it. It only got worse from there.
Comicsgate is seems to be spearheaded by two particularly volatile individuals, Richard C. Meyer who uses the ironic handle Diversity & Comics, and Ethan Van Scriver, a comic book illustrator. Their basic mission statement was that female, POC and LGBT characters and creators were destroying the industry with their more progressive ways, thereby pushing out the views and feelings of tried and true fanboys. The sad truth is, they had no problems getting plenty of people to follow them.
The online harassment continued, taking aim at openly transwomen creators Lilah Sturges (Lumberjanes) and Magdalene Vissagio, both award-winning and critically-praised comic book industry professionals.
The group also took aim at several writing veterans like Gail Simone (Domino) and Chelsea Cain (Mockingbird), who were outspoken about the way female characters have been treated over the. Cain actually ended up leaving social media for a few months following the online harassment she received following her work on her Mockingbird series, with fanboys claiming she was “ruining” their favorite character with “feminist crap.”
Comicsgate even took aim at Neil Gaiman, who spoke out in support of Marvel’s recent decision to hire Eve Ewing to be the writer for the new Ironheart ongoing series. Comicsgaters claimed that the celebrated poet, playwright and college professor was not qualified and not deserving of the position since she didn’t have any prior experience writing comics. Gaiman hadn’t either, although angry fanboys went on to debate him on when his own career started.
If you’re wondering if there are any women at all on the side of Comicsgate, the answer would be yes. Mindy Wheeler, another comic book illustrator and former comic shop owner, has apparently been harassed due to being an outspoken supporter of Comcisgate, as well as Donald Trump. On her YouTube channel, Wheeler has posted multiple videos in regards to her stance on various situations. She has stated that “SJW projects are killing the industry” and advises viewers to “stick to their morals.”
Wheeler also state that feminism is fine to have, but it needs to be without emasculating the male characters. While she has a point in standing up for what you believe in, that’s pretty much what this country was built on, her views on feminism and particularly trans creators leaves a lot to be desired.
Speaking from experience, when I took to Twitter to find women in the comic book industry who had experienced harassment of any kind, on either side, I was met with some of the ugliest responses I have ever seen. I was accused of already being biased because I write for a female-themed superhero site. I was rapidly harassed about not taking someone’s word for something someone else had experienced.
The majority of the women on Comicsgate side who had experienced harassment were wives and significant others of male professionals who had partaken in the harassment of others. While on the anti-Comicsgate side, most women were afraid to speak up for fear of even more harassment. Several male professionals in the industry did come forward, on both sides, to tell stories about things they had heard women experience, mostly death and rape threats. Following my investigation, Van Scriver apparently dragged me through Kiwi Farms, an underground chat room (which I thought only men who still lived with their mom used anymore), for daring to speak out against him.
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In the age of the #MeToo movement, Comicsgate seems to be hiding behind freedom of speech, to deliver their message of essentially white supremacy masochism to the masses. We all know how well that worked out the last time an organization did that.
For the record, I don’t think that diversity is killing the comic book industry. I think that the comic book industry has adapted to appeal to wider audience that includes more minority characters in order to survive. It used to be that most superhero teams had one token female character or one token black character, but that wasn’t a reflection of the world anymore. Real world representation is important in any industry, but especially to those in the comic book medium, especially given that the recent success of both Wonder Woman and Black Panther have brought attention to characters, and fans, who have long been under-served in the comic book industry.
If Comicsgate was an organization who simply strive to make quality comic books, without the online harassment of others, it wouldn’t be so bad. We all want quality comic books, but there’s a way to go about doing that without having to prove you’re better or more successful than the next guy.
Let’s face it, in a post-MCU world, you’re really not making that much bank unless you’re attached to a movie deal. I have faith that the comic book industry will endure this latest crisis of faith. Intolerance and bigotry have no place in an industry based on acceptance and showcasing what makes someone different, instead of making them feel like they should be ashamed of it. Several sources have indicated that an environment in which people are subject to abuse feel supported and don’t have to be afraid to speak out and that comic book pros with big audiences need to denounce harassment themselves. And awkward pre-teens will never give up on something that gives them hope.