Comics, Cosplay, Critique, Diversity, Feminism, Geek Culture, Gender, Harassment, Masculinity, News, Race, Racism, Sexism, Sexuality

Previously on Comics: Living in a Hellscape

Seems like every time I sit down to write one of these, I gotta lead with people in positions of power in the comics industry using that power to punch down.

We start the week off with Action Lab. Sorry, Action Lab Danger Zone, because the first thing that both bearers of the Action Lab name will tell you when you try to discuss this topic with them is that it’s a matter to discuss with Danger Zone specifically, which is their adult-themed imprint, and entirely separate, because you don’t want to mix those titty zombie comics with your empowering narratives for children.

Right.

So Action Lab Daaaaaanger Zone, The Mature Imprint For Big Boys, announced that, for NYCC, they would be offering a one-shot featuring Dollface side character Ivan the Pervy Ghost. The cover of this one-shot featured the titular Ivan sandwiched between the chests of two cosplayers–one wearing the Slave Leia bikini, and the other (with her face covered) wearing a Harley Quinn bikini–at least for Cover A. Cover B was a modification of the first, in which both cosplaying girls were topless, instead, which is why these were printed under the Daaaaaaanger Zone imprint–because a woman’s breasts are only for the titillation of adult males. Both covers could be yours for the low, low price of a hundred dollars! Half of each sale would go toward helping the victims of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Our erstwhile editor Claire Napier took some time to discuss this on her Twitter feed, highlighting the intensely problematic nature of a proclaimed “pervert” ghost between the breasts of female cosplayers–namely that it validates said perving, which is such a problem that many conventions have had to revamp rules to protect cosplayers in recent years. Action Lab Daaaaaaaanger Zone responded with…well, this:

In which they accuse Claire of not understanding the message of the comic book (because she hasn’t read it) while they simultaneously fail to understand that the covers are a message in their own right. After that entirely professional and mature tirade, the danger must have gotten too hot, because the account went quiet for a bit, before releasing this terse (and now deleted) statement.

When the absurdity of someone “hacking” their account only to go on a tirade against one person was pointed out, they amended that statement, indicating that instead someone who should no longer have had access took control and did the damage. Various vague threats about legal proceedings were made, which will be interesting to check up on later, given the fact that those kinds of things generally end up being a matter of public record. Several hours later, a statement from Brian Seaton announcing the retraction of the books was released, containing this passage (bold emphasis mine):

As a publisher of creator-owned books [he is the publisher and also the writer of Ivan the Pervy Ghost], Action Lab doesn’t believe in censorship – but we do believe in respecting our readers, being sensitive to issues in our community, and owning up to our mistakes. In short, we made a mistake, we did something dumb, and we sincerely apologize. As part of the comics community, we appreciate your comments and feedback and we will continue to work to get it right.  When we do something wrong, please call us out. We want to be a publisher where every reader feels welcome.

Claire remains blocked by Action Lab Danger Zone on Twitter.

That was a ride, right? On the same day as all of that, Monday, Marvel released this charming video in which comic writer Frank Tieri plays the part of a cab driver harassing a cosplayer who has hired him to drive her to a convention.

Folks, that was Monday.

It’s a good thing that the Action Lab issues definitely ended there and didn’t crop back up a day later when another big name in the industry decided to opine on the issue publicly. Oh, wait. Brandon Graham, writer of the Prophet revival at Image Comics, creator of King City and Island, proceeded to raise the issue once again, offering his experience and insight without actually having read up on the issue of contention, who raised it, or why.

When called on that fact (again by Claire, since he was openly discussing her earlier interactions with Action Lab), Brandon decided to fire back at Claire first with insults accusing her of being a negative presence in the industry at large (here is her fawning review of Graham’s own work on Prophet), and then proceeded to continue his general arguments that a) covers like Action Lab’s aren’t a big deal, and we shouldn’t talk about them, or b) when those covers are a big deal, we’re just not talking about them in the right way.

At first I couldn’t figure out why the tone of Graham’s tweets felt so familiar to me, but then I realized that he’s applying the theory of respectability politics to comics here. As a creator, he feels he’s due a certain level of respect, and he swears that he’s perfectly open to criticism as long as that is kept in mind. The trick here is that no form of criticism is ever respectful enough for him. Indeed, a statement that simply compares something he’s said against something else he’s said prior is enough for him to dismiss a person entirely, as evidenced by the fact that he took the time to break up with Claire over DMs as a result of this debacle. It’s just “for the best” if they unfollow each other.

At any rate, this is the third or fourth time Graham has leveraged his clout against and insulted female, often black female critics in the industry this year. Isn’t that neat, the way that he flouts his own rules of engagement when they become inconvenient? Isn’t it fun?

That was Tuesday, folks!

Wednesday felt quiet in turn, but that’s probably just because of how intense the prior two days had been. There was actually some good news, though! First, Rob Liefeld, 90s Comics Superstar and secret dad of WWAC’s own Kat Overland, turned 50!

He’s now the perfect age to travel back in time and whip a bunch of scrappy young mutants into a fighting force to save the future. Happy belated birthday, Rob!

Next, publisher Lion Forge announced the hiring of several new editors: Desiree Rodriguez, Erika Kuster, Hazel Newlevant and Jasmine Amiri! All four ladies have quite a bit of experience in the comics industry, but you may recognize one in particular if you’re a regular reader–Desiree has previously written a hundred and fifteen articles for WWAC alone. Says Vice President and Executive Editor of Lion Forge, Andrea Colvin, “Each of these editors brings a unique experience and talent to Lion Forge, and each will help move the company forward in our goal of publishing comics for everyone. As we continue to grow, these four professionals represent exactly the kind of talent we need to bring Lion Forge to the next level of success.”

In other really big news, Oni Press made big headlines when they announced they’d secured a sales and distribution deal with Simon and Schuster, breaking with the industry standard Diamond Comics Distributors. From Oni’s press release on the news:

Under the agreement, sales and distribution will commence on March 1, 2018, bringing Oni Press’s wide range of publications to a larger marketplace of readers. Oni Press’s catalog includes popular comic books and graphic novels based on Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty™ and Nickelodeon’s Invader ZIM, in addition to their line of critically-acclaimed original titles including Scott Pilgrim, Princess Princess Ever After, Lucky Penny, Courtney Crumrin, The Sixth Gun, Stumptown, Wet Moon, Letter 44, The Coldest City and Kaijumax.

“We are delighted to welcome Oni Press to our family of distribution clients,” said Michael Perlman, Vice President of Client Sales and Marketing, Simon & Schuster. “They have clearly found an audience of enthusiastic readers for their licensed and original titles, and we look forward to helping expand that audience world wide.”

“When I first joined Joe Nozemack at Oni Press, it was clear we were doing something different. We have long known that our catalog appeals to a broader audience, so we have always worked to push the comic book medium beyond the direct market,” said James Lucas Jones, Publisher, Oni Press. “Working with Simon & Schuster’s incredible team, we are elated to bring our books to new readers, retailers, and libraries.”

That was Wednesday! You need a break? You should probably take a break. Get some water. It’s good for you.

Thursday marked the start of New York Comic Con–the presence of several WWAC staffers there means plenty of reporting back over the week! There’s certainly one bit of pertinent news to share, though–over the con, Marvel announced a partnership with Northrop Grumman, ostensibly to encourage readers to pursue STEM fields. They released a comic book featuring this partnership and also announced an event at NYCC with the drone manufacturer.

https://twitter.com/DavidUzumeri/status/916387192368484363

In the face of immediate and sustained backlash online, Marvel canceled the partnership and the announced event with a single tweet:

Brandon Graham has not provided commentary on whether this fan response was appropriate or respectful (unless you count his snide tweet about Hannah Blumenreich), or whether talking about it brought the company too much free publicity.

On Saturday, perhaps determined not to be left out of the “entities in power abusing people on social media” trend of the week, the official social media account for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival decided to go after noted writer and founder of the vital Comics and Cola, Zainab Akhtar, when she pointed out the overwhelming whiteness of the festival’s guest list (three years after a fair and measured blog post was met with indignant rebuttal).

After first blocking Zainab on Twitter, the individuals behind the account proceeded to insult her and then make several false claims about a supposed “vendetta” that Zainab possesses. After calling her “slime” and a liar, they deleted the tirade. Lo, the internet remembers:

It’s honestly unconscionable behavior on the part of the festival; it would be even on the part of an individual. However, the Lakes Festival operates on the specifically stated intent of “celebrating great comic art from across the world,” so why is the social media account for that festival so violently hostile to a single woman of color attempting to advise them of a critical point of failure in their stated mission? [Editor’s note: the festival has put out a statement stating at one point, “we know we can always improve and we would welcome the opportunity to talk to any comic creators or interested groups who can suggest ways we can improve further in 2018,” which seems like quite a pivot. Several exhibitors have already pulled out of the festival.]

It’s all the more disturbing that both the beginning and ends of this past week’s news center around the same types of stories. It says something that these representatives of companies can abuse their own readers, their own customer base, with impunity. We were confronted this week with several shocking abuses of power against individuals who did nothing but try to raise concerns. It paints a disappointing portrait of the industry and further sheds light on some very dark corners.

Comics People. Sort yourselves out.