Who Do We Listen To And Why Can We Hear Them? Criticism, Satisfaction, Responsibility, Service

PUNISHER MAX Butterfly, Marvel Comics, STORY BY Valerie D'Orazio ART BY Laurence Campbell COLORS BY Lee Loughridge, 2010

It’s strange how so much isn’t surprising. Chris Sims, currently of ComicsAlliance and Marvel’s rose-tinted X-Men ’92–you might know him as @theisb or that guy with the laughing pink guy twitter icon, fan amongst fans– used to be the kind of fanboy who would lock onto hate like a dog on the last dear bone of their skeleton master. Valerie D’Orazio (a woman! Of course), a writer whom he pelted, pelted, pelted, with criticism and focus during that unpleasant time, tumbl’d her history with Sims, this week. The history was: he did not like her writing, and subsequently he harassed her, and ring-led harassment of her, to the point of medically diagnosable trauma. He paid her so much negative attention that it infected her and she became lastingly unwell. She has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She is American and has accrued resultant healthcare bills. This cannot be forgiven as an action from the beforetimes, when no-one got arrested for online threats and nobody had even heard of GamerGate. Internet harassment didn’t become real or immoral at some distinct, agreed-upon point, friends, it was real as soon as somebody did it. Chris Sims did it. He was that guy.

At this point now he’s “the guy who used to be a shithead.” His work says he’s a guy who cares. His friends say he’s a guy who cares. He says “Sorry, but, sorry.” I don’t want to be someone who doesn’t believe in somebody learning to be better–scratch that. I’m not someone who doesn’t believe in learning better. I absolutely do believe in the possibility of self-improvement. The potential for grace after mud is real, and so this is irrelevant. My faith in myself and the evolution of others does not depend on the soul of Chris Sims. Neither does yours. Come off that sidetrack.

Chris Sims might be a good man now and he’s a writer whose work is of a professional standard. However, Chris Sims is undeniably nerd-famous and on the up-and-up. He is a Big Name Fan made good; his career trajectory from blogger to commentator to indie writer to X-Men sandpit player is a clear stacking of name on work on name on work. Hard work, probably. Some hard, some cruel.

Chris Sims owes his X-Men ’92 tenure to the part of his life in which he was harassing Valerie D’Orazio because you can’t remove that part of his history, the Invincible Super-Blog years, from the timeline and still have it work. A “feud” is a keystone moment (Hogan/Andre, Hogan/Savage… If you pay attention to Sims you probably have an inkling that American Professional Wrestling exists and how feuds are used there to bolster rising stars. This is not specific to that industry). His professional momentum was powered by the attention of his readers and fans, and if those people (#notallfans) were there to read Sims vs D’Orazio, amongst whatever else, then they were there for the circus that nobody stopped to consider from the inside: they were there for the exercise in group misogyny that resulted in D’Orazio’s PTSD. Sims owes her. His platform owes her, whomever’s back it’s built on now. Marvel owes her for hiring him, like it owed her when it “warned” her, in D’orazio’s words, that there was a “harassing” atmosphere on the internet regarding my comic but didn’t shut that shit down. He has publicly apologised, but if sorry was enough–

(And if sorry was timely, and if sorry didn’t come after a first, private apology to her husband.)

If you step on my foot and my foot’s basically okay, sorry’s fine. I can dust myself off and no-one need pay any attention. If you drag a woman in comics, use her as a step in your ladder to the stars, and leave your footprints intact until you’re writing X-Men ’92, a reborn vision of thousands of people’s platonic understanding of “ohmigod, the X-Men, I love them, they’re a metaphor for diversity and the underprivileged!!”


Editor, writer, podcaster, and Sims’ close friend Rachel Edidin said

“He harassed Val viciously and serially and—intentionally or not (with the caveat that intentions are only tangentially relevant here)—because he did it from a pretty wide and public platform, that harassment did a lot to normalize and validate a lot of significantly more vicious harassment and misogyny in comics culture.”

It’ll be a tough turd to swallow, but that’s accrued responsibility that an apology can’t quite catch.

My favourite X-Man was always Rogue, who stole Carol Danvers’ life from her before I was aware of either of them. I kind of hate that part of her backstory.

I don’t read X-Men any more.

Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at clairenapierclairenapier@gmail.com and give me lots of money

8 thoughts on “Who Do We Listen To And Why Can We Hear Them? Criticism, Satisfaction, Responsibility, Service

  1. “Those saying that Chris is taking the first step just now obviously doesn’t follow him. ”

    Not really owning upto your own actions always comes first. I followed him and when this came to light, even though it was news to me, it was completely unsurprising because I have known countless men who hang out in progressive circles, feminist circles, leftist circles whose actions never matched up to what they preach in public and who are never called out on it because they have those connections. I’ve seen it happen a million times, the fact that he’s happy to call out other people who harrass doesn’t cancel it out. My experience has always been that almost everyone is only comfortable calling out people if they’re outside their social circle; hell even the most reactionary corners of the internet will call out abusers as long as they’re already people that they don’t like.

    This is the first step. Of course people can change but if you don’t know enough to know that accounting for your own actions instead of burying them is a prereq then you haven’t started that change yet. I really don’t think the people who aren’t convinced are the people you should be throwing the blame at.

  2. I agree heavily with this piece but I disagree on one point, and it’s been sticking in my craw so to speak watching all of this play out. Those saying that Chris is taking the first step just now obviously doesn’t follow him. He’s spent the last five years fighting this exact kind of BS. He’s one of the most progressive voices in comics and has turned a lot of people onto diverse and unique comics. He has already done tons to try and make amends. Yes, he fucking up majorly by not giving an apology years ago and he deserves to get raked over the coals for that. Valerie also has every right not to forgive him. But anyone saying his career needs to suffer is looking for blood for the sake of blood. That defeats the purpose of trying to reform if you can change and will still be considered vile for what you did years ago, even if you spend the several years since trying to fix it. If Valerie determines that Chris needs to do something, that’s fine. She’s the victim. Anyone else saying Chris deserves pain knows nothing.

  3. I am of the “forgiveness is power” mentality and believe that his apology is genuine and that he has made the efforts to make right and will continue to do so. I don’t expect Valerie to ever forgive him, but I had not considered this point about his success being built on dragging her down and stepping on her. With that in mind, I absolutely agree that he needs to do more — though I’d rather it be a personal thing between the two of them, rather than have it paraded out onto the internet. That, I fear, will still stir up the assholes, and she will still be harmed, while he will be the hero.

  4. Can he be rehabilitated though, if his attempt at an apology is rejected?

    I mean I agree, it’s not a great apology at all. But he does recognise that he’s Being Part Of The Problem, and that’s an important step, no?

    And he has clearly written that blog post without the involvement of a lawyer, so he has left himself open to a claim being made against him by the aggrieved party if she so chooses to pursue that. Which would probably be the sensible course of action, she demonstrates before a judge that he caused lasting harm to her health and career, he pays compensation, and the rest of the world learns that people can be held accountable for prolonged and sustained attacks against others on the internet. Just as they would be in ‘real life’ too.

  5. Very interesting read. From what I’ve been seeing, Sims acted appallingly and got to admit his apology is kinda screaming “Bad Press! Flee!”, with him putting as much of a positive spin on his negative actions as he can. I’m relatively new to the broader issues of comic reading but this kind of attitude (I’d say of entitlement but I’m no wordsmith) seems to be disturbingly common within the comic industry.

  6. I am grateful that Valerie had the strength to publicly talk about her painful experiences; too many women that have experienced similar harassment never get to that point and just leave comics forever.

    A lot of my motivation to write about and become more active in the comic book community was because of Comics Alliance, specifically founder Laura Hudson’s writing. At the time, it was radical in my eyes to associate the content of comics I read with larger social issues. To learn that this was happening at roughly the same time I discovered CA is eye opening. A very late apology is not going to cut it, but I’m hoping for clear and decisive action from Sims for him to truly make amends. I hope (and know) people can change, but it requires time and considerable and consistent effort to establish.

    1. “A very late apology is not going to cut it, but I’m hoping for clear and decisive action from Sims for him to truly make amends. I hope (and know) people can change, but it requires time and considerable and consistent effort to establish.”

      There are two interrelated questions:

      – First, what is appropriate amends at an interpersonal level.

      – Second, is it possible to start making communal amends prior to the public discovery of the crime? The second one makes this situation more complex. A lot of smart and ethical female comics professionals have stood up for Chris — while not dismissing or hiding what he did — and said he has changed from that time. And if you read his writings he’s been a strong ally on lots of causes (including bullying).

      Without a doubt, Chris has a lot to do to make this right. But I also feel like many of us feel like he’s been doing some of that work for years.

      Also, at somepoint, it would be great for the community to come up with a way to lend material support to Ms. D’Orazio.

  7. Also of note, his apology, which is written as if it’s directly to her, is buried midway through his 11th paragraph. To get there, one must read through all of his shame and regret and claims that he didn’t see himself as the villain. That’s not an apology, it’s a context piece designed to make him look good that he has the audacity to call his apology to her.

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