UPDATE: The Dark Horse statement below has been updated to the correct version.
In 2004 a white man named CB Cebulski pretended to be a Japanese one named Akira Yoshida. “Yoshida” wrote comics for Marvel while Cebulski worked as an Editor at Marvel. Cebulski was recently instated as Editor in Chief at Marvel, and with the artists he’s brought into the Marvel fold—Kia Asamiya, Sara Pichelli, Sana Takeda, and more—has been previously lauded for being a champion of diversity.
“Yoshida” got his published start—this CBR profile asserts that “his” first scripting work was on unpublished issues for Dreamwave—at Dark Horse, writing for “Conan and the Demons of Khitai” and “Hellboy: Weird Tales 8” (both edited by Scott Allie). Claire Napier reached out to Dark Horse for a statement:
“The Dark Horse editorial team (including Conan editor Scott Allie and the series’ assistant editor Dave Marshall) confirmed that they never met “Akira” in person. Dark Horse can also confirm that the payments for his work on Conan were not made out to C.B. Cebulski or Akira Yoshida.”
When Bleeding Cool reported his decade-old yellowface after discussion of this semi-open secret resurfaced, Cebulski admitted what he had done, framing it as the naive mistake of a young man, a mistake that gave him the experience and wisdom to be where he is now, “old news that has been dealt with.”
Clearly it has not been dealt with in the minds and hearts of many diasporic Asian comic fans and creators, who have been abuzz since the news broke.
Any time something like this happens—when something hurtful is done by someone with power—there’s a backlash to the backlash, and Big Two creators have not disappointed. Patch Zircher in particular, an artist at DC who has previously worked for Marvel, has taken it upon himself to tirade heroically against anyone who thinks Cebulski’s actions were racist in many (some now deleted) twitter threads, with gems such as this:
Outrage doesn't have much to do with the actual circumstances or knowing anything about the target. It's the case with nearly everyone in the comic industry who has ever been subject to it. https://t.co/8RJ3LD5rDY
— Patch (@PatrickZircher) November 29, 2017
(As I was writing this, Patch sharted this out:
Don't fuck yourself out of a Marvel hire over it. https://t.co/P4aqcxGyFB
— Patch (@PatrickZircher) November 28, 2017
Just keep your head down and keep quiet, like you’re supposed to!
Patch, two things:
- Many comic creators have no interest working for a company that cares so little for their humanity that they would be willing to blacklist them for speaking out against racism.
- The fact that you can work for DC and not get in any kind of trouble for antagonizing people like this is representative of the racist society that you claim we’re overreacting to.)
Is it worth explaining why this is racist to someone who so clearly doesn’t care whether or not it is? Perhaps not individually, but it’s worth saying for people who are affected by this and are having trouble explaining why, or for young people who may not have learned why yet.
A disclaimer: I’m not Japanese (but neither is Cebulski). I am Asian (Bangladeshi-American), and I’ve grown up in the States around a lot of white people. I was the only Asian in my all white friends group in high school. We were all in the Anime club. So I’m speaking from the experience of someone who grew up around the kind of person who would use a Japanese pseudonym to write his wannabe manga, as someone who gets stared at on the subway and stalked because I look so “exotic,” and as someone who has thought a lot about why and how white people exotify, objectify, and covet the identities of “Asian” people in particular.
I also feel comfortable talking about this, as an Asian who is not Japanese, because white people do this all the time taking names from all across the continent (did you know David Wong of Cracked and John Dies at the End is a white dude using a pseudonym? I didn’t until Darryl Ayo tweeted about it!). Therefore, I can speak somewhat generically on the subject. That said, they do tend to pick East Asian names; since I’m not East Asian I don’t know what that aspect specifically feels like. They also tend to mush all our cultures together, and they love integrating South Asian “mysticism” as East Asian practice so… I don’t know. It’s a mess. I’m Asian. I’m “ambiguously raced.” White people are into that, as long as they can claim it, and me, as their own. I’ve collected quotes from other Asians throughout this essay and at the end in the hopes of fostering a more nuanced perspective.
So what’s so bad about what Cebulski did? It’s exhausting to explain. It’s bad because it’s violent. He took a name and persona that didn’t belong to him and wore them like a wolf wears a sheepskin. Except if the wolf had a really degrading and inaccurate idea of what a sheep was. A wolf in a cartoon sheepskin. But that’s almost beside the point. The sheepskin could have been made by Weta Workshop; it’s still fake. When counting the sheep, you’re really counting a wolf. It’s insulting to sheep.
What about kids who read Yoshida’s work and thought, “maybe I can do it too!” You might say “what’s wrong with that? He made an Asian kid happy!” Except it was a lie. The kid grows up. The kid tries to work for Marvel. The kid does not get to work for Marvel.
And that’s another argument people have been clinging to: “You just want to work for Marvel. Well too bad, kid; it’s hard for ANYONE to work at Marvel.”
It’s deeper than that, though. It’s not just that the kid doesn’t get to work for Marvel (though if we’re going there, it does suck that the kid does not get paid for their skills when comic writers who—frankly—aren’t very good channel a false identity and end up with an EIC’s salary). It’s that the kid is told what counts as “Asian enough” for Marvel, and it’s not Asians: it’s not them, and it’s not people who represent them.
White supremacy is upheld with a strong collar on what qualifies as Asian enough, Indian enough, Black enough. White supremacy is a snake covered in oil; it protects itself by avoiding responsibility for its actions. White supremacy will tell you “this wasn’t bad enough to qualify as racist,” just as it tells you that “this white man who lived in Japan qualifies as Japanese.” White supremacy is interested in upholding the status quo: white people, particularly men, run Marvel. White people get to make money in comics. White people get to tell Asians who and what they are and what that means. Because Asians are not useful to White Supremacy as human beings: we’re objects and props, only there to spice up their experience. Like a mini keychain of Sriracha, we give them some flavor and credibility.
The Mixed Asian angle
Cebulski, as a white man, was raised alongside us in a culture that praised his every flaw, and tore people of color down as humans at every intersection. The confidence instilled in him from birth gave him the green light to push ahead both with his stolen identity and with comics as a career. Using our own names, carving our own path and staking a claim to our own cultures is a struggle for most people of color in the States, and people of mixed Asian ancestry found another layer to Cebulski’s appropriation. I saw many people of color on twitter bring up how much they struggle with imposter syndrome, with others adding how insulting it is that an untalented white man could literally just lie about being Asian, when so many of us struggle with being “Asian enough”. As an Asian-American with a white parent, I’ve gone through this myself. To say “it sucks” is not strong enough: it’s demeaning and it messes with your sense of self, which is what makes us human. Again I can only say: it is not up to white people to define your Asian-ness— if you have Asian ancestry, you have Asian ancestry. And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that rewards white men for co-opting an experience that so many people of color are forced to go through: that of learning to define your identity on your own terms.
I wake up every single day with imposter syndrome and anxiety about being *myself*. Imagine pretending to be a fake person of another race for *months* at your *job*. That’s whiteness for you, man. https://t.co/Sis6caLzmi
— Charles PM (@CharlesPulliam) November 28, 2017
It is very insulting to me and esp to the multigenerational Japanese diaspora to imply that the passed down, mixed up mutability of our culture is less than the experience of some white dude who happened to be raised in Japan awhile.
— C. N. R. Shiotsuki/塩月奈緒 (@EngetsuNao) November 29, 2017
Comic creators of color were rooting for Sana Amanat, and when we found out about Cebulski some were hopeful that he would lose his job and she would get it instead. Then she came out and said this:
“This is a world he understood. He’s one of my favourite people (and) I think many people who know CB will know that he is one of the most globally minded, and very culturally sensitive as well… That man has lived in Japan, speaks Japanese, and has lived all over the world. He very much associates with Japanese culture. And I think that him writing, for whatever time it was, was him trying to be a writer more than anything else.”
Amanat is not the only Asian person at Marvel who went up to bat for Cebulski, but she was the only one who was publicly quoted. I know specifically of one other Asian comics professional who posted on their private facebook page that we were overreacting. I wish I could say I was surprised. If I give the benefit of the doubt, I would say that people in relatively comfortable positions simply have no reason to look at or listen to how things feel from outside that position. Unfortunately we see over and over that it’s possible to be a member of a marginalized group and still contribute to white supremacy.
Mark Tseng-Putterman said it more succinctly:
Interpersonal trust will never erase differences in structural power.
— MTP (@tsengputterman) November 29, 2017
“We have to start communicating and not being so angry…” -Sana Amanat
Real communication between marginalized and powerful groups includes listening and validating the anger that springs from injustice. Change won’t ever happen if we don’t learn to be comfortable with anger.
We’re told as people of color not to rock the boat. I can’t speak for the entire world but in the United States, speaking up for yourself in any way that can be considered threatening to white supremacy is very quickly shut down. The anger of people of color has historically been used to vilify us. There is an intrinsic violence assigned to the person of color expressing anger, but the opposite is true: it is a violent act to tell another person that their anger at injustice is misplaced, or that it should be shoved down and hidden in order to keep the peace. It should be up to the oppressors, not the oppressed, to change their behavior.
The bottom line
Micah Wright was shunned from comics when it was revealed he had lied about being an Army Ranger in order to further his career. But a white man can lie about his ethnicity, steal a Japanese name, use the pseudonym to evade the rules of his publisher, get promoted to Editor in Chief of that publisher, and still be defended by his colleagues.
You can’t tell a bunch of people that feel demeaned, disrespected, and degraded by both the actions of an individual and the actions of a corporation that enabled and rewarded the individual’s behavior that they have nothing to complain about. Understanding why someone might feel this whole situation reflects our racist society, a society that they are forced to navigate and make sense of and get treated like shit within takes a certain level of human empathy. Comic creators of color are tired. We want jobs that pay enough so we can eat well, pay rent, and not have carpal tunnel. We deserve that.
Marvel is a corporation that could afford to hire every single creator of color that has spoken out on this issue. So why don’t they? Why do they, and seemingly every other comic company that has cash to spend, insist on hiring mostly white people?
— MariNaomi (@marinaomi) November 29, 2017
“The irony of the entire thing is that Cebulski’s actions indicated NO cultural sensitivity whatsoever, and it is troubling to see that one of the most visible WOC in the comics industry right now would defend him.” – Safiyya Hosein, comics scholar
“It’s Ghost in the Shell, it’s Death Note, it’s Firefly, it’s every single media property that uses Asia and pretends its people or its diaspora don’t exist. We’re practically hakutaku in some people’s minds…. We’re not really real. If we were, then perhaps the people who tell us the white person who lived in X Asian country for Y amount of years has more authority than us about our own cultures, would think twice before saying such things.” – C. N. R. Shiotsuki, artist
“It’s galling to see people defend Cebulski’s actions on the grounds of his personal life; claim that his marriage to a Japanese woman and his life in Japan count as mitigating factors. Cebulski’s behavior falls into a long pattern not just of white creators putting on yellowface to steal credibility, but of white men partnered with Asian women who believe that grants them special insight into their partner’s culture and the right to act as gatekeepers, explainers, and “honorary natives” for their own profit and self-aggrandizement, when they could have been our allies. I know that Sana Amanat is in a difficult position between her fanbase and her new boss, but I wish she’d chosen to express generic support for him without effectively giving the green light to his cultural fetish.” – Mai Pucik, WWAC contributor
Cheryl Lynn Eaton, on the misogynoir/antiblackness* in Sana Amanat’s response: http://twitter.com/cheryllynneaton/status/935888422119661568
*Our summation, not hers
Every person of Asian descent who has written for Marvel (founded 1961), ever
Larry Hama – Wolverine, X-Men, G.I. Joe
Jim Lee – Iron Man, X-Men
Brandon Choi – Fantastic Four
Mariko Tamaki – HULK (2016)
Robbie Thompson – Silk, Spider-Man
Marjorie Liu – X-23, X-Men, Han Solo
Greg Pak – Incredible Hulk (Amadeus Cho version!!)
Christina Strain – Generation X
Saladin Ahmed – Black Bolt
Sina Grace – Iceman
Mary H.K. Choi – Deadpool
Thanks to Clara Mae for this list.