About Those J. Scott Campbell X-Men Black Covers – Social Media Discourse in the “Blue Age” of Comics

X-Men Black logo (Marvel Comics)

A week ago, I was presenting original research at the first annual Comics Studies Society Conference. My paper, “The Blue Age of Comic Books,” was about the digitization of comic books and comic book culture (you can read an early version here). [Update: you can read the full, peer-reviewed “The Blue Age of Comic Books” in Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society.]

“Blue Age” is a theoretical framework because it draws from my personal experience as a college-educated woman that started reading superhero comics digitally in the early 2010s and extrapolates from that experience to argue that we are in a new age of comic books. It’s blue because blue is the color of social media (think Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter). Social media allows comics creators and fans to communicate with each other. I use Twitter, principally, to communicate with other comics scholars, especially other graduate students. Sometimes I use it to think through my work.

Which is why, on Monday night, after I saw that J. Scott Campbell was doing (or had already done) covers for X-Men Black, I tweeted:

“When is putting J. Scott Campbell’s artwork on a cover going to be understood as the wrong thing to do when you’re trying to sell comic books to women.”

I was asked if they were trying to sell these books to women. The covers that inspired my tweet, those of Emma Frost and Mystique, are for issues being written by women: Leah Williams and Seanan McGuire. Increasingly, and encouragingly but not altruistically, we are seeing the Big Two publish comic books about women that are written by women. So the answer to that question is: yes, I do think that Marvel is trying to sell those comics to women.

X-Men Black covers by J. Scott Campbell.

I am a woman, and I am a theorist. I extrapolated from my own experience to speak about women as a demographic. I wouldn’t buy a comic with Campbell’s artwork on it. Campbell’s grotesque pin-up style renderings of women with impossible waists and broken feet aren’t made for women or nonbinary people: they’re made for cisgender, heterosexual men. I am not going to buy something that isn’t made for me.

I didn’t expect the tweet to go beyond my (at the time) 150 followers, a third of whom had followed me after tweets about “Blue Age” circulated during the conference. I didn’t tag J. Scott Campbell. And then he quote tweeted me.

I know there’s some confusion over this: no one had tagged him before he quote tweeted my tweet, asking his more than 70,000 followers if any women liked his art. J. Scott Campbell searched for his own name, saw my tweet, and decided to quote tweet it, tagging me. Regardless of his intentions, which at best were to affirm his own skill and at worst, well, you’ve probably seen the tweets. I haven’t. My original tweet and Campbell’s quote tweet (which, as far as I understand, no longer exists) have been muted since Monday night. As a precaution, I changed a number of my security settings before going to bed. I’ve read about Chelsea Cain and the infamous “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” Mockingbird cover (that she didn’t draw). I haven’t seen most of the replies, and I haven’t responded to any of them. At least, not until now.

And I don’t necessarily want to talk about their content, which is largely misogynistic, because I’m more interested in the phenomenon. In an age of digital media, especially social media, how have interactions between comics creators and fans changed? And I’m not talking about myself as a fan, I am talking about the more than 70,000 people that follow Campbell on Twitter. Why did some of them—any of them really—react to his question as a call to harass me?

When I last checked, my tweet had been replied to more than 70 times. That’s not a statistically significant sample. I don’t know how many replies Campbell got before his tweet came down (I don’t know if he took it down or if Twitter did). Some of those replies on my tweet are from people who care about my well-being, most are not; however, since Tuesday morning, I’ve gotten dozens of messages in support and dozens more likes on my tweet (which, as I write this, has more than twice as many likes as it does replies) and another that I posted on Tuesday about DC Super Hero Girls and Marvel Rising, transmedia properties that are meant to attract new readers in a demographic younger than mine to comic books and comic book culture. Is this what they can expect when they sign onto whichever social media platform we’ve all migrated to in ten years? Twenty? Thirty?

J. Scott Campbell’s quote tweet didn’t explicitly direct his followers to harass me. It didn’t have to, and I’m reticent to think that he didn’t understand the possible consequences of quote tweeting me to more than 70,000 people. I’m not some anonymous troll on the Internet: a quick peek at my profile is enough for you to guess that I’m younger than Campbell and that I am a woman. It also tells you where I go to school and what I study: comics and culture. As someone who has spent a significant amount of time thinking about digital culture, I think about the consequences of my social media presence at least as often as I post on Facebook or Twitter. If I had wanted Campbell’s attention, I would have tagged him.

So why did some of Campbell’s fans decide that his question was a call to harass me? Is it simply because I’m a woman? That’s at least part of why they chose to harass me and not any one of the number of men that came to my defense or those that explicitly tweeted J. Scott Campbell’s name in the hopes that he would find their tweets during his next vanity search. And I’m not making up the term “vanity search.” I did make up “Blue Age.”

“Blue Age” gives us an answer beyond my gender. These fans feel as if they have to defend a man that ostensibly will never care about them as much as they care about him from an attack that, well, wasn’t an attack. I didn’t say Campbell’s art was bad (I did say he couldn’t draw feet, but neither can Rob Liefeld and that’s never stopped him). I didn’t ask that he be fired (I’m pretty sure he’s a freelancer anyway). I didn’t ask Marvel to commission another cover artist (although I do have some thoughts on artists whose work is more appealing to women).

We’re in an unprecedented age of access. As often as fans can use social media to praise the work of comic creators that they “love,” they can use it as a vehicle for harassment: both of creators they hate and of fans with which they disagree. I’m not sure they got what they wanted, because I have not taken my original tweet down (nor do I plan on doing so). I’m not going to quit Twitter. I’m not going to stop studying this phenomenon. And, maybe most importantly, I’m not going to stop reading comics.

12 thoughts on “About Those J. Scott Campbell X-Men Black Covers – Social Media Discourse in the “Blue Age” of Comics

  1. 🚧🚧🚧
    Adrienne – I think you’ve got a great point about the physical portrayal of women in comic books, or most mediums for that matter.

    The only thing that made me think twice were your assumptions about how JSC came to find your tweet. Maybe it was a "vanity search" and maybe it wasn’t. It’s just as likely that someone told him about the tweet outside of Twitter and then he went looking – or maybe something else.

    I really enjoyed your writing here, but the "vanity search" tangent distracted me as a reader because I wasn’t convinced that was they only way JSC could have happened upon your tweet.
    🚧🚧🚧

    1. It’s possible that he was alerted in some other way, however, he confirmed in a subsequent tweet that he does indeed have vanity searches in place to monitor his brand. It doesn’t remove the fact that she did not tag him when expressing her opinion, but he very specifically tagged her in response.

  2. Not sure what the scandal is here. Men and women are drawn to impossible standards in comics in general. I have no issue with content being directed at women, just as I have no problem with content being directed at men. There’s room for everyone to have a seat at the table. I don’t think it is right for anyone to try to exclude anyone else from having what they want. If the titles sell, though, then the publisher will continue to out them out. No social injustice is being done from what I can see.

    Seemed pretty fair for Mr. Campbell to pose the question to his Blue Age following, as well, doesn’t it? Maybe if the answers had gone the other way he’d consider changing things up. They didn’t, because his art is very popular, though. Should he ignore your commentary, instead?

    1. Consideration of the power dynamics at play here is certainly an important factor. A man with 70000 followers putting a woman with ~130 on blast when he could’ve simply @ed her to discuss it (or yes, better even, ignored it) is worth a few eyebrows. Additionally, her original tweet wasn’t even a direct criticism of JSC’s art, it was a mild rebuke of Marvel for the decision on where to use that art.

      1. @Nola, I think we have wildly differing definitions of "on blast." The artist raised a question, probably expecting support, but it wasn’t phrased in a mocking fashion or anything.

        On the other hand, If it’s an issue that the author has about Marvel, then maybe leaving JSC out of the conversation makes more sense. It’s certainly not an issue that would be specific to one artist anyway. For the sake of this post and the roles too that Tweet, isn’t that more of an issue will JSC’s Twitter followers than the artist?

        Seems like a mountain out of a mole hill situation to me.

        1. You aren’t the one who continues to deal with the subsequent harassment, so it’s not really your place to determine the status of the mountain. By raising the question and tagging the person, JSC made her a target. Is he responsible for the actions of his 70k followers? No. But lets not play ignorant and innocent about how social media works when someone with such a large following tags another person in this manner.

          JSC’s name cannot be left out of the context of this conversation because Marvel very specifically chose his artwork to promote the books.

  3. Jen Bartel tweeted her disapproval of JSC’s behavior and that led me to go looking. At that point he’d taken his tweet down, but his RTs of people sucking up to him over you were still up. I eventually found your tweet and laughed because it was so tame and so exactly how I feel about his art.

    I hate his art. Hate it. The anatomy, the same kissy face on every woman, the exact same too high, pinched waist with boobs trying to escape orbit, with spongy legs and….I could go on. There are plenty of cis-male artists who at least draw women aesthetically pleasing. He is not one of them. And no, I would recoil in horror from any book with his work on it, knowing, as you said, it was not meant for me.

    He sells well to cis-males and so the higher ups just see numbers. They already think selling to women, or having most women creators, is not as profitable. If JSC sinks a women lead book, he won’t be blamed. This is why I don’t read big two books anymore. They don’t care about women and they’re falling behind rapidly.

    1. I quite like JSC’s pin-ups in isolation but one hundred percent agree that, both with his style and his behavior, he’s not necessarily the artist to stick on a book by and about women. It was absolutely bizarre when he got the cover for the Swords of Sorrow trade and completely tone deaf here.

      Where do you find good cape books by diverse voices these days, anyway?

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