Several things happened in comics last week, but I’m going to forego listing off the news as we normally do in this column, and instead take the opportunity to use our platform here at WWAC to address a very serious issue that continues to plague the comic book industry. In case you missed the most recent case of an industry “professional” attacking a critic for critiquing their work, it all started with Claire Napier expressing an opinion about the sight lines on the cover of Female Furies #2 by Dan Panosian in relation to the context of the story.
If you are unfamiliar with Claire or her body of work as a writer, editor, critic, comic creator, artist, and former EiC of this very site, I will say this: Claire is one of the most incredibly insightful people I have ever met. She consistently challenges me with her keen intellect and the depths into which she delves when it comes to criticism — comics or otherwise. I am in awe of her creativity and her critical perspectives and processes. I have learned a lot from Claire and respect her ability and willingness to identify and confidently speak up about what others might not notice or might choose to dismiss.
The role of the critic is an important one. The point of a critique is not necessarily to change minds, but to open them to other points of view. For a consumer (the critic’s primary audience), critiques can teach them how to absorb a particular medium in different ways. For a creator, critiques can reveal perspectives that hadn’t been considered when the artist initially created their work, providing an opportunity for them to learn and grow in their art.
Unless they are too thin-skinned to handle that.
When Claire chose to express an opinion about Panosian’s work, apparently, it didn’t matter to him that she is a critic. It mattered only, it seems, that Panosian’s feelings were hurt (as he admitted himself) when he discovered her untagged tweet about this one cover in his vast portfolio. Barrelling into her mentions, he corrected her interpretation of his sight lines and explained his intent to her. As if she had not figured out that intent on her own. As if the specific intention of the artist is forever pinned to their art once it’s released for public consumption, and thereby trumps any interpretations made by others from now until the end of time.
Despite numerous opportunities for him to exit the subsequent exchanges that occurred, Panosian’s hurt feelings continued to drive him to defend his work and take offense at Claire’s “rudeness” — i.e. her arch refusal to humbly acquiesce to being corrected on her point of view — and act like she was specifically, deliberately attacking him personally as sexist for purposefully drawing this image just so, rather than consider that maybe — especially given the context of a book about institutional sexism — Claire had a very valid point that he could learn from and be more mindful of in the future in order to back up his proclamations that he is, indeed, not sexist. But no, he did not stop to consider that. Instead, Panosian went so far as to look up Claire’s website and determine that, as an artist herself, she had no right to cast judgment upon him at all, no matter the context.
Though he has repeatedly stated that he simply should not have engaged, he continued to do so, returning later with a six-thread Twitter rant about his perceived victimization to his thousands of followers where he has earned kudos for being oh so very polite throughout this whole horrid exchange. Creators and fans who have been summoned by Panosian’s dog whistle have leaped in to deride Claire with displays of hypocrisy and gaslighting 101. Some “professionals” like Frank Tieri have gone so far as to act like a schoolyard bully, slinging insults and threats against those who have stood up for Claire. Tieri has since posted a public apology (notably not offering a face-to-face opportunity) — perhaps as the result of a much-needed stop and think, or, more likely, a career-minded slap on the wrist — but not before having his aggressive behaviour defended and justified by colleagues as proof of Tieri’s status as an “old skool” “loyal friend.” His apology is receiving the same kudos and support.
That Claire is a comics critic, respected by many in the comics journalism circle, who has been subjected to harassment is, sadly, not a surprising state of being. Comics critics — particularly marginalized voices — have been enduring this for far too long while nice industry people maintain their silence and turn a blind eye to the abusive actions of their colleagues. This is how comicsgate was born. This is why it persists.
But, the thing is, Panosian admitted that he didn’t even realize Claire was a critic when he first discovered her tweet and leaped in to defend himself against the assumed slight against his person (note: calling a person’s actions foolish is not the same as calling the person foolish — unless that person continues to act foolishly…). Who did he think she was when he decided he needed to correct her point of view by explaining his intentions?
As comics continue to reach a broader audience thanks to the mainstream success of comic-based television and films, there are going to be more people expressing their opinions, whether or not they have “critic” in their bio. Is this how they can expect to be greeted at the gate by industry “professionals” who name search themselves in order to pounce on opinions of their work that don’t stroke their egos?
When I took over here at WWAC, Claire handed over the reins, jokingly describing me as someone who does not get into Twitter fights. It’s true. I tend to stay out of these industry discourses all together, keeping notes on the sidelines as the stronger, more connected and knowledgeable voices speak out on social media. But, along with Megan Purdy, Claire built this site as a place to raise the voices of marginalized people and to demand better of the industry that we love writing about so much.
So here I am. Demanding that this industry do better than continue to allow immature and unprofessional and abusive behaviour like this to be defended, justified, and worse, rewarded.
Or shall we all just meet in the parking lot after school to see how this goes down?