Picking Shots and Taking Punches: Confronting Abuse in Comics

That Asselin was able to assemble her story, secure Harris’ co-operation, and clear the hurdles necessary to publish with Graphic Policy in less than four months is astounding and a major victory for this kind of reporting.

“Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right and you can blow a kneecap off the world.”

-Spider Jerusalem, Transmetropolitan

 

Yesterday morning Janelle Asselin wrote an exposé on the behavior of Scott Allie while he was Editor in Chief at Dark Horse, and most specifically about Joe Harris being groped and bitten by him at this year’s SDCC. It’s a pattern of behaviour that has been said to have gone on for twenty years and has been joked about on the Dark Horse website as far back as 2006, most notably in the quote “Watch out, he bites.”

Allie responded by issuing an apology:

 

I’m deeply sorry about my behavior at San Diego Comic Con 2015 and I apologize to everyone I’ve hurt. I’m completely embarrassed by my actions and how my behavior reflects on Dark Horse Comics, my friends and family. My personal approach and decisions for managing stress were bad. Dark Horse and I have taken the matter very seriously and since this incident, we have taken steps to correct and to avoid any behavior like this in the future. Although apologies can’t undo what has happened, I’ve tried to apologize to everyone impacted by my behavior. To my family, friends, co-workers, and to the industry — please know that I am truly, truly sorry.

He is reportedly seeking treatment for substance abuse, and as someone with many close friends whose lives have been impacted by addiction, I wish him the best in his recovery.

Irrespective of Allie’s addiction, this is still emblematic of an endemic problem in the industry that is much older than the current firestorm ignited by Nathan Edmondson being named to Red Wolf or Brian Wood’s outing, as Heidi MacDonald expounded on in a blistering editorial at The Beat.

What needs attention drawn to it first, which I think has been largely overlooked here, is the timeline. Joe Harris was assaulted on July 9th. Graphic Policy ran the story centering on it October 1st. Nick Hanover reported on September 8th that he and David Fairbanks have been investigating predatory figures in the comics industry for the last two years. In MacDonald’s editorial, she related the story of an assault purportedly committed by Julius Schwartz against a teenage girl in a limo, observing that reporting on the incident was withheld until after his death in 2004, further elaborating on the fact that it was damn near impossible to recover the reporting on it from 2006.

That Asselin was able to assemble her story, secure Harris’ co-operation, and clear the hurdles necessary to publish with Graphic Policy in less than four months is astounding and a major victory for this kind of reporting.The frustration at the length of time that any of the current investigations have taken is understandable, but there is a necessary due diligence that has to be done around these kind of claims. The quote that I began this with is best remembered for the line about blowing a kneecap off the world, but it’s the least salient to what’s happening right now. What’s most salient is that you only get one bullet. If you miss, well, at best absolutely nothing changes, and at worst, your site, your career, and perhaps even your livelihood are gone.

Just over a year ago, roughly in line with the beginning of what came to be known as GamerGate, Chase Magnett tried to make the allegations that Yale Stewart was sending unsolicited dick picks stick to him. It failed, and he revisited that moment two days after Hanover revealed his investigation as a cautionary tale. As part of that Op Ed, he brought up the threats of rape and abuse leveled at Asselin for calling out a Teen Titans cover as well as Andy Khouri’s rebuke of her attackers. This is how high the odds are stacked against anyone who reports on these topics are and a sample of the people waiting for the likes of Asselin to fail. Which she didn’t, either then or now.

I wasn’t active writing about or reviewing comics at the time, but I was very active on Tumblr and witnessed a tidal wave of prominent users outed as harassers, abusers, and con artists, some of them coming very close to people I care deeply about. One of the most infamous was Josh Macedo, who publicly presented himself as a politically progressive feminist but was later revealed to have had a concurrent history of sexual harassment. Around that time a close friend of mine revealed to me in confidence that they’d been the victim of an assault by another person within our peer group at the time in the context of asking for advice on an indirectly related matter.

After Macedo was outed and a string of other abusive individuals began to be named, I had to sit and watch as the individual I’d been made aware of continued on as if nothing had happened, and every time I heard that someone close to a friend had been revealed I checked the username, coming up empty every time. It was months before that person’s history was revealed, during which time they’d insinuated themselves closer and closer to my friends while I kept the secret to protect the victim. As painful and infuriating as it was for me, I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for the person I was shielding.

So I have a keen understanding of Asselin’s position and how those four months must have felt. What I have no conception of is what the last two years have been like for Hanover and Fairbanks. Waiting two years and counting to fire a gun with a single bullet in it. It won’t be apparent yet whether this is the tipping point that will lead to more reporting that names names in the near future, but what needs to be understood beyond Asselin’s post becoming the new standard is that it isn’t over and won’t be for some time.

What’s happening is wider than just comics, it’s a generational shift. Millennials are demanding and fighting for transparency and more accountability in many fields. Whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning are not outliers, but the most visible manifestations of this desire. It’s been asked in light of this situation who can behave the way that Allie has been alleged to and still keep their job and the answer is the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford couldn’t be removed because there wasn’t a recall process in place. Anyone else to have actually been revealed to behave like that, despite years of shielding, was turfed. So comics are just as dysfunctional as Toronto City Hall, which is truly nightmarish. Either way, until the companies in question begin improving their handling of these problems, these kind of stories are just going to continue. This is the norm now. Rob Ford clung on to the bitter end, fighting uselessly against tapes that he and everyone else knew existed as they slowly worked their way into public view. It’s always been pretty good advice not to emulate Ford, but now is the best time ever for anyone with this kind of history to start heeding that advice and admit it publicly. But this kind of reporting is also never a guaranteed slam dunk.

If you want a look at what happens when you miss, the Rolling Stone UVA rape scandal would be a prime example. The stakes and the kind of stories that could come to light as the revelations within the comic industry continue are quite similar to that story. Rolling Stone failed again and again to live up to the standards that they were well aware of and could be reasonably expected to live up to. Rolling Stone has resources and straight journalism experience far beyond what any of the sites that want to and are endeavoring to investigate harassment within the comics industry have at their disposal. To call this an uphill battle is a pretty significant understatement.

The Outhousers, such is their current win streak, have the definitive take on Dark Horse President Mike Richardson’s response to Asselin’s exposé, but there’s a pattern I’ve been noticing lately in these sort of things.

Here’s a particularly noteworthy excerpt from his statement:

“If she knew me, she would learn that I am extremely sensitive on this subject”

Here’s Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn in a statement to GLAAD regarding a post he authored called “The Fifty Superheroes You Most Want to Have Sex With” that, among other things, advocated corrective rape for Kate Kane:

People who are familiar with me as evidenced by my Facebook page and other mediums know that I’m an outspoken proponent for the rights of the gay and lesbian community.”

Rounding out the field is Scarlet Witch and Squadron Supreme writer James Robinson, also issuing a statement to GLAAD for the blatant transmisogyny in Airboy #2:

Anyone who actually knows me, knows my feelings on such matters, and anyone who doesn’t will just have to take my word for it.”

These guys are real keen for us to get to know them when they get caught out, but it’s not them who get known for these and similar incidents. The minute the Graphic Policy piece went up, Joe Harris became The Guy Who Got Bitten and Groped by Scott Allie, and he’s going to wear that for a long time. Tough guys have been talking shit about how they’d hit anyone who touched them inappropriately, which, you know good job advocating for perpetuating cycles of violence, I guess, but Harris taking that on so that the unnamed victims don’t have to is a way more heroic act than punching someone in the name of wounded pride. I may have written something not long ago about Fight Club 2, which Dark Horse publishes, and the act of taking a punch recently. Fancy that.

But in much the same way, Tess Fowler will forever be the patient zero of this generation’s struggle with industry harassment. Every time someone gets outed for this kind of thing, her inbox will overflow. Which is asinine and unfair because she deserves to be known as a tremendously talented artist first and anything related to that second, if at all. Even so, Fowler has used it to empower herself and become an agent of change. She tweeted, in the midst of the storm, about going to see Mad Max: Fury Road with her husband and how he quietly pointed out that Rat Queens writer Kurtis Wiebe is the Max to her Furiosa.

She went on to say that the climactic moment of the film, when Max convinces Furiosa not to head out across the salt flats and instead return to take Immortan Joe’s stronghold, is to her, the same as the moment that Wiebe offered her the job on Rat Queens. If anyone working today deserves to be the avatar of the industry’s favourite badass movie heroine, it’s her, and not just because of her wildly popular series of Post Apocalyptic themed Disney Princesses.

I have only a dim understanding of that because I feel like I’ll always be primarily known for my role in the controversy surrounding Airboy, which Graphic Policy helped guide myself and the rest of the Rainbow Hub editorial staff through, much as I assume they did for Asselin. It wasn’t fun, exhilarating, or a conquest. It was a crucible. I said internally at the time that if we couldn’t see it through and gain some traction that I might have to resign because the prospect of having to face an industry indifferent to trans women was too much to bear. I told myself that if I could see it through I’d get a Non Compliant tattoo. Which I did. I don’t need you to know me, or tell you that if you knew me you’d know I’m being honest. You can hear it in my voice and judge for yourself.

What’s been rattling around my head since the story broke is that Scott Allie described me recently on Twitter as being someone who really understands Chuck Palahniuk and comics in regards to my review of Fight Club 2 #3, which was focused specifically on how Tyler Durden reflects the toxic masculinity and Objectivist trappings that cling to superhero fiction.

Fight Club 2 appears at first to be swimming against that current with it’s focus on violent white male masculinity. On further inspection, it’s shaping up to be the harshest and most uncompromising examination of toxic masculinity that mainstream comics have seen since Flex Mentallo.”

That’s how I closed out that review. I don’t know exactly what Allie saw in it, but presuming that the full extent of the allegations against him and the timeline attached to them are correct, he’s hurt a lot of people over a long period of time. If the characterization of him as a lapsed alcoholic is also true, then it means he’s likely been hurting this entire time too, and the culture of silence that shielded him from accountability, public or private, for the alleged twenty years that this went on for enabled his addiction and exacerbated his pain. That’s what toxic masculinity does to people. He needs to be held accountable for that behavior regardless. With that said, the biggest irony of it all is that based on the text of his apology, it seems like at least in this instance, he really does get that Fight Club, according to David Fincher and the principal actors, is about taking a punch, not throwing one. Hopefully it’s something he has, or will internalize.

This entire situation, and the emergence of a persistent fifth estate within comics that will make public situations that the companies prove themselves to be either unwilling or unable to deal with, is one of the industry’s own making. That there is a contingent of current and former pros who have borne the brunt of sexism, harassment, and abuse like Janelle Asselin, Heidi MacDonald, Tessa Fowler, and Alex De Campi ready, willing, and able to tackle it head on is no one’s fault but the people who fostered the environment that it occurred in. And the new generation of writers and creators looking to enter the industry who can’t be cowed by the prospect of blacklisting? Well, we’d be making and reviewing a hell of a lot more comics if there wasn’t anything to distract us from it.

 

Categories
Comics
Emma Houxbois

Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.

  • http://sergiorex.tumblr.com/ PowerSerg

    Really good Article here and I didn’t know about Red Wolf, I’ll be not buying that book for sure now.

RELATED BY

  • Batman and Robin Eternal #13

    True to its cover, Batman and Robin Eternal #13 reveals a great deal of secrets about Mother, her Children, and especially Cassandra Cain, and why she is helping Dick...
  • All New Wolverine #3 Review

    If there’s one thing that All New Wolverine is about, that’s family. It’s not really something that the title wears on its sleeve, but more of a quiet insistence...
  • Beauties #1 Review

    It’s not hard to build consensus around the fact that Angela Carter is the strongest and most influential voice in how we examine western fairytales, but while she is...
  • Black Magick #3 Review

    The slow burn of Black Magick continues in its third issue although luckily no one dies or does any self-immolating like in issue one. Writer Greg Rucka and artist...