Thought Bubble: A Letter to Men in Comics

Teen Titans #1 cover[**trigger warnings in this article**]

Over a week ago, Janelle Asselin’s article Anatomy of a Bad Cover: DC’s New “Teen Titans” #1 exploded on the internet. A line was drawn in the sand between people rallying to stand with her or against her after she received a mountain of verbal abuse and violent threats by (mostly) anonymous harassers. Why? Good question. Her article was on the negative representation of female characters in comics, a controversial topic that has been prevalent in my experience as a woman reading comics, but has been going on for much longer than that. But as for why she was harassed? That’s what I’m here to talk about today. I want to talk about something even more serious than the way women are sometimes depicted in comics. I want to talk about the way real women are being treated in this industry.

Asselin objected to a few things about artist Kenneth Rocafort’s cover for the new Teen Titans #1, but no matter what Asselin was arguing, she did not deserve the demeaning and violent comments that she got in reply. Her response to the insults and threats thrown her way says it all. But the problem isn’t just in the male readers and anonymous trolls who throw around sexist slurs and rape threats whenever they don’t like what a woman has to say about comics. The problem is also with male professionals in the business who are setting the example. Brett Booth, an artist for DC Comics, took offense to the things Asselin had to say in her article on his Twitter account, publicly discrediting her by accusing her argument of being unreceptive to logic and making himself a victim of her ‘extremist’ feminist views. This seemed to encourage others on Twitter to engage in a verbal bashing of her–a former DC Comics editor–because Booth had the nerve to publicly dismiss her and belittle her contributions to the industry over a disagreement about one comic book cover. When it comes to gender barriers in the comic book industry, that barrier is only reinforced by the negative actions of the people with the most influence.

Brett White’s In Your Face Jam: Anatomy Of A Bad Reaction response to the uproar over Asselin’s article was welcome to those like me who were upset and alarmed by the mistreatment of a female writer in the business. While Booth was not among those who threatened Asselin physical harm, a clash like that between people in the business is not only unprofessional, it is dangerous. How are we supposed to succeed in making this industry a safer space for everyone if there are people currently in the business showing others that public slander and verbal attacks on women are acceptable? I’m not saying that Booth’s comments to Asselin were what gave anonymous trolls the green light to threaten her with violence, but certainly, you have to assume that it could only serve as encouragement for anyone who is looking for a reason to harass. Don’t say it doesn’t happen.

Dark Horse Power CharactersThe comic book industry has been a male-driven one for decades, but there have been female readers for a long time. This isn’t a new thing; the only thing that’s changing is that now women are finding a stronger voice. We’ve found a platform that gets us noticed and some guys can’t seem to stomach it whether we’re criticizing something or not. We’re not trying to take away your precious boys club, but if you think comics is not a place for women, you’re wrong. We’ve been here the whole time, we’re just tired of seeing female characters in comics exploited, raped, or stuffed in refrigerators in order to further another character’s development. We’re also tired of seeing women in the business paying the price for speaking up about it with harassment from fellow creators and anonymous trolls. It’s really upsetting to see men who are actually in the comics business mistreating women who speak out. We get that enough from the rest of the internet. It’s a whole new level of disheartening.

A man who expresses his opinion is just a geek guy talking about comics. A woman who expresses her opinion is automatically some sort of extremist feminazi who is just trying to ruin the boys club. Guys like Andy Khouri and Brett White speaking out are positive steps forward in taking a stand with women like Asselin and others who have been mistreated and threatened for sharing their thoughts on a public forum. Jill Pantozzi added in her own experiences as a journalist writing about comics, making the crucial point that these people who are threatening to rape women for expressing their opinions in the comic book industry shouldn’t just be hand waved because “that’s the way things are.” This should be addressed again and again until it’s ingrained into the industry that this isn’t okay. That this is not something anyone in this business consciously condones, and those who engage in this sort of behaviour are not welcome. Any form of sexual harassment, whether it’s rape jokes or threats of rape, shouldn’t be tolerated.

A woman in the business critiqued a comic book cover. She suffered threats of physical violence and rape for her troubles. What about that seems like a pattern we should keep ignoring? Anybody who says they haven’t noticed this level of animosity aimed at women in comics aren’t paying attention, or the women in their life haven’t been as open about their own harassment. Marjorie Liu wrote about the collective male amnesia around this issue last week too. This is hardly the first account of a female professional coming forward and being publicly shunned for it. Anyone remember Tess Fowler and the Brian Wood reports from last October? Despite being in the hot seat, he acknowledged the pattern, reluctant to encourage any negative opinion directed back at her. The sexual harassment of women in the comic book industry is as much of a pattern as the negative treatment they receive when they finally speak up. When a man is accused of harassing women in the business, fans of theirs are ready to jump to their defence, immediately prepared to blame the victim instead of the accused because that is the society we live in.

cosplay-not-consentThis systematic sub-human treatment of women in an industry that supposedly embraces ‘strong, female characters’ has to change, and the publishing companies have to start seriously acknowledging that. I’m not saying that DC Comics should be held accountable for every single troll on the internet who decides to threaten physical violence on someone who negatively critiques a DC cover, but it’s far worse when they stay silent. These are people, anonymous or not, that are verbally abusing and threatening female readers and professionals in the industry in your name. Don’t you think that merits some sort of no tolerance policy? If conventions like Emerald City Comic Con can institute a blanket zero tolerance message in taking a stand against sexual harassment, I don’t think it should be so hard for publishing companies that are influential staples in this industry to do the same. Heidi MacDonald wrote an article saying that it should be up to men to put a stop to this. I want to go one step further.

All creators, and all publishers should be aware and proactive about setting an example first, both in and outside of the comics they put out. These are your readers and your followers threatening to rape women who speak out about comics. I am not anti-DC, but when a company with so many readers (including me) as they do sits back while their creators fuel fires and threats against women on behalf of a comic book they’ve published, as a retailer I get upset. As a woman working in a comic book store, I am sexually harassed in the work place by strangers, and my bosses don’t stand for it. No one should stand for it. Publishers have to step up and promote not only female positive books but also the safety of their female readers and creators. For everyone who thinks women have the right not to be sexually harassed for expressing an opinion in comics and that there is a place for women to read comics about female characters that are powerful without being exploited? Dark Horse already has the right idea. What about you?