On -isms: Accountability

By | Thursday, March 19, 2015 2 comments
Batgirl variant cover. Not THAT one, though.
Valerie D'Orazio
The past week has seen more that a fair amount of bullshit in comicdom. There was the Batgirl variant cover thing, the Erik Larsen rant on Twitter, and most recently the D'Orazio/Sims issue. I'm not about to dig into the weeds on all of these issues here, but coming out of each of these, comics fans should be asking themselves a series of questions.
  1. What do I think about the issue? Not what is my gut reaction to a superficial claim, but what do I personally think about the larger issue at hand?
  2. Why do I think this? What background am I bringing to this that's influencing my thinking, and how is that the same or different than what anyone else is bringing?
  3. Is the broader issue at hand important to me? Why or why not?
  4. What is the best way I can support the people involved with this that I most agree with?
Many people I've seen on Twitter, Facebook, etc. tend to skip over these questions (or at most gloss over them quickly) and essentially start with "Is it okay for me to buy a comic by this person if they've acted like a shithead?" Can I enjoy the work they create? Does that enjoyment (or more precisely, that purchase with the intent of enjoyment) tacitly condone the creators' words and actions?

It's a reasonable question to ask, even if it's coming at it from a somewhat selfish position. A more selfless spin might be, "Can withholding my dollars influence the creators' position and/or thinking on this issue?" Either way, it's the consumer trying to use capitalism itself as a means to shift views on race/gender/whatever. But without putting some critical thought behind that decision, does it really send the message you intend?

First, you need to think about the issue at hand. Not just, "Do I think this is a cool cover?" but "What does this cover say about the characters? Would changing the context change the meaning? What was the thought process that led to this particular image being created, approved, and distributed? Is this something that's an ill-conceived, but isolated, incident or is this part of a systemic pattern?"

Second, put those thoughts into context. "Am I reacting to the creator this way because their statements ring true, or am I giving them deference because I've liked their comics for years?" "What would my spouse/kids/coworkers think about someone saying these things to them?" "Are other people taking offense to this? If so, why?"

Third, is this an issue of concern to you personally? If you really don't give a shit about online harassment, then that's obviously going to influence how you view that situation. But why do you think harassment is not an issue? Is it just not an issue in this instance?

Then, after you've thought about these things, then I think you can start to make a reasonable (and personal) choice about why/how you want to lend your support. That might be a boycott of the creator making an ass of him/herself (though, let's be honest, it's mostly men making asses of themselves in comics) or it might be buying extra copies of a book from the aggrieved party. Maybe, if it's surrounding a book that you couldn't get your hands on if you wanted to, you show support with blog posts or Tweets or something. Obviously, every situation is going to be a bit different. My point is that you should really think about the issue at hand, and not just run with your first instinct. Make sure you understand where everyone is coming from before you make a decision, and then make a conscious, deliberate, thought-out decision.


For the record, I was never much of a fan of Batgirl, Savage Dragon or the X-Men. I don't really even buy comics from Marvel or DC any more, and only the occasional trade from Image, so "voting with my wallet" isn't really an option for me here. But, if you really want my opinion on these particular issues...

I think DC is by and large an incredibly tone-deaf company. Anyone above the individual creators seems to have no real concept of what fans have enjoyed about Batgirl and, as a company, they're continuing to utilize a set of thought processes from three decades ago to make contemporary creative decisions. The Killing Joke was a great comic, but not because Barbara Gordon got shot. That was, in my opinion, the weakest part of the story. Celebrating that element of the comic, especially in light of where the character is today, showcases sexist thinking on the part of editorial. And while DC made what I think is the correct decision in nixing the offending cover, they did a phenomenally bad job in trying to play clean up.

I've not followed Larsen very closely over the years, so I'm unfamiliar with his history with sexist comments. But his rant on Twitter (while somewhat blown out of proportion) highlighted a long-prevailing sexist attitude throughout the superhero contigent of comicdom. It's that kind of thinking that drove women away from comics decades ago, and has kept them out until manga imports started bringing them back. Larsen wasn't saying anything that wasn't common in any comic shop throughout America 20-30 years ago. It's small-minded thinking, but is more an indictment of how sexism ran (and in some *coughsuperherocough* circles still runs) rampant throughout the entire industry.

(Side Note: I thought a Larsen-drawn image of She-Dragon might be interesting to include as a visual with this post, but I honestly could not find one that wasn't blatantly and uncomfortably misogynistic.)

Sims admits he was in the wrong in harassing Valerie and has apologized. I don't know Sims well enough to speak to his sincerity; honestly, I never cared much for his writing so I've largely ignored him the past decade. Should Marvel fire Sims? Valerie says she's okay with him writing for them, so I'm going to follow her lead. I'm also going to follow her lead in not accepting his apology. Valerie continues to suffer from what he did, so I don't think an apology, however heartfelt it might seem to be, is going to cut it here. What restitution should there be? I'll leave that between the two of them.
Newer Post Older Post Home


There's no one correct perspective on the issues of systemic misogyny. DC and Marvel are both corporate entities and make decisions, like all corporate entities do, based on what will please the stockholders first and foremost.

But on a personal level, it comes down to this for me - there is a huge difference between being an asshole and being a vindictive asshole.

EVERYONE says stupid shit. But the moment you follow someone and *keep* saying shit, you've stepped away from "this was a bad mistake" to "I'm a terrible person."

Matt K said...

One or two thoughts…

I hardly buy comics at all, these days; I don't know how much it's worth but the frequency of garbage like this certainly doesn't make me any more eager to start, again.

It also makes me really glad that my adolescent dream of working in comics never went anywhere. Though, at the same time, I'm not sure how much worse comics publishing is than most industries; I think at least part of the apparent difference is that the world of American comics has become a tiny little fishbowl. It feels hard to say how much the office politics are worse in comics, and how much they're simply more transparent. There are a relatively small number of prominent creators at any given time, and the old fan culture plus the modern social web means that everything that happens is obsessively watched and discussed.

It's a bit like professional sports… with the added quirk that in sports, I think you have a much more solid barrier between fans and pros. There are way way more fans, but unless they're standout athletes by their early teens, there's basically no way they will ever start for the NFL etc. By contrast, it's much more plausible for an adult comics fan in some other career to become a writer for the "big leagues."

Add to this the fact that the medium is so inherently personal. Obviously there's an enormous spotlight on star athletes, but in general there are still at least several other recognized important players around them. The bare bones number of people required to create a comic book is one. Even if you delegate tasks among several other people, key creative decisions are still usually the product of one or two people. This, I think, is part of what makes comics awesome… It seems also to be a big part of what makes comics seem, at any rate, awful.

None of which is to excuse individuals for being willfully unthinking misogynist trolls, etc.