High-profile creators in the American comics industry have been slow to condemn the rise of Comicsgate, a campaign to “save” the comics industry by reducing the diversity of comics both behind the scenes and on the page. But this weekend, a wave of harassment aimed at a legendary creator’s widow prompted a number of writers and illustrators to rally together in making statements standing against intolerance in the comic book community.
On Aug. 21, a Twitter user posted a clip from an interview with deceased comics legend Darwyn Cooke — best known for his work on DC: The New Frontier — and tagged it #comicsgate. This caught the attention of Cooke’s widow, Marsha Cooke, who thoroughly denounced the movement. Her response provoked a string of threatening tweets, some going as far as to imply that her objection to her husband’s name being linked to Comicsgate was some sort of false flag that she had been “coached or bribed” into making.
Like Gamergate, Comicsgate has its prominent personalities associated with it, among them Ethan Van Sciver, a former DC Comics artist who regularly collaborated with former DC Comics chief creative officer Geoff Johns on titles like Green Lantern and The Flash. Van Sciver has a history of online bullying which has been documented extensively, and has used his YouTube channel to promote his interviews with controversial figures in genre media, including Vox Day, a writer who led several successive campaigns to game the voting of the Hugos, and prominent Comicsgate voice Richard C. Meyer, who runs the ironically named Twitter account Diversity and Comics. Meyer also hosts a YouTube channel on which he has made numerous racist and transphobic statements in regards to comics creators, including Ta-Nehisi Coates (Black Panther, Captain America) and Magdalene Visaggio (Eternity Girl). (Disclosure: In this writer’s own experience, I’ve clashed with prominent Comicsgate figures in the past, and have been on the receiving end of harassment campaigns as a result.)
After Marsha Cooke asked Van Sciver and his followers to tone down their transphobic attacks, Van Sciver dodged the issue and recommended she mute the tweets. He then called on “SJWs” to apologize for the harassment she was receiving.
Marsha Cooke’s experiences and Van Sciver’s response seemed to be the motivation that many high profile comic creators needed to speak out about Comicsgate for the first time. Jeff Lemire (Black Hammer, Sweet Tooth) was among the first, saying “Comicsgate is based on fear, intolerance, bigotry and anger.” Bill Sienkiewicz, legendary New Mutants artist and co-creator of the X-Men character Legion, followed with a Facebook post which denounced the movement and referred to Comicsgate’s ideology as promoting “hateful, misogynistic and plain-old-ugly dogma.”
After Sienkiewicz’s post, other high profile creators joined in. Many copy-and-pasted a phrase from a viral tweet crafted by Tom Taylor (X-Men Red, All-New Wolverine, Injustice 2) — “There is no place for homophobia, transphobia, racism or misogyny in comics criticism.” — along with their own words, sending more of a personal message than a simple retweet would.
As of publication, the list of those who shared Taylor’s message include Fabian Nicieza (co-creator of Deadpool), Gail Simone (Birds of Prey), Nicola Scott (Wonder Woman), Jordan D. White (head editor of the X-Men line at Marvel), Cullen Bunn (X-Men Blue) and Jamal Igle (Firestorm), among others. Some creators, including Gerry Duggan (Infinity Wars), Jody Houser (Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows) and Michael Lark (Lazarus), chose to modify it to remove the word “criticism.”
Others chose to use their own words entirely, like Aleš Kot (New World) and Ramon Villalobos (Secret Wars, Border Town):
Yeah, #comicsgate is a white supremacist patriarchal hate group developed and maintained to further those designs by the means of organized harassment and abuse. It capitalized on mainstream comics creators largely ignoring queer voices speaking up about being targeted for years.— Aleš Kot (@ales_kot) August 26, 2018
now that the light is on and we're all kind of publicly talking about comicsgate and how trash it is to be a white supremacist hate group, i have a few thoughts.— Mr. Vertigo Comics (@RamonVillalobos) August 26, 2018
Only two comics publishers have addressed Comicsgate officially; last year, Vault Comics released a statement, while Alterna Comics’ founder and publisher refused to do so.
These statements come at at time when Comicsgate-related harassment has been a presence in the social media circles of comics professionals for several years. The use of the term itself began in Sept. 2014, during the nascent days of Gamergate, when a controversy surrounding a Spider-Woman #1 variant cover by European comics legend Milo Manara led to cries of censorship, and the term “Comicgate” was born. (The earliest uses of “Comicsgate” with an “S” were from Twitter users mocking the movement.)
In his 2014 ICv2 piece “If Comicsgate Ever Happens, It Will Be Catastrophic,” Rob Salkowitz made eerily accurate predictions of how the movement would eventually coalesce around points of controversy or criticism in comics, including Frank Cho’s “outrage covers” inspired by Manara and a Marvel artist publically comparing “Social Justice Warriors” to Nazis. In Aug. 2017, the event often listed as the inciting incident of Comicsgate occurred, when a group of female Marvel staffers became the targets of a wave of harassment after posting a photo of themselves celebrating the life of the then-recently departed Flo Steinberg with milkshakes. However, the main ringleaders of Comicsgate had already begun their attacks on trans creators, queer creators and creators of color well before the #MakeMineMilkshake incident.
The enduring animosity of Comicsgate is one of the reasons that some fans, critics and even creators — including those who have endured its harassment — aren’t happy that creators have chosen this moment to respond to it, or how they’ve chosen to respond to it. Most creators who spoke out declined to specifically use the word “Comicsgate” in their condemnation of bigotry within the comics community. Many folks also took issue with framing Comicsgate as “criticism,” like in Tom Taylor’s much-spread tweet.
One of the most high-profile people to speak out against Comicsgate was Batman writer Tom King, who stated that comics “is the medium of the outsider and the outcast, the nerd who won’t fit in.” His remarks were met with pushback that they could just as easily apply to Comicsgate supporters as they could to those affected. Cullen Bunn’s statement “I *might* go so far as to say most of the people associated with [Comicsgate] aren’t bad people,” drew criticism for ascribing positive motivations to those knowingly participating in a campaign built around harassment.
Marsha Cooke herself pointed out what many Twitter users were saying this weekend, noting “it is annoying that people didn’t get on board the reality of what these idiots are doing until it was a white wife attacked.” The two times the industry has rallied together against Comicsgate has been when harassment was publicly focused on women connected to comics’ most mainstream centers, like Marvel Comics and a decades-beloved artist like Darwyn Cooke with many in-industry friends.
Comicsgate eruptions come at a booming time for diversity and inclusivity in comics. Titles such as Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur don’t do great numbers in monthly issues, but more than make up for that via Scholastic book fairs. DC Comics is expanding into the young readers’ market with the upcoming DC Ink and DC Zoom imprints, following the immense success of DC Superhero Girls. Meanwhile, many traditional superhero stories that Comicsgate enthusiasts would like to see more of are the ones struggling to find a place in the market, and Marvel’s most recent blockbuster crossover Secret Empire was the second-worst selling event in Marvel’s history.
Criticism is a vital part of any mature art form, but the biggest voices in Comicsgate aren’t comics critics. In many cases, such as Van Sciver and Meyer, they’re creators themselves, and as Tom Taylor himself later addressed, Comicsgate doesn’t stem from “comics criticism.” As journalist, comics critic and podcaster Jay Edidin said in a thread on the nature of art criticism this weekend:
Criticism isn't editorial feedback. It's not for the artist (although artists can and do make use of it as they proceed). It can intersect with lobbies or campaigns, but that's not what it is at its core.— (((Jay Edidin))) (@RaeBeta) August 27, 2018
Kieran Shiach is a Salford, U.K.-based freelance writer and one half of Good Egg Podcasts. He is on Twitter, @KingImpulse. He wishes in the past he tried more things ’cause now he knows being in trouble is a fake idea.