Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty

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Untitled 1 Comics have hit puberty...and its not pretty
For the last few weeks, a story has been going around, recounted by artist Tess Fowler, about how a comics pro seemed to be interested in her work, but when he asked her to come to his room, she declined, and he then said he had never been interested in her work, and disparaged her cosplay and did other shitty things. Fowler tweeted the story, it was written up, and she added:

The behavior of the man in question is considered normal in this business. And the few people who know about it consider it to be my fault for “falling for it” when he feigned interest in my work. In my pursuit of doing this work professionally I ran a gauntlet of this sort of thing. I came in with stars in my eyes and were it not for the handful of really good people who stepped in to keep me safe, I might not have made it through without being completely jaded by it. I am older now, with young impressionable followers of my own. And I do my best to help them over these kinds of hurdles when they arise. I wish more people were brave enough to speak out. But for every voice raised in protest, there are a thousand to defend the person in question. It’s daunting.

While it was pretty easy to figure out who she was talking about—and the matter was discussed with me several times over the last few weeks of conventions—today she came out and named a name: Brian Wood. The Outhouse has most of Fowler’s Twitter statements from yesterday archived but one they didn’t is this one:


Since this story broke, I’ve felt uncomfortable reporting on one side of the story, so I reached out to Wood for comment, and he declined to comment.

As one might expect, Twitter and FB lit up like a pinball machine. In one way it’s good to have things out in the open, because what Fowler has been writing about all along is how internalizing these things is bad and how a culture of silence punishes the victim. Other women have since spoken out (without naming names) about harassment and unwanted attention.

I think it’s important to note that what Wood has been accused of is skeevy and sketchy and shouldn’t be tolerated—but it isn’t illegal. Sadly, I have in my inbox allegations of an actual crime committed by a different comics pro, one where legal action has been sought, and I’m investigating it before writing about it. But these incidents aren’t isolated or unique.

They are also, sad to say, typical of just about all industries where this is male/female interaction. None of what I’ve just written about is comics behavior. It’s HUMAN behavior. There are jerks and assholes in every industry. In all the vast body of writing about the increasing tensions of men and women — many attractive, most sexually active—interacting in the comics sphere there is bad stuff that is singular to our corner of the world, but most of it is everywhere. And as women enter the field in ever greater capacities—as readers, as creators, as fans—these problems have become more common.

More good stuff happens, too. But we’re not here to talk about that right now.

Rachel Edidin, a former editor at Dark Horse, has an excellent piece here called Comics Guys, Harassment, and Missing Stairs, which points out that while women usually rely on the “girls network” to point out which guys are pervs and gropers and worse, it’s still putting all the pressure on women not to get into these situations, when maybe it should be men who don’t do bad shit in the first place:

I’m putting this firmly on the men in comics, because, you know what? Men are the overwhelming majority of the people in the industry with institutional and hiring power. Even most of the most senior women in editorial departments answer to one or more male boss, usually a dude who has been in the industry long enough and played its games effectively enough to be pretty solidly entrenched in the existing power structure; and, even if he is basically a decent human being, to have capitulated to and internalized and regurgitated and privileged appeals to tradition and status quo over things like personal dignity and safety and minimal motherfucking professionalism.

Men in comics, especially men in positions of institutional power and popular visibility, you need to step the fuck up. It has been going on for so, so, so goddamn long. And the women who speak up get written off as squeaky wheels and malcontents and difficult, and patronized and blacklisted and quietly driven off, and everyone is fucking terrified to go public because the worst perpetrators are the most entrenched and protected.

We’ve come a long way since there were only five women in comics and we all sat in the corner with our arms crossed. When I first got into comics there were all sorts of awkward horrible stories because guys in comics were in such a man’s world they really had no idea how to DEAL with women as colleagues. There’s the woman I know who went to show a male editor her portfolio and after he told her she wasn’t ready yet asked her on a date. Awkward. And demoralizing if you just want to get in the door and get work and make a living doing what you dream of doing. Everyone wants to be taken seriously. Colleen Doran has written extensively about the sexual harassment she underwent as a very young woman trying to break into the industry. I never went through anything that severe but I had my share of weird moments in my youth…most of it I just shrugged off. But that’s me. I try to be a hard-nosed football player. I’ve also seen the constant unwanted attention erode women’s confidence and make them question everything about their chosen career.

Fowler writes very convincingly, I think, about how this can’t be tolerated. We need to create a space where ANYONE feels they have a chance at their chosen career and unpleasant or illegal actions by others aren’t going to kill their chances.

Now, to be fair, I’ve seen every other iteration of human behavior in the comics arena, as well. I’ve seen women—and men—use their sexuality to get attention for their work. One female cartoonist long ago told me that if she had to sleep with a certain publisher to get her book published…well, she just shrugged, but I got her message. There are now comics groupies and stage door johnnies. And I’m not even going to get into cosplay which brings a whole new level of gaze and exhibitionism and fantasy role playing.

As convention culture spreads, it’s almost like a never-end rock band on tour, with all the attendant drunken passes, successful and unsuccessful. Like I said, human behavior. Men and women are always going to want to have sex with each other, and it’s often going to get fucked up somehow.

Anyway, I’m sort of sitting here wondering if any of this will ever improve. I will say, indie comics seem to have escaped most of these levels of power tripping and “I want to look at your portfolio in my hotel room.” For one thing, most indie cartoonists are poor and stay on someone’s couch. BA DOM CHING. For another, they are mostly at the age that hooking up is just something that happens and not the way to a contract with Drawn & Second. There are tears and regrets and angry break-ups, but its mostly what would happen if they all worked at Trader Joe’s, and not comics-specific.

Of course there are creepy dudes and inappropriate behavior in indies, too, just less of it.

I do know that some skeevy guys in comics have been informally banned from various companies. And freelancers who do too many shitty things occasionally get lectured by editors. It doesn’t happen NEARLY often enough, but it does happen. But sadly—there’s that word again—it’s also widely known that at one super mega comics publisher, many of the top execs have had huge human resources files and nothing has been done about it. That’s pretty fucking fucked up.

But far, far more often, women feel helpless and victimized and nothing is done. Like Edidin, I’d like to see more PREVENTION than cure. I’d like to see the status of the women in comics ELEVATED and RESPECTED to the level where this is not tolerated or condoned or laughed at or whatever. To be honest, that’s why at this site I tend to talk mostly about the matters which I feel are specific to the comics industry, including the lingering, persistent belief that female creators are inferior or non-serious about their work.

There are always going to be skeevy, sketchy dudes. But there are also going to be many many people who know the workplace is a place where you respect your co-workers. It’s why women need to be on panels that aren’t about gender, and need to be written about in history books, and their work needs to be judged on is own merits. It’s why phrases like “one of the best female _____s” need to be banished.

I think the most feminist show I’ve watched in recent months has been The Ultimate Fighter: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate, where for the first time men and women fighters have been in the same house. I wrote a bit about it here, but the way the mixed-gender house has been handled in editing and presentation should be studied for a long time. TUF has never had any shortage of hot people in their underwear, and the female fighters have been shown in hot tub scenes and are constantly lounging around in ugly biker shorts—just like the guys. But UFC president Dana White’s goal is to build UP the women’s division, and to do that they must be taken seriously. The women are presented as equals and as athletes, not sex objects who wandered into the sport. The women have given and received brutal beatdowns. They’ve rolled and they’ve banged. They sit around with the men talking about fighting, and the men listen. The men and women comment equally on all the fights, and once again, the women are presented seriously. They are worthy of respect.

It’s telling that the incredibly macho world of cage fighting has caught on to something that the wimpy world of comics hasn’t.

At the end of the day, Brian Wood is a talented writer who seems to have done some very questionable, jerky things as a human being. I sincerely hope he gets his shit together in whatever capacity he needs to and learns from mistakes in the past.

At the end of the day, Tess Fowler is a talented artist. She seems like a very determined person, and she seems to have risen above these early setbacks to find her own way. All this talk of fear and blacklisting depresses me, but I hope we as an industry can work on a teeny tiny way to prevent or remove that. And sometimes you need to shine the light into the dark place to find out the safe path forward.

EDITED TO ADD: I wrote this piece late at night and kind of thought through it as I did, and I see I did leave out the most important part: While it’s nice to leave on the image of Tess Fowler getting on with her life, that is not the call to action here: the call to action is to not let there be MORE Tess Fowlers who NEED to get on with things. As Rachel wrote above, to the power structure of comics—the mostly male power structure—it’s up to YOU to be Dana White and create both a more diverse atmosphere and, perhaps more importantly, one where being skeevy and sketchy is NOT condoned and NOT business as usual.

Update 11.15: Wood has released a statement on the matter:

For the last couple weeks I’ve been accused of a lot of very serious things. I feel I have to speak up for myself and for my friends and colleagues who are finding themselves under a sort of scrutiny they don’t deserve. This situation has reached the point where it is affecting people who in no way deserve it, up to and including my family.

Tess Fowler is correct about this: I did make a pass at her at SDCC Hyatt bar roughly 8 years ago.  But when she declined, that was the conclusion of the matter for me.  There was never a promise of quid pro quo, no exertion of power, no threats, and no revenge.  This was at a time in my career when I had very little professional power or industry recognition.  The pickup was a lame move, absolutely, and I’ll accept the heat for having done it, but that’s all it was: I liked her, I took a chance, and was shot down. I immediately regretted it, and I apologize to Ms. Fowler for the tackiness and embarrassment of it all.

I’ve kept quiet for these last couple weeks because this is a problematic thing to address without unintended blowback.  While I believe she is as incorrect as she can be about what my intent and motivations were, I don’t want to encourage any negative opinion directed back at her.

I think the larger issues of abuse in the comics industry are genuine and I share everyone’s concerns.  As a father to a young daughter showing an interest in making her own comics, I do really care about this stuff.  So I don’t want our difference of accounts to take attention away from that industry-wide discussion that needs to happen.

Brian Wood
11/15/2013

 

Comments

  1. True it happens in all industries. There are idiots out there and comics are on a big high right now — but we’re also a small enough industry that some focus can be put on this issue.

    We can hope.

  2. Erik Scott says:

    Great piece Heidi. Thank you for writing.

  3. I was in comics 20 years ago and when I tell stories of what I put up with, people wonder why I didn’t sue. Well, because I was one of three women on the floor, it was all bullshit and I wanted to be in comics. Boys want to see my underpants? I’ll wear exercise shorts under them on the days I wear skirts. Men want to grab me? I’ll pitch a fit in the hallway so loud (STOP TOUCHING ME! I DON’T LIKE IT!) the president of the company comes to see what happened. Maybe this is why I never got to be a superstar, but I also did get to work in comics for 15+ years. I really did hope things would get better for women as more of them entered comics, and it really sucks that it hasn’t. Sorry ladies. I truly empathize.

  4. Last year at Baltimore Con my wife sat at Dan Parent’s table to help him out for awhile (Dan is a close friend of ours), and a longtime Marvel artist stationed at the adjoining table hit on her relentlessly all afternoon, even after she told him she was married, even after she told him her husband was at the Con and was a friend of Dan’s. He said, literally: “So?” She didn’t tell me about it until we were on our way home because she figured (rightly) that I would want to clean his clock. (I still do.) What struck me besides the sleazy behavior itself was how apparently casual and routine this fucker was about carrying it out. I asked around about him and this nonsense is apparently part of his rep, and one artist even said “just ignore him, he’s harmless.” There’s a clue to the problem right there.

  5. Kate Willaert says:

    I was curious when you were going to weigh in so I could read your take, and you didn’t disappoint. :-)

  6. Dave Miller-lad says:

    Great piece, Heidi. And it’s great to see you putting a lot of content up here. This site is at its best when there’s a lot of MacDonald in it.

  7. Thanks for writing about this. Please keep doing so.

    This anecdote of mine isn’t about harassment, but it is about men in this business needing to get civilized and start behaving like professionals. I was in Angouleme last winter, having dinner with my publisher and a group of fellow artists. We artists were three men and two women, mostly American, one French. A guy ran over to our table when he heard American accents, and excitedly introduced himself as a publicist from Archaia. He then proceeded to ask *only* the men at the table what their names were, and the titles of their books, turning his back to the side of the table where the women sat. I don’t know what was running through the mind of the other female cartoonist at the table, whose English is perfect so no doubt she could see immediately what was happening, but I sat there kind of stunned at what a jackass this guy was, until my publisher pointedly said, “And this is Leela Corman” and named my book and US publisher, at which point the guy immediately started fawning at me, which was equally irritating. So, if anyone from Archaia is reading this: you need to start telling your people that there are women in this “industry”, such as it is, and train them in not acting like jackasses in public. It doesn’t reflect well on your company, and it speaks to a larger problem in pretty much every area of the comics world.

    That said, most of the people I’ve run into in my decade+ in this “business” (?) have been just fine. I’m lucky never to have run into the kind of sexual harassment you’re writing about here.

  8. “It’s why phrases like “one of the best female _____s” need to be banished.” I totally agree with this statement. You know you mentioned Ultimate Fighter having people in the same house, but if you haven’t already, you might want to check out Sy-Fy’s Face Off, which does the same thing, and I can’t remember gender ever being an issue for better or worse on that show. I don’t think we’re really asking for comics to “get better” in this regard. Like you said, this is every industry. I remember my wife’s former boss having to constantly refuse a client’s offers to “sigh paperwork” at his house over dinner, and actually being told by ANOTHER WOMAN in her office to “take one for the team.” I think we’re actually wanting the human race to get better. As a man, the only thing I can really do to help this, is to set an example. (Granted, I’m not going to be perfect at it. I like women and I don’t think most of us want to become puritans.) I know that I’m also more than happy to point out to another person, when they’re being a jerk. (I’ve also done that to women who think it’s okay just to treat any man like they’re lesser, just because they’re a man, and therefor must be slime.) I think IT IS possible to see and admire a good looking person and still treat them like a human being, with thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and a wish to be equal. When I was a younger man, I actually did find myself in situations very similar to what women find themselves in, and I also remember feeling very grateful to people who looked past my youth and saw the individual underneath. You have to understand that sexism, racism, religious discrimination, age discrimination, are all just excuses for people to bully you. They’re “hatred” for those things are simply ideas that they have latched onto and fed, to justify why they have to be “better than” or “more powerful” than or “more important” than somebody else, and therefor justify trying to control them, by putting them down. That’s how they make themselves feel better about how meaningless their lives are. The important thing is to remember, that you are an individual with value and worth, and you don’t need them. If they want something from you that you’re not willing to give (and I say this to both men and women) just walk away. If they follow, you have the right to have them taken away, and if there’s no one to do that, then I fully encourage you, as a last resort, to fight back, because they have crossed a line. Re Dana’s (STOP TOUCHING ME! I DON’T LIKE IT!) I think that’s exactly the right thing to do. It’s unfortunate, but the price of being a free, expressive, individual, is that sometimes, to get by in this world, you do have to be prepared to fight back against those who will be frightened and enraged that you dared to do something with your freedom other than submit to them. It’s sad, it’s wrong, and it makes me angry, but it’s a hard reality. You don’t have to like it and it’s okay to be upset by it, but don’t let it rule your life. I think addressing it here is a good thing. People coming together in support of each other, because they’ve all been hurt is a good thing, too. It’s easy to be made to think that you’re along, or that no one else places the same importance in an event that you do, and that’s also what bullies count on. I also think that bullying is kind of contagious. It’s somewhat a learned behavior. If people see bullies getting away with what they do, even being revered as somehow clever for it, then more people will think that it’s cool to be that way. It feels like the trend right now. It’s cool to fall in line and beat other people over the head for not going along with the crowed. Look at politics. It’s full of bullies and their bully followers on the web. We have a choice not to join in. We have a choice to treat the people the way we want to be treated. It make take some time, but I truly believe that we can change things for the better, and I do believe that it does start at home.

  9. And I like Tess’ artwork sheet, you put up there.

  10. Heidi, you wrote, “Now, to be fair, I’ve seen every other iteration of human behavior in the comics arena, as well. I’ve seen women—and men—use their sexuality to get attention for their work. One female cartoonist long ago told me that if she had to sleep with a certain publisher to get her book published…well, she just shrugged, but I got her message. ”

    I’m not sure how this represents a counterpoint: that a metaphorical casting couch can jumpstart careers doesn’t make it any less an abuse of power. An analogous situation might be a student who fucks their professor for an A: the student may have entered into that exchange voluntarily, but the wrongdoing was on the part of the professor. Culpability follows power.

    Or, rather: the issue in the example you gave above isn’t that people are willing to trade sex for gigs. It’s that the folks with hiring power are willing to trade gigs for sex.

  11. Thanks, Heidi, for addressing this issue. The indie community really treats women creators better? Yet another reason to buy from that Diamond 1-1/2 percent.

  12. So Wood’s response was “no comment.”

    But what do his publishers have to say about this? While he didn’t do anything illegal, is this really an image these companies want to be associated with and have representing their books at conventions?

    What do Jordie Bellaire and Ming Doyle, female creators who have worked with Wood, have to say about it?

    Now that the “comics pro” in question has been publicly identified, guess what? I’m dropping three Brian Wood books from my pull list.

    The same goes for all the other as-yet-unnamed comics pros who behave like amateurs.

    Call them on it publicly and hold them accountable for their behavior.

  13. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Rachel — yes, a great point. In any case, the book never did get published and she’s a “where are they now?”

  14. My take on the indie community is that there’s not such a sexual harassment problem (though that is only my experience, and maybe not others’), but there is plenty of unconscious male privilege. Still, for the most part, we’re pretty nice to eachother.

  15. Scott Shaw! says:

    Over the last few years I’ve been meeting an increasing number of young women who are also aspiring cartoonists. I’m delighted to see so many talented females hoping to enter comic books and animation, but I always make it a point to warn the older ones (mid-teens and up) that there are unfortunately far too many men in the cartooning business who will try to use their positions to get laid. I tell the girls (sorry, I’m old and they sure seem like “girls” to me!) to make it clear to such jerks that they have no intention of fulfilling their sleazy schemes. Let’s hope that my warnings and your article will make the rounds to both would-be female cartoonists and would-be predators.

  16. As painful as it must be to share an account of sexual harassment, you are doing the right thing by making it public. It helps to shine a spotlight on the creepy behavior that has been going on.

    Unfortunately, it is not over: sometimes it takes a guy to tell another guy that his behaviour is unacceptable. And sometimes it takes a bunch of guys, all pointing it out at the same time.

  17. Scott Shaw! : I suspect that most guys who “want to get laid” know how to do it in a respectful, appropriate, and even engaging manner, whereas guys who “want to dominate the shit out of young women” are a more prone to the kind of crap Tess Fowler endured.

    All I’m saying is that it ain’t all about sex in cases like this.

  18. “More prone to performing the kind of crap”, that should have read.

  19. Mike Bullock says:

    Great article as always, Heidi. Keep shining that light into the darkness. Hopefully the roaches will scamper away and never come back.

  20. Jesus S! says:

    People need to start dropping names, instead of X-artists did this . . . You condone it if you allow it to happen. If you see it, speak up about it. I always loved comics because I thought it was something to aspire to, I wanted to be Superman. And while I could never have those powers I’ve always felt I had the responsibilities of Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne. I can’t save the world, but I can do my part to be good in it and make a better world. I thought this is why people loved and read comics. With present day dark and grim, push the boundaries, anti-heroes we’ve gotten away from that. You make the d-bags the heroes then you wonder that people don’t have anything to aspire to. Which isn’t to say there weren’t tons of d-bag sexist pigs and thieves back in the day. The comic book industry is built on the broken dreams of the less fortunate, and the success stories of the opportunists. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    I remember reading an article about one artist who had been trying to get into one of the big two, and he talked about how a major editor at one of the companies was this racist jerk who wouldn’t see his work and on one occasion even slighted him. But he wouldn’t say who it was. Do you really think you’re helping all the other minority artists and writers out there trying to break into the business by not saying who it is? That person is still working at the company I’m sure.

    It never surprises me that most comic writers are white males. There’s more diversity in the artistry . . . and it never surprises me when racist fanboys call the lack of women creators being pointed out, or the way people get angry at minority characters replacing their icons non-treversies.

    Comics has a long way to go, to grow up. And the big two are not the ones who are going to lead the way. Name names and go work for Image. The big companies grew their stable from stealing the works of other people . . . and sadly, they haven’t changed.

  21. “People need to start dropping names, instead of X-artists did this . . . ”

    Who’s to say they haven’t, to the authorities? If you do it publicly, you risk slander or libel, and rightly so. Otherwise it’d be easy to publicly destroy people, just by making up stories about them, and the court of public opinion loves a hanging by outrage. It would also help to destroy the credibility of real victims, due to the masses who would “cry wolf.” Due process is very important.

  22. Leela – your anecdote reminds me of a similar incident. I was at a comic book social with a bunch of fellow comic book creators – a mixed group of men and women. A man came over and cut into our conversation to discuss something of vital importance with a male colleague. He introduced himself to the men and ignored me and the other woman. It was a busy room, so it’s hard it butt back into that kind of conversation. Instead me and my friend turned to each other, and kind of laughed – we knew we’d been sidelined. Later on we pointed it out to our friend who had been steamrolled – he hadn’t even noticed the discrepancy, and he’s a good guy. I’m afraid, it is quite common to be viewed in a vaguely suspicious way (‘is she the girlfriend?’) by men in the business. Also, I’ve been quizzed several times by men to suss out my ‘qualifications’, i.e. do I know enough about comics to be considered a genuine comic book fan. And sometimes by decent men who are not even aware they are treating women differently. But we notice. Every time.

    This is just the low level stuff that happens regularly. I’m really saddened by what Tess reported, and it appears the person in question had a reputation that many people knew. The idea that women should just ignore ‘harmless’ men (what’s that mean, he won’t attack you but he’ll _just_ harass you?) implies this is the price women must pay to enter into what was previously considered a male space.

    As people have pointed out this is not unique to the comic book scene, it’s in other circles I frequent: tech, publishing, geekdom, etc. Which is why it is wearying to have to encounter it anew in each one.

    I do think things are getting slowly better, because at least there is a conversation happening about it, and women (and men) are recognising it has to change.

  23. I’ve never personally witnessed this sort of behavior, but am not foolish enough to think it doesn’t happen. I think the people who are behaving in such a skeevy way are aware that it’s skeevy and try to keep it where only they and their victim is aware of it. I don’t know that they brag about it to their friends. I can’t imagine any of the people I hang out with at conventions treating anyone in this manner.

    I think women in comics should also confide in the men they know to be decent. If asked we would certainly keep an eye out for them and step in when necessary. If they need someone to accompany them to an after hours event, or even escort them to their room, that could be arranged as well.

    I’m sure there are plenty of cases where someone’s expression of interest in looking though someone else’s portfolio is legit, and convention halls aren’t necessarily the best, or quietist place to do it, but suggest some other –public space to meet, and insist on having a friend accompany you.

    I wish we lived in a culture where these steps weren’t necessary, but we don’t.

  24. Eva Hopkins says:

    Tess should be commended for speaking up about her experiences. I’m curious to see whether Mr. Wood or any of the female creators he’s worked with will have any future comment. I own “Demo”, he worked with Becky Cloonan, too.

    I’ve experienced some serious harassment in comics. I’ve (finally) vocalized the situation w/ myself & my former collaborator, which despite some good times before it imploded, is unfortunate to say the least.

    What surprised me was, when I did so, I got Emails/phone calls from five different female colleagues in comics, all of whom had similar experiences to report. Really talented women. I mentioned this online, & a male creator asked me on my FB, “Why make this about men versus women? Why isn’t it just, this one man, & how he was a jerk?” Because it’s not just me, & that one guy. And although it happens in other industries – I’m not blind to that – I shared my experiences with some of my friends who work in primarily male offices – one in engineering, a couple in IT & one who’s an accountant – & they were aghast. Although harassment sometimes happens in their industries, there’s processes for reporting it & taking it seriously.

    Backtracking: My first few years in comics, I had 3 run-ins w/ Mr. Julie Schwartz. Although I know he’s revered for a buncha different reasons, I have to say that my encounters with him were unpleasant. At a Pittsburgh con, he grabbed my arm & hand after I’d bought a drawing from Dick Ayers; kept calling me “girlie” & asked me multiple questions about where the hospitality suite was, even after it’d been explained to him I was a fellow pro, working on a book a few tables over. It was gross, why’d he have to grab me? The next time I ran into him, it was at a Dragon*Con, & he was seated across from me at a comics pro dinner that they had. My then-partner & his SO ducked out early, so I was seated more or less by myself. The waiter asked us if we’d like dessert, & I said sure. Mr. Schwartz kinda zoomed in on me & started heckling me about it. “You sure? You want that dessert? A big girl like you? I don’t know..” & he went on like that for a minute or two. *eyeroll* I said – “What, do you want the dessert? you could get your own.” I was a little upset, as everyone else could hear him. Adam Hughes noticed this, took me aside & said some kind words to me, which helped. The third time I encountered him was in an elevator at Baltimore Comic*Con. There was only him, myself & one other person on the elevator, which stopped, briefly, between floors. Mr. Schwartz just kinda leaned into me, peered at my badge, & asked if I was going to the show. I said yes. He asked if I knew who he was. I said, oh, Mr. Schwartz, we’ve met a couple of times before. He said – “Impossible, I’d remember a beauty like you,” & leaned a little closer. I’m sure he meant to be charming, but given my other run-ins with him it was *not*. He seemed like he was gonna say something else, but happily, then the elevator started again. I fled as soon as it opened.

    Now, all that’s one thing. I wasa very new & green then. He was a much older man – born the same year as my dad – & when older gents say things like “honey” “sweetheart”, etc, I roll with it more. Different age. Harmless, right..? But the grabbing me, the loud comments at that dinner – not OK. What vexed me later was, #1. That other women had the same or worse experiences, & it was kind of known, but they didn’t want to talk about it. Because #2, many of the guy friends in comics who I tried to talk that over with wrote it off as no big deal, I needed to grow a thicker skin; a younger male colleague at my then-publisher who said that there was no sexism in comics, because he hadn’t seen it, it’d never happened to him. Then one of them said, “talent forgives a lot”. Different rules for Golden Age guys. As I started to meet more & more comics pros, that seemed to apply more. People were given leeway for dicey behavior – everything from how late some creators run in submitting work, how late they’d show up for their fans, the way they talked to them, *and* harassment – because of how talented they were, or perceived to be. Where they were on the “hot artist” list.

    Someone I worked with said that many times, that there’s basically two sets of rules, one for talented/famous people, one for everyone else. He used to OJ trial as an example.

    The things I’ve seen: a comics pro encourage a young female artist via portfolio review, start a relationship with her & then disparage her/put her down as “crazy” in front of semi-famous folks she admired; a comics pro with a 3K lb + porn collection; a comics pro who got involved w/ 2 different fan cosplayers he met at shows, & cheated on one with the other; a verbally & physically abusive comics guy; & way more than one male comics dude who talked down to their female employees/co-workers. The “Sharpie drawings as foreplay” joke that Jennie Breeden made in Devil’s Panties – I’ve seen that – is fine when it’s pros letting their hair down & everyone’s had a con or two under their belt. But the thing with the “portfolio review” meaning “review happens in my hotel room” – that’s happened too.

    I once had a licensor & colleague try to talk me into making a topless product of my *teenage* vampire co-creation, Dark Ivory. I’ve been a teen person, that’s all fine..but come ONNNN, she wasn’t supposed to be just T & A. :/ & her character’s in high school!

    Now, I have *also* had run-ins with dude comics pros that were very supportive & encouraging; gotten some great advice from them, seen them be awesome to women they worked with – too many to list here. & just like any fairly small industry, there’s a couple of my exes out there, & a couple of fairly standard flirtations. Nothing too weird.

    But I’ve done other jobs prior to working in comics. A lot of the crap that I put up with – and a lot I’ve heard about via other comics women – would be fire-able, sue-able offenses in most other industries. People talk about separating the art form the artist in regards to Orson Scott card & Superman, or Ender’s Game. That’s all well & good. I wonder if sales would be affected at all, in comics, if there was a list of known creepers. Or, since many mainstream comics are written geared for the fantasy life of middle-aged men, whether it would matter at all.

    Dream project: me & Tess Fowler working on a lightly fictionalized behind-the-scenes of the biz. I wouldn’t have to make up anything..

    Sorry this got so long! Back to the radical feminist echo chamber I go (which is, BTW, where a couple of my dude friends have teased me that I’ve moved to. Kinda like the Fortress of Solitude, but for ladies..!).

  25. Eva Hopkins says:

    Uf da, sorry for typos above.

    I should add that I know harassment happens in other geek industries; I have a couple of women who work in gaming, & they have some stories. I wasn’t trying to make it sound like comics is the worst offender. I can only relate the experiences I’ve had.

  26. traci says:

    The indie press has its own issues. Here is what Phil Hall had to say to Gail Simone.

    “Oh, my apologies Blah. You’re a woman… still doesn’t stop me wanting to slap you about – stupid bitches need a good slap every so often. You want misogyny, I’ve got bags full of it, especially to people like you. I’m betting you are lesbian with a penchant for black, piercings and dodgy haircuts…

    There is a fucking definite case for the return of fascism, especially if it means that utter wastes of space like you and Gail will be locked up in some big penitentiary with a lot of male rapists – that’ll actually really give you something to bleat about. “

  27. Kurt Busiek says:

    >> Dream project: me & Tess Fowler working on a lightly fictionalized behind-the-scenes of the biz. I wouldn’t have to make up anything. >>

    Sounds like a project very much worth doing.

    kdb

  28. ben caldwell says:

    wow, when people ask me to review their portfolios, i always assume it’s code for “review their portfolios”.

    can’t say this story is surprising.

  29. Kurt Busiek says:

    Considering how far the Women in Refrigerators website reached, maybe a site aggregating real-life stories would be a good idea as well, to show that it’s not isolated, it’s not just one or two guys and it’s not just happening to one or two women.

  30. Andrez Bergen says:

    Great piece, Heidi.

  31. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Hey guys I’m keeping a very close eye on this thread, and PLEASE no more calls for other collaborators to speak out or up or anything else. If this incident teaches us anything it’s to LET THE WORK SPEAK FOR ITSELF. Calling on people to discuss what they are not comfortable talking about is harassment of another kind.

  32. Leela: I’m very sorry to hear that someone from our company may have inadvertently slighted you at Angoulême last year. We didn’t send our publicist there so I don’t think it was him, but it’s always possible it was someone else from our company (I was at the show but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t me that you talked to). I’d like to believe that historically both Archaia and BOOM! (which we are a part of now) have had positive and progressive outlooks when it comes to comes to publishing and supporting women in comics, though of course your mileage may vary. Over the years Archaia has published work by Marjane Satrapi, Chandra Free, Rachel Hope Allison, Moro Rogers, Nimue Brown, Kyla Vanderklugt, Emily Carroll, Anna Wieszczyk, Meg Gandy, Amei Zhao, Katie Cook, and Janet K Lee, amongst others. Our sole full-time editor is a woman (the fabulous Rebecca Taylor), and as an imprint we are a part of BOOM! Studios, which actually has one of the highest industry averages in terms of published female creators and the only majority female Editorial staff among the top 10 comic publishers in the US. There’s always room for improvement, but I know that everyone here at both Archaia and BOOM! is actively working to be conscientious about the way the US comic industry treats and perceives women as creators (and as characters).

  33. pete downes says:

    Problem is, that if a comics pro says “I like your work, do you want to come to my hotel room and show me more…” and the lady thinks the guy is verrrry cute and she knows what he’s really saying (because most people are never totally direct, they speak in generally understood code like ‘do you want to come in for a coffee’, etc) and she takes him up on it, and they have a hot night’s lovemaking, then there really isn’t an issue.

  34. george says:

    “Sadly, I have in my inbox allegations of an actual crime committed by a different comics pro, one where legal action has been sought, and I’m investigating it before writing about it.”

    Is it as bad as “Crime Does Not Pay” editor Bob Wood beating his girlfriend to death in the ’50s?

  35. I read half of this

  36. amyfamy says:

    Yes we get it all guys are scum. You never see articles about the good ones.

  37. “Of course there are creepy dudes and inappropriate behavior in indies, too, just less of it. ”

    Is that true, or is it just that it’s less widely known, acknowledged and discussed because those dudes are in less of a position to exert authority over the women they’re targeting? Somebody at the Big Two (or even a bigger “small” publisher like Image or Dark Horse) have much more of an employer/employee style relationship with potential freelancers and young artists than does That Dude Who Self-Publishes, mostly.

  38. Brian says:

    /\ Not being sexist, misogynistic, and being self-aware of one’s own male privilege is not grounds for having an article written about ones self. It should be an expectation. Nothing in this article makes me as guy feel like all guys are scum. What it reminds me is to not be complacent, not be a bystander, and to not create my own creative spaces unless they are inclusive and safe.

  39. Kurt Busiek says:

    >> Problem is, that if a comics pro says “I like your work, do you want to come to my hotel room and show me more…” and the lady thinks the guy is verrrry cute and she knows what he’s really saying (because most people are never totally direct, they speak in generally understood code like ‘do you want to come in for a coffee’, etc) and she takes him up on it, and they have a hot night’s lovemaking, then there really isn’t an issue.>>

    Yeah, that’s the real problem.

    Not the comics pro being abusive to those who say no.

  40. RudyP says:

    I’m extremely curious to hear what the female creators who have worked with Wood have to say about this because they’ve been silent so far.

  41. Eva Hopkins says:

    @Heidi – noted, RE: other creators: you’re right about that. I said I was curious – which I think is only natural. But definitely not interested in haggling other people not involved in the situation.

    Hey, Kurt – thanks! (BTW, the Dragon*Con where you sat & talked writing w/ me at dinner is a favorite memory!) Tess is a very busy lady. But I’ve been writing away lately.

    @ amyfamy – it’s not: all guys = bad. As a matter of fact, some of the most ardent feminists I know are dudes & I’m grateful to ‘em for treating me (& other women) just like people. I can think of a bunch of positive experiences that I’ve had with guy friends in comics. But in comics, as in other areas of geek culture, some changes need to happen for it to keep moving forward. The recent conversations about harassment, & cosplay not equaling consent, etc, are steps towards being able to not be “all men are scum” but rather – how do we work together, to change things for the better..?

    Because I think we can, & some publishers/artists/writers, are.

  42. Mark, thank you. I don’t doubt you at all. It was not perceived as a personal slight. I think most women are accustomed to this kind of unconscious behavior, so that while it is still a surprise, it’s not taken personally; it’s added to the catalogue of information we all are keeping in our minds. I’ve seen it at SPX, too, for what it’s worth. I don’t know who the guy was, and it’s nowhere near as bad as what Heidi is writing about here. It’s just a depressingly familiar experience, one that can be changed.

  43. Just want to say I’m glad you brought up that this is still a human problem, and not just a comics industry problem. It shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.

  44. Heidi MacDonald says:

    As I must leave the computer for an extended period, I am locking down this thread.

Trackbacks

  1. […] MacDonald writes “Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty” over at The Beat. It covers some recent events in the comic industry concerning creator Tess […]

  2. […] Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty […]

  3. […] MacDonald of The Beat reached out to Wood when the news broke; he declined to comment at the time and, to the best of my knowledge, still has said nothing about the […]

  4. […] Heidi MacDonald, Comics Have Hit Puberty and its Not Pretty […]

  5. […] overpowering my school and work distractions. Yep, that’s right: I’M GOING TO WRITE ABOUT THE BRIAN WOOD […]

  6. […] Here’s the link to the tumblr post. I’m not sure how much longer before it too is changed or even deleted. comicsbeat.com/comics-have-hit-puberty-and-its-not-pretty […]

  7. […] reading Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty Sex, Gender, and the Comics Industry Comics Guys, Harassment, and Missing Stairs My Response (by […]

  8. […] a problematic thing to address without unintended blowback”, and this, plus the fallout from an analysis by The Beat, is where the issue of media manipulation becomes most […]

  9. […] creator, Tess Fowler. There’s been much written about this (on high-profile outlets like The Beat, The Mary Sue and Doctor Nerdlove; Wood himself has released a statement) but for those who […]

  10. […] Brian Wood released a statement that didn’t dispute the basics of Fowler’s account.  Heidi MacDonald at The Beat covered it last week, as did The Mary […]

  11. […] not one name, it’s many. This time however, it seems to be being recognised, with articles on The Beat and The Outhouse, and an earlier Comics Alliance piece becoming a focus point for […]

  12. […] Addenda: Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty […]

  13. […] donde dio su versión como ‘trate de ligarmela, me dijo que no, y la deje en paz’. Cito a uno de los articulos donde se reprodujo el comentario, ya que la pagina de Wood me lleva a un 404. Este comentario, hizo […]

  14. […] segregate next year’s expo into ‘diverse people’ and ‘normals’, and Tess Fowler, amongst others, shared stories of disgusting treatment by men in the […]

  15. […] coming out about problematic actions and casual sexism in the comics industry (most recently, see: Brian Wood and Scott Lobdell), I remain a bit less sanguine about how actually more open the comics world […]

  16. […] controversies raged over the female geek, fake geek girls, Tess Fowler, and various other topics in the comics world, this year has had a number of great comic offerings […]

  17. […] McDonald de The Beat contacta Wood quand la nouvelle tomba ; il déclina l’interview à ce moment-là et, d’après ce que je sais, il n’a toujours rien dit à ce […]

  18. […] the potential promiscuity of the characters). Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise given the accusations against Wood by female comics creators, but even if that weren’t the case, I can’t imagine the attitude he displays being all that […]

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    Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty — The Beat

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    Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty — The Beat

  21. […] is getting at the same kind of emotion (on a far lesser scale) that I wrote about in Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty. Men cordon off various aspects of human society as “boys only” and react badly when […]

  22. […] is getting at the same kind of emotion (on a far lesser scale) that I wrote about in Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty. Men cordon off various aspects of human society as “boys only” and react badly when women want […]