The Retailer’s View: On Art, Business, and Brian Wood

by Brandon Schatz

A few weeks ago, Marvel’s August solicitations revealed some alarming news: Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey would be leaving Moon Knight after a short run of six issues. For those who have followed Ellis over the past few years, this does not come as a big surprise. Ellis has been keeping his runs more contained, leaving less room for boredom and lateness, and considering how his threshold for this used to be a terminally late run of twelve, I’m quite happy with a run of six issues that leaves a book with a great deal of momentum. Since then, many have speculated as to who could possibly fill their shoes. On Wednesday, Marvel put the guesswork to an end by announcing the new creative team of Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood. I’m still not sure how to feel about this news.

From a creative standpoint, Marvel could not have made a better decision. The goal was to find a creative team that would match the tenor and tone of what Ellis and Shalvey had set up alongside the immeasurably talented Jordie Bellaire, and Nick Lowe (the series editor) did so. Wood has worked wonders delivering single issue stories in Moon Knight’s slightly off-kilter style as evidenced by books like Local and Demo. Smallwood has a style that matches Shalvey’s sensibilities and talents, while simultaneously having his own sense of style and design. The book will be the same, and different, a pitch perfect passing of the baton. I know the book will be great – and that’s the problem.

sketch by Greg Smallwood

sketch by Greg Smallwood

Back in November, Brian Wood was accused of sexual harassment. Since that moment, I’ve had a difficult time trying to figure out how to order his books. When you run a comic book shop, you are acting as it’s curator. This isn’t always a thing you think about consciously, so much as it’s a thing that bleeds through your actions and ordering patterns. Even the most level-headed business man won’t be able to fill a store that’s free of personal fingerprints. Your opinions will always inform your ordering habits, and the books that you hand sell on the shelves.

Up until the accusations hit the internet, I comfortably recommended books by Wood to anyone I thought would enjoy his stories. He was (and is, if I’m being honest with myself ) one of my favourite writers. He helped introduce me to a world beyond super heroics in the pages of Demo alongside Becky Cloonan. He got me interested in Conan, a character who hadn’t quite meshed with my tastes up until his run, despite my many attempts to get into his adventures. When you find out that one of your heroes is human – and not only that, a human who had some problematic and troubling encounters with women – it’s a little heartbreaking. It affects opinion, and calls for a reaction. Determining what that reaction would be… that was the hard part.

I say “was”. I should be saying “is”. I still can’t wrap my head around the complexities of the situation. As things stand, Wood has come out with a statement on the matter(s), and has apologized in a way. I personally feel as though the apology rings a bit false, as the bulk of it amounted to “I’m sorry you felt the situation was uncomfortable” and not “I’m sorry I put you in that situation”. He-said, she-said perceptions aside, when confronted with the news that your actions made someone uncomfortable, I feel as though a person shouldn’t dismiss their culpability in the situation. That, however, is a very personal opinion. I know there are issues with pride and perception that run a bit deeper in other people. I understand that. I also understand that the situation with Wood – whether he felt as though he was an aggressor or not – is indicative of a larger problem within the industry, one that Wood’s actions could and would end up being a flashpoint for. Even without my personal reaction, what I said in the store and how I approached ordering future products from Wood would and will be indicative of how I feel sexism should affect the industry. This is what concerns me.

As it stands, I have taken the following approach. As a single entity with opinions of what Wood did in the past, and my perception of his apology, I do not personally purchase his works. This bums me out because… well, he’s one of my favourite writers. I desperately want to find out how The Massive ends, and I’m curious as to how his run on Moon Knight will go – and while I do have the luxury of being able to sample the product that I sell, time at the shop is at a premium, and I’m usually concerning myself with the business of selling comics rather than reading. Now, as a retailer representing a larger entity, I can’t let my opinions affect the decisions of others. I’m not going to impose the effects of my decision on others. There’s a big enough problem with gatekeeping in this industry, and I’m not going to contribute to that culture if I can avoid it. What I have settled on is a situation whereby if a person asks me what I think about a Brian Wood book, I will tell them exactly what I think about that book. There’s no editorializing – they have walked into the comic shop seeking escape, and I can provide that to them. If I think they’ll enjoy one of Wood’s books, I will be more than happy to place a copy in their hands. That said, I can and have stopped hand selling his books when unprovoked. I will no longer walk up to someone and hand them a copy of Demo and extol it’s virtues without a prompt. It’s a small thing, but in an industry that thrives off of sales and discovery, just like I discovered Demo all those years ago from someone excitedly extolling it’s virtues, it amounts to something.

art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire

art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire

So. Brain Wood and Greg Smallwood on Moon Knight. With it being announced during the same week the fourth issue is fresh on the stands, the topic of the new creative team has met with much discussion. For my part, I have encouraged people who have been reading the book to continue on with issue seven when Ellis leaves. Some of them who have opinions about Wood that reflect my own might choose not to. That is their decision, and I would not begrudge them that, much like I wouldn’t begrudge a person for making the purchase. If I did, I would have stopped being able to sell Cerebus a long time ago.

Selling comics, as always, is a delicate balance of art and commerce, made all the more difficult when the real world encroaches upon our favourite fantasies. I believe that in a perfect world, there’s room for art from problematic sources, and there’s room for a range of personal reactions to said art. Opinion should never be punished, even if it’s disagreeable. Action, on the other hand, can and should be considered and reacted to. That’s what I’m doing, in hopes that I can salve my conscience, and provide a great shopping experience for each and every person who walks through the doors of my establishment. Time will tell how all of this will work out. Sales on this new run of Moon Knight, or Wood’s next creator owned series might reflect this stance. I guess we’ll see.

[Brandon Schatz has been working behind the comic book counter for eight years. He's spent the past four as the manager of Wizard's Comics and Collectibles in Edmonton, Alberta. In his spare time, he writes about the comics he likes over at Comics! The Blog and stares at passive keyboards and empty word documents, making secret wishes and bargains that will surely come back to haunt him. You can find him on twitter @soupytoasterson. The opinions expressed are those of Schatz and do not necessarily reflect those of The Beat]

Comments

  1. Suzene says:

    Yup. I had the Ellis trade pre-ordered on Amazon, heard Wood would be picking up the reins from CBR, and promptly killed the order. I also enjoyed Demo (though DMZ and Northlanders never quite gelled for me), but I don’t support his work these days and don’t want to get invested in anything new under these circumstances. I’ll just wait and get the “Trees” tpb for my Ellis fix.

  2. Okay, wait.

    You dislike Brian Wood so much that you cancelled buying a Warren Ellis book.

    WHAT.

  3. Suzene says:

    @Diego – I like Ellis. I dislike Wood. Ellis has other work coming out. Wood is taking over the ongoing that Ellis kicked off. Hence, I won’t bother getting invested in an ongoing I know I’d be dropping after the first book.

  4. Kate Willaert says:

    Isn’t that a little like saying you’re not going to watch a movie because you didn’t like the person who directed the sequel?

  5. Suzene says:

    @Kate – If I’m somewhat interested in a franchise starter but then see something to change my mind about whether or not I want to get into said franchise while I’m waiting for the DVD, I’m not seeing the lack of logic in giving it a skip.

  6. Suzene -

    So don’t get invested in the ongoing. Just buy the Ellis issues and enjoy them. What’s the problem? See his Thunderbolts and Secret Avengers runs for examples of why his Marvel stuff can be interesting even as a piece of an ongoing run.

  7. Suzene says:

    @Rich – There’s is a POV that doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t see any reason to jump onto something new when I know going in that I’m going to immediately jump back off.

  8. Brian Stello says:

    Fans of any artistic medium (or sport) occasionally has to confront the fact that a personal favorite may behave in ways that may be offensive to us. It’s a personal choice whether we continue to enjoy their art and ignore the (publicly) personal, or whether we drop an artist because of those reasons.

    I appreciate that you allow your customers to make their own choice in your store.

    I’ve always been uncertain when to drop favorite writer, artist, musician, or athlete. How much must their behavior deviate from my own personal morality and belief systems such that I no longer appreciate their work?

  9. Brian Stello says:

    Whoops. Need to pay more attention to my editing. Sorry for the grammar.

  10. chris says:

    They are all one shots, suzene. There’s nothing to ‘get invested’ about as far as ongoing story is concerned.

  11. Jeez, stop telling Suzenne how to enjoy comics and let her be.

    I’ll never know how DMZ or The Massive ends. I vote with my cconscience and my dollars.

    Great piece.

  12. Kate Willaert says:

    People are welcome to use their time as they like. I just think that someone who decided never to watch Alien or Aliens because they’d heard Alien 3 is awful would be really missing out.

  13. chris says:

    Matt, Suzene has decided to not bother to read a comic she thought she’d want because another comic that is coming out after it is now coming out after it. That literally makes no sense, and we are free to have an opinion on how she ‘enjoys’ comics.

  14. I suppose it depends on the story that Ellis writes. Is it a done in 1 type story or does it have an unfinished hook that tries to get you to read the Brian Wood stories? I get that readers aren’t willing to buy the book on the off chance is type #2. If after it’s published and reviewers say it’s type #1 and good, then people might be interested in buying it.

  15. Suzene says:

    @chris – I’ve already said that my interest in the book is due to the creative team, specifically the writer. If it makes no sense to you that someone won’t invest money, time, and imagination on an untried book knowing that the creative team they signed on for is only going to be around for one arc and are slated to be replaced with someone they definitely won’t be reading, then oh well.

  16. Yeah, it’s problematic. I used to enjoy Wood’s going way back. Then he did something really shitty. More than once. His apology was less than full-throated. He didn’t break any law, wasn’t convicted of anything other than being a shithead a few times in his past (once while his wife was pregnant with his daughter).

    I don’t support comic creators who are openly homophobic or sexist; that’s easy. So far I can’t bring myself to ignore his history as the worst pick-up artist and failed adulterer. It helped that his Conan was truly horrible, the Massive didn’t connect with me, and I couldn’t care less about Star Wars comics or X-books. Were he a much better writer, I might be able to forget about it. I can still enjoy Barry Smith’s art despite never hearing a good word about him.

    I dunno, there’s a line there, somewhere and I think everyone places it at different points in that grey area.

  17. Not enjoying Warren Ellis’ Moon Knight because it’s only 6 issues or because it’s going to be followed up by someone who you don’t like is cray cray. Get that book and enjoy the best 6 issues to grace Marvel Comics in a long, long time, friend!

  18. I think that enjoying someone’s art should be separate from liking or disliking a person’s actions.

    Do you listen to Rock and Roll? If so you probably hear and enjoy music produced and written by Phil Spector. He’s a convicted murderer now. Still I wouldn’t want to do without “Unchained Melody” or one of the best Rock and Roll Christmas albums “A Christmas Gift for You.”

    I’m not wild about Woody Allen’s personal behavior, but I like many of his movies, and his comedy records.

    I have met many comic book writers and artists. I have liked most of the people I have met. A few of them, I did not like. I still like comic books done by people that made a bad impression with their personality.

    The quality of the art should be judged separately from the quality of the artist as a person, in my opinion.

  19. On the other hand, I’m so impressed with Greg Smallwood’s art. Brilliant and fresh. Just loved him on Dark Horse’s Dream Thief and looking forward to seeing his art in Moon Knight!

  20. Crap! How did I not know this until now? And just after I got done recommending DMZ Vol. 2.

    Not sure how I feel about this stuff. Seems very akin to not watching Woody Allen films, or ever supporting an Orson Scott Card property. Do folks feel similarly about those… To what extent does an artist’s works stand apart from their human selves?

  21. Chris Hero says:

    Suzene, how dare you decide which comics to buy and enjoy with your money and time! What do you think you are, an independent person capable of making their own decisions?

    I personally find it a bit hard to call Marvel comics “art” since there are so many people involved in making decisions to appeal to the widest possible buying audience. So, I have a hard time with people saying we should divest ourselves of Wood’s deplorable actions because he’ll be creating some sort of art with Moon Knight.

    Even though I love Ellis, I feel bad about the Moon Knight comics I’ve bought because I feel like my purchases will be considered when a retailer is placing orders for Wood’s first few issues and the orders will be higher as a result.

  22. “People are welcome to use their time as they like. I just think that someone who decided never to watch Alien or Aliens because they’d heard Alien 3 is awful would be really missing out.” – Alien 3 was NOT awful! (It grows on you over time. Especially the director’s cut.) NOW, Alien: Resurrection? HOLY SCHLOCK, Batman. ;) (Yes, I’m digressing.)

  23. A person has the right to buy and consume as they seem fit, and everyone’s threshold for things is different – that’s the big thing I try to remember as a retailer, though it can be tough to do if/when someone drops a book you love. Anyway.

    @Chris – The easiest way to make sure your mindset is reflected in ordering is to tell your proprietor about your decision, even if you are just grabbing shelf copies. More information is always appreciated when it comes to trying to place orders, and getting feedback from customers makes a huge difference.

  24. It’s not exactly as drastic as that record store that put “WOMAN BEATER” stickers on all Chris Brown’s CD’s. I know you’ve spent a lot of time rolling this around in your head, B., and I think you’ve got it exactly right. People who want to read the comics still can, but you can use your prerogative not to try to grow those numbers.

    I think the difference, the thing that makes this more than an empty gesture or overly extreme moralism, is that comics will feel a loss more than music or movies. There’s a more direct relationship, if not between the publisher and the reader, then the reader and the retailer, as well as between the retailer and publisher. They sell you the comics, and you say “I’m gonna buy less of these” and they’ll notice.

    It’s good thinking, anyway. It sucks when people you dislike make things you want. (I’m lucky: I could take or leave Brian Wood, but I used to love Woody Allen so there’s that.)

  25. Could someone do me a solid and point me in the direction of what Wood actually did? I know he was accused of trying to use his influence to get a female creator into bed and that he claimed innocence, but has anything else come out?

  26. Paul Houston says:

    I echo what Richard Pace said above.

    I have trouble reading Wood’s books now. (I loved many of his early books).
    I can’t watch Seinfeld episodes the same way with Kramer in them. (I adored Seinfeld with a passion once upon a time.)
    I have a problem enjoying Woody Allen’s movies now. (I made it a point to watch every one of his movies at one time.)

    While their talent is the same, it’s hard liking or being interested in a person’s work once they’ve done something that disagrees with your own morals.

  27. Suzene says:

    @Zach – There’s a good timeline of the whole thing here: http://beccatoria.dreamwidth.org/178232.html

  28. Wallace Ryan says:

    I think it’s gotten kind of overblown. She seems to have accepted his apology and we shouldn’t condemn someone for trying to pick up someone in a stupid manner. Sure, he could have been a bit more suave and sensible about it but isn’t social awkwardness the calling card of many comic fans and geeks alike? Are we now going to bully Wood because of his awkward social behavior? Do two wrongs make a right?

    If we attack socially awkward people for their actions, this industry would be gone in a day. Many fans of the art form have found fantasy and escape to help them deal with the bullying and rejection they’re experiencing in life and we have to deal with that in a more compassionate way.

    I think we need a lot more women in comics for sure and we need to educate people on proper social behavior when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex. But we also need just a bit more tolerance for the socially anxious and a lot less for internet lynch mobs.

    If we’re going to ignore great artists and writers because of their personalities or momentary lapses of judgement, we’ll be left with pedestrian and mediocre museums, libraries and comic book stores. Most artists are assholes. Deal with it.

  29. Wallace Ryan says:

    I’m sure that EVERY guy here is a suave and sophisticated gentleman without a single fault who can woo women like an 18th Century poet and never ever make a woman feel awkward or uncomfortable.

    Wow…so many perfect men all in one place. What are the odds?

  30. @ Suzene – thanks, reading through it now.

  31. Wallace Ryan says:

    “Judge not. lest ye be judged.”

    Who’s ready to throw out the first stone? Any perfect people in this thread without blemish, misadventure, regret or fault?

    I didn’t think so…now, time to move on.

  32. Wallace Ryan says:

    “I’ve forgiven Brian years ago for the following story.”-Tess
    Now that’s the sign of an intelligent and compassionate person. We need more forgiveness and less anger in this world. Please follow Tess’ fine example and cut the drunk some slack.

  33. Aaaaand I think we’ve heard all the viewpoints here.

Trackbacks

  1. […] noted by my piece earlier this week, I have my own problems with Wood, though as blogger and former DC editor Valerie D’Orzaio notes, it’s important not to […]