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.
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.
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]