For two years, David Fairbanks and I have been investigating predatory figures in comics. We can’t tell you specifically what about. We will probably never be able to tell you anything other than the fact that it involves allegations of sexual harassment, creative theft, nonpayment of collaborators and other bad behavior. That’s because the comics industry refuses to treat victims with enough respect to support them when they speak up about predators, who abuse their positions and instead of facing consequences for that are rewarded with lucrative gigs at major publishers. Like Marvel, which today announced that controversial comics writer Nathan Edmondson would be writing Red Wolf, a series with a Native American lead, featuring work and input from Native American creators, in turn angering industry figures aware of his alleged misbehavior:
By giving Edmondson this post, Axel Alonso and the rest of the authority figures at Marvel are forcing readers to make an impossible decision: avoid supporting the work of an alleged harasser or support a comic for a tragically underserved population while being aware that a member of its creative team has a troublesome history, not just as a harasser but as a former employee of the hardcore conservative think tank The Leadership Institute, an organization that has historically fought against social progress, especially queer rights. The Red Wolf announcement is a real life version of the comics trope of a villain making a hero choose which victim to save– basically, anyone who speaks out about Edmondson being part of Red Wolf must also be aware that they are doing harm to representation in comics. Do you want Native Americans to be better represented in comics? Then you must also accept this alleged serial predator being involved in the title. Do you want this alleged serial predator to get outed and stop getting jobs in comics? Then you must accept potentially dooming a book that opens up diversity in comics.
It’s hard not to feel like there is no winning in mainstream comics. The Big Three (and many of the smaller independent publishers) are all complicit in enabling horrible behavior by horrible people. Fans may be concerned about the lack of details whenever allegations about creators emerge– frequently through the inherently untrustworthy platform of social media– but if you’re a journalist, that frustration is amplified to a huge extent because you can’t speak for fear of endangering sources, who won’t speak themselves for fear of ruining their careers, while publishers are well aware of the bad behavior of their employees and choose to either do nothing about it or in some cases even encourage it. This only becomes worse when publishers force savvy fans and journalists into a lose-lose situation like what is going on with Red Wolf, because by criticizing a creative team decision and asking others not to support comics scumbags, you are also asking them to not increase sales for a title that has the deck stacked against it before it has even entered the game.
What, then, can be done? Is there a solution? Yes and no.
In the short term, the likelihood of any story of predators in comics getting published at a major outlet is slim to none. There are not enough sources willing to go on the record and these kinds of situations are not normally full of solid, physical evidence to support allegations. In the long term, there is hope, but only if comics as an entire industry bands together to support people who speak out about bad actions. There are a lot of people in positions of power who know about the actions of certain creators and choose to defend them because
#TeamComics, i.e. the phenomena of creators blindly defending even the worst people in the industry because to do otherwise would be to “hurt” the industry. Victims who speak out about these comic creators’ behavior get shunned, either consciously or unconsciously, their resumes permanently marred by a black mark that says “problem,” or “sensitive” or “trouble” because they have the gall to speak up. Any stories on these pros are given a victim angle, their connection to a bad creator never not mentioned, while those creators nearly never suffer the same fate. Even today, articles on Brian Wood usually don’t mention the allegations Tess Fowler made against him, yet Fowler is almost always given this asterisk as someone who claimed harassment.
If the comics industry really, truly wants “proper” journalism and hard evidence of bad behavior by pros, then big comics creators and editors need to publicly promise to support victims who speak out. We fans and critics need to demand that key figures need to “support” victims in ways that go beyond shallow social media boosterism and buzzword heavy Tweets. They need to provide good comics jobs. They need to vow to employ whistleblowers, to defend them to other employers and force the industry to not restrict their careers. Maybe if enough pros promise that victims who speak out will never hurt for work in comics, then people will finally go on record.
By creating an environment that supports those brave enough to speak up, comics can become a much better place. But angrily demanding victims publicly speak out while doing nothing to help them when they do so is naive at best and malevolent at worse. We can’t chastise people who do speak up, albeit vaguely, for not doing more when we haven’t done enough to make them feel comfortable speaking in detail. What we can do is implement more systems and support networks to protect whistleblowers while also eliminating protectors of predators and outmoded structures that hide their bad behavior. It’s not victims who need to do more to make us feel okay with criticizing bad behavior, it’s our industry that needs to take more steps towards weakening support for that bad behavior.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover