Yesterday, Marvel Senior Vice President of Publishing/Executive Editor Tom Brevoort weighed in on the harassment that caused Mockingbird writer and New York Times bestselling author Chelsea Cain to leave Twitter, suggesting the support that Chelsea Cain and other targeted creatives really need is more issue sales:
It’s a frustrating response to a complicated problem that’s made all the more frustrating for how common it is, particularly from people on Brevoort’s level. To recap, Chelsea Cain was repeatedly harassed online and ultimately decided to leave Twitter after blowback from Joelle Jones’s cover for Mockingbird #8, which features the title character wearing a shirt that simply said “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda,” hit a fever pitch. It’s a simple, cheeky, completely inoffensive cover that nonetheless managed to raise the ire of hostile online communities. As Cain put it in a statement on the situation, “I’m amazed at the cruelty comics brings out in people,” stating that the meanness in comics is “a different kind of mean. It’s misogynist and dismissive and obsessive and it thrives off taking down other people.” That Cain had to deal with this behavior at all in and of itself is awful, but the situation has been made worse by the response of Cain’s comics peers. Take fellow Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis, who chose to “support” Cain by telling her it wasn’t comics that was so inhospitable to women:
Cain’s response to Bendis is measured and patient, but it’s clear that she is exhausted by the sentiment, and it’s not difficult to see why. The implication from Bendis and Brevoort is that comics does not have a specific problem and that even if it did, the best way to combat that problem would be through fans buying more books. Though these are not the same arguments, they share a delusion about the state of comics and avoid confronting the main issue– women and poc continue to be harassed out of comics– by pushing back on others, be they comics outsiders like Cain or the fans themselves.
The comics industry continues to loop these sentiments no matter how frequently comics creators from other media tell them harassment is far worse in comics than what they’ve experienced in their home media, or how well comics like Mockingbird sell once they are in non-single issue form (at the time of writing, Mockingbird Vol. 1 is Amazon’s #1 bestseller in graphic novels and its Kindle counterpart is in the #6 slot while preorders for Vol. 2 occupy the 8th slot).
As a bestselling novelist, Cain likely did not enter into comics because of its financial opportunities. Even the best selling comic is going to be far less financially lucrative for its creators than a well-selling book would be. Entering into comics as an outsider is something you do because you are interested in and passionate about the medium, and the support people like Cain and current Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates need and ask for is compassionate support, be it help writing for the medium, selecting the right collaborators or getting respect and fair treatment from peers when comics’ toxic presences emerge. Bendis, Brevoort and Marvel EIC Axel Alonso might offer up lip service to figures like Cain when they’re targeted, but their refusal to deal with the issues in the industry show how shallow that lip service is and also discourage more women, poc and queer creatives from working in comics. Because as far as these industry figures are concerned, the only thing that any comics company should care about is the bottomline and what creators are contributing to it:
Even if we were to take Brevoort completely seriously in his suggestion that the onus is on fans to support Chelsea Cain by buying more of her comics, we must then ask what would happen after a surge in sales for Cain. Assuming this situation continues to blow up and get more coverage in other media and fans follow Brevoort’s suggestion and Mockingbird is brought back from cancellation, would the environment of comics magically improve? And if they did improve, would they improve to the extent that Chelsea Cain would even want to give comics a second chance? Or would she be more likely to look at what happened, assume it will happen again and stay in an industry that treated her better from the start? And what impact would all of this have on women creators who are not coming into comics as bestselling novelists and essayists? Why is the very concept of supporting and respecting your employees and contractors considered to be at odds with financial success? And why are only bonafide successes of the highest levels worthy of fair treatment? If you can be on Chelsea Cain’s level when you enter into comics– and make no mistake, Cain was almost certainly sought out for Mockingbird, not the otherway around– and still have a top level Marvel executive tell people that the only way harassment will go away is if fans buy more comics, what does that say about the experience of lesser known new comics creators?
These are the questions we must ask whenever comics pros try to turn support into a strictly financial enterprise. If support is only warranted if someone is a success– but only a success in the impoverished and relatively unpromoted world of comics– why do perennially underperforming comics pros who happen to be white men continue to get gigs on major titles, with ample support from editorial and marketing? If sales are all that matter, how do Brevoort and company explain this continued protection of these white men, often continuing even when these men act poorly in public or harass their peers themselves? And why is it important to fixate on sales as a support but not examine how the hostile environment women, poc and queer creatives and fans deal with when trying to get into comics impacts those sales? You can’t ignore the side effects this consistent mistreatment of non-white male creatives and fans have on the willingness for other communities to give comics a chance.
The truth is that we will not see titles like Mockingbird or the similarly mistreated Nighthawk succeed in the way comics expects them to until we make comics more hospitable to their creators and fans. And we also cannot ignore how these titles fare in digital and trade, where their fans can more or less completely avoid the toxic culture of comics. Why does the swiftly declining direct market industry still function as the only barometer of success in comics in a time where these alternative options aren’t just readily available but preferred by more and more comics fans? And why don’t these fans’ support count? What is the exact economic figure Brevoort and others have in mind as the level where compassionate support is a given?
What support, then, should figures like Tom Brevoort and Brian Michael Bendis be offering? To begin with, a respectful and nonjudgmental acknowledgment of the issues creators like Cain is in order. When a creator is targeted for harassment simply because of their gender, race or sexuality, that creator’s peers shouldn’t respond by arguing that this isn’t simply a comics problem, they should instead make it clear that they find this kind of harassment to be unacceptable, with no qualifying statements about whether it might exist in other industries or how much worse it could hypothetically be. If they are an especially visible pro or someone in a leadership position, they should also encourage their peers to help defend the targeted creator. They should look around and see who among them is participating in or encouraging harassment and speak out against it, as Ales Kot and Jason Latour have done (and as Gail Simone indicated, these actions are memorable and valuable). Heidi Macdonald at the Beat phrased it perfectly by pointing out that
the harassment problem isn’t a woman’s problem, it’s a MAN’S problem. The good men of comics and everywhere need to make it clear they do not support or tolerate hate, abuse and misogyny. This isn’t a borderline case. It’s clear, indisputable harassment. And that should not be part of the “comics conversation.”
The abuse against women in comics is equally clear and indisputable, and the abuse against women of color is even worse. And so on down the line. It’s toxic and inexcusable.
Instead of demanding fans be better consumers, the industry needs to focus on the nonfinancial forms of support and the behavior it encourages and protects that continues to lead to these kinds of situations. Because until then, no matter how many issues fans buy of works by creators like Chelsea Cain, nothing is going to change.
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