US publisher Vault Comics has issued a statement condemning harassment and intimidation of comic creators – and have called on larger publishers to follow suit.
The statement highlights attacks on creators who identify with one or more minority group, describing some online harassment and other intimidatory acts as amounting to “criminal misconduct”.
The statement comes after a number of high profile online attacks on creators. These include Canadian comic creator Sophie Labelle receiving death threats and seeing her web presence hijacked by Neo Nazis earlier this year. (i09 also reported the abuse).
The 28-year-old transgender comic creator of the web comic Assigned Male told The Advocate there was a co-ordinated attack on her Facebook page, forcing her to remove it, and someone used the opportunity to create a fake page posting neo-Nazi hate speech, including suggesting Labelle should be sent to a concentration camp or gas chamber.
In 2016, Mockingbird writer Chelsea Cain, left social media site Twitter after being threatened, an environment heightened by a perceived lack of intervention by the platform itself to oust abusers.
While abuse of creators and fellow fans has been an issue for various aspects of popular culture for decades (there’s a timeline here), the growth of social media has seen an alarming growth in the attacks, abusers confidence in their actions bolstered by easily finding like-minded, and apparently equally intolerant supporters. I’ve read accounts by comic creators myself of being harassed off social media groups purportedly promoting the art, simply for espousing a minority view.
Last year, talking to the Los Angeles Times at San Diego Comic Con, Neil Gaiman commented “Fans are still creators. Fans demand and make things happen. Mostly, that’s great. But it can tip, and when it tips, it goes into strange places where people feel that by having watched a TV show or bought a book, they feel that you owe them something huge for having done that. Watching the level of crazy that can sometimes happen is hard.”
The abuse of female creators online isn’t confined to comics, sadly; earlier this month the creators of Rick & Morty hit out at people abusing some of their new writers, which executive producer Dan Harmon put partly down to “a testosterone-based subculture patting themselves on the back for trolling these women.”
Another aspect of the abuse comes from those attacking those they describe as “Social Justice Warriors”, claiming an agenda to boost minority representation in comics and arguing “politicisation” of US comics is a major cause of declining sales. Some have suggested high profile critics of an “SJW agenda” are also under attack from those facing some of the abuse.
The Vault Comics statement comes just days after top US creator and publisher Mark Waid issued a powerfully worded statement also condemning abuse.
In it, he reminded those preferring to ignore the attacks of an incident at Phoenix Comic Con last May where an attendee was arrested just before he could assault a guest of the show. He also says he has shared, in confidence, details of serious rape threats and death threats.
Waid describes an atmosphere in which creators are facing “harassment to the point where professionals are pulling out of conventions or shying away from anywhere where fans tend to congregate,” Calling this “ utterly unacceptable.” He’s frustrated some fans aren’t taking these concerns seriously.
“We live in a cynical time,” he says. “Empathy’s in short supply. But even if you’re still sceptical, it doesn’t matter, not if your good people.
Vault Comics publishes original, creator-owned science fiction and fantasy comics, including Zojaqan, from New York Times best-selling authors Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing, with art by award-winning artist Nathan Gooden; Alien Bounty Hunter, an action-packed adventure both a homage to and a send-up of classic adventure films, written by award-winning writer Adrian F. Wassel and David M. Booher, from a story by Levinson and F.J. DeSanto, with art from Nick Robles; and the science-fiction adventure Spiritus, from writer Tim Daniel, with art by Michael Kennedy. Other titles include Powerless, set in a world where just one person has no superpowers, and Karma Police.
Founded in 2016 by Adrian Wassel, Damian Wassel, Nathan Gooden and Damian Wassel, Sr the company says “Creating science fiction and fantasy is, essentially, about imagining and experiencing the new, the bizarre, the unimagined.
“In the realm of science fiction and fantasy, creators can break the established order, dissolve conceptions of social identity, and give voices to the silenced. They can ask hard questions, and if they are brave, venture bold answers. Inside the Vault, it’s safe to be different.”
Clearly, it would appear for some creators that last sentence is, right now, sadly untrue, but Waid, like the team at Vault Comics, appears hopeful the small but loud group of abusive “fans” will be silenced by a united condemnation of abuse from the wider comics community.
Perhaps his confidence is buoyed by the actions of creators and fans alike who rallied in their thousands to condemn online abuse levelled at Marvel editor Heather Antos, who was deluged with abuse online after posting an image of herself drinking milkshakes with six female Marvel employees.
— Heather Antos (@HeatherAntos) July 28, 2017
Creators and fans responded with a massive rebuttal using the #MarvelMilkshake hashtag in support of Heather and fellow staff.
Last year, in response to the trend toward online harassment, Jason Latour and Jason Aaron’s Southern Bastards #16 (a series itself a declaration of diversity in the face of adversity) offered a special variant cover to benefit charity. The proceeds raised by this variant will be split between the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU.
“I’m surrounded by a lot of good, concerned people as we work on this, most of whom are smarter and more aware than I am,” says Mark Waid. “Together, we’re going to do what we can to help tamp down the anger and hate that’s hurting us all.”
• Odyssey (2016): Stop Harassing Writers and Creators by Joshua Davison
The Atlantic reports on allegations of sexual harassment and inequality that they suggested could help change a culture that routinely alienates female fans and cartoonists
• The Beat (2013) How a toxic history of harassment has damaged the comics industry By Heidi MacDonald