0:00-4:56: Greetings! and again! And…again!
4:56-1:10:47: So, with that little bit of stupidity out of the way, on to the more serious stuff and part of the reason we decided it was worth bumping the Baxter Building by a day or two in or to discuss this: last week, Shelly Bond was fired from her position at Vertigo. And not long after that, to point out the frustration with one of the few female editors in power in the U.S. comics industry being fired, someone pointed out that, by contrast, DC editor Eddie Berganza was still working with the company despite his history as a serial sexual harasser.
Now, I’m not going to recap Graeme’s recap, or sum up the discussion he and I go on to have about both bits of news, but I should definitely link to Abhay’s excellent post about the Berganza situation, not least because I hadn’t read it before I talked to Graeme and I make several, if not most, of the asshole moves he specifically thinks could stupidly hinder the public discussion of the topic.
That said—with probably far less of an apology than I really should be offering—here is Graeme and I talking about the situation for an hour (with not nearly enough about the death of Prince, which upset Graeme and gutted me).
Discussed: the firing of Shelly Bond, Eddie Berganza’s history as a serial sexual harasser; a woman who was sexually harassed and almost raped by a Senior Art Director from DC; Nathan Edmondson; Scott Allie; Brian Wood; complicity; responsibility; power and powerlessness; Alex Nieto and D”Paris Williams; Julius Schwartz; DC ICU; stories being killed; videogame journalism; reality TV; and much, much more.
1:10:47-end: Closing Comments! We have closing comments for you! Look for us on Stitcher! Itunes! Twitter together and separately: Graeme and Jeff! Matt! Tumblr! Our special thanks to the kind crew at American Ninth Art Studios for their continuing support of this podcast, as well as our continuing special thanks to the Empress Audrey, Queen of the Galaxy…and to all 119 of our supporters on Patreon who make all this possible.
COMING SOON: Baxter Building Episode 16! Really! Very, very soon!
And for those of you who need the episode link for your cutting and pasting needs:
Graeme, to answer the questions you’re asking yourself: yes, you and a lot of other people are complicit in this kind of thing in the comics industry. I am complicit with matching incidents in the roleplaying game industry, which means there are limits to what purity I can claim, how much I can say “you” and not “us”. The good news is that we’re capable of learning and doing better. My friend Jim Henley, one of the wisest men I know, wrote a good piece for his blog a while back on a subtle but important mental step: Jim’s Rule of Buts. I recommend it as a handy discipline.
More broadly, I confess to a failure of vision about what trade/industry discussions in small communities of pros that strongly overlap with fandom would look like if we really, seriously took the well-being of victims as mattering as much as the comfort, job security, etc., of perpetrators. I can recognize that getting it will mean radically restructuring a kind of socializing I’ve become very comfortable with – I’ll lose things I know and use, when I’m working, and don’t know what will replace them. It’s just that I finally, after a lot of scrabbling around the matter, feel like I want the change anyway, that I’m just not willing to keep paying the price in other people’s misery for the routine I’ve spent so much time in.
(People who haven’t dealt with the social web around these kinds of field essentially always underestimate how much informal gossip and such carries important information. Shifting things to give proper respect to victims is going to drastically change how promotion is done, and I can’t begin to trace out the cascading ramification.s)
I just wanted to add; it’s not just possible but routine to be part of the problem and part of the solution at the same time.
Also also, who does the best John Romita Sr. pastiche these days? That person needs to draw Hairshirt & Soapbox.
“it’s not just possible but routine to be part of the problem and part of the solution at the same time.”
Doubt you intended that, but it seems awfully defeatist.
I’m sorry that it did, because I meant it the other way around – my experience of life is that most of us are at any giving moment doing some things that hurt others and some that help, and that while this isn’t ideal, it beats having to wait on helping at all until doing nothing that hurts. We are all damaged goods, but can do some good stuff anyway.
(Thank you for saying! I work to improve my delivery, and knowing how something strikes others is of course necessary for it.)
Also are we suppose to be shocked that DC is terrible?
You guys did an exceptional job with this, covering so many of the intricacies, covering the facts, the history, the “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”, etc. I think you were incredibly logical as well as empathetic.
Are you part of the problem? That’s like asking whether or not every American citizen is guilty of war crimes and drone strike snafus because we pay taxes that trickle over to fund the military. We are guilty, but to varying degrees of abstraction, and to obsess over this kind of stuff seems almost to border on a sort of “we are all doomed sinners”-style Calvinism. (But yeah, Graeme, I mean, the entire entertainment business is full of horrible people and is probably fundamentally based on crass human desires. You are a part of that extended industry, but if you weren’t there, there’d be one fewer of those rare good, conscientious people in the field, you know?)
You guys are both really good people. Just the fact that you wrestle so hard with these questions, try to do the right thing, and then don’t leave it there but continue to wonder if you could have done better — just the fact that you act the way you do should absolve you of any real guilt or whatever. Even in your comments, in writing and on the podcast, it’s obvious that you’re both continuing to try and improve your understanding. You aren’t perfect. You can’t be perfect. But it’s obvious that you do your best and have good hearts. It’s like totally obvious. You are the last guys who should feel bad about this stuff. But because you are who you are, of course you feel terrible.
And I think just the fact that you guys do feel so bad about this stuff, to the point of feeling dirty or whatever and even entertaining (if only for a second) the thought of quitting your job and/or the podcast over it — It all goes to show that the raw AWARENESS factor of Sexism in the Comics Industry has more than over-fulfilled its quota. I’m NOT saying “stop talking about it” (I’m not saying that at all), but we’re to the point where the people who are aware of it are SO aware of it that I think it’s basically causing us ridiculous amounts of stress. I feel it too. I feel so freaking frustrated with the situation that it’s just exasperating. We’re to the point where we see people whom we generally agree with talking about it, but they get one fact wrong, and we nearly have a meltdown at them. Because we’re all so aware of it, so obsessed with it, so displeased with it, and we want it to stop and to go away, but it isn’t.
The awareness is there but for whatever reason very little has changed. And I think I should probably write the following in about point-128 font, bold, and underlined, but:
For god’s sake, someone take legal action already.
Abhay’s post was generally great, if only because of how the message was drilled home that victims can and should talk to lawyers about a lot of the stuff that happened to them.
It’s hard to write about any of this without seeming like an out-of-breath know-it-all, but I cannot begin to tell you how unbelievable it has been for me, over the last few years, to have seen so much discussion of sexism in comics without, hardly ever, seeing anyone bring up the idea that maybe the victims could actually NOT rely on the publishers to police themselves, but instead actually bring legal actions against them.
I think legal action is the only thing that will make an actual change. And the good news is that a lot of this stuff would definitely warrant legal actions. The laws are there in place. If as a community we (especially those close to the victims) could actually support the victims to have the strength to make even one real legal challenge, then I think the corporate culture would change.
Instead it seems like people are more interested in BLAMING (blaming others or even blaming themselves) than in actually DOING something that’s more real. I don’t know why this is. It’s like we’re encouraging this culture of suspicion and “nothing ever happens to the bad guys” and “it’s all your fault”. And we’re to the point of saying “It’s ALL our faults! It’s the industry that is inherently evil!” when, really, at any given time along the way maybe one victim could have changed everything if she felt enough support to actually file a lawsuit and hold someone really, really accountable for his actions.
Even Abhay’s post was, to be honest, mostly a long rant complaining angrily about other people — particularly complaining about other people who have very little connection of the actual goings-on — and emotions are understandably high. But we can’t just conflate discrimination with sexual harassment, or sexual harassment with sexual assault. Which are conflations that are happening constantly now. And yes there is an overall umbrella theme of misogyny, but to actually discuss any of this in any pragmatic way, we have to keep track of what actual specific allegations are in play for any given incident. These are different things and their distinctions matter, legally. People should know about the different options out there for legal solutions, and just saying “the cops won’t help you” is simply untrue.
Based on these various incidents in the comics industry, women should know that unwanted touching could actually be considered assault, which is a crime. And if you get contacted again by the creepy guy who said or did something creepy to you a while back, well, that could actually be considered stalking, if he contacts you again. And if you go to the cops and tell them that someone assaulted you or is stalking you, then there actually is a decent chance that an officer will actually pay that person a courtesy visit and give them a warning, even if at that point the police aren’t 100% sure whether textbook “assault” or “stalking” actually took place. If it just seems like something bad might have gone on, cops can err on the side of caution for a woman and help her out. I’ve seen it happen. Whether the initial creepy incidents happened at the workplace or not, I’ve seen police officers go to a guy’s workplace and let him know that, for example, his ex-girlfriend does not want any more emails from him, even if they’re casual two-sentence emails after six months of silence, because any further contact would be considered stalking. These things actually happen. Do you think Dan Didio wants that to happen in the DC offices? Even if that polite little police visit were the only thing that ever happened in some case, there’s a good chance that level of “oh, it’s real” would be enough to make a lot of these creeps think twice about being creepy.
But instead we hear a new report about a woman in the comics industry being groped, with a man waiting until she passes out before trying to feel up under her shirt, and yet these things are, apparently, not brought to the attention of lawyers or cops. I get it that victims are scared. They need support and encouragement. ATTEMPTED RAPE is something that should probably be mentioned to the police, and yes you should get a lawyer too.
As an online community, I think all we can really do is support victims any way we can. If we don’t really know them, then, yeah, that’s rather limited. But to me it just seems like somehow this stuff needs to “get real”, because the online arguing and nitpicking thing is just not working. I scroll through the comments on other sites, and it’s comment #30 before anyone says anything helpful or supportive or offers a solution. It’s comment #40 before someone wonders why legal actions aren’t being pursued. The rest of the comments are pointless squabbling, blaming others, snotty remarks, poopooing the odd solution (“boycots never work”, “cops don’t care”), etc. When maybe our energy should be more focused on supporting victims and encouraging actual legal cases to be made?
What I’m afraid of is that — even after Watchmen, after Fun Home, after Pluto and Asterios Polyp and all the rest — maybe there’s something fundamentally juvenile and nonserious about comic books and everyone and everything related to them. Maybe we can’t shake that. Maybe it’s implicit in the medium and everything and everyone it touches. It’s a pessimistic thought, but maybe all of us, even the women and even the guys trying not to be “that guy”, are all in a way still the equivalent of the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons. In other words we’re all so fundamentally socially awkward and broken that of course we’re not actually going to take real steps to help fix real problems. I mean, we’re talking about serial harassment here, would-be rapists, shitlords, gropers, systematic oppression, etc. I think it’s probably a little immature of us to have ever thought that these sorts of problems could be fixed without the aid of actual adult things like courts of law.
Yeah, if there are outstanding matters I’d like someone to take legal action too, get things sorted out properly. I’m sick of this, it’s been going on for years. Why is this all being played out on social media?
I don’t know the ins and outs of the Berganza situation. I’m glad Jeff had Graeme moderate his language, replacing ‘abuser’ with ‘harasser’. And I’m glad Graeme was trying so hard not to go beyond what is known and ‘known’. I do, though, think that if you’re going to accept everyone who says Berganza harassed them, Graeme, you should also accept the word of those who say he’s not been involved in any harassment incidents since he was sent to counselling. That business where you said – I’m paraphrasing – ‘just because people say he’s not been harassing people doesn’t mean there haven’t been any incidents’ seems hugely cynical. Maybe he has learned, maybe he has changed. I dunno. That doesn’t erase any previous bad behaviour, but assuming a person can’t change helps no one.
I thought you guys handled the issues well.
What’s that line from The Invisibles? “The hero encourages passive spectating and the revolt becomes another product to be consumed.” Not exactly one-to-one, but I think there’s a similar point made there. For myself I stopped paying attention to most of the comics internet well over a year ago and I think I’m much better off for it.
For those still in the salt mine/assembly line of production of content for that space (Hi Graeme!) I think the don’t-bite-the-hand-that-feeds mentality is still going to be mostly dominant, with the occasional editor or outlet with balls going against that. Same as in most of the enthusiast press, including vidjagames, as Jeff wisely noted. I stopped paying attention to most of the videogames enthusiast press long a bit before I did the comics press and mostly for the same reasons. Last I checked Stephen Totilo, Jason Schreier and Patrick Klepek and others were still doing good work there, but it mostly follows the same old rules of clicks-first it ever did. The Witness was the last game I really played deeply and enjoyed the surrounding dialog of.
It almost amounts to being an unsolvable problem if most of your mental input comes from corporate entertainment and the dialog that surrounds it, and doubly so if your whole livelihood is built around feeding from that particular teat. I don’t mean to insult Graeme and Jeff, they do orders of magnitude better jobs at being self-aware and self-criticizing than 99% of people on the internet and it’s why I still listen to them, and do so quite happily.
Eddie Berganza, Scott Allie, Brian Wood, etc, and the companies that employ them should probably’ve been hit with a lawsuit or similar long ago, but that requires money or a sympathetic pro-bono lawyer or real-world action group or just sheer tenacity on the part of an affected individual. And I think it’s difficult for harassed women to put that much time and energy into righting a ship that’s so clearly sinking under the weight of it’s own sins.
Let the thing sink. Let it die. The next generation will rise from the froth with better values and outlooks. Should Shelly Bond want to continue to edit comics I hope she finds an outlet that won’t hobble her and her creators with shitty contracts, poor marketing plans and generally idiotic management tactics. DC has no idea what the fuck it’s doing and that’s been obvious for the better part of a decade now.
I’m not sure there’s an answer that doesn’t involve, at some level, not giving a fuck about what these ensconced old men are doing and just ignoring their whole fucking empire. But they hold the dollas and the IPs so there will always be those lining up to work for them and consume their products. This is just the same old story isn’t it? The old men with money and power don’t give a fuck, so ignore them and go make a self-sustaining safe space for you and your like-minded peers (so long as you don’t repeat the cycle and become ensconced in your own bullshit yourself; a difficult task, which is why self-awareness and self-criticism are so important, and why Graeme and Jeff are still the best there is at what they do.)
**Shudders to self and keeps walking, listening to Wait What, Silence, and Comic Books Are Burning in Hell, maniacal screams in BG, unheard through headphones.**