Toxic Fandom: The Saga Continues
I’ve spoken earlier regarding toxic fandom, specifically those who fall under the banner of Comicsgate; a gathering of supposed fans who have consistently demonstrated a considerable ignorance of the comic book industry and its history.
Comicsgate have continued their collective ways, with many of its Twitter users continuing to claim that ‘SJW messages’ are killing the comic book industry. This is despite no evidence being presented for these claims and, according to Comichron, sales on the rise (Marvel 16% better than the same time in 2017 with DC enjoying a staggering 29% increase). Indeed, any fall in sales (according to comic book store owners themselves) seems to fall squarely at the feet of factors such as the impact from online retailers such as Amazon and almost continuous title relaunches.
It does not seem to matter to them one iota that social messages of all kinds have been a staple of the medium certainly since Action Comics #1, where the now archetypal Superman fought injustice in the form of corruption and greedy businessmen. Indeed, the only time that comic books did not feature blatant social commentary was during the period when publishers found themselves bound by the Comics Code Authority, which included very strong stipulations on what could and could not be included in a printed issue. The most celebrated titles in comic book history are those that took a strong and blatant stand on issues: V for Vendetta, Sandman, Kingdom Come, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle, Action Comics #775, Contract with God, Maus, Persepolis and so on.
I attempted to enter into discussions with the group on Twitter (@Matt_of_Geek, if you wish to have a civilised chat) but found their lack of evidence, inability to discern correlation from causation mixed with their not taking responsibility for their groups actions to be lacking a foundation for productive dialogue. Comicsgate members seem to take delight in, as a quick example, doxxing people and repeatedly asking rather private questions as seen with Twitter user @Renfamous; who had wedding photos repeatedly photoshopped and was asked what genitals she possessed. I found it very telling that no Comicsgate member told their own to cease those behaviours, while the number of likes the posts received were considerable.
Of course, it should go without saying that whether or not someone is male, female, trans or anything else is utterly irrelevant and should be well beyond what anyone with even a modicum of ethics would ask. However, that lack of ethics seems to be well entrenched in Comicsgate. Afterall, any antisocial behaviour that you see but do not challenge (especially if it’s from a group that you affiliate with) is behaviour that you are effectively condoning.
The Political Hypocrisy of Comicsgate
Another questionable claim from Comicsgate is that they simply wish politics (especially gender politics) removed from the medium. Let us, just for the sake of argument, forget that commentary on issues of the day haven’t been the bread and butter of the industry since its inception just for a moment. Let us look at some of the figureheads of the Comicsgate movement and see how their politics looks. Mike S. Miller is a fundamentalist Christian with very conservative beliefs and openly supports Donald Trump. Ethan Van Sciver proudly boasts his #MAGA allegiances and support. Jon Malin is much the same, though not as open about political beliefs certainly appears to be on the right with frequent attacks against “SJWs”. Richard Myer is disappointed when he finds another creator does not support Trump, while simultaneously pulling a claim regarding Trump support out of nowhere.
I spent some time trawling through the Comicsgate hashtag and found no political material that was not of a conservative leaning. Of course, people are free to have whatever political (or other) beliefs they like but those chosen beliefs have consequences and paint a picture of what the Comicsgate movement is actually about. If the figureheads (de facto leaders, for all intents and purposes) all push similar beliefs that are clearly at one end of the political spectrum then any claim they wish to remove politics from comics becomes rather shaky; it seems much more reasonable to say that they wish to have removed messages that they do not believe in.
An example of this message pushing can be found with Bounding Into Comics. Boundingintocomics.com claims to be a “premiere destination for nerd culture focusing primarily on comic books, comic book movies, and comic book television” and is often cited by Comicsgate. This frequent referencing is not surprising at it is a site that seems to act as no more than propaganda for their chosen cause. Stories seem to be less objective analysis and more editorials and frequently make claims with no evidence to support them. BiC seeks out interviews with dubious folks such as Vox Day, an alt-right activist and white supremacist, who was expelled from Science Fiction Writers Association of America and subsequently tried to rig the voting at the Hugo Awards. BiCs Twitter feed also leans very heavily to one side of the political spectrum, as you might expect.
Comicsgate have recently thrown their support behind author Jon Del Arroz, who was banned from WorldCon 76 due to proclaiming that he would attend and break established rules regarding filming without permission, on top of having a considerable history of harassment of others and being in the middle of attempting to sue the same convention. Despite receiving a notice that he would not be allowed to attend, Jon arrived at the convention and attempted to buy a ticket while live streaming his questioning of volunteers regarding why he was not allowed entry. It should be of no surprise that Jon Del Arroz is of the same political cloth as the Comicsgate figureheads, evidenced by both his public statements and the selling of MAGA merchandise on his website.
Jon’s actions speak of two issues that I’ve touched on previously and are often found in movements such as Comicsgate; the first is that of an overblown sense of entitlement. Worldcon is a private event that the public can buy tickets to and attend, as long as they abide by the conventions rules and regulations. As a private event, they are not bound by the First Amendment and can restrict access to whoever they deem necessary. This action, I can speak here from experience as a very long time forum moderator/admin, becomes necessary when someone’s actions either disrupts or threatens to disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of other participants. An emotionally mature and well centred person would, upon finding themselves barred and the reasons thereof explained to them, shrug their metaphorical shoulders and simply move on. It takes someone with notable narcissistic traits to demand entry anyhow, as it effectively placing their desires above that of those who worked to make the event happen. This is reflected in Comicsgate in how many of their number wish publishers to write the stories that CG wants, trying to elevate their wishes above those of the storytellers. I have seen this push compared to the actions of Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery and I think it has some merit.
The second issue I have with Jon’s actions is that he has tried to deflect responsibility for his actions, accusing Worldcon of silencing those of a conservative learning and thus trying to claim some manner of victim status. We sadly see this sort of tactic increasingly in the news where people assert that they are victims for being banned/barred/shown the door because of their beliefs – when it is usually a case of the person simply being a jerk that people would rather not be around. Jon’s track record is not great and his attempt to record a confrontation at Worldcon only attests to this.
As a side note, Twitter had the #VisibleWomen hashtag trending; initially started by Kelly Sue DeConnick and rebooted this month it was intended to give the inarguably under-represented female comic book creators out there a chance to show off what they can do. It was a marvellous showcase of talent, imagination and creativity. In the face of this celebration, Jon Del Arroz had the highly questionable response pictured.
Once again, it seems blatantly clear that it is not a case of removing politics and social messaging from comics that is their concern – it is removing the politics and social messaging that they do not agree with or do not wish to think about. Which, of course, is to defy one of the main reasons to engage with literature; to learn, to be challenged, to become better.
Darwyn and Marsha Cooke
Over the past few days the issue of Comicsgate has blown up even more, this time because of beloved late creator Darwyn Cooke (most famous for DC: The New Frontier and a great Catwoman run). Members of Comicsgate attempted to claim that Mr Cooke would support their particular cause, which led to his widow reactivating her Twitter account to let them know in no uncertain terms what he would have actually thought.
This led to CGers claiming that it was not actually Ms. Cooke and that they might actually know what Darwyn wanted more than she did. A number of them then decided to insult Ms. Cooke, just for good measure.
Now I must give credit where credit is due; Ethan Van Sciver did handle himself well during all this and he did call for his followers to back off. Sadly the abuse is more indicative of Comicsgate as a whole, where highly questionable behaviour seems to be the norm in ever greater amounts. While the call for respect is noted, a video of Mr. Van Sciver destroying Rose Tico (a character from The Last Jedi) figures for almost an hour was found which is somewhat troubling – especially when the actor who played Rose has been the subject of considerable harassment herself.
Ruby Rose and Batwoman
Moving on to a different aspect of toxic fandom, there is the matter of Ruby Rose and her casting as Batwoman. Batwoman was relaunched as a character back in 2006 and was earmarked for being one of DCs highest profile gay characters. The character enjoyed a forty issue run that concluded in 2014, not recovering after the original creative team left the book over restrictions handed down by DC. I can not say that I have ever followed the career of Ruby Rose; Orange is the New Black is not a show that ever hooked me for instance, but when the casting was announced it seemed quite suitable. Claims that Ruby Rose was “not gay enough” or “not Jewish enough” seems to be absurd; the very foundation of the role of an actor is to play a character that they are not. They are acting out the role of a character. Even if Ruby Rose was completely straight was portraying a lesbian, it would not matter one jot; Neil Patrick Harris played a womaniser in How I Met Your Mother while the fantastic Tilda Swinton was The Ancient One in Dr Strange.
It’s not all doom and gloom…
Sometimes it seems that fandoms are terrible places, especially on social media. For example, I have a fondness for Doctor Who and seeing the reactions to the casting of Jodie Whittaker (who has been great in every role I’ve seen her, from Black Mirror to Broadchurch) as the new Doctor has induced many a facepalm. However, there is one fandom right now that makes me believe that a group of fans can actually get together and enjoy what they claim they are fans of. It is no secret that I, as well as a certain BBC time travel show, enjoy much of the Transformers franchise specifically IDWs current Transformers: Lost Light (previously known as Transformers: More than Meets the Eye). The fellow fans of this title are a delight while interactions with the titles creators are an exercise in celebrating works that have real emotional impact. Having creators such as artist Nick Roche geeking out about introducing Stan Bush on stage at TFNation or writer James Roberts pointing out brilliant TF cosplay really makes a fellow fan glad to be a part of the journey. The only thing that is missing from MTMTE/LL fandom is the negativity that pervades some many other gatherings – and it is not missed. Not at all. For me the adventures of the crew of the Lost Light and the enthusiasm of those other that follow them serve as a reminder of what fans should be like and how we should enjoy what we claim to enjoy.
Because if you don’t enjoy something then you are best to move on and find something that you do. Why? Because you are not the centre of the universe and other people clearly ARE enjoying it … and who are you to stop that?
It appears that more occurred overnight that is worthy of commentary. Above I had complimented Ethan Van Sciver on how well he had handled the situation regarding the rather ignorant attempt to co-opt Darwyn Cooke into Comicsgate and how it had been rebuked by his widow. It now seems any positivity Mr Van Sciver was due is now undeserved, as he has apparently changed direction.