The Latest Trend in the World of Comic Books Appears to Be Harassment of Women and Queer People

The cause celebré of right-wing nerds circa 2015 was GamerGate, where video gamers got upset that — quelle horreur! — women and LGBTQ people were making games! And sometimes those games were well-reviewed! Though GamerGate eventually evolved into the alt-right we know and loathe today, a faction hasn’t left geeky spaces. We’ve now got ComicsGate, where many of the same people are upset that women and LGBTQ people are making comics.

What started ComicsGate?

GamerGate was spurred on by an essay in which Eron Gjoni libeled his ex-girlfriend, Zoe Quinn, accusing her of trading sexual favors for positive reviews of her breakout game Depression Quest. Whereas GamerGate coalesced around Gjoni’s essay and the mantra “ethics in video game journalism,” the start of ComicsGate was far, far stupider.

Feast your eyes on the post that launched a campaign of infinite harassment:

That’s not a joke. The photo features some of Marvel’s editors enjoying milkshakes in honor of the company’s “Fabulous Flo” Steinberg. Steinberg was not only one of the key people responsible for Marvel’s growth during the Silver Age but one of the first American independent comics publishers — truly someone to be honored. And so, five days after her death, Heather Antos, editor on The Unbelievable Gwenpool, shared a selfie of women on the Marvel staff celebrating Steinberg’s legacy.

Despite having to be well-read on comics history to know how important Steinberg was, people came out of the woodwork to call the Marvel Milkshake Crew “fake geek girls,” “social justice warriors” and much worse. Again, over a picture of women enjoying milkshakes.

Mainstream comics’ diversity problem

black panther vibranium comicsgate

Of course, to future ComicsGate fanatics, this was about much more than milkshakes. That photo is a symbol of the growing diversity in comics. One of the major forces in ComicsGate, Richard C. Meyer, tells The Daily Beast he’s worried about comics becoming less macho:

I started noticing a lot more weird stuff. Feminization of men, masculinization of women, basically, all the classic heterosexual pairings being destroyed … you realize this is a trend, and you start wondering why they’re doing it. Why is Luke Cage, the quintessential blaxploitation tough guy, why is he pushing a baby carriage and he’s the wimpiest, most soft-spoken — this is not done on accident.

Worries about “diversity” are nothing new — even from Marvel higher-ups themselves. In 2017, Marvel’s senior vice president of sales, David Gabriel, blamed the company’s low sales on its diverse titles. But as it turns out that wasn’t the case. You’d expect the vice president of sales would be aware of his own company’s sales numbers — if he was, he would have realized the “diverse” books don’t actually sell significantly worse.

Instead, low sales were due to a changing marketplace, poor editorial decisions and a focus on single issues when the market clearly prefers collected volumes. (An example of but one of Marvel’s poor decisions: In advance of Black Panther, the highest-grossing superhero film of all time, Marvel cancelled two of its Black Panther comics, including Roxane Gay’s World of Wakanda.)

ComicsGate and harassment

If ComicsGate were just a difference of opinion, that’d be one thing. But like GamerGate and the Sad/Rabid Puppies in Science Fiction, it’s a movement of harassment. ComicsGate followers like Meyer can sic their followers on a creator they don’t like by tweeting or making a video about them. The Daily Beast points out the story of Darryl Ayo, a small-press cartoonist. Ayo condemned a tweet from a Marvel freelancer, John Malin, which said “Nazis are SJWs.”

When cartoonist and ComicsGater Ethan Van Sciver invited Ayo to come on a livestream to debate Malin, he declined. Van Sciver called him out for not debating, and his followers tweeted racially charged insults at Ayo. (And when The Daily Beast asked Van Sciver about his followers harassing Ayo, he replied “I think my fans are the best!!!! I always appreciate their support for me and for my art.”

In another instance, Meyer and his followers got Aubrey Sitterson fired from the IDW comic G.I. Joe: Scarlett’s Strike Force for a tweet expressing ire at what he saw as “performative grief” about 9/11. Meyer claimed the cancellation of Sitterson’s book as a win.

Meyer seems to have a special hatred for trans creators, too. He and his followers have harassed Sophie Campbell, who told The Daily Beast:

During the worst times, it was some of the nastiest sexist and/or transphobic remarks you could think of, harassment sent to my editors and publishers in an attempt to get me fired or blacklisted, trying to dig up personal info about me.

Even when I was away from the computer, in the back of my mind I knew it was still going on and spreading to other people. The people in my immediate circle tend to talk about it more since I’m acquainted with other trans people in comics, but outside of that I don’t see it come up that much. It seemed like hardly anyone cared when it was happening to me.

If there’s one bit of good news about ComicsGate, it looks like after Sitterson’s removal from the G.I. Joe comic, the industry has become wise to their tricks. Meyer and his ilk have been unable to get anyone else fired.

For more information on ComicsGate, read The Daily Beast‘s in-depth reporting here.

Featured image courtesy of Marvel Comics, from World of Wakanda #5