The Sexual Politics of the Comics Industry

Over the past few days the internet has erupted in various degrees of indignation, anger, astonishment and anything else you can possibly imagine over the accusations made by Tess Fowler in regards to Brian Wood. This article at Bleeding Cool outlines the ins and outs, the original Tweets, and the statements made by both parties.

The actual ins and outs of the situation are still unclear, though Wood has admitted trying to pull Fowler, and frankly his statement seems thin compared to the fact that there’s now others coming forward to say that they’ve also encountered similar behaviour from Wood in the past. Frankly this particular situation is the tip of a seriously huge iceberg, but it has at least ignited the debate that’s been bubbling for not just a few years, but decades in regards how the comics industry and fandom deal with women, sexism and sadly, these sort of harassment allegations.

Now I’ve blogged previously about how comics deal with women, and anyone picking through this blog will know my past and I have to say that Fowler’s accusations don’t surprise me one bit.

See, the thing is about comics is that it’s a very, very male orientated pastime, or career depending on what side you sit on. Walk into any comic shop and I’ll bet you’ll see it run by men, with a mainly male customer base. Go to a con and you’ll see a similar picture, same goes with the creators. This isn’t in itself a bad thing but when it’s a case that the scene is so patriarchal to the point that when someone like Fowler finds the voice to speak out that she’s demolished by fans. She’s ‘sensitive’. She’s ‘hysterical’. She’s ‘lying because who can remember that far back?’, and on and on.

Now Wood isn’t accused of anything illegal. Yes, he’s got some explaining to do to his wife and that’s between them, but it’s not illegal. It is however wanky, which isn’t to say that any bloke drunkenly trying to pull is a wanker. I’ve done it. I imagine a large chunk of men and women reading this have done it. That’s not a problem. It’s when the quid pro quo of ‘fuck me and I’ll get you a contact’ comes in that it crosses not only a professional line, but a clear moral one that does start to become abusive. It’s how abusers work though promises and threats because what a lot of people who see this as Fowler being ‘sensitive’ miss is that accusers are blacklisted, or worse

Part of the problem lies in the lack of any comics sites seriously investigating suck claims, and these claims have been flying around for decades. The stories about Julie Schwartz are decades old, but I know people knew about these stories back in the 80’s, but obviously libel laws meant they never got into the press. However had there been anyone who’d went out to gather up evidence then things might have been different. Although it’s good Bleeding Cool broke this, and that other sites aren’t just picking it up but deciding to use it to prise open a long overdue discussion, I can’t help wish that it could have happened sooner.

Still, the discussion is happening which is good. The stories and secrets are coming out. People are finding out that people in the industry use cons to conduct affairs behind their partners backs, or that this sort of propositioning happens more often than people think. Yes, there are groupies. There are ”starfuckers’. These are not the majority of women, but a small, small minority but even the fact that this is coming out is astonishing as this was one of comics dirty little secrets.

The fact is you’ve got an industry where people go from school, to college or uni, and then possibly do a variety of retail or other jobs to supplement what they want to do which is create comics. Some people might not pick up the social skills you get in a regular work environment and I can tell you, there’s many a creator who is an enormous arsehole when you meet them down to those who are just socially unaware. These aren’t necessarily a problem but it’s when it’s seen as the norm or acceptable to grab a girl’s arse, or invite them to your room on the clear assumption that if they fuck you then you’ll introduce them to someone higher up the food chain. That’s when it becomes problematic. I can give you examples going back to the 80’s of situations at cons, shops or with people involved with comics that fit into this conversation. I’m sure most people involved in comics in some shape or form over the years could.

So I’m glad some very dirty laundry is being aired. I’m glad some people are having their eyes opened, but it’s a long, long way to go before comics cleans it’s act up and drags itself kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

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