We first covered one of Richard Meyer's Kickstarter projects back in 2012 on Bleeding Cool when he was a writer and artist struggling to work professionally in the comics industry. The project, called No Enemy But Peace seemed to go well enough, raising almost $4000 from over a hundred people.
Meyer's latest crowdfunded comic project was on IndieGoGo. Jawbreakers, is a military superhero comic to be drawn by well-known comic book artist Jon Malin, with covers by Ethan Van Sciver and colours by Brett Smith. It was his second attempt to crowdfund the comic, but this time he had star status and the purse to buy big names.
After the success of Meyer's YouTube channel Diversity & Comics, famed for criticising what one might term progressive storylines in comics, throwing constant and repeated gratuitously offensive insults at anyone involved with them and rallying others to do likewise, this crowdfund did a lot better. It helped that Jon Malin and Ethan Van Sciver, both ostracised from their respective publishers Marvel and DC for attacking other employees at the company, were able to bring their own fanbase along with them.
The project raised over
$200,000 $250,000 from more than 4000 6500 people — though a brief glance at a couple of pages of the many donors show that quite a number of those seemed to be people pledging repeatedly for multiple copies. This may have been part of a number of funding rallies he made, first to compete with the completed BLACK fundraiser, and then to beat Gail Simone's Leaving Megalopolis Kickstarter. Nevertheless, however it was achieved, it has been nothing short of a remarkable success.
One of Meyer's themes has been criticising people he deems as not having the talent to work in comics on their own bat, being hired by Marvel and other major publishers because of "virtue signalling" and the like. One could argue that he has just achieved that very thing for himself.
After the campaign concluded, it was then announced that longstanding indie publisher Antarctic Press would be publishing the comic. Best known for their long-running series Gold Digger, Ninja High School, all sorts of Steampunk series and publishing the first three issues of Strangers in Paradise, they also publish a number of politically contentious comics of all stripes. And right now that means different titles that both parody and celebrate Donald Trump. And it was in that spirit that Antarctic Press agreed to publish the comic when approached.
A number of comic book retailers took it upon themselves to state that they wouldn't be carrying the book. There was much concern regarding some of Meyer's statements and the actions of his followers. Recently, his posting (and subsequent deletion) of one video he dubbed the Dark Roast on YouTube seemed to concentrate much of this together in one place, attacking comic creators and critics alike.
It was a harsh listen and was intended to be. Roasts are usually done with the consent of those being roasted. This was not. Some of you may wish to skip over the next few paragraphs between the asterisks.
It included discussion over which kind of paedophiles Mark Waid, Dan Slott, and Brian Michael Bendis were. That Devin Grayson "literally sucked her way into the comic industry" and that Waid "left his wife so he can go frickin' hit on cosplay girls."
That Matt Santori-Griffith "is a fucking fag. He's just this like flouncing-like super dramatic. Everything is rape, everything is harassment, everything bigotry. I've actually found that's fairly common. One of the things is just like these people they don't have lives; they don't have families."
That Heather Antos "is a cum dumpster who got a job at Marvel because… Jordan White is a sad sack perv who jacked off to her… the story is that she went and saw him at a convention. It's like, I'd like to be an editor and he's like, oh, this is going to be a hard sell for HR. Like Jordan White's going to go to Marvel HR, 'I really need you to hire her. My spank bank is getting incredibly low.'" That female editors at Marvel, as seen in the Milkshake photo "are literally just work-girlfriends for these creepy middle-aged or approaching middle aged-white guys who can't get any girl to talk."
That B. Clay Moore "is a fucking piece of shit. I'm pretty sure he lives off of his wife like she's the breadwinner. He's like in Kansas he never has any kind of real job. I think he intermittently like coaches a girl like high school girls like… baseball."
And that Mags Visaggio "is a fucking crazy person, a criminal, who is definitely, definitely going to kill himself and it's just where when and how. By the way, Mags did not transition, Mags is a trans trender… it's literally just a pervert. It's a crossdresser; it's someone with a fetish. But they came along just at the right time that were all the trans issues and they're like, 'Oh, we can we can weaponize this.'"
"Kind of floating around the periphery, literally slaps a wig. People seem sent me pictures of this Brian guy… the picture I saw had a full head of hair, I do not know why he's going on freakin' IndieGoGo… go give me money… GoFundMe, asking for a wig, the wig looks like shit. I've seen you frickin' before you transitioned. You had a full head of curly hair and you're married to some fat chick and then you turn into a fake girl. Really just Mags is not a fake girl, he's just a full-time pervert now."
This was all in just one video. He has posted much more in a similar vein about Mags Visaggio, as well as the likes of Erica Henderson, Tamra Bonvillain, Gabby Rivera, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and more.
Meyer also posted some private Facebook screencaps from a retailer group, in which retailers discussed whether they would order any copies of the comic — or any Antarctic book — or not. With most deciding not. He then posted the names of the retailers, their stores, and contact details. Stores suddenly experienced offensive social media messages, had personal social media accounts targeted, and saw a flood of one-star reviews hit their Facebook pages.
But this was not the first time Bleeding Cool had covered Meyer — and not just the 2012 Kickstarter. Last year Meyer was a principle figure in a now-removed video campaign calling on IDW and Hasbro to fire Aubrey Sitterson, a New York-based comics writer who had written a couple of harsh tweets criticising the commercialisation of 9/11 mourning, had also expressed socialist sympathies and was writing G.I. Joe comics for the publisher. At the time, Meyer said that "my hope was to get Sitterson fired." The book in question was cancelled before the first issue's orders were in, and Aubrey Sitterson has received no work from the publisher since. It was also his attacks on ex-Marvel editor Heather Antos that saw legions of people contacting her new place of work when she left Marvel with critical words.
So if there was a boycott, one could argue that people were only using Meyer's tactics against him. There were accusations of collusion and threats of legal action — but that kind of thing usually concerns fixed pricing, not whether a comic book store chooses to stock a comic. Which is generally pretty much down to the store in question.
I spoke to Antarctic Press's Ben Dunn to find out more about his decision to publish Jawbreakers, as his initial post on his Facebook page was starting to get a number of negative comments already. He told me initially that he was behind the creator 100%, but as to retailers' concerns, said:
"Of course I am concerned about our relation with retailers. I like to think that over 30 years publishing comics, including comics like STRANGERS in PARADISE, GOLD DIGGER, NINJA HIGH SCHOOL, etc. that they know that we are creator's rights publisher. However, I respect their right to order as they see fit in servicing their customers in the best way possible."
There was a question as to whether Meyer would share that respect for retailer, tweeting at his many followers.
Ben told me:
"I am unaware of what the creator has stated to set off such a reaction. Yes. Of course I am concerned about the feelings and beliefs of others. However, I also believe that there should be no restriction in the free exchange of ideas. I do not believe I am forcing the creator's ideas unto anyone just as I am not forcing anyone to support it. My hope is that we are all mature enough to be able to see that there are other points of view."
But on reading some of Meyer's quotes about other comic creators, Ben seemed shocked. He thanked me for the discourse and told me he was going to have a serious think about the issue.
Comic creator Mark Waid, who once sought to make peace with Meyer, posted on Facebook:
Sometime after, Antarctic Press posted the following.
And Diversity & Comics posted:
And regarding Mark Waid:
Plausible or not, it was bollocks. Asking around, there had been no such action from Marvel's side. And Antarctic Press went on the record as a result.
As for the allegations of intimidation, threats, and coercion, I asked Waid what happened. He told me:
When I heard that fans and creators were coming down on the AP publisher for doing business with Meyer, I gave him a call. I'd met him before. He seemed like a good guy, and something didn't jibe; I was surprised that he'd want to get in bed with someone whose idea of marketing was to ask his fans to put together a list of stores that chose not to carry his book and to then circulate that list along with the full names, first and last, of the stores' employees and their phone numbers for ease of targeting and harassment. (No store "owes" it to customers to carry every comic. No store carries every comic. Stores pick and choose what they wish to sell based on what they think their customers will support and, to some degree, on their own personal feelings about the subject matter, the publisher's track record, and other factors–including, sometimes, whether or not they want to put money into the pocket of a creator or creators who publicly refer to women in comics as "cumbuckets" or transgender creators as "men in wigs.") Don't be fooled, by the way–making that list wasn't about selling comics or helping or healing the industry–for that, like Mark Millar does, you'd be supportive and circulate a list of stores that DO carry your books. This was flat-out about punishing and harassing and intimidating the stores who didn't carry his book. "Nice store y'got here. Be a shame if there was allasudden a buncha one-star reviews on Yelp and Google…" C'mon. Why else would you make sure a list existed and was circulated that carried the personal information of not the owners but their employees? Would it be cool with you if, because I didn't like the way your boss does business, I phoned you directly to complain rather than him? Of course not.
So. I called the publisher, who I knew to be a good guy, because I suspected there was more to this than "Yes, sign us up to make money for the transphobe," and there was. He's a busy man who has a full-time day job as well as a publishing house, and he's not much for social media, so it never occurred to him to vet the creators. Why would it? That's an honest mistake to make–as a publisher myself, if I see work I like and want to publish, it doesn't automatically occur to me to just, by the way, make sure the creator is a decent human being (but apparently it ought to–lesson learned). I phoned him out of legitimate concern to warn him that there seemed to be a lot of anger directed at him by fans unhappy that he'd so openly embrace someone whose entire reputation was based on harassment and preaching intolerance and bigotry. Not "warn" him like "Hey, if you know what's good for you, I'm just sayin'…" — warn him, as someone who has respect for him, that he may not realize who he'd gotten in bed with.
As it turns out, he was way ahead of me on this. It's not my place to speak for him, but he was appalled that stores–the stores he makes his living selling to–were getting harassed. He'd learned an awful lot about his new partner in the previous 24 hours. He and I had a good, productive conversation, listening to one another, disagreeing on some philosophical points but agreeing on others. Again, by his request, I'm not really at liberty to go into detail about the conversation other than to make clear that (a) he'd pretty much come to his conclusions about what to do long before he and I talked, and (b) he'll back me up when I report that at no time did I ask him not to publish the book or ask him not to affiliate with its creators. (I don't have any more right to bully someone into not publishing a comic than they have the right to bully my publishers.) My purpose in calling was to discuss, as we did, the potential fallout and how to navigate it. I offered to, once the dust settles, conduct an interview with him for publication where we can talk about the choices he's made here and the thinking behind them–they're pretty interesting, particularly when it comes to the difficulty in separating the artist from the art, and I think it'd be terrifically informative.
From my point of view, I think the publisher clearly had no idea what kind of a man he was helping to enrich, and I'm genuinely impressed that, now knowing what he knows, he's taken a stand even though he's in a no-win situation where he can piss off either his longtime customers and creators or a small but loud lynch mob that embraces doxxing and harassment as a marketing strategy
In the light of the cancellation, Richard posted:
But it didn't seem to work. As to the targeted stores, I asked John Hendrick of Big Bang Comics in Dublin, whose store first tweeted out that they wouldn't be carrying the comic, while letting any customers discover other stores that might.
We are choosing not to stock the upcoming @AntarcticPress comic JAWBREAKERS
Please check https://t.co/JllYevLkp3 for an alternate local retailer.
— Big Bang Comics (@TheBigBang_) May 10, 2018
He reported that yes, there had been negative social media response and one-starring of the store on Facebook, as well as people who had never been to Dublin saying they would not go to the store. But there had been a lot more positive response in the shop itself, with sales on Thursday and Friday up 40% and 35% respectively. It appears that tweet really moved the needle.
But he made the point that, aside from the creator posting gratuitous insults against friends and creators he supported and sold in store, there are a number of other reasons the store wouldn't have stocked the book.
One of these reasons was that having so many IndieGoGo purchasers meant that demand in store for the comic would be low — as those who wanted the book would already have bought it. And that's not true just for this book but for other crowdfunded titles too.
Two, they have never had success selling Antarctic books, from Gold Digger to Steam Wars to… the one with the Pirate Girl, was what he could remember.
And three there was the danger of ghosting, people ordering the comic in advance, in order to increase its sales but not actually buying it. Again, not an entirely uncommon tactic.
So what now? Well, Meyer and friends stated that the comic will still be published as planned under the name as Splatto Comics, and colourist of the book, Brett R. Smith, posted that it would be distributed through Simon & Schuster.
This is the publisher/distributor who you may also recall planned to publish, then pulled out of, Milo Yiannopoulos's book after much protest. Milo also then published the book independently.
And this is not Antarctic Press turning its back on "conservative" comics, as some have suggested. They will most likely to continue to publish pro and anti-Trump comics like the below, as before.
Although, as we were going to press…
What could this be?
Declaration of interest: Richard Meyer has often targeted me with his YouTube videos, and many tweets detailing how much he despises me, including at least one tweet wishing my death that Twitter seemed to make him delete.