Earlier this year, Thought Bubble, the Yorkshire comic book festival that has become the premiere comic convention in Britain for comic creators to attend, announced that Frank Miller would be a guest this November. The biggest comics name the festival has had since at least Gerard Way or Run DMC, there were already rumblings of discontent for some. Yesterday, that went above the line. Zainab Akhtar is the award-winning cartoonist, writer, publisher, and critic, behind Shortbox, the crowdfunded curated small press comics collection publisher that has just launched its final Shortbox. Akhtar and Shortbox were attending guests at Thought Bubble this year, but that will no longer be the case. She tweeted from the Shortbox account, saying;
I am sorry to inform you that ShortBox and I will no longer be attending Thought Bubble festival this November. I was invited as a guest in 2020 which rolled over to this year. I have been excited to attend, represent my authors, and share our books with readers after almost 2 years of no conventions. However, as a proud Muslim woman, I cannot in good conscience attend a festival that deems it appropriate to invite and platform Frank Miller, a person who is responsible for the propagation of abhorrent anti-Muslim hate, particularly via his work. Anti-Muslim bigotry is repugnant and condemnable yet has become so deeply rooted, so widely accepted in society that it is not even given a cursory consideration, as evidenced once again in this situation. I cannot comprehend how time and time again, festivals and communities within comics espouse values regarding inclusivity, diversity, 'comics being for everyone', zero tolerance on hate, but all that lip-service evaporates when they are asked to enact those same values.
For clarity: I first contacted Thought Bubble about this, privately, 8 weeks ago. After discussions, I was assured action would be taken. This week it's been communicated to me that I am the acceptable loss: repercussions to my career/income over repercussions to theirs.
Frank Miller's graphic novel response to the events of 9/11, Holy Terror, is a virulently Islamophobic one. Originally planned as a Batman comic, it was rejected by DC Comics, and was redrawn to feature other, very similar, characters, and published by Legendary Comics in 2011. It repeatedly treats all Muslim characters as murderous, genocidal all-powerful terrorists, as if it were in their very nature, while the lead character engages in explicitly violent revenge against them in a diatribe full of Islamic symbology. The violence of Sin City combined with the politics and nuance of a Jack Chick tract. Years later, Miller would tell The Guardian newspaper;
"My stuff always represents what I'm going through. Whenever I look at any of my work I can feel what my mindset was and I remember who I was with at the time. When I look at Holy Terror, which I really don't do all that often, I can really feel the anger ripple out of the pages. There are places where it is bloodthirsty beyond belief… I don't want to go back and start erasing books I did. I don't want to wipe out chapters of my own biography. But I'm not capable of that book again."
- Spike Trotman: ThoughtBubbleUK is a FANTASTIC con that's had me as a guest multiple times, and I've enjoyed the heck out of it every time. But in terms of appropriateness, modern relevance and basic decency, alienating @Short_Box in favor of inviting Frank Miller as a guest is a mistake. Please reconsider the optics of giving an open, shameless, and unrepentant Islamophobe, who had DC strip their branding from his output because it was Just That Bad, a guest spot, @ThoughtBubbleUK
- Bevis Musson: Agreed. This isn't a case of a RW creator who I dislike or whose basic politics I disagree with, this is a creator who is the antithesis of what TB stands for and has represented for years. At this point, I'm pretty sure this is going to be the first TB that I ever miss… I'm slightly perturbed how many people are *now* criticising the fact that Frank Miller will be at @ThoughtBubbleUK after @Short_Box took the hard decision to pull out of the con rather than when it was first announced that he was a guest. I don't want to bash TB unduly, but if they are more concerned about the ticket sales they will make from the kind of people who will come to see Frank Miller and noone else than they are about the people his presence hurts then their outreach programmes and promotion of…
- Edward Ross: I love @ThoughtBubbleUK festival every year I attend. I can't in good conscience attend this year while Frank Miller remains a guest. Why invite someone whose work has done real harm when you could be making space for exciting modern voices.
- Joe List: I know this isn't even the heart of the issue, but I'd want to go to a comic show that has Short Box there and not Frank Miller. One is one of the most exciting current comics publishers there is, and the other is a misery man.
- RAMZEE: The Frank Miller debate today is a v tough one for me. As a Muslim fan I felt betrayed by him during a very wild time for Muslims but I know he's apologised for his views back then as "not thinking clearly" but not the actual hateful work he did that retailers still sell. During the time the comic dropped Islamophobia was rampant. It was not the hateful ravings of a crackpot. I know he made the book in the tradition of the propaganda superhero comic (eg: Captain America) but artists must realise that your artistic exercise contributes to islamophobia
- Lucie Bryon: Every trip and tabling experience I've had at Thought Bubble has been a joy, which makes their decision to invite Frank Miller all the more disappointing. When your festival promotes its focus on inclusion and diversity, choosing to invite a man known for his blatant and abhorrent Islamophobia sends a message; that islamophobia is the lesser offense, the acceptable one. I am disappointed and upset, as a previous Thought Bubble tabling artist, as a comic industry professional, and as a friend and forever fan of @Short_Box. Do better @ThoughtBubbleUK
- Jamie McKelvie: I'm really sorry this is happening. Your table is one of my main reasons I walk the con floor, and is one of the things that has made Thought Bubble what it is.
- Carina Taylor: As far as I'm concerned you are UK comics. I'm so deeply disappointed you were forced into this decision, but know that so many of us stand with you. We're all so tired of the lip-service regarding diversity in comics… As someone who also recently had my own experience with FM wherein I was told it was more important to include him than make me & my other coworker POC comfortable, my heart goes out to Zainab. We should not be forced into these situations.
- Andrew Hickey: I will still personally be going to Thought Bubble, because it's the only time I get to see many of my friends in person and I've not seen them in two years. But it will be much worse for having Frank Miller, and much worse for not having @Short_Box
- Maru-n: 100% support your decision Surely there will be more opportunities in the future to meet ShortBox in person and buy some copies I also don't understand why companies keep inviting people for cons without making research about their inappropriate "takes"…"
- Kristina Gehrmann: I will never understand why events continue to invite sh-tty people, when there are SO many MORE amazing and absolutely non-shitty professionals they could be inviting instead. Like why?? That's just lazy research failure at best, evil trollery at worst.
- Rebecca Ollerton :100% with you. This is very disappointing. Absolutely sick to death of the progressive platitudes in our industry that have proven to be meaningless in the face of actual adversity time and time again….. It shouldn't be on Shortbox to personally oppose Frank Miller if it's unsafe to be around him. SB aren't doing nothing, they're raising awareness of the issue and hopefully people like us care enough to lend support and increase the pressure for Thought Bubble to do something.
- Hamish Steele: The UK's best comics event should have no interest in the likes of Frank Miller's bigotry stinking it up, OR any of his fans. I urge Thought Bubble to reconsider which parts of this industry they want to showcase.
- Al Kennedy Hi, still not here, just wanted to say that ShortBox is an amazingly good publisher, Zainab Akhtar has possibly the finest editorial eye in the modern comics industry, Frank Miller is an irrelevance who has contributed zero to comics for years and Islamophobia's grotesque, OK bye
- Sarah Horrocks: . Thought Bubble seeing what happened with Lakes and learning nothing. The move would have been to convince (pay) Miller to bow out of his own accord. Now they've turned their convention into a bigotry litmus test during a pandemic. Is Miller's pull that big still?
- B. Mure: I love Thought Bubble and have every year for the 10, but morally I can't and won't be there w/ Frank Miller attending and we should stand behind Short Box
- Jeremy Whitley: I can't believe this is still going on. At the last ALA (American Library Association) they went out of their way to feature Frank Miller as a creator and to put him on panels meant to introduce librarians to graphic novels. This can't continue.
- Jon Cairns: The choice between the most relevant indie UK publisher and Frank Miller, for a UK-based indie-facing convention seems like a no brainer to me.
- HugoBoylan: I genuinely love Thought Bubble. So many of my friends are there. I've had some phenomenal times. Whenever I miss a year, I regret it. That won't be the case this year. ShortBox's concerns are legitimate and should have been taken seriously.
Yesterday, Bleeding Cool reached out to both Thought Bubble and Frank Miller for comment. We received none from Miller but this morning Thought Bubble issues the following statement, which we reproduce in full.
Over the last fourteen years Thought Bubble has grown into an amazing community of comic creators and fans who we love, trust and respect. We have let you down, and in our commitment to maintaining Thought Bubble as a safe space for all, we have fallen short. We exist to share the art form and its worlds with people. If any individual, group or community feels uncomfortable or excluded from our show then we've failed. We know that many of you are disappointed in us, and have been expecting a comment on this before now. We are sorry for our silence while we've been trying to fix this. Frank Miller will not be attending Thought Bubble.
We are deeply sorry, particularly to those who we should be standing up for the most. We hope that you can give us the opportunity to make this better and we thank you for holding us accountable. We know there is still more to discuss and we will be replying to those who have been in touch, we hope you can bear with us while we do this. We won't let you down again.