Earlier this week, those who were signed up to comic book writer/artist Brian Wood's newsletter received a mailing talking about sexual harassment and social media shaming.
Brian, an established creator with work from Image, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and more, is currently seeing new work with Starve, Rebels and his DMZ series for Vertigo being reprinted. But he is also known for being accused of sexual harassment, something that he has partially admitted and partially apologised for.
There was instant negative reaction from some, though many, including myself, had not read the newsletter in question.
Suddenly a lot more people signed up to his newsletter. Though there was no archive (shame, I hear there's some interesting stuff about his time on other books there as well). So Brian decided to send it again, with some clarifying remarks.
If I had to sum up the newsletter in a couple lines, it would be something like: "Public shaming can be treacherous. If you need to do it, its do it for the right reasons. If you do it for the wrong reasons, you won't get the results you need." Its no secret I hate public shaming (and doxing and blackmail and similar attacks), in politics, in religion, in any situation, including comics. I think its ugly. Its been the subject of past newsletters. But this is not the same as saying that people shouldn't be punished if they transgress. Of course people should report bad behavior.
While most people seem amused by his very sincere experience at Crossfit, the piece that most people seemed to take objection to is probably this one.
"It's going to end with someone killing themselves."
Is what I said, talking to a friend and comic industry insider, about the current climate in comics, the pervasive nastiness that I've spoken about before. We were chatting on the phone about the Nathan Edmondson thing specifically, and what the natural end to all this will be. Because the means at present do not support the end that people say they want. What they support is the continuation of this spectator sport style ugliness and will, I fear, only come to an end after some terrible event.
He concludes repeating that saying,
Like most people who have spent some time in the industry, I know who the bad guys are. Ask anyone who's been around 5, 10 years, and I guarantee they can rattle off a list of 20 people in comics who are the stuff of HR nightmares. Not some random dude in the trenches or some comic shop employee, but company executives, top people with actual hiring and firing power, and A-level creators who function as job creators. It's all just more cynical behavior, and its why I believe that the stated ends will never be met by the currently employed means. And someone will probably kill themselves.
A number of people reacted in exactly the same way to this new version as to the old.
I'm going to recycle all my Brian Wood comics. Thanks but no thanks, man.
— Henry Barajas (@HenryBarajas) September 16, 2015
And Brian Wood thinks we need to learn EMPATHY? Fuck that guy.
— (((Jay Edidin))) (@NotLasers) September 16, 2015
Man, Brian Wood is everything I fucking despise about my generation of punk rock dudes.
— Lunchables, Ham (@ThatWeissGuy) September 16, 2015
Emma Houxbois wrote at length, including the observation,
Nowhere in all of this was any kind of sympathy or consideration for the women who have come forward to say they've been the victims of harassment, abuse, and blacklisting in the industry, or anything about them at all. Instead, his newsletter presents a textbook case of aDARVO, or Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender response. While it is by no means evidence of guilt, DARVO is an observed pattern of responses coined by Jennifer Freyd in 1997 typical of perpetrators of wrongdoing and responses to institutional betrayal:
But not everyone was thinking this way. Sarah Horrocks has been in the past quite the critic of Brian Wood…
like if you're buying Brian Wood books, it's pretty easy to find better comics. Just google the names of the women he works with…
— Sarah Horrocks (@mercurialblonde) November 15, 2013
And what I find instead is a fairly reasoned critique of the mob culture of twitter which largely seeks to fan its own flames of outrage to an undefined end, without perspective, largely for its own weekly entertainment. And then he closed the newsletter by saying that this kind of mob behavior could result in someone killing themselves–which as we have seen in the past IS a possibility of this level of social ostracization, particularly if you are dealing with people who are already struggling with issues. And that's true whether you are talking about someone who is a "good" person or a "bad" person. But so this rather innocuous line turns into Wood is castigating women for speaking out about abusive women. And this idea that Wood's newsletter was this thing–this "severe reprimand or rebuke" of women for speaking out against abuse, was perpetuated by more people than just Sneddon. In fact, it was only because the level of righteousness reached a high enough point, that the newsletter ended up being publicly(bravely) shared.
I don't know whether Brian Wood's experience makes him the best qualified – or least qualified – to continue discussion on this topic. But it does seem some voices can be too easily dismissed, not something I like to do, whoever it is.
Sometimes my sources are clear in what I can say and what I can't and again I have to respect that. And sometimes, once I follow threads back, they unravel and there was nothing there in the first place.
But I promise to keep asking questions.