“Someone pick up that trash, please.”
This simple request is met with a chorus of “Not mine!” The voices belong a bunch of my library regulars – a group of kids in middle school. What inevitably follows is several minutes of finger pointing as I stand there waiting.
‘She brought it.’
‘I gave it to you!’
‘I didn’t put it there.’
Eventually, someone caves, mainly because I’m standing in front of the door, waiting for the trash to be removed before they can go outside.
Why am I telling you this story? The ten-year-olds are the comics industry. And they won’t stop leaving their trash lying around.
On Wednesday, acclaimed fiction writer Chelsea Cain was driven off Twitter, maybe even out of comics, by anti-feminist comic book fans. Cain has been writing the most recent (and absolutely excellent) run of Mockingbird (with art by Kate Niemczyk). The book was canceled recently, presumably because of lackluster single issue sales. (A fact that is its own mess.) Joelle Jones’ cover of the final issue, which was revealed and widely circulated back in July, features the title character in a shirt that says “Ask me about my feminist agenda.”
A horde of misogynists took to Twitter to decry Cain in general and that cover in particular. It is unclear why this happened at that exact moment – maybe because they were celebrating the cancellation of Mockingbird, maybe as a reaction to the recent controversy over the Midtown Comics variant cover many fans found to be racist and inappropriate in its representation of the fifteen-year-old female Iron Man, Riri. There was further pushback for Cain when she said that this was a problem in comics. Even comics heavy-weight Brian Michael Bendis came in to say “it’s not comics” and to explain to her muting and blocking (as though any woman could survive on Twitter without knowing all these tools and their limitations). Arguments have followed that range from general indictments of Cain and her work to the failure of Twitter to stop bullies.
But as I say to the kids: “I didn’t ask who did it.”
Every time this sort of thing happens we seem to end up the same way, like the kids trapped in a room, pointing fingers for three times as long as it would take to just deal with the trash. The fact of the matter is that there is a misogyny problem in comics. This is not a problem that is exclusive to comics, it does not begin or end here. It is egged on by Twitter harassers and allowed by the silence of big companies. And there is PLENTY to unpack with those issues.
Comics has a problem and it isn’t just about Chelsea Cain or Mockingbird or Twitter or any of the other small agressions. Everytime this happens we get bogged down in fights about an author’s work quality or “censorship” or buying habits or traditions – and none of it solves a thing.
Cain has since made a statement on her blog about the incident that makes the point nicely. After entering comics, her online life changed dramatically. The behavior she encountered in OUR community was unlike anything she had seen before.
We are past benefits of the doubt, we are past pointing fingers and absolving this person or that person. We are a community. We have strong bonds and shared joy. But we also have proud misogynists, possessive fans, outdated voices in power, and even protected predators. We need to take responsibility for that. And we need to do something about it.
I want to encourage every single comics reader and fan to speak up. Write-in to your favorite publisher. Say something to your favorite creator. Tell your friends loudly and proudly that they are allowed to be part of this community.
Comics has a problem.
And it’s time to pick up the fucking trash.