I was looking through my article archive today. I’ve written a lot about DC/Vertigo in the last year. A lot about the 25th anniversary relaunch, a lot about the Sandman Universe, a lot about the other books in the line.
I can’t say I’m sorry. They’re doing good work. Telling good stories. Important stories. Diverse stories.
Which is why it’s a shame I’m going to have to part ways with them, at least for the time being.
On December 9th, Cynthia Naugle, a toy designer who once worked at a Tuscon, Arizona, comic shop posted a story to her blog. It is a harrowing tale of harassment, abuse, and rape (proceed to the link with caution if these are triggers for you) she experienced at the hands of a man, unnamed in the piece, between 2012 and 2018. It didn’t take long for people to connect the dots and discern the individual in question was Eric Esquivel, author of Border Town (the book has been removed from Book Riot’s Best Comics of 2018 at my request—I was the one who put it there before this story broke and before I had any knowledge of the author’s wrongdoing). Once he was identified, several additional women, and friends of still others, came forward to say that Esquivel had harassed or assaulted them, or their loved ones, as well.
Esquivel went on lockdown, disappearing from social media. His Twitter account is still there but is now private.
He has not made a statement regarding the accusations. (Editor’s note: Esquivel has since denied the claims in this statement).
After waiting several days for Eric to do so, Border Town‘s artist, Ramon Villalobos, wrote this and posted to Twitter:
Colorist Tamra Bonvillain added:
2 days ago, I was first made aware of the experiences shared by Cynthia Naugle about her relationship with Border Town writer Eric Esquivel. The way he treated her was disgusting and inexcusable, and issue 5 is my last issue working on Border Town.
— Tamra Bonvillain (@TBonvillain) December 13, 2018
As you can see from the above, both artist and colorist walked off the book of their own volition. This isn’t something people do often, especially not folks like Ramon, at the relative beginning of their careers in the industry working on their first big book. Did he make mistakes in the way he handled the situation? Yes. He admits that openly. He apologizes for it. He says he won’t be making the same errors in the future. In an absolute trash fire of an industry, give him some credit for learning and growing and being willing to publicly admit a misstep. He did the right thing when the moment came and with so little to hope for in this story, I choose to hope he intends to make good on his promise going forward.
Especially since his former bosses, who have far more protection, who are still going to have jobs when this dies down, who have far less concerns about security and their future, have been conspicuous in their silence surrounding the exposure of one of their marquee authors as an alleged predator.
Before you spout the lecture at me, a) I know and b) I’ve gotten it from several people already so you can skip it: DC, owned by Warner Brothers, is a huge corporation, and huge corporations, in situations as these, even when there is overwhelming proof of wrongdoing, have to be very careful when making public statements about anyone in order to avoid countersuits. They have to run everything by legal and have it approved. Those higher up are telling those lower down what they can and can’t say, when they can and can’t say it, and those who step outside established protocols are risking their jobs and futures. I’m not asking anyone to do that.
What I did do was wait until the 14th to email my PR contact at Vertigo. This is the message I sent (and yes, I’m leaving identifiers out of it):
Hours later I got, in return, a generic from letter from a PR person I don’t know, stating that Border Town #5 and #6 have been cancelled and that consumers can return previous issues purchased for a refund.
But that isn’t a statement.
And it wasn’t public. I had to go to them for it and it doesn’t tell us anything about what DC/Vertigo is doing to clean their house. No “we take this kind of allegation very seriously.” No “we’ll be doing a thorough investigation.” No “Mr. Esquivel will no longer be working for DC/Vertigo, nor will he be doing so again in the future.”
And I’m not the only one who’s been blown off. Polygon, who approached Vertigo for a statement yesterday, were also rebuffed. Is that Vertigo’s right? Yeah. Is it the right thing to do?
I’m not going to lie. This is personal for me. I’ve spent a lot of time with the Vertigo folks over the last year. I’ve done interviews with their executive editor Mark Doyle and the writers and artists. Hell, I sat two seats away from Esquivel at SDCC and listened to him talk about his book and being of Mexican descent in a still white industry and I had no idea of who he really was (it was months ago and I still feel like I need to shower in bleach even if I didn’t know then what I know now). I’ve spent hours reading their new books and writing about them, recommending them. I like this group. I still like some of them. But as I said above, I won’t work with them right now because in their silence, they are complicit. Even if they hate what Esquivel has done personally, in not using their platform to condemn his behavior, to condemn him, they are failing the industry. They are failing the mission they’ve been flogging since ECCC 2017 of inclusion and diversity and telling the important stories. They are failing the women he has harmed. They are failing all women.
The reason alleged predators like Esquivel can keep operating is because publishers, editors, colleagues, and consumers continue to publish, edit, collaborate, and buy knowing what they’ve done. Knowing they’ve harmed people irreparably and saying nothing, doing nothing. Having talked to Mark, having heard the passion with which he talks about Vertigo its relaunch, about comics in general, I would never have thought he’d let his imprint fall into that slimy pit of secrecy and lies but it appears I was mistaken. Shame on me for not knowing better by now.
I know he has bosses. We all do. Sometimes, no matter much you love something, you have to take a risk on losing it. To be not a perfect soldier, but a good man.
This piece may lose me contacts I worked my ass off for. I don’t want that to happen. Like Ramon, I’m a bit of a baby in this business and getting here has been work I’m not sure I have the energy to start over again. But I don’t have much integrity as a writer, nor as a human, if I do as Vertigo has done.
I have a platform. It’s my responsibility to use it. And I’d rather be a good “man” than a perfect soldier.
Plus, maybe it’s time for this shit to be personal.
So, Vertigo fix this. Make that statement. Be something else going forward. Change your hiring practices. Establish policies for what you’ll do if you’ve hired someone who’s hiding things from you. Because it will happen again and I acknowledge that some of these monsters are really good at hiding things.
Until then, I won’t be consuming your products nor will I be working with you as a writer. I am genuinely sorry about that. There are books you guys are putting out that deserve our time and our readers’ attention, but I can’t do it. Not now. Not with the way this went down.
I may be burning a bridge. I may be burning more than one. I can’t claim to be thrilled about that. But I said a long time ago I wasn’t going to allow shit like this to stand any more and I meant it. I said this was my hill to die on and I meant it, so if I’m setting a fire behind me, I hate it but I’ll have to live with it.
I’m disappointed in you, Vertigo, professionally and personally. I’m disappointed in the people who steer your ship. I’m disappointed in your parent company. I’m disappointed in the comics industry in general, which is a complete garbage fire that continues to allow (mostly) men to harass and assault and rape and violate without consequences.
If anyone out there has a story they want to tell, a story of being treated poorly in this industry, contact me through Book Riot. If you have a story need to tell but don’t know how or a story with want to tell anonymously, you bring it to me and we’ll figure out how to do it. If you can’t, send a friend. I believe you. I will stand with you. Here, we all will.
They’ve held us back long enough. They’ve intimidated us long enough. They’ve terrified and terrorized is long enough.
We are done here, boys. We’re done with all of it.
It’s our turn now.