I’ve intentionally avoided writing about “#Comicsgate” until now. Honestly, I felt it didn’t deserve any more attention than it already had. It’s a movement of intolerance fueled by a small (compared to comic fandom as a whole) group of angry, close-minded individuals. They are very loud about their displeasure with the modern comic industry in an attempt to a) appear larger and more influential than they really are and b) garner more attention for their rantings. As such, I haven’t written about it. Why give this little, prattling monster what it wants? However, as someone who writes about his love of comic books while often showcasing my appreciation for the social justice lessons the better ones teach us, I figured it was time to finally talk about it. As it’s sadly not going anywhere (yet) I’d also like to offer my two cents on how we can counter things like this in the comic fan community.
There’s no one clear moment which incited “Comicsgate” but the name most likely derives from “Gamersgate,” a 2014 alt-right, white nationalist movement that sought to push such views in the video game industry. I’ll link a few articles giving a more detailed history of Comicsgate below if you’re interested but, essentially, here’s what it is. The name began to trend regularly in July of 2017 after Heather Antos (an editor at Marvel Comics) was attacked for sharing a selfie on Twitter of her and other female creatives at Marvel enjoying milkshakes. Inexplicably this somehow represented all that was “wrong with comics.” How friends enjoying milkshakes could represent this is beyond me. Many, obviously and understandably, defended Antos and called out the individuals who felt it was somehow justifiable to attack her for a picture or claim she and her friends were “fake geek girls” just because they were women who loved and worked in comics, as though comics are somehow an expressly male thing. However the term still trends, from time to time, used by those with no apparent goal other than seeing less diversity in the characters and the creative talent in comic books.
In addition to Heather Antos, other specific creators have been targeted including (but not limited to) Mark Waid, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alex de Campi, Alanna Smith, Nick Spencer, Matt Fraction, Dan Slott, Larry Hama, and others. The uniting thread is they are all either women and/or people of color and/or creators who present progressive messages in their comics. In addition to harassment online, there have been calls for boycotts of their work claiming they are “a cancer” in the industry. The members of the Comicsgate brigade often use the hashtag “SJW” (“Social Justice Warriors”) to deride what they feel is ruining the purity of the comic industry (how championing social justice, equality, representation and inclusion can be a bad thing is also beyond me and seems to say much more about the people who fight those ideas than those who support them).
I’ve intentionally left out the names and links to any of the Twitter and YouTube pages of those associated with Comicsgate. I’ve no desire to give people willfully and passionately proclaiming derogatory ideas any more of a platform nor do I want to make it any easier for people to find their rantings. Suffice to say, their agenda is to keep comic books as white and male as possible – both in creatives and content.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen these sort of vitriolic attacks on diversity in comics. I’ve written about them before too. And I stand by what I’ve said. I can’t being to imagine what is so scared and broken inside these individuals to make them think they have to hurt others to feel better about themselves. To live your life so frightened of anything you perceive as “different” from you that you feel compelled to partake in a hate-fueled crusade would be a terrible way to live. I do feel sorry for them. We as human beings are meant for community. We are made in the image and likeness of God which means, among other things, we are literally made to love. This sort of hate, harassment, and bigotry isn’t just wrong it’s a fundamental rejection of what we are made to be, to feel, to do.
In the service of our nature, I grant (as difficult as it is when I read the things espoused by the Comicsgate crew) that our place is to try and find a way to love them in their brokenness. But loving someone doesn’t mean we accept the unacceptable and understanding inner brokenness as an explanation for terrible behavior isn’t a call to excuse it. Wrong is wrong and all this Comicsgate nonsense is wrong.
Our world is beautifully diverse – made so by God – and the fact that comics are making an intentional move to showcase this diversity, in the stories they tell and the people they have telling these stories, is a good thing. That’s it. Period. Full stop. There’s no way to argue against that with any sort of honor, truth, or integrity. God made the world this way. We can honor what God’s created or we can reject it in favor of our own vision.
To be as direct as I can, the idea that anyone’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, place of birth, or country they want to live in somehow affects their worth as a human being is wrong. Period. This isn’t like a “Do you like Lucas’s or Disney’s Star Wars better?” kind of thing. This isn’t a debate on a matter of personal opinion. There is a clear right and wrong here. Your opinion may be that those things do affect someone’s worth but, if that’s the case, your opinion is uninformed at best or willfully and destructively ignorant at worst. Whatever the root of it, such an opinion is wrong. We – each and every beautiful one of us – are worth exactly the same because we are made in the image and likeness of God.
As such, we all have an equal right to life and dignity. Seeing comic books, the characters they star, and the creative talent producing the comics themselves feature an ever-increasing diversity more accurately reflecting the world we live in is a good thing. Period. It is an action, albeit a minor one in the grand scheme of things, that further honors the inherent dignity in all. This is what we are called to foster in all we do. To advocate an agenda that comics books shouldn’t feature ever-increasing diversity in characters and creators and/or to harass the creators and companies that do work to promote this is also wrong. Period. If you don’t like that then your issue isn’t with comic writers, artists, and editors – it’s with God’s law.
Of course we all have free will, so people are welcome to reject God’s consistent call to social justice, inclusion, and equality in the name of the false gods they’ve made of their own prejudices. But me? I’m always going to bet on God’s side. What can I say? I like to play the favorites.
Now I’m not trying to equate the characters in comics or the creators behind those books with something as far reaching or real as the struggle for a just and holy immigration system, the battle against systemic racism, the duty to respond with nonviolence to a violent world, the need to work tirelessly for equal rights for women, our need to be careful and loving stewards of God’s creation, or letting the preferential option for the poor be the heart of all we do – all things, I might add, God calls us to. But it’s a part of this. Minor though it may be in its own way, it strikes a blow against the institutional structures of sin that perpetrate the superiority of the white, male at the expense of all others. If we want a just and equal society (and to advocate anything else is clearly wrong) we need to do all we can to dismantle those systems of oppression and sin.
Allowing an authentically diverse group of people to create comic books, speaking authentically to their own lived experience in their art, is a part of creating a just and equal society. The characters these comics feature is a necessary part of this, a part that shapes the consciousness of the children who read them. It shows children – regardless of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, place of birth, or country they want to live in – there are heroes who look like them, who have similar lived experiences to them. This is important because there is nothing exclusively white or male about being heroic.
It is disheartening, in 2018, we still need to have this conversation. Yes, we’ve made strides to combat systemic racism and sexism in our society but the struggle is far from over. Sadly, this sort of intolerance is on the rise. As the Trump Presidency crawls on, we continue to see a rise in hate crimes. (If you’d like more specifics on this, you can look at this June 2018 piece from Scientific American or this May 2018 one from the South Poverty Law Center or this June 2018 study from the NAACP all corroborating this fact.) With his election, a sense of faux-legitimacy was given to bigoted ideas while emboldening those who hold them. There have always been people in this country who feel those they deem “different” were lesser. Yet there has been a cultural stigma around those ideas; they were something you’d expect judgment for voicing out loud even if you believed you were right. Now, with a man who speaks and tweets as Trump does in the White House, the people who hold those views feel validated. If three years ago you’d’ve told me we’d have people openly and passionately debating whether or not all Nazis or KKK members are bad I’d’ve thought you were crazy. Nazis are always bad. The KKK is always bad. But now those truths are subverted by some and those doing the subverting feel justified in doing so. Such is life in 2018.
The people championing harassment and bigotry via Comicsgate are simply the comic book branch of this monster. They are threatened by comic books that show the world is larger than their white, male preference and they can’t abide by the truth that it’s not only okay for the world to be this way but it’s natural. As such, they scream and rant and rale and harass in the hopes of legitimizing the unacceptable bigotry they feel comforted in. Again, we are called to love these people and stand strong in that love, with faith they will eventually be transformed in it. However, we are also called to stand against this sort of hate. Loving the sinner doesn’t mean accepting the sin.
So what do we do? I have two simple suggestions. First, be aware in what you buy. There are sooooo many comics that come out every month. If you want to support diversity in your comic books then make it a point to buy diverse comics with diverse creative talent. Comic companies have yet to fully integrate the sales of trade paperbacks into their calculations of how a title is doing so the best way to support a title you love, especially a new title, is to get a subscription for the monthly issues. I can only devote so much money each month to comics but I’ve made it a point since returning to comic collecting three years ago to be sure over half of my pull list features characters and/or creatives who are woman and/or people of color. Second, do your best to ignore this intolerance. Don’t fight with them on Twitter. Don’t retweet or subtweet them. Don’t comment on posts or videos. All the interaction just makes them feel vindicated. Speak out against intolerance in the name of justice, always. But don’t feed the delusion their opinions are worthy of your time by engaging with them.
If nothing else, we can take solace in knowing those who support Comicsgate will eventually lose. Their intolerance and bigotry can’t win in the end. It never does. If we look at our history, these types of movements never last, though they may score victories and seemingly take forever to fade. And if we look to our religious traditions we see God is always, always standing against them. This is why, in the long run, intolerance and bigotry will always lose. As Dr. King so eloquently said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
Eric Francisco’s post for Inverse gives a fairly detailed look at the history of this ridiculousness, tracing it back to the #MakeMineMilkshake fiasco of 2017 and showing how it’s evolved from there. This article was originally published on 9 February 2018.
Kieran Shiach’s piece for Polygon gives a more extensive history of Comicsgate, showing the line from it’s faint beginnings back to 2014 to the present. He also discusses the comic creators who came out and vocally denounced Comicsgate this past week in the wake of the harassment of Marsha Cooke, the widow of comic legend Darwyn Cooke, for her denouncing of the movement. The piece was originally published on 29 August 2018.
Lastly, this post for Vulture by Abraham Riesman considers the history of the movement as well as discussing where we go from here. He also links to more detailed articles exploring the history of this particular hate brigade. This was also originally published on 29 August 2018.