How to Dismantle the Comic-Books Boys' Club

New allegations of sexual harassment and inequality could help change a culture that routinely alienates female fans and cartoonists.
Flickr / Psikonauta

The comic-book industry's domination by men is hardly a revelation to readers, creators, or anyone who has engaged with the comics sub-culture to any extent. The details, though, can still depress. Earlier this month, Heidi MacDonald of the comics news site The Beat put up a lengthy post discussing the fact that the last few issues of the venerable and respected print Comics Journal had almost no articles by women writers or coverage of women cartoonists.

Even more disturbingly, a number of accusations have surfaced over the last couple of weeks about high-profile comics creator Brian Wood, who has worked on as DMZ and various X-Men titles. Cartoonist Tess Fowler, in a lengthy post on her tumblr, has said that in 2007 Wood made a pass at her at a comics convention, suggesting that if she was forthcoming, he would help her with her career. When she turned him down, she says, he screamed at her on the convention floor. This week, Anne Scherbina, who worked in a comic book store in the 1990s and at DC comics between 2000 and 20002, wrote a post detailing her own experiences with Wood. As with Fowler, she says Wood made a pass at her. She refused, and she says he retaliated by passing a blind item to Rich Johnston's column Lying in the Gutters suggesting that she was passing out sexual favors in the DC stockroom. Though the item did not mention her by name, she says it was clear who was being implicated, and it damaged her career at DC. (Johnston has posted a public apology.)

Wood has issued a statement in response to Fowler, which addresses some but not all of the relevant issues. He says he did make a pass at her but that “she is as incorrect as she can be about what” his “intent and motivations were,” adding, “I don’t want to encourage any negative opinion directed back at her.” He doesn't mention other accusations—shouting at her on the convention floor, for example.

Comics news and blogs have been covering this issue extensively (one of the best accounts I've seen is here.) Many writers have talked about how this is a systemic problem in comics, where low-level harassment (and worse than low-level harassment) of women is expected, tolerated, and de facto protected. Heidi MacDonald notes it's "widely known that at one super mega comics publisher, many of the top execs have had huge human resources files and nothing has been done about it." Harris O'Malley at the website Dr. Nerdlove lists a whole slew of past incidents, including many involving beloved DC editor Julius Schwartz. "This behavior grinds down even the strongest and brightest, destroying their confidence and self-esteem," O'Malley says. "It chases some of the best and brightest talent out of the industry—and why should they want to take part in a system that continually tells them that they’re only there to be decorative, to be a consumable sexual object?"

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Noah Berlatsky is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He edits the online comics-and-culture website The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the forthcoming book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948.

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