There have been notable writers and editors of Asian descent at Marvel. Larry Hama essentially created G.I. Joe for Marvel in the 1980s, while contemporary writers like Greg Pak and Marjorie Liu have done a lot of work for the company. However, most of the Asian and Asian American talent hired by Marvel are artists, including superstar pencilers like Jim Lee (now a co-publisher at DC) and Leinil Francis Yu, along with fan favorites like Gurihiru and Erica Henderson.
“There has always been a preponderance of Asian American artists, because that’s the only merit-based aspect of the industry,” says Keith Chow, a co-editor of the Asian American comics anthologies Secret Identities and Shattered. “But the editing and writing is where authentic stories come from. [Artists of color] can draw white heroes as well as white artists, but we barely get the chance to write those heroes, people of color or not.” While Asian trappings are popular parts of Marvel’s universe, the company has historically preferred to hire white writers. In response to the news about Cebulski, some comic-book creators and readers began using the hashtag #ActualAsianComicWriters on Twitter to promote real authors of Asian descent in the industry.
What galls Kanayama, Chow, and other critics is the fact that Cebulski doesn’t seem to have faced any visible consequences for his actions, despite his assurances that “this is all old news that has been dealt with.” According to the Bleeding Cool report, Cebulski’s admission earlier in 2017 sparked significant anger within the company, which, it appears, was learning of it for the first time. But while he was apparently penalized, it’s unclear to the public exactly what steps Marvel took. At the very least, it’s certain that Marvel did not regard the affair as a dealbreaker for the top job. (The journalist Graeme McMillan joked that the implication is that the promotion itself is a punishment.)
Marvel declined to comment for this piece, beyond confirming that Cebulski had used a pseudonym. In an email to The Atlantic, Cebulski said he has “been reflecting a lot on what’s happened over these past two weeks and wanted to share [his] thoughts”*:
I’m truly sorry for the pain, anger, and disappointment I caused over my poor choice of pseudonym. That was never my intention. Throughout my career in anime, manga, and comics, I’ve made it a point to listen and learn from my mistakes, which is exactly what I’ve been trying to do with this misstep. Building honest relationships with creators has always been important to me, and I’ve continued to do that in my new position. I’ve spoken with talent close to this issue, and have had candid and productive conversations about how we can improve the industry and build better stories, while being mindful of the voices behind them. My passion has always been about bringing the best talent from across the world to work on the best stories in the world, and I’m hopeful that fans and creators alike will join us in that continued mission.
Some Marvel staffers had already spoken out in Cebulski’s defense. Sana Amanat, the Pakistani American editor who co-created the new Ms. Marvel, expressed her support of Cebulski in late November: “That man has lived in Japan, speaks Japanese, and has lived all over the world,” she argued. “He very much associates with Japanese culture. And I think that him writing, for whatever time it was, was him trying to be a writer more than anything else.” Other creators of Asian descent have also been supportive; Christina Strain, for example, has pointed out Cebulski’s active role in hiring and supporting artists and writers like herself.