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Hate the Player, Hate the Game: Sexual Harassment in the Comic Industry

Written by Jeremy Shane on Monday, November 18 2013 and posted in News with Benefits

Hate the Player, Hate the Game: Sexual Harassment in the Comic Industry

It's past time for the culture of silence to end.

By now, most of us are aware of the story surrounding Tess Fowler and Brian Wood.  In case you need a recap, initially, Fowler tweeted about an incident in the comic industry between her and another creator, but left out names.  Following her tweets being picked up by Bleeding Cool and a few other sites, she reports that she began to receive accounts from other women involving the same person passed to her privately. Soon enough, she called out Brian Wood as the subject of her story.

A lot of big sites refused to report on the issue, waiting for a response from the more famous of the two individuals before running it, despite the fact that Fowler was making very public allegations. The Outhouse was one of the sites that chose to inform readers of a real, breaking news story as it was happening, especially since the urge to keep these incidents quiet is a big part of the problem. If every site would have sat on the story, who knows if we would ever have heard from Wood, who, two days later, finally released a statement, one which was well-written, apologetic, and confrmed a need to have an industry-wide discussion on the topic. It did not, however, address the reports that Fowler alleges she received from other women, and characterized her experience as an unforunate but isolated event. This led to Tess Fowler releasing her own statement, as, up until now, her side consisted only of a series of tweets tinged with anger and emotion, a fact used by critics to avoid discussing the actual issues at hand.

He stopped me, touching my shoulders, asking me to stay. Then he took one of my pens and wrote his room number on a piece of my artwork.

Fowler's original stated reason for bringing her story to light after so many years was not about attacking Brian Wood, but about shining more light on the issue of sexual harassment in the comic book industry.  True, it isn't an issue solely relegated to comics, as many misguided individuals have been pointing on on social media and in blog comments as a way to excuse it, but, for years, the comic book industry has been an extremely male-dominated industry, and it still is in a lot of ways.

The "boys club" mentality doesn't exist solely on the publisher side, either. It can be found on the consumer side as well.  Only recently have we seen many big conventions roll out official harassment policies.  This is great news, but remember, we are talking about the year 2013 here, and the fact that conventions have just become aware of a problem that's existed all along really tells you how the industry can "look the other way" sometimes.

Walking among the trellises, he pointed out that no one would be able to see us there. I pointed out that people could come by any time.  He assured me this was not the case, and suggested that I could… lower my head, so to speak.

Today, another woman stepped forward to add her voice to Fowler's; Anne Scherbina posted a story on her blog about Brian Wood.  In the wake of Wood and Fowler's statements, there was no shortage of people trying to tear down Fowler's claims as an overreaction to a commonplace occurrence, "a drunk dude in a bar," dismissing claims of a greater problem in the industry that needs to be addressed despite both Wood and Fowler agreeing that a discussion needs to take place and that the problem is very real; both also agreed that the discussion should not be about any one person, including Wood. With that in mind, we're hesitant to continue to focus on Wood, who seems not to be the "enemy" here, as much as he is simply a participant in a culture where men allegedly make unwanted and unprofessional advances and everyone keeps silent about it. This "culture of silence," where women are discouraged from coming forward about their stories because of the damage it could potentially do to the careers of people involved or comics in general, along with the backlash from fans, and a general desire to not "rock the boat," is the most consistent part of the message we're seeing from all parties.

A discussion needs to take place. That one thing is certain. And so, here on The Outhouse, and around the internet, that discussion is happening. It's happening right now, and it's our job (in the press, and in fandom), to make sure that it keeps happening and doesn't get swept under the carpet.

It’s bigger than one man and one girl who nobody knows from Adam. Too many women have a story like mine. Not just about Brian but about all kinds of men in the comic book industry.

Of course, progress is not not prone to instant gratification. In discussing this, there seems to be a constant push to move the discussion away from the core problem and into picking apart whether Wood's alleged behavior actually qualifies as "skeevy," "creepy," "harassing," etc., how long ago it took place, to what extent a convention or a bar should be considered a professional environment, and the prevelance of this type of behavior in the world at large.  And though it's important that other voices speak out, turning this into a witchhunt for one man won't address the bigger issue in the industry, if for no other reason than that the majority of the people discussing it can never know all the facts because these are personal incidents.

That's not to say any one person's actions should be overlooked - they absolutely should not - but for our part, fandom's part, of this conversation to be more productive, we should remember the bigger issue here: the hostile environment created around anyone who speaks out, the attempts to discredit and dismiss them, and the pressure to just stay quiet. Speaking out about these events, no matter how small, no matter how long ago, can only serve to show people that this is a real problem that needs addressing. The culture of silence needs to end, and what we can do to make that happen is to support the rights of women to express themselves on this matter.

I was groped by a “name” creator I had worked with for years at the Hyatt my first night. At first I thought I must be mistaken, but when I mentioned it to another creator he said, nope, he definitely did. He’s “known” for that. I want you to take that in. This fellow comics professional (who was also male) was not A. not surprised this other comics professional had groped me B. it was a "known" thing. And yet no one said anything about it.

Even as we worked on this story, another blogger stepped forward, her story focusing on a variety of incidents over the years.  Instead of focusing on calling out individuals (she does not name names), she instead focuses on how difficult it can be to come forward and bring these problems to light, and how easily those that hear of these stories make excuses for, or simply ignore, the problem.

Like... that time I was with some other guests, posing for a group photo … and the day-drunk gent behind me snaked his hand onto my ass but goddammit it was time to smile.

Before the Fowler/Wood story was in the forefront, we had countless examples at conventions of this sort of behavior.  From "journalists" harassing cosplayers to editors not editing their own actions to inappropriate touching to more inappropriate touching and so on and so on.  The stories you find online are only the tip of the iceberg, because there is often a very hostile response, at least from fans on the internet (as we've seen in the comments on our own articles - and our comments section has been praised as "refreshingly rational" at least twice in the past week, which is really saying something, because this is a madhouse), and preusmably from within the industry as well, whenever someone speaks out. Thus, the "culture of silence" prevents women from feeling like they can or should call these incidents out, and the "whispernets" of female creators warning each other about guys in the industry to watch out for are the only recourse to spread the word about the guys who are engaging in this type of behavior. And remember, no one is saying that the number of guys engaging in this behavior is enormous. But the actions of the few are protected by the silence of the many.


If I had been less experienced, less surrounded by people I could call on for strength and encouragement, would I have been able to report it at all? Well, I actually know the answer to that one: I wouldn’t have. I know this because I did not report it when it happened to me in my twenties. I didn’t report it when it happened to me in my forties either.

So where do we go from here? We certainly don't have all the answers, but we are willing to continue putting this uncomfortable topic in the spotlight and forcing a conversation. That's what we have the capability to do, and so that's what we are doing. What you can do is participate in that discussion, frankly, honestly, and with an open mind.

Sexism and misogyny are unacceptable in the comics industry (any industry really). It doesn't matter if they've always been there, or if it happens in a bar, or if it's not legally actionable, or if it's only a minor incident, or if it happens all the time in other industries, or if the person reporting it is tweeting angrily. It's up to everyone to take responsibility for solving the problem, and that means talking about, no matter how uncomfortable and inconvenient that may be.

From Comics Alliance: Kate or Die

This is an industry wide discussion.  It's happening right now, all over the internet.  Be part of it.  Press: don't hold your tongue because one of the parties involved is famous, or a company that employs him might not give you an exclusive preview.  Fans: don't hold your tongue because you don't want to believe something is true just because someone writes or draws well.  Women in comics: don't hold your tongue because you think you don't have support. You do.



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