Yesterday, we published an article about the series of tweets made by Valerie D'Orazio about past incidents of (what Sims agrees was) bullying and harrasment perpetrated by Chris Sims against D'Orazio. Since the original statements by D'Orazio and Sims, some other outlets have reported on the story and some people have made personal statements about it. I'd like to share some of those with you, because I think harassment is an important issue that we should always be thinking and talking about, even, or perhaps especially, when it comes from within the comics media itself. I'll try to update this article with more posts as I find them.
Here is our original article summarizing the tweets. An excerpt:
Here is Chris Sims' public statement. The post in full:
If you’ve been reading my work for long enough, then you probably remember that I had what I used to refer to as a “feud” with Valerie D’Orazio a few years ago. That’s the wrong word, since it was more one-sided than anything else, and I was in no uncertain terms the aggressor and a complete jerk.
I was needlessly harsh about her comics work, I left jerky comments on her site, I talked trash here and elsewhere, and while in my head I justified it as as purely being critical of her writing, I know I stepped over the line into making it a personal attack more than once. What I said is a matter of public record, and frankly, my intentions at the time don’t change what I actually did. At best, I was making someone’s life harder when I had no reason to, and at worst I was giving others a reason to do the same that went far beyond just me being an asshole and contributed to and validated the harassment of both Ms. D’Orazio and of women in general. When I finally realized that, long after I should’ve, I stopped, and I’ve tried to be better going forward.
I’ve never apologized for it, for the simple reason that I don’t think I have the right to insert myself back into someone’s life when I’ve treated them as poorly as I did to her, but I regret what I did. This is not a plea for forgiveness, or a clean slate. If what I did changes how you feel about me and my work, that’s completely understandable; I was wrong, and in every way the bad guy.
In the few interactions that I’ve had with Ms. D’Orazio, she has treated me far better than I would have if the situation was reversed.
I have PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. I have specifically been diagnosed with it because of cyberbullying that I experienced between 2007-2010.
One of the effects of PTSD, on me, is that if I read about another woman being cyberbullied or harassed, I get extremely upset. My blood pressure rises, my adrenaline shoots up, I sweat, and I start to feel scared and anxious. Because I also have heart issues, this is rather a dangerous state for me to be in o a regular basis. That is why, in 2010, I quit regular blogging on comic book related topics.
I had several cyberbullies during that three-year span, but Chris Sims was one of the worst. Not so much for what he said about me directly, but because he had a popular forum from which to direct harassment to me by many other people.
I never could figure out what I did to Chris personally to be singled out for this type of treatment. But week after week, he would have posts focused on me in which he would be a ringleader for others, who would then go off and harass me personally via my blog, social media, and emails.
Today, Comics Alliance published an official statement on the event, written by Editor in Chief Andrew Wheeler and Senior Editor Janelle Asselin. Speaking of the harassment, they said:
We condemn this behavior without reservation. Online harassment is a serious problem, and in the comic industry in particular it has created a climate of hostility that alienates the marginalized and vulnerable, and damages us all. Harassment doesn’t always have its roots in conscious discrimination. Sometimes it’s simply a case of trying to take on someone you perceive as powerful, and not appreciating your own power, or that the other person has less power than you believed.
We would all do well to understand this. When we think we’re being righteous, often we’re only persecuting someone who does not deserve our venom.
But they also added a new dimension to the story with this revelation:
The apology did not come out of nowhere. It was initially made in direct response to David Gallaher, a comics writer and D’Orazio’s husband, who contacted Chris to warn him that someone was threatening to expose Chris as a bully following the news of Chris’s recently announced Marvel writing assignment — despite the fact that everything they sought to “expose” is on the public record. We were also aware of this campaign to target Chris, as Twitter accounts were created and later deleted solely to further this campaign, and messages were sent to Chris, David, their friends, and the editors of ComicsAlliance.
Someone was targeting Chris not out of a sense of justice, but because they wanted to destroy his success. The campaign may also have been one of several efforts we’re aware of to discredit ComicsAlliance. These are not the tactics of progressives concerned about harassment in comics, but of agitators looking to tear down progressive voices — of which Chris is certainly one — using methods of harassment. (Notably, the messages referred to D’Orazio as “David’s wife,” rather than recognizing her as a person in her own right.)
In addition, Asselin attributed the attempts to discredit Comics Alliance to individuals in the Gamergate movement on Twitter:
Next up, The Mary Sue reported on the issue in an article by Teresa Jusino. Jusino shared her personal thoughts in the article as well:
So, it all comes down to sales and money, and this is what makes Marvel’s “no comment” stance particularly frustrating, as Marvel seems to have a history of laying the burden of harassment at the feet of the victim with advice like this…
…all the while continuing to employ creators like Brian Wood, who have a long history of accusations of harassing women. And it isn’t only Marvel. Harassers are employed at DC, too. It’s time for publishers to realize that not only do they have to do more to hire female creators, but they should be doing everything in their power to ensure that – as Marvel employees – they are able to do their work in a safe environment. People like Chris Sims make the comics industry unsafe. Not just for female creators, but for fans as well.
Comics pro and blogger Rachel Ediden, a close friend of Chris Sims, posted a blog on the issue which I personally thought was very thoughtful and powerful:
So: Chris Sims is one of my best and closest friends, someone I trust implicitly. Chris Sims is also a person who has done some really shitty things that have resulted in some very real and serious harm. I think he’s done a really good job of owning that today; and I think he should have done it much sooner; and I understand why he didn’t; and—at least for me—none of those things cancel each other out. I would absolutely not tell anyone for whom what Chris did was a moral or personal event horizon that they were wrong. That’s a really personal call—for you, and for me.
In the time since the initial conflict between Sims and D'Orazio occurred, a lot of posts on several websites were removed. Blogger Kevin Huxford located and republished several posts from his blog from 2008 related to the events. Those can be read here.
Over at Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston reported on the events and also did some digging through history to uncover some old posts:
Many of those words seem to have been scrubbed from the internet but you can see remnants in other conversations. As part of another blogger discussion about her in 2008, he appeared saying “Did somebody ask for a villain? ‘Cause I’m here.” In 2009 we have “I’d really like to hear more about noted feminist leader Valerie D’Orazio getting two women fired from a Marvel book, but I don’t have the ten bucks to read about it in her bestselling memoirs.” And in 2010, he wrote,
The fact that I don’t personally care for D’Orazio is one of the ISB’s worst-kept secrets…. but if Marvel wants to hire loudmouthed comics bloggers to write their comics, that can only be a good thing for me, so good on her for getting the work. But even so, the antipathy’s there, and along with the fact that there’s nothing to keep me from swallowing my own tongue and dying when the inevitable rage-induced aneurysm hit, it’s one of the reasons that I’m opting out of reviewing Punisher Max: Butterfly this week, as you can never really trust someone with an axe to grind.
And now, Chris Sims has posted a long Ask Chris column at Comics Alliance talking about the issue, starting off:
Between 2007 and 2010, I harassed and bullied Valerie D’Orazio online. It’s recently become a topic of discussion, and to the people who weren’t following me then, I know this is at best disappointing, and that I’ve rightfully lost a lot of the respect I’ve built up in the years since. I don’t blame you, and I accept that judgment. To paraphrase a friend of mine, this isn’t about whether I did it (I did) or whether any part of it was remotely okay (it wasn’t), but talking about anything else right now would be disrespectful and disingenuous. Believe it or not, this is something I care about quite a bit, so this week’s question is one that I’ve had to ask myself: What do you do when you realize you’re part of the problem?
And continuing later:
As for why I’m doing it now, it is, quite simply, because I got called out on it, both privately and publicly. That’s made a lot of people assume that the apology is hollow and impersonal, and they’re certainly within their rights to see it that way. If I was looking in from the outside, I probably would too. But at the same time, I’ve always felt like the only thing you can do when you’re called out on something like this is to meet it head on. Deflecting it or trying to mitigate it doesn’t help and won’t make anything better. So since this is the biggest platform I have to say it, I want to make this the place where I apologize to Ms. D’Orazio. I’m sorry, I was completely in the wrong, and you have every right to reject this apology for being nowhere near as timely or helpful as it should be.
Zainab Akhtar of Comics and Cola took to Twitter to offer a scathing assessment of the comics media's coverage, or lack thereof, of the issue, and to offer advice:
That was an insane barrage of blunt, brutal truth telling. Hats off. She also responded to the statement from Comics Alliance:
Claire Napier of Women Write About Comics, another site you should be reading, also wrote a piece about this. Here's an excerpt:
At this point now he’s “the guy who used to be a shithead.” His work says he’s a guy who cares. His friends say he’s a guy who cares. He says “Sorry, but, sorry.” I don’t want to be someone who doesn’t believe in somebody learning to be better–scratch that. I’m not someone who doesn’t believe in learning better. I absolutely do believe in the possibility of self-improvement. The potential for grace after mud is real, and so this is irrelevant. My faith in myself and the evolution of others does not depend on the soul of Chris Sims. Neither does yours. Come off that sidetrack.
Read the full thing at Women Write About Comics. Wrestling references were made and tough issues were addressed.
Robot 6 covered the news without commentary here.
Comics Alliance founder Laura Hudson posted on Twitlonger to address the Gamergate angle, which she refers to as an "anti-progressive campaign," and the criticism of including that angle in the site's official statement that's been happening on Twitter:
As many of you know, ComicsAlliance recently addressed the issue of one of its writers bullying of a woman in comics six or seven years ago. I'm glad ComicsAlliance addressed this. I'm glad Chris took accountability for his behavior. It was right for them and him to do so.
But it's also hard for me to ignore that this conversation is happening in large part because of an anti-progressive campaign. Valerie has every right to come forward and speak about her experiences, but it's also true that the conversation was initially sparked by the skeleton digging of people seeking to discredit ComicsAlliance as a progressive site. This is particularly upsetting for me, not only because I created ComicsAlliance, but because I've spent the better part of the last year living in fear of these exact sorts of people, receiving death threats from them, and watching them try to destroy my friends and colleagues in games.
Some people have expressed that this context should not be mentioned—that doing so is merely a way of mitigating or excusing Chris's behavior. I disagree. Understanding it or acknowledging it in no way makes Chris less accountable. We can and should have accountability, and I'm glad that we're seeing that. But I don't believe holding people accountable has to be mutually exclusive with nuance, or that offering context is necessarily a way of making excuses. I think that it is both possible and important to do both.
We can condemn what happened without reservation, and also acknowledge the troubling fingerprints of the people who are actively trying to dismantle progressive voices in comics. To me, that's worth mentioning, not least of all because this campaign to target progressive voices in comics will likely not end here; indeed, I've already spoken with others who have found themselves in the crosshairs of planned harassment efforts.
There's a difference between excuses and relevant context. There's no excuse for what happened. It's important that we have the conversations about harassment that come out of this, but it's also important that we understand that those conversations did not generate in a vacuum.
Since leaving Comics Alliance in 2012, Hudson is a writer at Wired, and has founded a new site for inclusive gaming, Offworld.com with Leigh Alexander.
In response to claims that the revelations were the result of a Gamergate conspiracy, Valerie D'Orazio issued the following burns on Twitter:
It's really hard to argue with that sentiment.
Dark Horse Editor in Chief Scott Allie wondered about the conspiracy aspect:
Comics pro Brian Wood, no stranger to situations like this, commented on Twitter:
Comics one true journalist, Tom Spurgeon, had this to offer:
Heidi MacDonald has published an article at The Beat that serves a dual purpose. First, it puts the recent events surrounding this story into a timeline that goes back before D'Orazio's initial tweets, and second, it looks back at history with a very thoughtful analysis of what happened between Sims and D'Orazio "back in the day" and how the landscape of comics back then compares to the landscape today. Well worth a read here.
And Valerie D'Orazio has written another blog post responding to an anonymous email accusing of her of being "not a real victim." She generously dignifies this misguided complaint with a response. Read it here.
Over at Women Write About Comics, Megan Purdy has written an essay talking about harassment she received at the hands of a comic book creator. She has not named the person in question. Give it a read here.
Casey Gilly at CBR has written a wonderful article called "Comics Debate and Discourse: How to Be a Hero by Being an Ally." I can't recommend reading this enough. It's tough to choose an excerpt to quote, because the whole thing is powerful. I've decided to go with this one:
One of the most troubling things I see in these recent arguments is people attacking the experiences that inform other people's point of view. Are words like 'triggering' and 'pandering' and 'problematic' overused? Sometimes, yeah, they are. That doesn't change the fact that there are real people with real concerns behind those words. Never been raped? Never been the target of racism or hate-speak? Never lived with a mental illness? That's incredibly fortunate, because a lot of people have, and from time to time, they will need the help of their chosen community to thrive.
Dismissing these experiences does not make them go away, it simply reinforces stigma about the worth of the survivors. Stating that these experiences don't entitle anyone to dictate what happens in comics just isn't true -- these people are creators. They are readers. They are editors and journalists and cosplayers. They deserve compassion, and they deserve to have a strong voice. They don't deserve to be treated as though whatever they're living with isn't important, or can disappear simply because they should get over it. Not every comic is going to be for every person, but we need more that aren't isolating large factions and perpetuating a hostile environment.
Valerie D'Orazio has announced that she will quit Twitter. She will leave her account up until March 31st to allow others to document her statements. That's exactly what we've been doing here.
Marvel Editor in Chief Axel Alonso addressed the issue in his weekly standing interview with CBR's Albert Ching:
It came to public attention that Chris Sims, co-writer on the recently announced "X-Men '92" series, had a history of harassing and bullying Valerie D'Orazio, an industry veteran who has written several stories for Marvel in the past. It's a situation that has sparked debate and discussion among fans and industry pros. Given that Sims is about to make his Marvel debut, do you have any response or comment on the situation, and if his standing on "X-Men '92" is affected?
Alonso: We had no knowledge of what transpired on the Internet between Chris and Valerie. We have since come to understand that several years ago both were active voices in the comics community -- both were bloggers and Valerie wrote a couple of stories for Marvel, including a "Punisher" one-shot that I edited -- that some sort of bad blood developed between them, and that Chris crossed lines in his treatment of Valerie that were indefensible, as he himself acknowledged. In his formal public apology, Chris took full responsibility for his actions. Some believe Chris is sincere -- Comics Alliance wrote an editorial supporting him -- and some don't. While we condemn Chris' past actions, we see his strongly worded apology as evidence that he now understands that verbal bullying and harassment of anyone is totally, unequivocally wrong.
Read the full interview here. Kudos to CBR for asking the tough questions, and to Alonso for answering.
In an article covering Alonso's statement, Rich Johnston offered some commentary on the various aspects of this story. Here's an excerpt:
One thing that has been expressed privately to me a number of times is, even if one is not doubting the genuine nature of Sim’s apology, has he apologised to everyone else aside from Valerie, for similar actions in the past? Considering he was virtually forced into making this particular apology long after the events in question by media attention, that seems unlikely.
I’m stepping away from Comics Alliance a little bit. It’s not a permanent thing, I will be back – and it is voluntary. It is a thing that I agreed to. It is a thing where I said Yes, I am not a valuable voice right now. I’m a full-time freelancer. And you know, if you’re a freelancer, if you’re not working, you’re not getting paid. And that’s where I am right now.
If this is a deal-breaker for you, that is understandable. If this changes how you see me, if this changes whether you want to support the things I do, that is more than understandable. I have dropped people for less, I assure you. If you are still listening, thank you. And I would just say what I said in my article at CA that I wrote about this. I think we’ve all had fun being a jerk. If you’re doing that, though – stop. Take a look at what you’re doing. Take a look at the context in which you’re doing it. Ask yourself if you’re making someone’s life harder, because that’s not a thing you should do. If anyone out there has an instinct or a response to deal with any of this by attacking anyone or dismissing anyone’s feelings about this, do not do that. that is not at all what I want.
In a new blog post, Valerie D'Orazio has a new theory about her work at Marvel:
1) Chris Sims, who has been dumping all over my work for years, was/is friends with the editor at Marvel of my book that was cancelled before it even came out.
2) Sims specifically makes fun of me on his site for the book, “Cloak and Dagger,” being cancelled, insinuating that it was because I was a terrible writer. He is also friends with the editor of the very-same book.
3) Marvel then gives me a “consolation prize” (their words) in “PunisherMAX: Butterfly,” which Sims proceeds to make fun of me for. Marvel encourages me to make “Butterfly” this highly-personal book and really “put myself out there” on it. They encourage me to identify with the character, and make sure the character has her brains blown out by the end. Sims then helps stir up hatred for the book before it comes out.
4) The Punisher book comes out to hatred and threats. Marvel, taken aback by the response, never hires me for anything again except a couple of magazine articles.
5) Marvel then hires the person who stirred up the hatred against their own comic to write the X-Men for them. The same person who made fun of me for Cloak and Dagger not coming out, a book whose editor was his own friend.
I mean, Jesus Christ. I was played. I mean, wow. Wow wow wow wow wow.
D'Orazio's Cloak and Dagger series was slated to be released in 2009. It's unclear who the editor was in chage of the book.
Over at Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston is, for some inexplicable reason, trying to egg on a comics version of Gamergate over this whole affair:
Chris Sims is writing his first comic book for the Big Two, X-Men ’92 for Marvel Comics, though he has a few small press comics to his name, and appearance in the likes of Skullkickers.
He has now stepped away from Comics Alliance for an unspecified period.
Chris Sims and Marvel Comics editor Jordan D. White currently collaborate on a Sailor Moon podcast together, the most recent episode of which ran last week.
I have confirmed that Jordan D. White is the editor of X-Men ’92, and seems to have commissioned the series from Sims.
They have not, to the best of my knowledge had an intimate relationship. Because in comics, it seems, it’s not just who you know, it’s not who you screw, but who you pod.
Welcome to ethics in comic book publishing. Basically, this kind of thing happens all the time. In comics, in gaming, in carpentry, in everything. Because people like to work with people they like to work with.
Why, Johnston, why?! Don't start Comicsgate! That's the last thing we need!
As noted in my original report, this is an uncomfortable subject to report on, not only because of the raw subject matter, but also because it involves colleagues. But uncomfortable as it may be, I do feel these are exactly the kind of stories that one needs to report on if one want to have any integrity in this business. The ensuing conversation will most certainly be a difficult one, but it's one that we all need to have if we're going to make the industry a more progressive and inclusive place, a goal that I do think everyone involved in this story shares.
In having that conversation, the one thing I'm certain of is that anyone who uses it as an opportunity to further harass Valerie D'Orazio is complete and utter scum, a principle on which I'm sure we can all agree (and if not, why are you reading this website?).
I'll continue to update this article with more links as I come across them. If you know of any, please send them along.