One year ago, comics artist Roc Upchurch was arrested for domestic assault in a breaking story that made headlines on every major comic book website and shocked fans of Upchurch's popular Image comic book, Rat Queens. The story received widespread coverage on most major comics blogs and news sites.
Upchurch's wife provided the following statement at the time, revealing brutal details about the assault:
I'm in shock that I actually called the police this time anyhow. I'm in shock by all the things my husband had said and done to me just minutes before. I'm in PAIN...yes physical pain from him throwing me down two steps and my head hitting the floor, choking me to the point my neck feels as if it will completely snap off, smashing my face in over and over but that pain that physical pain that I feel even as I sit and type that is nothing in comparison to the emotional pain I feel, the mental pain I feel, the pain I feel when I look at my children.
In an industry where abuse and harassment are difficult to report on, with victims reluctant to come forward, publishers seemingly more interested with protecting their image than cleaning up problems, and insiders afraid to speak out for fear of damaging their careers, the Roc Upchurch story was almost refreshingly straightforward. Upchurch's arrest was a matter of public record, and his dismissal from Rat Queens with a heartfelt statement from writer Kurtis J. Weibe was tangible justice. We even eventually got Tess Fowler, an outspoken champion of victims, as a permanent replacement artist on the book. From a fan's perspective, justice was swift and satisfying.
Fast forward almost nine months...
Though they don't love it nearly as much as they love a fall, people do appreciate a good redemption story. In August, after spending months out of the public eye, Upchurch gave an interview to Comic Book Resources titled "Roc Upchurch Opens Up About Ramifications, Recovery After Domestic Violence Arrest."
It's finally getting things back on track -- things with my kids, things with my ex-wife. I'm getting back into a workflow. I'm picking up the pieces and putting things back together.
Indeed, Upchurch explained that he'd entered a counseling program for the past six months, and though the arrest would be expunged from his record, considered a minor offense by the courts, he wasn't downplaying it:
I hope people know that I realize it was serious and is serious. It has lasting effects. There are residual, lasting effects that will continue long from now. I'm learning from that, and I know it was the worst possible thing -- I'm doing everything not to even get close to that again. I'm doing everything I can to do the opposite of that. I want to focus on making the right decisions for my family, for my career, for everything.
After taking some time, Upchurch felt it was time to engage with the comics community again:
People make mistakes, people fall short. To be reprimanded, to reap what you sow, is deserved. And then you collect yourself, you pick yourself up, you move forward. You pick up the pieces that were broken, and try to mend them. You do everything positively again, you learn from mistakes and you grow as a person. That's what we do, as people -- or, what we should do. When negative things happen, negativity comes from it. If you want positivity, you have to produce and give off positivity.
But there's more to this story than how it affects Roc Upchurch and his career. The Roc Upchurch story, as reported in the media, followed an arc of rise, downfall, and an attempt at redemption, and there's nothing wrong with Roc Upchurch attempting a comeback in and of itself. The problem is that the Roc Upchurch story has focused almost entirely on Roc Upchurch, when Roc Upchurch's narrative isn't the only one or the one that's most important.
Though Roc Upchurch got a comeback interview on the biggest comic book website in the world, and our sources confirm he has a new book in early development at Image, the family that were the actual victims in this story have not been given that same attention. This, despite their ongoing struggles being documented since March on Upchurch's wife's blog: Abuse, Lies, and Betrayal.
Shortly after our dispute he left. He didn't say where he was going or how long he would be gone. He was gone for weeks. He would tell the children he was in California or that he was in an art studio but our app which I guess Roc had forgotten all about told us exactly where he was...
When Roc returned from that trip he was a different person once again. I'm sure any person would be after being ripped a part in the media. He blamed me for his career ending. He said "just because I didn't want to be with you anymore, you had to ruin me." He was bitter, hurt, and angry.
Within days of his return Roc would leave again this time permanently. He made his way back to Texas and told the children and I he was never coming back. I didn't believe him of course but boy did he show us.
My youngest son had walking pneumonia and Roc didn't come back.
My mother and brother were in the hospital and Roc didn't come back.
All three children had the flu and had to miss school for a week and Roc didn't come back.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, The New Year...No Roc!
He said he was never coming back so I guess he had finally told the truth about something....
In another post, she pointed to a legal document referring to a child abuse case she says was brought against Roc Upchurch in 2012. She also responded to Roc's interview on CBR in August, but her response was not reported by CBR, or the comics media in general. An excerpt:
No one will ever know the true story?! How dramatic!! Ask his children. Ask his son who cries because he felt as if he should have protected me from his father. Ask his son who has so much anger from not understanding not only why his father left but why he isn't back. Ask his daughter who has nightmares and wakes up screaming. But you know what no matter how many interviews Roc does, no matter how many blogs I post no one will ever really know what we've been through. No one will know the happy moments we've shared or the rough times we've been through.
Roc loves to reach out doesn't he. Maybe if my children's initials were CBR he would reach out to them. It would be nice if he reached out to me to make plans to see his children. I sent him an email before the end of the school year last year with a list of weeks to keep the kids during the summer and almost begging him to keep them during the weeks I returned to work. Again they haven't seen him since Father Days weekend, the only holiday that he has spent with them by the way.
Getting things back on track with the kids? What exactly does that mean? How is he getting things back on track with them? When is the last time he has spoke to them? How do you get things back on track with your children when you haven't been a part of their lives? So many questions. Let me also add this because Roc thinks I paint him as this monster to his children. But let's be real what I could possibly say to his children that would make them think any differently than what he's already shown them? Seriously? They all knew his classes ended in July. He told them he was coming back as soon as his classes ended and where is he?? This dude and his LIES.
Getting things together with his ex wife?! When? Where? How? Lies again...
About a month ago, she sent an email to several media outlets, though which ones are not currently known. The Outhouse learned of this, and we requested and received a copy of it. On October 25, she made the email public on her blog. Still, her side of the story remained largely unnoticed, and almost completely unreported in the comics media (The Mary Sue was the only site to talk about her blog in relation to the CBR interview that we're aware of). It's impossible to have any kind of conversation about this story without considering this perspective, and yet, that's exactly what we've been doing for the past year.
Last week, Bleeding Cool published a story about the letter with the headline "Further Details Of Allegations Against Roc Upchurch – And A New Comics Project?" This article contained a portion of the letter, and Bleeding Cool deserves credit for publishing what some other sites were either afraid of, or indifferent to, reporting on. However, in an illustration of a deeper problem here, Rich Johnston notes that this is the first time he's read the blog since it was restored in March. That's not an indictment of Johnston; it's an indication of how invisible the ongoing suffering of this family has been through all of this, despite Roc Upchurch's fall and redemption being a relatively major story. Nobody has been paying attention.
The Outhouse cannot verify the claims made in these blog posts or emails, and our point here isn't that Roc Upchurch deserves to be punished indefinitely; the decision to support Roc Upchurch as an artist is one that everyone will need to make individually, hopefully after carefully considering all the information available. But we do believe that, if the story of Roc Upchurch is newsworthy, and his comeback deserves a spotlight on CBR, then the narrative must necessarily include the less comfortable perspective of the woman who was physically assaulted at the start of all this. Otherwise, all we as a community have accomplished is sensationalizing a personal tragedy for the ultimate purpose of promoting comic books, ignoring the damage it caused to the family left behind.
Here is her email, in its entirety:
Dear Atlanta News Outlets,
In light of the recent sexual assault that took place at Dragon Con I would like to share my story with you all. I have reached out to numerous sources in the comic community and they have failed to make my voice heard. My hope is that you all will really look into this story and not just write me off as a bitter black ex wife as many have. It's also important to note that I'm still legally married to the man who has brought my children and I a world of pain.
I am a survivor of assault and rape at the hands of my husband Roc Upchurch. He is a comic book illustrator who fell off the deep end into alcohol abuse, extra marital affairs, and physical assault...all because his comic book found success.
My three children, victims and witnesses of my husband's abuse, are paying a daily price. They are suffering. He has been gone from our lives going on four months now. No visits. No calls. Not a peep. But the scars of his behavior echo on.
As I write this my children's father is living with one of his female fans in Texas. And he's quickly insinuating himself back into the comic book community. He's been granted interviews in which he claims many untruths about our status. About his involvement with his children. He requests publicly to be allowed to interact with fans and the community once more. To what ends? If his past is any indication I fear for the innocent young women who will cross his path. Or even his fists.
If my children and I couldn't escape it, how can anyone else hope to?
While he lost his position on his first project, he still enjoys success from it. Making thousands of dollars in residuals which barely trickles down at all to his children. When it does it is pitiful.
Before my bruises had even had time to heal he had moved on from us. From his children. And been welcomed back to comics heartily. His voice was celebrated. While mine has remained in the dark.
As my seven year old daughter talks of wanting to leave here to go to heaven, and my son's confusion gives way to rage that poisons his heart, I am trying to guide us through this.
I can't be quiet anymore.
Dear CBR "journalist" Casey Gilly: You claim to be a feminist. And I've seen your written support of victims, in other articles, discussing your background in HR, and your desire to keep the comics community safe from abusers. Yet you failed in your job as a journalist to question Roc Upchurch about the Child Abuse Case brought against him by the State of Delaware. You ignored my public blog which described in detail his physical assaults, and his abuse of fans, and his lack of support/contact in regards to his children. Yet you published an article describing all the reasons why he deserves to be welcomed back. Fact checking is a thing. You should Google it. And CBR should be ashamed to have you contributing to their site. Do you have any idea how much damage you have done? To me? To my son who had to read your lies? To the innocent women who read your words and trusted you and now think Roc Upchurch is "healed"?
Dear Bleeding Cool: While you were one of the first sites to share my initial post about my husband assaulting me, you have now decided to repost the aforementioned CBR article, in support of his return to the comics community. While I still suffer from the recurring memories of him pinning me down on our bed and sexually assaulting me, telling me all the while it was for me and not for him, you have just helped to put countless women in harm's way. This man is unrepentant. And will harm again. How dare you.
Dear Image Comics: Thank you for rehiring my soon to be ex husband on a new project, after he did his best to wreck the ship that was the beautiful comic Rat Queens. He was notoriously late, due to his boozing and philandering. Never mind the fact that he blamed his chronic lateness and unprofessionalism on me and our children. Never mind the fact that his paychecks from his time on Rat Queens do nothing to support the children he abandoned. I'm sure he's a brand new man, and won't do exactly the same thing with this new project. Good luck with that. P.S. The success of Rat Queens gave him the ability to prey on innocent fan girls at every convention he attended. But I'm sure you've got some kind of policy in place to prevent that from happening again, right?
Dear Comics New Sites/Publishers/Creators and most of all Fans: Roc Upchurch is the monster that haunts our nightmares. Mine and my children's. And now he's yours too. You let him back in by the front door.
[Note: The Outhouse received permission to publish the letter and blog excerpts from Roc Upchurch's wife. We did not receive permission to use her name in the article. She did let us know that she was working with The Mary Sue, and they've published an article about this today titled "'Not a Victim, But a Victor' — Roc Upchurch's Wife Speaks Out Against Abuse, Silencing," which you should go and read (it's better than ours). We reached out to Roc Upchurch, but did not receive a reply.]