Capitalism and sexism wrecks comic books now


I remember when comic books were synonymous with weekends at my grandmother’s, buying 10 for a dollar, swapping old comics with my cousins, picking up a paper sack full of tattered, coverless copies at the Goodwill store. It was all innocence and fun times. Maybe not so much now.

The month of June saw the comics industry rocked by successive waves of predatory conduct allegations, amid similar reckonings around sexual harassment in the affiliated worlds of video games, twitch streaming, tabletop games, professional wrestling, and professional illustration. Some of the allegations, as with superstar writer Warren Ellis, were new. Others brought renewed scrutiny to lingering problems like the allegations against Dark Horse editor Scott Allie and DC writer Scott Lobdell. Most of the stories came from marginalized creators who’d previously been silent for fear of being blacklisted. In June, that wall of silence cracked, and what showed beneath was red and raw and deeply, viscerally angry.

“A huge reason why abusive, predatory, and discriminatory practices go unchecked in the comics industry is this: the impetus is always put on the victims to come forward,” Maï wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “Victims are expected to speak out at great personal cost—at risk of losing jobs and damaging their financial livelihood, at detriment to their mental health and threats to their personal safety… For every story you hear, there is also an unimaginable amount more that are not heard.” (Stewart did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.)

Maybe not so much when I was a kid, either.

The comics industry has long been synonymous with exploitation. The early comics publishers were wheeler-dealers and back-room grifters, with their hands in everything from the pulps to softcore pornography. They cut vague handshake deals, crushed attempts to collectively organize and built their industry almost entirely on “work for hire” contracts and freelance labor. The result is a history of dirty dealing that has, over time, been reduced to a litany of names, a Mount Rushmore of the fucked: DC’s mistreatment and neglect of Superman creators Siegel and Shuster; Jack Kirby’s struggle for his original artwork and equal credit for his work with Stan Lee; Alan Moore being screwed out of the rights for Watchmen; Steve Gerber’s long-running battle with Marvel over Howard the Duck.

The modern industry is almost entirely made up of freelancers: writers, artists, colorists and letterers. “Freelancers and people trying to break in are incredibly vulnerable,” writer Devin Grayson (Nightwing, Black Widow, Gotham Nights) told The Daily Beast, particularly when it comes to people working for companies centered around the comics direct market—DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Oni, and the like. That senior editors hold the power to hire and fire is true across most industries, she said. “But then add in factors like freelancers having zero job security, no health insurance, no access to HR departments or higher-ups, no union. If we’re talking mainstream superhero comics, [there are] essentially two large companies—so two chances, period—to get their foot in the door. What happens to you if you piss off just one person in one of those companies, much less voice your concerns in a wider arena?”

If it was so awful in the 50s and 60s, and it’s getting worse now, and they’re screwing over the labor, where is all the money going? Marvel is making bank right now with their movies, and none of that is benefiting the talent that brought them to where they are? It sounds like an industry taken over by amoral profiteers.

Comments

  1. wzrd1 says

    Oh no! I feel ever so guilty for pirating their movies!
    Not at all. Didn’t feel guilty pirating Bolton’s book either, although I did pre-order Mary Trump’s book.
    After all, one does need to have some moral grounds to sink into the quicksands of.

    Yeah, I do hypocrisy well, I was raised as a cradle Catholic, after all. ;)
    Don’t get me started on shenanigans during the Cold War…

  2. René says

    I’d wish some commenters would learn how to write a few sentences into paragraphs. mnb0 (I’m not sure of the nym, but Dutch, like me), raven, wzrd1; I find reading lone sentences extremely tiresome.

  3. consciousness razor says

    If it was so awful in the 50s and 60s, and it’s getting worse now, and they’re screwing over the labor, where is all the money going?

    To the same place it’s always been going. It has nothing to do with your experience as a consumer, buying them 10 for a dollar in days of yore. Producers/laborers/artists were exploited then, and lowering prices for consumers like you (then or now or whenever) wouldn’t correspond to a decrease in those forms of exploitation.

    Marvel is making bank right now with their movies, and none of that is benefiting the talent that brought them to where they are? It sounds like an industry taken over by amoral profiteers.

    Well, just don’t confuse yourself with the fact that, as in many artforms, a relative handful of celebrities do make tons of profit, along with their friends in the owner/investor class. It’s definitely still the case that most artists never do make much. And we’re treated like shit, without many of the rights/freedoms other types of workers enjoy.

    Anyway, with this “taken over” stuff, it sounds like you still don’t grok that it was like this way before you were even born.

  4. sherylyoung says

    As a child of the 50’s I read comic books.
    I started with Little Dot & Wendy the Good Witch. (I loved female protagonists!)
    I read some super hero stuff & I was a fan of Superman comics whenever Bizzaro World was featured.
    Then I graduated to Classics Illustrated in about 4th grade & on to chapter books.

    I’m sorry for the ways I have contributed to the Capitalist Oligarchy.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    @1 wzrd1

    Oh no! I feel ever so guilty for pirating their movies!
    Not at all.

    As someone who lives largely off of royalties that come off of something I created, f you very much.
    I mean, that $15 you saved from not paying for that movie would have been split up among probably thousands of people — actors and copyright holders, sure, but also accountants, set designers, prop makers, CGI wonks, caterers, floor sweepers, and the list goes on and on. I’m sure that out of all those thousands of people, you can find several who are morally dubious, so you can maintain that nice rosy moral glow and brag about your piracy.
    If you object to somebody who was involved in making a movie, then DON’T SEE THAT MOVIE. These days, if you wait long enough, you’ll probably be able to see it legally on Netflix or something anyway.
    Piracy doesn’t make you some kind of brave anti-capitalist crusader, unless you think that other thieves are also brave anti-capitalist crusaders. From where I stand, it just makes you look like a jerk.

  6. BigRamifications says

    “The impetus is always put on the victims to come forward.”

    And? Christ on a bike, that entire “victim has to report the crime” bit is the biggest load of bellyache I’ve read in a long time.

  7. vucodlak says

    @ BigRamifications, #13

    Christ on a bike, that entire “victim has to report the crime” bit is the biggest load of bellyache I’ve read in a long time.

    The problem here is unacceptable behaviors that are widely known by the people in power over the perpetrators, and the point is that the victims should not have to risk their futures by speaking out about predation that was, generally, already common knowledge among those with the power to put a stop to it.

    Situations in which essentially everyone up the chain from a serial predator knows that person X is a serial predator, but they don’t do anything about it because it might cost money, are depressingly common. So victim after victim has to risk their careers until the public outcry becomes so great that the people at the top are forced to do what they should have done in the first place. Many victims along the way will lose their livelihoods thanks to the inaction of the bosses.

    In other words, it’s a legitimate complaint.

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