☛ Comic-Book Culture and Rape Culture / by Benjamin Woo

Writing in The Mary Sue, Marcy Cook recaps some of the recent bubbling about sexual harassment in the comic book industry. To wit, numerous sources have alleged mainstream publishers like Marvel and DC are protecting and even extending new opportunities to editors, staffers, and creators with known histories of professional misconduct and even abuse.

In addition to our human duty to seek justice and well-being for the victims of abuse, this is also an important developing story in an industry trying to figure out what it needs to do to appeal to a larger, more mainstream audience. As Cook notes, one piece of that puzzle is making itself a safer environment for more diverse creators. My Work in Comics survey results, for instance, found that straight, white, cisgendered men outnumber everyone else by a ratio of 1.7:1. Borrowing and adapting Andrew Wheeler’s Harvey/Renee Index to represent these numbers looks like this:

Mosaic plot of creator gender identity, race, and sexual orientation. The orange "Harvey" square represents the proportion of straight, white cisgender men, while the blue rectangles represent every other intersection of those variables.

Mosaic plot of creator gender identity, race, and sexual orientation. The orange "Harvey" square represents the proportion of straight, white cisgender men, while the blue rectangles represent every other intersection of those variables.

Note, however, that these results include independent and self-publishing creators, who are by and large more diverse than those working in “mainstream” comics.

To what extent is comic book culture rape culture? In many ways, it’s probably not worse than the rest of our society, where the voices of victims are routinely marginalized and delegitimized by the press as the benefit of the slimmest shadow of a doubt is extended to alleged abusers. But there are particular features of the comic book industry as an industry that make it worse: the circle-the-wagons “Team Comics” mentality and the precariousness of creative careers make coming forward with allegations especially chancy. Cook recommends a list of policy changes which demand further attention from readers and publishers alike:

  • Stop the blacklisting of people within the industry. Now.
  • Start enforcing HR policy. If you don’t have appropriate HR policy, create it now.
  • Support and believe people reporting abuse within these companies. A safe reporting structure. Investigate and prevent people from protecting abusers.
  • No-one is exempt from investigation, regardless of how high they are up in the company. With great power…
  • Create a diversity awareness education program that all staff must complete.
  • If you have failed to hire diverse staff over the last 60 years or so, announce a system of enhanced hiring of diverse staff at ALL LEVELS. You can’t seem to do it on your own naturally so force the issue forward.
  • Announce that anyone being abusive to others will face sanctions, including firing and legal action.

Until these changes to come comic book publishing as a business and a culture are implemented, this problem won’t go away, although questions remain about how and where we will hear about them – through informal warnings to watch out for so-and-so, or through a comics blogosphere/press that is adequately resourced and willing to investigate abuse?

☛ Harassment in the Comics Industry, and How to End It: An Investigation