In a recent post entitled “The Truth About ComicsGate,” written by William Valle of Camel Moon Studios’ Late Night Online, he writes about first hearing of the underground consumer movement known as Comicsgate. According to many mainstream and progressive websites that he browsed (i.e. CBR, The Mary Sue, Polygon, iO9, etc.), the group came off as very controversial, with writers claiming the hashtag was aligned with alt-right groups of misogynist, racist, white cis, man-baby bigots.
Other websites, further down the Google algorithms suggested the opposite was true, and several Youtube offerings informed William that Comicsgate was battling the comic book industry’s forced, one-sided political messaging that was leading to the detriment of the existing consumer base and the industry as a whole. These sources repeatedly addressed the lack of professionalism, inclusivity, objectivity and accountability of the bigger comics publishers and their employees when dealing directly with the customers, particularly on social media.
Ever the curious soul, and a comics creator in his own right, Valle decided to look into the controversial tag himself and was surprised at what he found as he tumbled down the rabbit hole.
About a month ago, I was turned onto an ongoing underground movement in the comic-book community that seemed to have an odd political agenda attached to it. Although the phrase “ComicsGate” originated closer to mid 2017, it’s suddenly had new life injected back into it.
Without knowing too much about what it was, or where it originated, I delved into the history of the growing controversy and found that what I was reading, not only rang true for so many people I know, but also seemed to be misrepresented; albeit somewhat deliberately. I also discovered something even more fascinating, that being; ‘ComicsGate’ may be the only thing that could actually keep the industry afloat in the coming decade.
So exactly what is the ‘ComicsGate’ movement, and is it being purported unfairly? As of late, it is assumed that addressing the continual trend of promoting social politics and cultural diversity should be met head-on in the pages of everyday comicbooks, (and genre films alike). It’s now become the mission statement of many comics industry professionals and the labels/studios that employ them. Even though this sounds altruistic, the simple fact is that this type of marketing pivot hasn’t quite worked as well as many would have hoped. If anything, it’s lessened the industry’s bottomline and created a rift between old fans and new.
In the bluntest of terms, this marketing pivot began when Marvel Comics began experiencing poor sales. On the left-wing curated message boards, the now dominant Social Justice Warriors repeatedly claimed that turning white characters black, male characters female, and straight characters gay, while filling every story with loads of clumsy, blunt leftwing political messaging, would attract a new, better, woker audience and bring sales to new heights. Well, whoever got the message at Marvel HQ apparently didn’t know that those websites were only allowing “woke” commentors on their message boards after many sites had begun purging anyone with conservative thoughts or who pushed back on the new, progressive narrative.
Here is a recent example from The Mary Sue:
This recent article from the Mary Sue defamed several Comicsgate friendly websites, but comments that disagreed with the smear job were quickly removed and users banned.
The fact that so many of these mainstream sites had a one-sided narrative against CG didn’t deter Valle though. He recognized what was happening and he knew the history of the medium well enough to know it wasn’t going to work out for them the way they thought. William Valle apparently understands these trends. He continues:
Profit sharing by catering to new trends almost always leaves the business holding the bag once that trend is over. In this case the trend seems to be “social awareness”. Catch-all marketing campaigns can be short sighted, because they end up peddling in mediocrity. For example: men genuinely don’t watch daytime Soap-Operas and that’s ok. They don’t need to be advertised to as a way to expand a declining profit margin, because Soap-Operas aren’t produced for them.
Moving forward, for decades comics occasionally became the target of any naysayer looking to point fingers and attach their own politics to the medium. Virtue signaling and public scrutiny became somewhat expected by critics of the art form. This was (and still is) no different than arguments made about porn, video-games, music, violence in film, sex on TV, or whatever other hot-button topic the entertainment industry is being attacked for (usually somewhat meaninglessly), at that moment.
When these assessments are made by critics, often those who don’t agree blindly or fall inline, are categorized and ostracized from within their community. It’s then often suggested someone is a bigot, sexist, or racist if they don’t co-align themselves with whatever statement/movement is being made by the “woke” SJW crowd and their agenda. And under the guise of “inclusiveness” and the ruse of “social justice”, a movement was created in the hopes of expanding to an audience that didn’t really exist, and it was dubbed; “diversity” in comics. (not to be confused with Richard C. Meyer’s Youtube channel of the same name)
Now this doesn’t suggest that under-representation isn’t a real thing. However, woman and minorities have both been a huge part of the comics landscape since the 1960’s. And as is true with every market; demand dictates supply.
Marvel’s campaign strategy for ‘Diversity’ in comics was set to include minorities, expand stories and characters by sex, gender, religion, and political affiliation… to a degree that surpassed basic inclusion. Instead it seemed to represent an ultra liberal agenda by indirectly pushing out those who didn’t follow suit or spoke out. Which inherently is understandable in principal, but it spits in the face of the fandom that has kept the industry afloat for nearly 8 decades.
Marvel’s sales (and DC’s, too) keep falling, year by year, and more and more comic book shops keep shuttering, unable to sell the dreck that these onetime titans used to sell by the literal hundreds of thousands. Now only a couple of books sell 100,000 reliably, usually a number one issue fueled by some speculation, and most of what are considered “hit” books sell around 30,000. The majority of comics only sell around 8,000 to 10,000 copies a month. The line at which comic books used to be cancelled for low sales was around 60,000 in Jim Shooter’s day. Now, you’re writing a “Hit Book” if you sell half that.
Valle goes on:
The countermovement labeled ‘ComicsGate’ rejects the idea of needing to align yourself with the political agendas of comics publishers or its writers/editors/artists, and suggests that the overt political and social awareness being promoted in comics will kill the industry way before it expands it. Good stories and good art will help the industry succeed into the next decade; not the rhetoric of forced inclusiveness. However, certain sects of the internet had other ideas, and instead used the platform as a way to troll, push hate, and engage in online flamewars with women, minorities, comics professionals, or anyone who associated themselves with (or was pro), ‘diversity’ in their comics. In fact, in many circles this was the one and only deliberate intention of ‘ComicsGate’; not the attempt of creating better comics.
Where did this go wrong? Well due to today’s “1 or 10” internet culture, where you are forced to pick sides and all talking points are whittled down to the simplistic binary choice, the option became: If you’re pro-ComicsGate, you are by definition: “a misogynistic, rightwing, Neo-Nazi, nationalist.” Whereas if you’re anti-ComicsGate, you’re a “bleeding heart, socialist, libtard, snowflake.” And once again, tribalism and identity politics finds their way into yet another form of media, instilling a divide where there doesn’t need to be one.
Valle isn’t siding with either the extreme right wing or left wing here although he’s actually a left-leaning liberal, as he admits further into his article:
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m as liberal as they come, but I also have no problem calling out people on either side of the aisle; especially when exposing cry babies, whining children or entitled adults. That being said, categorizing supporters of either movement into the duelist, “black and white” option is akin to aligning yourself with either “minorities” or “racists”, and it’s easy and dumb. However, ComicsGate’s should only be about creating good stories with good art, and not about politicizing it for personal gain. Bias nepotism will kill the industry.
You can tell good stories that include transgender, gay, muslim, etc etc, but it can’t be the only reason to buy the book. The political awareness and aggrandizing of a movement needs to be secondary to the story, not the reason for it. That practice will only help divorce current fans and exclude more people down the road.
I don’t want to read a comic BECAUSE a character is gay. I want to read a comic that is well written and if the character happens to be gay… “sure, why not”, but it shouldn’t be the sole motivator for the story. No one wants to be beaten over the head with how they should think. You shouldn’t monetize social awareness. Iceman kissing another man in the next issue of ‘X-men’ is not a good enough reason to buy the book. In fact, it’s actually lazy writing. If you attach social politics to forms of entertainment as the means of selling said entertainment… it’s no longer entertainment. It’s propaganda.
Valle eventually admits that he was eventually red-pilled by none other than former DC Comics professional creator and the creator of Cyberfrog, Ethan Van Sciver. But William Valle also presents eye-opening facts that further support his newly discovered, pro-Comicsgate position:
So why is ComicsGate important? Because if you have your ear to the ground or listen to a bevy of industry professionals like Ethan Van Sciver sounding off on the topic, it would appear as though the comic industry as a whole may be dead in 3-5 years. This is not hyperbole. Past trends suggest that the industry is on the brink of another bubble pop.
In the past few months, ‘Mad Magazine’ was cancelled after it’s 65 year run. ‘DC Vertigo’ was aptly renamed as ‘DC Black Label’ in an obvious attempt at rebranding. (Rebranding always happens when companies are about to go under.) And AT&T (DC’s new parent company) has made some not-so-subtle hints to tightening its bottomline. Month to month sales are not what they used to be across the board, and Graphic Novel sales seem to be diminishing, suggesting a market shift. Over saturation of known characters and forced diversity in new books aren’t flying off shelves like comic shop owners would like.
This was expressed in a closed-door panel at ComicCon in 2017 when retailers were noticeably annoyed with Marvel’s expanded direction of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in their ongoing monthly line-ups. A frustrated retailer at NYCC2017 stated: “People leave my store when they see that Thor is a woman and Captain America is a black man.”, while others backed the retailers claim and offered the advice that Marvel should create new characters and not ride on the coattails of established fan favorites. And since, Marvel and DC have both double-downed on their attempts of retelling old stories with new coats of paint.
Finally, Valle asks the most important questions in all of this:
Is this a passing trend or part of a larger systemic issue? Is ‘diversity’ in comics just an impudent response to the lack of ideas by the writers of yesteryear? Is it just a marketing ploy?
It’s no secret that the powers that be at the top of the comic company food chain are growing long in the tooth. They’re refusing to hire new talent that could potentially usurp their authority in the near future, so instead they pivot and change the conversation. Now if you don’t like what they have to offer, you’re not a part of the ‘Diversity’ movement, and instead are demonized and labeled as a bigot. As a result, good stories by new artists and writers often aren’t made, allowing the comics industry to limp forward. This false narrative keeps the top at the top, and the minorities at the bottom; as they peddle out irksome, cringe fests, panel by panel. And so the rich stay rich. If that doesn’t sound like sexist, racist, white supremacy, I don’t know what does.
Then, the most stunning revelation of all was that Valle had been a student at the School of Visual Arts in NYC where art pupils were assigned a script to draw a 3 page scene. It turns out that Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman appear to have lifted a decades old script and re-purposed it for their current Marvel Comics mini-series, illustrating that the “House of Ideas” is utterly bereft of any original ones.
And if you don’t think Marvel and DC are out of ideas, Tom King just spent 50 issues retelling Batman’s KnightFall in the most boring, banal way possible. And Marvel just reimagined ‘Maximum Carnage’ as ‘Absolute Carnage’. And they did it halfheartedly without an original script.
I know this because the first 3 pages are ripped from a student script they used to give us newbie comic artists when I was studying at SVA in 2000.
The story was relatively simple: “A guy runs into the subway, falls on to the tracks, and finds a train bearing down on him; only to realize the train is actually a monster.”
How oddly prescient that seems right now…
Read the whole piece here. It’s worth your time.
William recognizes that Marvel’s descent into nonstop political propaganda has continued unabated. Comic books used to be a fairly “happy” & “mainstream” hobby, at least “mainstream” as far as the nerdier edge of mainstream goes.
But now comic books are — like the press, like ESPN, like Disney, etc — constantly engaging in the weird, filled with not so subtle political propaganda for all sorts of odd, fringe obsessions — like pushing obese super-heroes because hey, “you’re healthy at any size”. Meanwhile, they’re alienating their core audience – and shedding long time consumers by the thousands – and it’s not just because that audience disagrees with their politics. That’s part of it, but they’re losing readers mostly because a lot of the audience just doesn’t really think of themselves as one of them. The average comic reader isn’t really like those hyper-partisan creators or their politic spouting creations that seem to be always nattering on about fringe political issues.
The mainstream media used to know this.
For instance, back in the days of “normal,” a woman’s magazine would mostly serve up beauty tips and celebrity interviews, and occasionally slip in a “Republicans are weird” message. But now they’re pushing, in almost every issue, the idea that teenagers should have anal sex, that women who don’t consider “trans women” to be women are not women themselves, and Republicans are evil writ large.
Who exactly is that for? They’ve either forgotten, or, more likely, they’ve just gone so insane they don’t care what actually works as far as propaganda any longer. And the comic books are following this destructive trend.
The daily Twitter freak-outs by creators and the “woke” pretend-consumers are toxic and psychologically damaging for those non-insane people who have to witness, or worse yet, deal with these lunatics on a daily basis, but these demonstrations are very good indeed for us, the normal people. They’re destroying themselves, and sabotaging their own propaganda operations, because they’re just too damn crazy to think, or care about such things any longer. They don’t seem to grasp that these public displays of insanity on Twitter are, well, public!
Getting rid of the hard left ideologues who are using comics as a means to propagandize is a thing to be dearly wished for — but watching them destroy themselves can be a lot of fun too, so enjoy it while we keep pointing it out. Meanwhile, let’s welcome William Valle to the “normal” side and check out his work and leave a comment on Camel Moon’s Facebook page.