Op-Ed: How Many Scandals Has Comics Beat Covered-Up?

 

I found some more examples of propagandist Heidi MacDonald’s hypocrisies on her worthless Comics Beat site worth taking issue with, such as this one from July 13, written shortly after Warren Ellis had his reckoning over the way he led his affairs in the past 20 years, which does have something to think about when it comes to the “after-effects” of his influence:

 

Over the last two days we’ve seen the results of solid reporting and women & non-binary people coming together to share stories.

 

Solid reporting by almost everyone except MacDonald and company; remember, this is somebody who, as revealed in the 2nd part of reporting on her favorite hiding place, the “Whisper Network,” not only associates with somebody accused of embezzlement, Stephanie Cooke, but also refuses to cover anything about the ensuing case that was first filed 5 years ago by Bill Willingham, from whom Cooke allegedly fleeced of $10,000 when she worked for him. Something I’ll try to address in time, but before that, I thought to address the 2nd highlighted part of the sentence, which sheds light on a worrisome problem. Namely, how many women did Ellis take advantage of who later began calling themselves non-binary, presumably in hopes this would prevent them from being exploited?

 

Warren Ellis (pictured) is to converse with Robin Sloan at Kepler�s Books in Menlo Park at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (Ellen J Rogers photo)

 

This is exactly what young mistress MacDonald and company noticeably aren’t approaching objectively. No questions asked whether that’s a good example they’re setting, or whether it gives Ellis a chance to laugh at them behind their backs. If he used them like tissue paper when he had affairs, had no interest in many of them later, and did nothing to help further careers of those who thought he’d help them advance in comicdom, then why should anybody think he cares if they later decided to take up this sad staple among the trendy leftists of recent? What if even Scott Lobdell doesn’t care MariNaomi may have taken up questionable directions of recent when she launched a “Queer Database”? (I noticed she seems to have a mohawk now, if it matters. Is that a sign she upholds the non-binary ideology too?) And anybody who thinks it’s impossible to exploit people taking up these lifestyles is out of their minds.

The point is, not only is taking up these lifestyles akin to cutting off the nose to spite the face, it’s also giving the jerks who took advantage of them a chance to mock their victims. If they had nothing but contempt the first time, why should they be any different after the women start claiming they’re “non-binary”, or transgender men? And claiming you’re non-binary will neither protect you from being exploited. That’s something else not argued in MacDonald’s dopey piece. On which note, here’s more she said:

 

…There could be more victims out there, and the site encourages them to step forward. It’s also known that Ellis’s online behavior continued even after he issued a stunningly tone deaf “apology” a few weeks ago.

 

I don’t like Ellis, but why do I get the idea this is just an attempt to bring down his stature in an inappropriate way? If anything, it’s clear that, tone-deaf or not, an ambiguous meaning at best coming from her, the SJW crowd MacDonald belongs to won’t forgive Ellis. Most interesting is that this all came a few months after MacDonald took part in a Shelf Dust podcast about Ellis’ Planetary, which she believes led to a renaissance of dark superhero themes (and she thinks it all makes for a “tasty, tasty stew”? Yuck). Another clue what’s wrong with today’s choices of direction.

 

So Many of Us was largely shepherded by writer and photographer Jhayne Holmes, who had an online relationship with Ellis from 2004-2012. I’ve been in contact with Jhayne since this began, and she’s been an incredibly sane and compassionate guide for the women she’s trying to help. I can’t state enough how important her handling of this has been.

I declined to join the server where women shared their stories — as a journalist, I did not want in any way to compromise their privacy. I also did not join because my experiences with Ellis were never sexual in nature. I was briefly his editor, then a professional colleague, hardly someone he would have wanted to groom. (I’m also older than him.) Ellis had a knack for finding confused young women who needed a “confidant” in their lives, and that was not me.

 

She may not be confused, but she certainly isn’t honest. Maybe she didn’t want to join So Many of Us because she already had a prominent position in the Whisper Network, and thought the Facebook group’s secrecy would be compromised. As I seem to recall, she once worked at DC on the Vertigo imprint for several years, presumably because she just didn’t have what it took to appreciate superhero fare. Not even Lois Lane as a co-starring creation. And I decidedly must question whether this Holmes is a sane and compassionate guide for the women she’s allegedly helping if she won’t persuade them why taking up the non-binary mentality won’t help them. Oh, and again, it may not be morally sound to use and dump various women like tissue paper if they were hoping for a long-term relationship or help in building a career, but if they’re legal age, you can’t call it “grooming,” unless they were under statutory age, as at least one of the girls Ellis spent time with may have been.

 

 

If you want a real serious case involving sex-grooming, just a month ago, Joey Cuellar, the co-founder of EVO, a video game tournament, was exposed as a sexual abuser of majority underaged boys, leading to his removal from company management and the cancellation of this year’s tournament. And the worst part is that he was reportedly a “public moralist” who objected to the sex appeal a game like Dead Or Alive is built upon (curiously enough, he never seemed to have any issue with the gore galore in Mortal Kombat). The scandal was reported by specialty sites like ComicBook, but when I tried looking on Comics Beat, I couldn’t find anything, even though they’ve written about computer games at times. Why does a case where the majority were adult women count as grooming in MacDonald’s view and qualify as news on her site, but not a case where the majority were under-aged kids? Very mystifying, and very unfair to men/children victimized by felons too.

 

That said, Warren was very supportive of me when I got bounced from DC, a few issues before I would have finished up editing the final issue of Transmetropolitan, something I wanted to have on my resumé. Grooming and abuse often go hand in hand with great insight and powerful creativity – unfortunately they stem from the same knowledge of human nature. I don’t doubt for a minute that Warren’s kind words for me were sincere. Many of his victims also note his great kindnesses. Amazingly, the point of the So Many of Us website is not necessarily to “cancel” Ellis and his body of work, but to warn and witness the enormity and prolific nature of his predatory behavior. To create the dialogue such as this very post. Some people — including victims — have burned his books, and more power to them. Others don’t want to negate the pleasure they got from his writing. That pleasure — also stemming from his dozens of talented collaborators — is real, and Warren’s horrid behavior shouldn’t steal that from readers as well.

 

Hmm, how interesting she should serve as editor on a book where the “hero” may have led a shoddy affair with a female co-star (Yelena Rossini’s sometimes called a “filthy assistant” in the tale). Did she only begin to notice now? Or was she too eager to take part in potentially leftist political propaganda the series was built on? Intriguing indeed. Now I don’t condone censorship, something I suspect MacDonald does when she says “more power to them”. But that still doesn’t mean I find Ellis’ work appealing, and there’s very little I see from him worth spending on. Back in the mid-2000s, two ‘Michael’s’, a film critic with last name Medved and a lawyer with last name Lackner, wrote an item for the Foundation for Defense of Democracy about anti-American propaganda in comicdom as the turn of the century began, and one of the listed items was Ellis’ Global Frequency, which sported anti-Israeli propaganda to boot. And MacDonald sure never has seemed worried about the proliferation of that kind of atrocious mindset in any medium, any more than she does seem worried about “cancel culture”, seeing as through her association with the Whisper Network, she was helping it.

 

And wow, did she get fired by DC’s upper echelons? I’ll shed no tears. It was probably before Dan DiDio came in, and I get the feeling if she were still there by the time he got his foot in the door, her job would’ve lasted a lot longer. Does she really believe Ellis’ “kindness” to her was sincere, though? I do know she’s naive if she thinks older women aren’t exploited or subject to any kind of abuse by younger men.

 

If Warren’s serial online relationships were something of an open secret on the Warren Ellis Forum (1998-2002) it got more and more prevalent on his subsequent forums. It was a subtext on The Engine (2005-2007) and practically the text on Whitechapel (2007-2011.) I’d grown increasingly uncomfortable with the open grooming and exhibitionism on The Engine, and I responded as one did then, with a snarky blog post. I forget exactly where or when, but my original “green eye” Twitter avatar was actually part of some post where I and some others mocked the whole “show me your photo” threads on the WEF and beyond, as many young women would line up for praise from “Internet Jesus.” As a sarcastic retort, I deliberately posted some crackly green “Hulk” photos.

Whitechapel seemed even more given over to mostly talking about bondage photography and camgirls…a perfectly legitimate subculture but of no interest to me personally. My participation wasn’t needed or wanted and I rarely visited it. Also, as I got less and less comfortable with the open “online harem,” Warren was less and less interested in my work. I remember seeing him at some junket at SDCC years back where he was friendly enough, but in recent years he rarely answered my emails, and if he linked to a Beat story in his newsletter, the Beat was never mentioned.

 

Wait a moment, she witnessed some of this alleged “grooming”, and didn’t say anything on her own website over a decade ago? Gee, now it’s apparent something’s gone awry here. And she accuses Ellis of throwing her under the bus? Well in that case, she’s got something in common with the women he used and dumped. But “online harem”? Oh, that’s a great one. You can’t marry somebody and be their husband only online, and a computerized wedding ring does not a real, metallic ring make.

 

Like everyone who was ghosted, I was sad because….Good Warren is amazing. The WEF really was one of the safer places for women on the internet of the time, even if it wasn’t safe for the people Warren was targeting, and even though all the praise of it will forever be tainted, in the words of Han Solo, “all of it. It’s all true.” Without an intense personal or sexual connection to Warren, I could enjoy his writing and still cogent futurism. His newsletter was a highlight in my inbox every week, and knowing now that many of the people he promoted in it were promoted because they had online sex with him doesn’t make them any less talented.

 

This is actually silly – he had online sex with them? I’m sure she knows that makes very little sense. At worst, it demonstrates her inability to distinguish physical from virtual. It makes her sound like an unintentional comedienne. Of course, there’s that part about Ellis obtaining naked pictures to consider, something that MacDonald’s post doesn’t clearly deal with. On which note, there was an article on The Federalist recently about a case involving an online predatory pest in Germantown, Maryland who persuaded several women to send him nude photos in an evil deed vaguely reminiscent of what Ellis did with at least a few of the women he was involved with, with one difference being that the felon the online magazine’s talking about pretended to be a woman.

 

 

Now if that was illegal, then obviously, Ellis may have committed a felony too. He may not have been some unknown, but it’s still reprehensible to talk women into dishing out nude photos, because how is one supposed to know he wouldn’t post the pics to porn sites, as the thug in Maryland did, or blackmailed his victims into thinking he’d do if they didn’t meet his demands? It sounds in hindsight like Ellis took advantage of women who simply weren’t smart enough, and on that, maybe he should face an inquiry. And I find his work to be anything but amazing. His most notable indie projects are far too political for my tastes.

Here’s also an earlier post of MacDonald’s from November 14, 2013 where she brought up Tess Fowler, who turned out to be an inciter causing problems for writer Brian Wood. MacDonald said at the time:

 

Since this story broke, I’ve felt uncomfortable reporting on one side of the story, so I reached out to Wood for comment, and he declined to comment.

 

What if it turned out he did comment and she didn’t want to run it, or, he didn’t feel comfy commenting to her, because he was afraid she’d warp his words? Besides, she’s already been unmasked as a member of the Whisper Network along with Tess Fowler, so it’s actually better not to waste time with her. Lois Lane she’s definitely not.

 

As one might expect, Twitter and FB lit up like a pinball machine. In one way it’s good to have things out in the open, because what Fowler has been writing about all along is how internalizing these things is bad and how a culture of silence punishes the victim. Other women have since spoken out (without naming names) about harassment and unwanted attention. I think it’s important to note that what Wood has been accused of is skeevy and sketchy and shouldn’t be tolerated—but it isn’t illegal. Sadly, I have in my inbox allegations of an actual crime committed by a different comics pro, one where legal action has been sought, and I’m investigating it before writing about it. But these incidents aren’t isolated or unique.

 

What? Is she saying sexual harassment isn’t against the law? Strange, because as far back as 1964, there were laws drafted for definition and enacting penalties against offenders. Oh wait, is she saying that mere conversation and compliment of a woman’s good looks should be illegal? See, this is exactly the problem with today’s mentality indoctrinated in universities – the Orwellian Anti-Sex League mentality. I suspect MacDonald comes from that very school of thought. I’ve also noticed she may never have been married, nor has any children, one more sad thing about her, and a sad problem with today’s feminist mindset – rejection of the opposite sex, along with marriage and child-bearing.

 

They are also, sad to say, typical of just about all industries where this is male/female interaction. None of what I’ve just written about is comics behavior. It’s HUMAN behavior. There are jerks and assholes in every industry. In all the vast body of writing about the increasing tensions of men and women — many attractive, most sexually active—interacting in the comics sphere there is bad stuff that is singular to our corner of the world, but most of it is everywhere. And as women enter the field in ever greater capacities—as readers, as creators, as fans—these problems have become more common.

 

There’s just one thing – if women do enter the field in vast numbers, are they doing it out of a wish to entertain altruistically, or, are they entering to push leftist political ideology, much like their male counterparts whom they’re now turning against, as seen on the Whisper Network? Come to think of it, how many more will enter the field, based on its current reputation, or how it doesn’t pay enough, or because of the possibility that, if women just get into any business to get men into trouble, the male managers may not hire many women afterwards because they suspect they’re going to be troublemakers? Food for thought. Besides, even if not the biggest numbers, there were women working in comicdom and other mediums decades before, and all this SJW revisionism has got to stop.

 

MacDonald also brought up a woman who may have taken up the transgender/non-binary mentality:

 

Rachel Edidin, a former editor at Dark Horse, has an excellent piece here called Comics Guys, Harassment, and Missing Stairs, which points out that while women usually rely on the “girls network” to point out which guys are pervs and gropers and worse, it’s still putting all the pressure on women not to get into these situations, when maybe it should be men who don’t do bad shit in the first place

 

Umm, that’s kinda obvious, don’t you think?

 

The question is whether a certain segment of society like MacDonald are pushing man-hatred into the wider mindset, at the expense of honest men along the way. And as for Edidin, she not only took up this new form of self-degradation, she practically wrote about it a few years ago. I guess that’s why I’m not linking directly to her post because what’s the use when she’s so out there? People who take up that kind of “trendiness”, to the point they’d get others to kowtow to it, and have such extreme left-wing visions, do not make good spokespersons.

 

We’ve come a long way since there were only five women in comics and we all sat in the corner with our arms crossed. When I first got into comics there were all sorts of awkward horrible stories because guys in comics were in such a man’s world they really had no idea how to DEAL with women as colleagues. There’s the woman I know who went to show a male editor her portfolio and after he told her she wasn’t ready yet asked her on a date. Awkward. And demoralizing if you just want to get in the door and get work and make a living doing what you dream of doing. Everyone wants to be taken seriously. Colleen Doran has written extensively about the sexual harassment she underwent as a very young woman trying to break into the industry. I never went through anything that severe but I had my share of weird moments in my youth…most of it I just shrugged off. But that’s me. I try to be a hard-nosed football player. I’ve also seen the constant unwanted attention erode women’s confidence and make them question everything about their chosen career.

Fowler writes very convincingly, I think, about how this can’t be tolerated. We need to create a space where ANYONE feels they have a chance at their chosen career and unpleasant or illegal actions by others aren’t going to kill their chances.

 

From what I’ve seen of Doran’s mindset more recently (and to my knowledge, she shuns Comicsgate as though they’re the problem more than the actual offenders in today’s medium), I must reiterate I’m not taking anything she alleges at face value, end of story. And Fowler “convinces”, you say? That’s about as convincing in turn as Cooke’s call for “transparency.” And MacDonald had weird moments in “her youth”? Yeah, I’ll bet. No naive views taken of this today, that’s for sure. But that’s beside the point. She makes it sound like most men lived during their youth in a monastery with no genuine contact with the opposite sex until they left, and got zero sex education or social guidance. Or that they were homosexual/asexual/celibate until meeting a woman for real.

 

 

No mention of any of the industry menfolk who were married to women either, like Siegel and Shuster, Lee and Kirby, not even a couple in comicdom like Walt and Louise Simonson. Whatever MacDonald’s touting here isn’t clear. Does she want publishers to just accept manuscripts without mixing business with pleasure, or that women literally shun relations with men, or that everybody learn better social skills? This is where she rates a big failure. Say, why no mention of Dorothy Woolfolk, the comics editor who conceived Kryptonite as a weakness for Superman? Or artist Tarpe Mills? Hardly what I’d call sitting with arms crossed when they actually did something in the Golden Age. Everyone may want to be taken seriously, but MacDonald won’t be after her shady associations.

 

As convention culture spreads, it’s almost like a never-end rock band on tour, with all the attendant drunken passes, successful and unsuccessful. Like I said, human behavior. Men and women are always going to want to have sex with each other, and it’s often going to get fucked up somehow.

So is sex in and of itself wrong? Something this stupid piece barely touches on is whether alcohol should be consumed, and whether it poses a problem. Maybe if there was less drinking, there’d be more respectable – if not perfect – relations begun? How come that doesn’t factor in here?

 

Anyway, I’m sort of sitting here wondering if any of this will ever improve. I will say, indie comics seem to have escaped most of these levels of power tripping and “I want to look at your portfolio in my hotel room.” For one thing, most indie cartoonists are poor and stay on someone’s couch. BA DOM CHING. For another, they are mostly at the age that hooking up is just something that happens and not the way to a contract with Drawn & Second. There are tears and regrets and angry break-ups, but its mostly what would happen if they all worked at Trader Joe’s, and not comics-specific.

Of course there are creepy dudes and inappropriate behavior in indies, too, just less of it.

I know this was written a few years before Scott Allie‘s case came up, but to think it doesn’t happen on a wide scale over in the indies is laughable. It would’ve been laughable if anybody suggested sexual abuse doesn’t occur as often in independent movie production, and look at the Weinstein scandal 3 years back, for which he’s now rotting in prison. Say, is she taking a jab at Trader Joe’s because they weren’t exactly a business know for politically correct pandering, and wisely stood up to it of recent? As for her comment on indie cartoonists or artists, I’m sure that’s disputable, since Billy Tucci for one is far from a pauper.

 

I do know that some skeevy guys in comics have been informally banned from various companies. And freelancers who do too many shitty things occasionally get lectured by editors. It doesn’t happen NEARLY often enough, but it does happen. But sadly—there’s that word again—it’s also widely known that at one super mega comics publisher, many of the top execs have had huge human resources files and nothing has been done about it. That’s pretty fucking fucked up. But far, far more often, women feel helpless and victimized and nothing is done. Like Edidin, I’d like to see more PREVENTION than cure. I’d like to see the status of the women in comics ELEVATED and RESPECTED to the level where this is not tolerated or condoned or laughed at or whatever. To be honest, that’s why at this site I tend to talk mostly about the matters which I feel are specific to the comics industry, including the lingering, persistent belief that female creators are inferior or non-serious about their work.

Rachel Edidin is comics?

 

Oh, this is ridiculous.

 

If only prevention is the answer, and not a cure for bad behavior, then prevention alone will not end it and it’ll continue to lurk around the corner as a problem. That aside, did it ever occur to her that exaggerating and making false accusations against men who could be innocent can hurt actual victims of sexual misconduct? Probably not. As for lingering persistence, if she feels women aren’t taken seriously, why didn’t she thank Walt Disney for setting a good example in his time by defending women’s talents as being as good as the men working for him? One more thing to comment on here:

 

I think the most feminist show I’ve watched in recent months has been The Ultimate Fighter: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate, where for the first time men and women fighters have been in the same house. I wrote a bit about it here, but the way the mixed-gender house has been handled in editing and presentation should be studied for a long time. TUF has never had any shortage of hot people in their underwear, and the female fighters have been shown in hot tub scenes and are constantly lounging around in ugly biker shorts—just like the guys. But UFC president Dana White’s goal is to build UP the women’s division, and to do that they must be taken seriously. The women are presented as equals and as athletes, not sex objects who wandered into the sport. The women have given and received brutal beatdowns. They’ve rolled and they’ve banged. They sit around with the men talking about fighting, and the men listen. The men and women comment equally on all the fights, and once again, the women are presented seriously. They are worthy of respect.

 

But does she think allowing men pretending to be women to fight against the fairer sex is appropriate or worthy of respect? Because at one point, the tournament Ronda Rousey competed in did that, and she was at least wise enough to refuse to fight such a disgrace. Ignoring political correctness won’t make things better for women anywhere.

But enough of that for now.

 

Let me just say one more thing about the aforementioned Willingham case, which MacDonald still conceals. It was bad enough Willingham stained his reputation with the embarrassingly bad War Games crossover in Batman, which saw the character of Stephanie Brown flayed to within an inch of her life by Black Mask before dying. And turning Leslie Thompkins into her killer made it worse (before these storylines were abandoned a few years later). Especially bad was Willingham’s cavalier response to Spoiler’s fandom (in some ways, he was an early example of a creator acting contemptuous towards the audience, to say nothing of a “loose cannon”). But of course that’s still no excuse for Stephanie Cooke’s alleged embezzlement. It’s pretty obvious Willingham’s worst writings for corporate media had nothing to do with her actions.

 

However, this demonstrates a prime example of something Willingham, reportedly a right-winger, should’ve seen coming before: no matter how much he pandered to the PC advocates in the mainstream at the time who wanted to get rid of Chuck Dixon’s creations from their stables (and lest we forget, he too is a conservative-leaner), it wouldn’t convince them not to throw him under the bus… and they did. Their favoritism for Cooke, to the point they’d cover up her alleged crime, is proof of that. It might explain why Willingham’s done so little writing in the past 5 years too, even though he’s reaching his mid-60s; they could’ve blacklisted him since. One of the very few news sites I found giving mention to the case was Multiversity Comics, and they were following up on the news Bleeding Cool originally published, then erased.

 

Multiversity gave the accusations Stephanie Cooke some lip service.

I hope Cooke is eventually made to answer these felony charges, and it’s possible to file an extradition request with Canadian authorities in order to do it. But while I hope Willingham gets his money back, I also hope he’ll apologize for the PR mistakes he made in the past and the poor examples he set, as maybe that’ll encourage more people to back him up. Most of the errors he made in writing have since been reversed, and if he were to top it off with a simple apology for kowtowing to DiDio’s directions, that could be a positive step, and it’s better late than never.

And as for MacDonald, I’d suggest anybody concerned about her ties make sure really consider whether or not they should advertise on her site. At a time like this, it might be better to save your money.

 

More to come.

 

 

Originally published here.

Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

JUST KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON