What happens when a free-agent indie comic publisher like myself looks into the heart of Comicsgate?
Heaven and Hell- let’s start there.
Hell we can see. A mainstream comic market jealously guarded by gatekeepers obsessed with their own moralizing propaganda. Gatekeepers who fling accusations of impurity at any who dare offer critique, when they’re not preoccupied conducting nefarious back-channel whisper campaigns to sabotage careers.
It is a Hell that craves control over the cultural narrative despite frequently being unable to write its way out of a paper bag. A mediocre inferno that buries talent, fellates obedience, and relentlessly offers readers a bleak future composed of mandatory opinions.
I like Heaven.
A place where great entertainment enriches us with unimaginable experiences, universal truths, and engaging adventure.
In this meritocracy any creator can tell any story, and clearly informed readers enjoy the best. Freedom to create, critique, and share facilitates the formation of genuine value, lifting it to the surface for all to enjoy. There are no gatekeepers parceling out permission. Anyone willing can jump in, grow their skills, and be acknowledged.
That’s what I had in mind when I called for a New Market back in 2009.
So where does Comicsgate fit into all this? Is it bringing us closer to a shimmering comic Valhalla, or tacking new subdivisions onto the same old Hell? The movement is shrouded in polarized opinion, making it difficult for an outsider to discern the contours.
But I know who the underdog is.
When trans-national media outlets Comedy Central, Buzzfeed, Polygon, the Daily Beast, and the Telegraph are all desperately attacking a single person who makes naughty Youtube videos, well I just assume these outlets are united against institutional power.
The media repeat a chorus you may have heard before. Impartial arbiters of blue-checked gospel have called Comicsgate the “centre of alt-right comics hate speech,” and an “anti-diversity harassment campaign.”
Such phrases instantaneously vitiate their own credibility. I’ve seen the establishment and their swarm hurl these lies at any inconvenient person existing outside of their circle of power, (including me), with absolutely nothing to substantiate their accusations aside from Twitter’s algorithmic seal of approval.
Perhaps this is the one time when the boy who cried wolf was staring into a set of fangs, but at this point you can’t blame the townsfolk for their skepticism.
My assessment of Anti-Comicsgate declarations is further colored by the fact that many of these professionals have, out of a blank blue sky, blocked Vivid Publishing on social media. I’m not inclined to give folks the benefit of the doubt when their default stance is to bury us and our work without provocation.
Comicsgate folks, on the other hand, don’t have me blocked. And I like a David vs. Goliath setup. What do they claim this movement is about?
Fortunately for me, there’s a site called “What Is Comicsgate.”
“Comicsgate is an alliance of comic book fans, critics, and creators who have found common cause in standing up against what they see as a hard push by social justice warriors into their hobby… Comicsgate is not about political ideology or identity. There are conservatives and liberals, there are black and white, gay and straight, Christian and Atheist, and everything under the sun. Where comicsgate people disagree is not where they put their focus. It’s where they agree that they ally: Comics are about entertainment, not political or ideological proselytizing.”
100% sunshine and hot rainbows, good to hear! Finally, a hashtag movement with no downside.
Judging by the talking points, Comicsgate is bringing us all closer to Valhalla, a consumer movement focused on celebrating merit…
One figurehead of the movement recently made a proclamation to that effect, saying that he loved to signal-boost indie comic campaigns solely for the warm satisfaction of seeing others succeed.
Someone asked whether that magnanimous signal-boostery had any preconditions. And here is where the reality begins to peel away from the talking points.
At this point we engaged a bit, and the person was friendly towards us. But the attitude remained, that Comicsgate has a monopoly on valid independent work.
I’m omitting names because I want to keep the focus on the ideas in force, rather than target a particular person.
And the idea conveyed above matters, because it seems to be the prevailing attitude of the movement. Rather than quality, loyalty seems to serve as the coin of the realm. Those who fail to declare allegiance will be surprised to find that, suddenly, they oppose customer service by definition. Whoops.
I call these “Label Traps”.
Do you oppose Antifa? Then you’re a fascist, by definition!
I’m sure you can rattle off a number of movements that use Label Traps as recruiting & containment tools, you don’t need a list from me. But every time I see a Label Trap in action, it’s a red flag.
Something else is under that label.
This leads to a thought experiment we call ‘Schrodinger’s Comic.’
You receive a comic book in the mail, read it, and enjoy it. But you do not know whether the author is Zoë Quinn, or Ethan Van Sciver. (They can each be recognized as the standard bearers of their respective movements.) So the question… Was it a good comic?
“EVS wrote it.”
“Well, then yeah it’d be a good comic.”
“Sure. And let’s say you enjoyed the story, the art, all that. But then you find out that actually Zoe Quinn wrote it?”
“What? Well, then it would suck.”
“But you just said it’s good. Same artwork, same words, same everything, just it came from Zoe Quinn instead of EVS.”
“Well, she wouldn’t be able to write something good, so it would be bad…”
I’m paraphrasing a real conversation from a friend who was being courted by Comicsgate loyalists to join the movement. Puzzled, he finally asked,
“I mean, isn’t this supposed to be all about getting some alternatives to the mainstream stuff, and helping promote good indie comics?”
The response was:
“We’re beyond that now.”
I didn’t want to judge too much from a handful of interactions. The comics industry needs revitalizing alternatives to the atrophied, pious corporate establishment. I would utterly love it if Comicsgate could improve things.
So, I tried to look a little deeper, past this limited interaction…
I can’t even begin to untangle the avowing, the disavowing, the splinter factions, the serial falling-outs, and then there was something called ‘War Campaign’ – which is not a book title…
It looked less like a burgeoning creative market, and more like Internet Blood Sports and popularity power games. I didn’t see conversations about characters or story, but instead it was mostly arguments about who is ‘really’ Comicsgate, who is throwing who out of the movement, and endless internet posturing.
On social media some time back, this was driven home to me after seeing Comicsgate people literally burning comics they had purchased, following some inscrutable fracture point that set them at odds with a creator that they no longer considered an ally.
The same book they had touted as superlative ascendant literature suddenly became an object of contempt in the blink of an eye.
Comicsgate was not turning out to be about comics. There were props. There were tokens of allegiance. Customers are supporting their favored culture-war gladiator and buying e-celeb merch, not investing in entertainment for the sake of being entertained.
Crowdfunding was important primarily as a means for keeping score, and for ‘optics.’
Well, perhaps the sausage factory is a horror show, but if it’s serving up great comics, then I suppose it’s all fine in the end…?
Which leads us to the obvious question…
At least as a byproduct, is Comicsgate producing good comics?
Well, they fund a great many more comics than they deliver. So right off the bat, we are looking at a subset. And due to the polarization around the movement, it’s difficult to know whether a review is even remotely objective.
‘Jawbreakers’ and ‘Goddess Mode’ are considered prominent Comicsgate and Anti-Comicsgate books. I know of only one outfit that has reviewed both of them, my buddies at Shots with Comics.
So what should be your takeaway from this article? Am I telling you to leave Comicsgate, join Comicsgate, join Anti-But-Not-Those-Anti-Comicsgate?
Pigeonholing yourself is totally irrelevant to what really matters.
What matters is a shining Valhalla of great work, value, and creative opportunity for all.
Is Comicsgate doing anything helpful? Yes? Maybe at one point in time, it probably was. Consumer movements like this don’t erupt over nothing. It revealed the depth of contempt harbored by mainstream activists towards their own misrepresentations of their customer base, and helped those customers connect with one another to reorient.
But a funny thing can happen when a hashtag sees a mirror. What was once a label to identify news, an external scandal, can become a tribal identity, asserting ownership over those who had used it as a filtering tool.
Now Comicsgate seems to be more about corralling disaffected customers, and dictating to them who is approved or disapproved in the world of indie comics. To the degree its adherents engage in this behavior, it will be every bit as destructive to a creative market as the activist tyrants it originally decried.
You get what you vote for, and we’re all voting, all the time. You want loyalty pledges? Focus on loyalty pledges. You want good work? Focus on merit, wherever it may be found.
I get it. Cliques and movements seem to offer strength, and can provide (conditional) camaraderie – until the pendulum swings or a key figure falters, and it can all begin to crumble away like a stale cookie. But what if you can build a foundation of content that people love, not due to ephemeral allegiance, but simply because they enjoy it?
Great work lasts forever, and it has the power to unite people, in a stronger and more authentic way than tribal obedience. If we decide to, we can foster a meritocracy that creates more great work. We can build without bending the knee to either the woke corporations or petty e-celeb cliques. Take it from me, it is more than possible to grow in freedom.
It’s a long journey. But we are drawing closer to something incredible.
Read what you want, align with and work with who you want, think what you want, and do it freely.
It’s worth it.