Since exposing the Whisper Network, tips and testimonials have flooded into the Bleeding Fool inbox from all corners of the internet! It feels like a tectonic shift is happening, and we’re still no where near done decontaminating the comics industry. Perhaps this series will be enough disinfecting light to foil those wicked plans. We’ll see.
For this installment, I’m going to first present an ‘Untold History Lesson’ of a massive crime that was initially reported and swiftly followed by a media cover-up that I think a lot of people completely missed. Sometimes it’s what the media DOESN’T report, that makes a difference. Then we will go back inside the secret Women of Comics Facebook group where I will demonstrate why I think this popular DC Comics writer is the next target of the Whisper Network. And while we’re in there, let’s expose who the head honchos of the group are, shall we?
Oh sure, the Whisper Network exists, but “99% of the time we’re not even talking about guys“
A few days after part one dropped, writer Amy Chu casually confirmed the existence of the Whisper Network, which she dubbed the “Arrogant Female Whisper Network” on Twitter. Doesn’t that sound like a great name for branded merchandise?
Is she trying to convince her followers that this secret group for women, non-binary, and transgender pros that I’ve uncovered only exists to talk about how tired they are and share cat pictures 99% of the time? Well, as Alex de Campi has replied to those men who claim to be innocent of sexual assault:
“Cute, but we don’t believe you.”
Part One Recap
In part one we learned that 440+ women who are either in the comic book industry or connected to it, have a secret, invite-only Facebook group where outsiders can only find and gain access to if they know where to look, who to ask, and can get approved by the top moderators (more on who those top moderators are later). Members of this club include Zoë Quinn, Gail Simone, Mags Vissagio, Heather Antos, Tamra Bonvillain, and many others that are regularly involved, implicated, or at least tertiary to more scandals than I could fit in a hundred articles. And while the majority of the group’s members have very mundane engagements or inactive accounts, a handful of them are very active.
Whisper Network in the Comic Industry Exposed?
After reading through part one, YouTuber dannphan (above) humorously dubbed Alex de Campi “The Regina George” of the group, while also noticing how Rich Johnston of the comics-centric website Bleeding Cool frequently managed his site as more of a personal PR department for de Campi, along with a writer named Stephanie Cooke acting as a sort of apprentice to Alex. I think it’s time we take a look at Ms. Cooke.
Stephanie is a Toronto-based comic book writer and editor and is also a podcaster and critic. She founded various creator focused websites like Creator Resource, Rogues Portal, and Creator Advisor where she says she endeavors to give back to the comics community that she loves. She says she does it because “it can be extremely toxic and discouraging at times, but I really believe in the potential of what the comics industry can become. I want to help steer that ship towards progress, inclusivity, transparency, and to just generally be better.” So she works with the comic book community as much as possible to help foster safer and more inclusive spaces for all.
Got that? Now that we’re all caught up, let me show you where I’m going with this.
Felony Charges & the Disappearing News Coverage
If a Hugo Award nominated and Eisner award winning comics writer publicly accused someone else in the comics industry of a felony crime, would you expect the comics media report it? The media sure made a big deal when the late, great Stan Lee accused his assistant of theft. But when New York Times bestseller and legendary comic book pro Bill Willingham, the man responsible for the award-winning DC Vertigo comic book series Fables, recently accused his assistant of embezzlement, the story got “memory-holed”. His assistant had been very eager to break into the business years earlier, and everything was presumably going well until he began to notice that a lot of his money had gone missing. Three years into her employment, Willingham became convinced that his assistant had betrayed him and that she had embezzled in excess of ten thousand dollars from his accounts. Willingham filed charges with the local authorities and a criminal case was launched.
That female assistant in question just happened to be one of the Whisper Network’s rising stars, none other than Stephanie Cookewho is working on ‘Tartarus‘ for Image Comics.
In fact, Bill Willingham made the incident very public releasing the news to the comics industry press with the following statement:
“It needs to be reported that, during the three years she worked for me, Stephanie Cooke embezzled and outright stole from me to a total in excess of ten thousand dollars. Unfortunately I can’t give you anything approaching an exact figure (yet), as we’re still uncovering instances of theft.”
According to the folks I spoke with, Cooke was well known by Willingham’s friends and family and “everyone knew this had happened”. They also told me that this was considered an ‘open secret’ in the comic business. For some reason, those I spoke with have been privately discussing Cooke’s embezzlement since 2015, but none dared bring it up publicly. For them, Cooke’s name had strangely become a sort of “Voldemort” who cannot be named. Perhaps because of her reputation and media connections, they’re worried about some kind of backlash to their careers if they spoke out, even if everything they were saying was completely true.
To hammer the point home even further, another source for this alleged crime spoke up. One of the most respected women in comics appears to have had some knowledge of the theft case. Mimi Cruz, co-owner of renowned Utah-based Night Flight Comics, gave credence to Bill Willingham’s 2015 public statements, backing up his claims. The following was posted on her official blog, and she also linked to it from her Twitter account.
“if he [Bill Willingham] has reported this to the police and has a case number; it is not a joke. [Stephanie] Cooke should already be trying to make restitution.Public sympathy will not keep you out of jail.”
I applaud Willingham for making this situation public and in turn (hopefully) preventing others from being victimized in the same way.”
I agree with Mimi Cruz and believe that Mr. Willingham has no motivation to lie. The local police were apparently provided with enough evidence to open a case and begin their investigation. While verifying my story, our editor reached out to Bill Willingham himself and confirmed that the criminal case, filed in Dodge County, Minnesota, against Cooke is indeed still active and Willingham also offered the following comments this week [emphasis added]:
“I don’t know if she ever retained counsel. She threatened to and at the time I hoped she would try to sue, since the evidence against her was overwhelming. No new evidence has come to light, unless you count my continuing to go through more old bank records, to see how wide ranging her thieving went. Forensic accounting may be the most tedious of all jobs and I pretty much had to do it all on my own. So then, not only has Miss Cooke gotten away with it (unless she does something incredibly stupid before the statute of limitations expires), she’s cost me hundreds of hours of dull labor piecing together the extent of her crimes.
Out of sheer embarrassment I almost stayed quiet about what she did, as far as telling the comic community about her, because I really did make it ridiculously easy for her, in almost any way imaginable. It was when she started advertising her services around as a potential personal assistant to other comic book pros that I thought I had some sort of responsibility to speak up. I did that then, and again now.
People in our business have been duly warned, and hope I can go back to banishing Stephanie Cooke from my thoughts.”
So a living legend in the comics business accuses his employee of felony theft and makes very public statements about it that were published in the media. Multiple sources back up his claims and a criminal case was started. One might imagine no one could survive such a public mess. Stephanie’s career in comics was most certainly in peril now that the comics press had gotten a hold of this incredible story. But here’s the thing…
Comics Media Either Ignored or Outright Censored the Story
In fact, while CBR, Newsarama, Comics Alliance, and The Beat all were completely silent on the matter, the only high-profile comic news website that apparently covered the story was none other than Bleeding Cool. As you can see in the screenshot from Night-Flight Comics I shared above, Mimi Cruz linked directly to the following Bleeding Cool article on her official blog on September 22, 2015. Could Bleeding Cool be the only media outlet that gave any attention or credibility to this story?
On September 21, 2015, the story was ranked as the 11th most popular news item on Bleeding Cool (right behind three stories attacking artist Frank Cho).
Why would the only deleted article in that list be the one where Stephanie Cooke was credibly accused of embezzlement by Fables creator Bill Willingham? Why has it been scrubbed from the site after being such a hot news story? After all, if it bleeds, it leads is the general perception of what gets reported at Bleeding Cool and head writer Rich Johnston is considered by many to be a MEDIA-SHARK. Once he sees red, he attacks anything that moves, ripping apart any pro in his path. But I must admit that he does seem to have a strange penchant for showing mercy whenever Whisper Network comrades are concerned.
I encourage you to take the time to click all these links I’m providing. I especially don’t want anyone to miss how Rich Johnston ended that de Campi article. You might be forgiven for thinking that Bleeding Cool is de Campi’s personal website or PR firm after reading this. Let it what he wrote sink in for a moment.
“If you are smart, you employ her, if you are even smarter, you listen to what she says.”
In fairness to Stephanie Cooke, she did proclaim her innocence on Twitter, and she also claimed she was getting a lawyer when the alleged embezzlement in Minnesota came to light. But afterwards she swiftly fled the United States and returned to Canada. Was that to avoid facing charges or answering to the legal system through her lawyer that she claimed to have hired, or was she just feeling homesick? According to my sources, she never hired anyone and she deleted any and all her tweets where she claimed she was hiring one). As of today, according to all parties that I spoke with, this remains an open embezzlement case and she has still not hired an attorney. And in Minnesota, embezzlement of this magnitude is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or fines up to $20,000.
According to Bill Willingham’s 2015 statement from his original open letter (which Bleeding Cool wiped from their site), she could still be charged with embezzlement should she return to the USA. While I don’t have the dollar amount of the alleged embezzlement, Willingham alluded to it being “in excess of ten thousand dollars”. If Cooke were to be convicted of a felony for less than $10,000, it could still land her in prison for up to 5 years in the state of Minnesota. That might motivate someone to lay low, not mention the incident anymore, and just wait out the statute of limitations. If only there were someone who owned a small law firm in central Minnesota who could law-splain this hypothetical situation to us…
On the Subject of ‘Transparency’
Comics Beat, the workplace of Cooke’s fellow Whisper Network comrade Heidi MacDonald, published an interview with Cooke back in 2018 where she wanted everyone to know that she’s a big fan of TRANSPARENCY.
“There are a lot of problems with the comic book industry as anyone who’s been in it for a while can tell you. I think some of those problems could be solved with transparency.”
Stephanie Cooke, June 28, 2018
I found it interesting that Cooke only seems to want to talk about transparency as it applies to the men in the comics industry, but not herself or her comrades. Strange that there was no mention of those embezzlement charges Mr. Willingham lobbied against Cooke in the article. For that matter, there’s no mention of it anywhere on the Comics Beat website, save one lone commentor with a good memory and an inquisitive mind who at least asked about it in the comments section of the “transparency” interview.
Comments certainly ARE closed on that subject. Nine months earlier, Heidi herself had posted the news that ComicsPRO (Comics Professional Retail Organization) was investigating misappropriation of organization funds by Co-Founder Gary Dills, so embezzlement stories were fair game then. What changed? Other comics websites also carried the Dills story, but when I looked for the Stephanie Cooke story, it’s just not there. Certainly not at ComicsBeat.com, or anywhere else apparently. Maybe inside the Whisper Network, beneficial friends can help make pesky problems disappear?
As far as I can tell, the only time Cooke ever responded to these accusations was on Twitter (which she later deleted). Here are two screen-caps of tweets wherein it looks like Cooke posted a response to Willingham’s accusations in September 2015.
According to these tweets, public accusations are sh*tty and not letting people defend themselves first before going public is also bad. In contrast, here are a few more of Stephanie’s undeleted tweets regarding instructions on how to handle money (with some more jabs at men for good measure). Weird how the first two almost on the anniversary of Willingham charging her with embezzlement.
The irony is off the charts.
But This is NOT a Joke
Whisper Network members have been laughing at reports that came out in recent weeks about their group, making light of what was reported, or threatening legal reprisals, but this is actually far from funny. Stephanie Cooke is writing books for HMH Kids. She organizes comic events. She’s considered to be a Trusted Member of the Media™, which means that she has the privilege of reporting and handling sensitive information. She is supposed to be helping hook up creators with paying gigs, and yet she has never answered for criminal charges that were leveled at her by her previous employer, an award-winning, highly respected creator in the comic book industry.
How many in the Whisper Network had even heard of or knew about this alleged embezzlement beforehand, but have kept quiet? CBR has published literally hundreds of Bill Willingham related stories, but were mum on this one. How many people knew about the subsequent media cover-ups or perhaps even helped facilitate them? How many people in the industry have been victimized due to silence, something that Bill Willingham, Mimi Cruz and others attempted to protect their peers from?
No. I am sorry Amy Chu, but this is not ‘sharing cat pictures’, and this is not a joke. This is dead serious. And a lot of folks have things to answer for. Meanwhile, let’s take a detour from memory lane for now and look into some more recent history, maybe even peek into the future a little bit.
The Whisper Network’s Next Likely Target
There is a tactic known as playing the long game where the opposition builds their attacks in intensity slowly over time. Sort of a ‘death by 1,000 cuts’ approach before the final blow, and then the real Twitter Trial begins. On the social platforms, I’ve observed this pattern in the same handful of folks who frequently talk about taking down the ‘sh*tty people,’ the worst of the worst, but only the folks who they allege “attack marginalized groups” and participate in “hate groups”.
You know who they say they hate. Those “right wingers”. The ‘Gaters’. ‘Trumpsters’… ad infinitum. However, I’m convinced that this group, or several members of it, are targeting ANYONE WITH POWER, regardless of their politics or their affiliations. Potentially, a target might be anyone they’re jealous of, or anyone who has a job the feel entitled to. I’ve also noticed that nearly all of the targets seem to be men.
The First Cut
Heather Antos, formerly of Marvel Comics, recently doled out a kick to the shins to Scott Snyder of DC Comics. It happened on August 28, 2018. Does that date sound familiar?
This was several months after she left Marvel Comics (and was certainly NOT fired from Marvel for anything that amounted to bullying, harassment, rumor spreading, and trying to damage the careers of her co-workers, as has been speculated). She left the company voluntarily to become the Editor in Chief of e-sports betting website Unikrn on March 9, 2018. And as reliably as ever, Rich Johnston gave her a wonderful send-off on Bleeding Cool.
Antos makes what seems like a subtle jab that implies, ‘You’re not condemning Comicsgate quick enough for my tastes, Scott, so that must mean you’re tacitly supporting them.” Or am I reading that wrong? Some saw her tweet as simply Antos being Antos, taking a cheap shot whenever she sees an opening and was therefore really nothing out of the ordinary. But was it really a RANDOM dig, or was this the beginning of something bigger?
Comicsgate has been labeled a ‘Hate Movement’ by certain self-proclaimed Social Justice Warriors and far Left activists on Twitter, Heather Antos included. However, Comicsgate supporters and the industry pros who are either sympathetic or identify with the movement have always denied these allegations, claiming they are inclusive, that they treat everyone equally, love comic books, judge work by its merit, and simply don’t like a lot of what they see in the current direction of the industry.
And yet for some reason, Scott Snyder has been compelled to repeatedly denounce the movement on his social media.
The October Surpise
The Whisper Network was really tearing things up throughout 2017, making crazy comments and trashing pros publicly and privately. But things began to shift in late 2017, after Aubrey Sitterson‘s G.I. Joe comic was cancelled by IDW for low sales. At least that’s what was reported, but his critical statement about 9/11 mourners probably didn’t sit well with G.I .Joe customers, especially since he crassly decided post to his provocative comments ON the anniversary – September 11, 2017.
This did little to quiet the extreme fringe Left, but it planted a seed: normal comicbook fans in the Middle, on the Right, and even many on the Left, were growing sick of this sense of hatred towards readers, and the heavy-handed politics that writers were regularly inserting. They just want to be entertained, not scolded. Then October rolled around. On October 12, 2018, Marvel writer Chuck Wendigwas fired, in his own words, “because of the negativity and vulgarity that my tweets bring. It was too much politics, too much vulgarity, too much negativity on my part.”
With all this ‘Sturm und Drang’, I surprisingly found VIRTUALLY NOTHING happening in the Whisper Network after October 2018. For the rest of the year and for nearly all of 2019 the Twitterati seemed to be on their best behavior. They even stopped much of the trash talking and presumably any colluding behind the scenes, from what I could tell. I could find no threats, no bullying, and the rumor-spreading had really died down. It remained relatively quiet until 2020.
Dateline 2020: The Attacks Resume on Snyder
One thing I’ve come to believe about the Whisper Network: THEY NEVER FORGIVE, and they NEVER FORGET. Even the tiniest cut will leave a trail of blood for them. On January 14, 2020 it was none other than Stephanie Cooke who took the next swipe at Snyder. It is probably too soft to be considered a ‘cancellation’, but that probably wasn’t the point. I believe it was designed to build a foundation for future attacks, thereby demeaning him and calling his character into question.
“Maybe comics isn’t for you, Scott Snyder”
Followed up breathlessly by Verified Twitter User™ and proud Whisper Network Ally™ Christopher Sebela who also got in a tiny jab when Scott was being put down. I don’t think this attack went very well for Cooke because it didn’t go viral, and it didn’t gain any traction. A few more months passed before the network lashed out again. I’ve noticed another pattern seems to be that they bring up the same petty grievances over and over again, for years if necessary, until it goes viral and/or the media reports on it.
On June 25, 2020, we witnessed Alex de Campi(shared here in part 1) saying she ‘Doesn’t believe’ that Snyder would ‘say no’ to abusing, harassing, grooming, and manipulating women. Insinuating that he wouldn’t intervene if he saw women being abused. Again, she gave no evidence to back up her insinuation that Mr. Snyder had ever sexually abused, harassed, or “marginalized” anyone. And yet, without cause, she publicly let Snyder’s peers, editors, friends, followers, co-workers, and even his wife know that she thought Scott was capable of any of these horrific offenses when she shared it with her 24,000 Twitter followers.
I’m sure they all appreciated her opinions on the matter.
And it didn’t take long for Alex’s chum Stephanie Cooke to coincidentally land another strike on Scott Snyder. Surely this was all happening in a very organic manner, and not at all organized beforehand.
Here we see Stephanie Cook attempting to stain Scott Snyder with a ‘CG adjacent‘ label, which has oddly become the equivalent of a scarlet letter, like calling someone ‘Nazi Lover™’. Lately the act of labeling folks “CGers” and “Comicsgaters” has become a very popular harassment tool – like an industry code-word that translates to “someone in a hate group”. Does anyone ever hold her accountable for these defamatory accusations? Of course not. No one in the media held her accountable for the criminal accusations that Bill Willingham leveled against her, so a little harassment surely can’t sully her reputation.
Maybe they get away with it because these harassment tactics seem to be working for the Whisper Network. There’s no penalty for potentially being wrong about these negative labels being tossed about, as far as I’ve ever seen. They don’t even have to prove it. I suppose they could accuse 100 people of being a ‘CGer’ and they’ll never have to answer for it. And since comic companies seem to have no bullying or harassment rules against attacking fans and fellow pros online, Marvel and DC staff can use these weapons against readers, peers, and contract workers without any risk. Have all the people in authority been effectively cowed?
Last weekend, everyone saw Tom King weaponize a CG association against Asian illustrator and industry legend Jae Lee. One could argue that there were both defamation-like elements and racial elements to King’s attack, but he will likely get away with it, as everyone always seems to. Yet in spite of Tom’s mea culpa, according to Lee, he and King are not “all good”as Mr. King tried to claim to his followers.
But I digress.
The Secret Group is Discussing Snyder Now
This is where things get even more insidious. Another popular activity I’ve seen inside the Whisper Network is the sharing of contents from personal e-mails, private phone calls, and texts with all of the other members, potentially shaming someone in the industry and turning that person’s colleagues against him. These are private messages being shared with 443 women who all work in the same industry. While there is the expected supportive feedback and encouragement, something else seems to be happening. See if you notice it.
Following the Whisper Network’s June 23-25, 2020 Twitter smear job against Snyder, Mags Vissagio seemingly tipped her hand on the Women’s Network secret Facebook page. Based on her history, it appears this could be setting the stage for future attacks.
Then we get some of the other women talking about ’emotional dumping’, which quickly becomes ’emotional manipulation’. They even bring up Sean Murphy. Then someone throws in Max Bemis for comparison, whom Alex De Campi has eviscerated before (see Part 1).
See where this is going? I’m just speculating, but how long before someone accuses Snyder of ‘grooming‘?
Remember the very first tweet I shared with you at the beginning of this article where Amy Chu was mocking the Twitter user who claimed that the Whisper Network was run by Gail Simone and Alex deCampi? Did you notice the little badge next to her name in this secret Facebook thread above? Do you know what that little badge means (see chart below)? The reason Amy Chu knows was able to say who doesn’t run the Whisper Network is because Amy Chu is one of the admins who runs their secret Facebook Group, along with some others like the Editor in Chief of ONI Press.
They approve of all this collusion.
Has the Stage Been Set for Snyder?
In theory, if someone like Tess Fowler, Alex De Campi, Stephanie Cooke, Mags Vissagio, or Heather Antos were to make a public accusation against Scott Snyder, which they might not, especially after this article drops, but let’s say in a hypothetical scenario that they decided to, those previous public comments have laid a foundation that many of them have contributed to. All of the following statements could be made, and “receipts” could be provided, and as we’ve seen in the past, they don’t have to provide any evidence:
“Well SCOTT DID wait way too long to denounce Comicsgate, and we called him out on it!” (Antos, August 28, 2018)
“Well, SCOTT DID say he wanted to be competitive and take down fellow creators in January, which is toxic masculinity at its worst!!” (Cooke, January 14, 2020)
“While SCOTT SAID he wouldn’t manipulate or harass women in June, but we didn’t believe him, and demonstrated how he didn’t care about harassment…” (de Campi, June 23, 2020)
“He’s been accused of helping ‘CGers’ (that’s secret code for Nazis!)” (Cooke, June 23, 2020)
“SCOTT whines a lot on the phone, and he’s MARRIED after all – he wants attention of women, is ’emotionally dumping’, and that’s just a step away from grooming behavior, especially since he’s a cis white male in a position of power!” (several others in the private group, June 2020)
All the ‘proof’ a Twitter-takedown requires can be found right there in the digital paper trail above that I believe shows a pattern of problematic behavior. And if a Twitter trial started, I don’t think Scott Snyder would have a leg to stand on unless he’s truly willing to fight back. And by all indications, he is not.
LOST INCOME & OPPORTUNITIES
For the Whisper Network to accuse ANYONE of bullying and harassment could be likened to a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I’ve only scratched the surface, and by digging into the recent past, I’m finding there is even more that I need to explore further. This rabbit hole goes deep. What looks like collusion from 2018 and earlier is going to be the focus of “The Whisper Network Part 3“, but I think may be a good time to share a few screenshots that I’ve collected while exploring the Whisper Network secret group.
Does this look like cat photos and girl talk? Or does it look like a lot of complaints of harassment against the Diversity & Comics YouTube channel. And because these women might feel they’ve been harassed, they discuss the man’s Patreon page, and the topic of removing a potential source of income for him. Is there any evidence that Meyer ever spoke about these particular women? Do these screenshots demonstrate a private coordinated cyber attack, something referred to as brigading?
Two days later I saw Dani Coleman following up on this topic. She seemed to suggest mass-reporting Richard Meyer for copyright infringement, with the hopes that it will shut down his account faster, thereby cutting off his income.
I honestly don’t know the legal ramifications of privately planning to take down someone’s Patreon account like this, or trying to ‘game the system’ by getting others to help, but maybe someone with legal expertise can shed some light on the subject.
ANOTHER WHISPER NETWORK “COINCIDENCE”
On May 9, 2018, Antarctic Press proudly announced they’d be publishing Meyer’s JAWBREAKERS graphic novel. At the time, Jawbreakers was one of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns in history, having earned over $400,000 from more than 10,000 backers on the crowdfunding platform. But only a few months earlier, inside the Whisper Network, Mags Vissagio seemingly implied that Mark Waid himself had recruited her to do a little legwork for him, and uncover some potential evidence for him. Whatever for?
Back in that secret Facebook group, Mags was asking her comrades to help with the cause:
Much, much more to come, but meanwhile I offer a bit of advice on the next page.
Insert pretentious crap about myself here. Nerdfighter. Determined dreamer. Has ambitions to be crazy cat lady if marrying various celebrity crushes proves impossible. And yet after all this time, I’ve finally learned I don’t know anything, but I have also learned that people will pay for what I do know. Life is good.