Why Did Comics Beat’s Heidi MacDonald Downplay Charles Brownstein’s Sexual Assault?


If you read my article yesterday, you learned that sometimes, if you know where to look, you can find very startling information on a faux-reporter’s past conduct. And this page, recorded from Comicon in May 2006 at the time Comics Beat originally began as part of their site before becoming its own domain, is quite telling of how Heidi MacDonald regarded insiders (and freelancers). Case in point: Charles Brownstein, the now ousted head of the CBLDF, whom, it turns out, MacDonald acted as more than a bit of an apologist for, and her shoddy regard for the man’s actual victims is nothing short of disgusting. For example, she said:


I have a couple of things to say here. #1, the one thing that is crystal clear from all of this is that not one single person involved in this from the moment three drunk people got into a hot tub six months ago, has thought about the consequences of their actions with any clarity.


Excuse me? It didn’t sound like 2 out of 3 people in the pool were drunk from what was originally reported. Is that her idea of moral equivalence? Or the worst way she could think of to downplay the whole sordid incident?



#2, the message board responses around the net – helpfully rounded up at the Comics Reporter — show that the internet kangaroo court this matter is now being tried in is composed of absolute cretins whose reading skills and reasoning ability would be shamed by a gibbon’s.

And now, my own disclaimer. I have known Charles Brownstein since he was 15 years old or so, and he is a good friend of mine who has always treated me with respect. A few days after 9/11 Charles came to New York and when he got booted from the place he was staying, for reasons that had nothing to do with him, I invited him to stay with me for a few days. It was a terrible time in my life, and I welcomed the company.


Hmm, what if it did have something to do with his alcoholism, if anything, and she wasn’t willing to tell us? If she was hiding anything, that says quite a bit about her personal character.


But even a good friend can do something stupid and reprehensible. I don’t condone or take lightly Charles’ behavior in the hot tub. But let’s strip away all the crazed rhetoric and mob mentality. Did he do something that was worthy of a frat boy asshole? Yep. Has he been punished enough? I personally believe so.

Or is he, as Buzzscope claims, a persistent sexual predator? Well, you know what, I have only Buzzscope’s word for that, and based on the nonsensical drivel that has passed for information coming from that site, I just don’t believe it.


My my, is this enough to vomit. All this from the same woman who some time ago said we should believe all victims and women before turning against J.K. Rowling.



And as it turns out, there were at least a few more women Brownstein wronged, who include, according to this Games Radar/Newsarama report, Kris Simon, a former Image affiliate employee who went to work with Brownstein, and another ex-employee named Shy Allot:


Tuesday, comics writer/editor Kris Simon alleged that Brownstein sexually assaulted her during her time working for Shadowline, a partner studio of Image Comics.

CBLDF’s Thursday evening statement refers to Simon’s allegations, as well as Soma’s.

“First and foremost, the CBLDF is grateful that Kris Simon has come forward. We also want to recognize Taki Soma for what she endured and for bringing this to light,” the CBDF board’s Thursday statement read. “Both have our full support. We are releasing Shy Allott from the NDA she signed in 2010 when she left the organization so that her story can also be heard.”

Allott was employed by CBLDF in 2010 as its development manager/event manager. On Tuesday she publicly asked the organization, via Twitter, to release her from the non-disclosure agreement (NDA).


When Brownstein was the head, he had the nerve to bind Allot to a tight NDA upon her departure. One of the reasons why he was able to get away with his offenses. All that aside, what was MacDonald saying about anybody’s word for it again? Here’s more of MacDonald’s older 2006 drivel:


Michael Dean has to be commended for his usual Javert-like investigation, and it turned up a number of bombshells that had never been publicly disclosed besides Brownstein’s identity.

First, seeming evidence that it was Soma herself who decided not to press charges. The detectives in the case aren’t all that forthcoming, but this is the most likely scenario until Soma herself decides to speak out.

Second, the fact that the CBLDF had in fact conducted an outside investigation, and dealt with the matter internally.

So, to every internet idiot who is begging for this case to be resolved, I have some shocking news for you: it already has.

Soma has declined to press charges. And the CBLDF has investigated the charges and taken appropriate action.


What are you all looking at?


Correction: who are we looking at? You, MacDonald! You’re jumping to a lot of conclusions. The Comics Journal, who originally reported the incident at the time (and whom MacDonald herself first began her career at back in the early 80s) recently gave more info contradicting MacDonald’s earlier lecture:


Two years later, Soma called Columbus police to report being assaulted by Brownstein. At the time the Journal reported on the incident, the case had been dropped by police after Soma declined to press charges. What was not generally known, partly because Soma herself didn’t know the outcome, was that Soma, after reading the Journal’s report, had decided to get the case re-opened and pursue charges. Brownstein was charged with “sexual imposition,” a misdemeanor under the Columbus criminal code. Soma told TCJ the police had promised to notify her if the charges came to trial, but according to records, a jury trial was held April 2, 2007, with the case ultimately dismissed after Brownstein paid fines and court costs totaling $137. Soma said she had never been called to testify or even notified of the trial.


Looks like TCJ, for all their faults and times when you have to take them with a grain of salt, proved far more responsible than she did in clarifying the exact aftermath. All MacDonald’s proven is an inability to do legwork and check the records, or consult with Taki Soma and company directly for clarification, let alone encourage them not to get trampled over by scumbags in the medium. In other words, MacDonald’s proven she doesn’t have what it takes to do news coverage independently. It’s most unfortunate Brownstein got away at the time with his misdeeds, and lucky he’s paying for them now, albeit it’d be far better if he spent actual time behind bars. But one of the reasons why he got away besides his own business excusing his actions is because apologists in the press, MacDonald included, defended him and gave nary a whisper of demand for his resignation.



Since this recent TCJ item is in focus now, here’s more eyebrow raising details about CBLDF’s conduct:


TCJ first approached Allott in 2018 as part of an ongoing profile of how the CBLDF is perceived by the current generation, how it has evolved and how it has failed to evolve. The Fund had just become embroiled in controversy after declining to extend its First Amendment mandate to defend an alleged sexual harassment victim against a civil suit by her alleged harasser, cartoonist/publisher Cody Pickrodt. (The suit and counter-suit were settled out of court last month.) Many posters on the web condemned the organization’s stance, especially in light of the earlier sexual harassment case against its own executive director, Charles Brownstein. TCJ became suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Allott’s 2010 departure from CBLDF only six months into her three-year contract and emailed her some questions.

Allott, however, had been required by CBLDF to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement, which prevented her from talking to the press about her experiences with the organization. With Brownstein newly ousted, Allott approached current CBLDF President Christine Merkler, requesting to be released from her NDA and notified TCJ that she might finally be able to answer its questions. Merkler quickly granted the request and Allott is now able to tell her story of convention nights in which she was repeatedly forced to share a hotel room with Brownstein.


So under Brownstein a few years back, one of the organization’s most notorious, undermining acts was failure to aid a possible victim of sexual harassment. Most likely because it could’ve exposed Brownstein more easily, and blown his cover out of the water. TCJ also notes Brownstein was once arrested by Ohio police:


TCJ has discovered, however, that the Soma complaint was not Brownstein’s first run-in with Columbus, Ohio, Police. Two years earlier, while attending the Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) in Columbus, Brownstein was arrested at a Wendy’s on a charge of Criminal Trespass, which was amended to Disorderly Conduct. From jail, Brownstein called cartoonist Rick Veitch, a friend of Brownstein’s for whom he had previously done work on the Comicon.com Splash news blog. Veitch, who confirmed the incident to TCJ, was in Vermont at the time and did not know the circumstances of the arrest, but said he believed Brownstein was intoxicated and had been picked up for drunk and disorderly conduct. “It was the morning after his arrest and he needed someone to bail him out,” Veitch told TCJ. “I tried to do so by phone, but the police wouldn’t take a credit card.” Veitch called SPACE founder Robert Corby, who put up the $520 bail bond.

According to arrest records, Brownstein pled guilty and paid a $250 fine. Corby told TCJ he was repaid the bail money upon resolution of the case, but was never reimbursed the $20 bail bond fee by Brownstein. “Don’t think I had any contact with him since,” Corby said. “Not even a thank-you.” CBLDF never returned to SPACE. Asked if Brownstein’s behavior was the reason CBLDF was never invited back, Corby told TCJ, “Well, I never had to bail anybody out of jail before. I’m in this for fun.”


Sounds like quite the ingrate alright. I have no idea if it was twenty or two-hundred dollars for the bail sum, but maybe Corby should sue to make sure he repays the debt.


Reportedly, in the year between Soma’s experience at Mid-Ohio Con and the legal resolution of the case, Shadowline editor Kris Simon had her own physical encounter with Brownstein. In a June 24 Twitter post, Simon wrote, “When I was working for Jim Valentino/Shadowline we took a trip to NY. We were at a bar w/ Charles drinking & after we had left. We were walking up the street and Jim had wandered up ahead. I remember very clearly that Charles grabbed my arm, and yanked me back to let the gap widen, and said to me ‘I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time’ and then grabbed my face and kissed me. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just let it happen, and when it was over, I smiled politely and said something like ‘Okay then’ and at that point, Jim had turned around to see what happened to us. I was able to break away and catch up. I didn’t say anything until after the trip was over. I told Jim very hesitantly because it was weighing on me — he was best friends w/ Charles at the time — & he was absolutely pissed off. He confronted Charles privately about it, & I think they stopped speaking for a while. Jim told me he had handled it, & it would never happen again. It didn’t. Nothing was reported anywhere. I tell this story because I do not feel I supported @takisoma appropriately 14 years ago, & I truly regret that.”

In a June 20 Twitter reply to Soma, writer Brian Michael Bendis and writer Kami Garcia, former CBLDF Deputy Director Mike Scigliano wrote, “He harassed me 10+ years ago when I was deputy dir. of the CBLDF over my severe illness & subsequent Crohn’s Disease diagnosis to the point that my doctor advised me to quit. I resigned w/ a detailed letter to the board. No response from any of them.”

One show organizer who was a longtime friend and supporter of Brownstein’s and CBLDF, described to TCJ (on condition of anonymity) a traumatic dinner she shared with him in 2017: “He sat next to me and proceeded to belittle and pick at every single utterance out of my mouth. EVERYTHING. At first I tried to deflect and make light of his snide remarks, but the onslaught became too much to handle. It crossed the line into verbal abuse. By the end of the evening I was furious and close to tears. It was not a situation where I could have confronted Charles without making a scene, so I chose to swallow it. It was horrible!”


Well, he’s gone now, and good riddance. Here’s still some more of MacDonald’s 2006 screw ups, and this is particularly disgusting:


I first met Taki Soma at, I believe, WW LA, maybe two years ago. She immediately struck me as a warm and charming person, someone who you became friends with right away. We never spent too much time together at conventions, but I always enjoyed chatting with her and we vowed to sit down someday and have lunch or a drink and really get to talk. I wonder if that day can ever come now.

What happened to Taki – a friend acting with sudden complete inappropriateness – is always upsetting. It’s worse when it’s someone you know rather than a complete stranger. I don’t doubt for one moment that what happened to her was deeply upsetting; I simply don’t know her well enough to judge why she has taken the actions she has.

However, I can say with some certainty that her PUBLIC actions following the incident were so misguided and misleading that she has seriously undermined her credibility.


Uh oh!


MacDonald better take a good look at herself in the mirror, because she threw Soma under the bus, and doubtlessly never helped her to get the jobs she was being denied, possibly because Brownstein, not unlike Harvey Weinstein, took steps behind the scenes to get her blacklisted, though I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. If MacDonald didn’t know Soma well enough, why didn’t she contact her to learn more and ask if she could be of help? This is enough to make one feel filthy. And look how MacDonald downplays the seriousness when she responds to the Buzzscope/Pop Culture Shock article:


“Older next door neighbor”? Soma is three years OLDER than Brownstein!!! Bourgeois went on to paint this as a case of sexual harassment, which is very clearly is NOT, and her careless, thoughtless writing, no matter how well intentioned, cast suspicion on an innocent man and an innocent organization to the point where Buzzscope itself is now open to a lawsuit.


Tell us about it. If she’d read the article more clearly, she’d see the lady writing it did bring up the word assault yet didn’t identify anybody, in contrast to MacDonald, who did. The word harassment only seemed to appear in the reader comments section. Age difference is irrelevant here. And what’s that about “innocent” man and organization again?


And you want to know the corker? I was told by two separate people that Taki Soma did not know Bourgeois was going to write that column.

No matter what the truth of this is, it boggles the mind. If it’s after the fact spin, how much of an idiot does that make you look like? If it’s the truth…ditto.

Was Bourgeois unaware that Soma herself had declined to press charges? Was Soma herself unaware of this, as her statement about why she could get no legal answer seems to indicate?


Straight from the keyboard of an apologist for failure. Again, Soma did file renewed requests for charges, as has been more than abundantly clear for over a month, and she didn’t want to let it slide. Oh, by the way, who might those 2 people be MacDonald speaks of? Maybe a little birdie told her? To make matters worse, it sounds like MacDonald’s downplaying the seriousness by accusing Soma of engaging in an affair with a married guy:


Then there’s the matter of the witness, Ken Lillie-Paetz, a married man who was having an affair with Soma. Now how do I know this? Because he was telling every one in earshot about this in Toronto, and he and Soma were kissing in front of everyone in the bar. Normally, I would never report on something this personal and frankly damaging, but there have been so many untruths and misdirections about this entire matter, that it’s almost a relief to report something as a fact.


If MacDonald was trying to claim infidelity literally disqualifies a witness, she’s as bad as the sleaziest lawyers in the bar association. This borders on defamatory. Besides, whether or not he actually committed adultery, sexual assault is much worse, and Soma didn’t deserve such an awful experience because of that. But MacDonald continues with:


When I read the message board idiots making gross personal comments about Taki Soma, I feel terrible for her. I can understand her wanting some measure of “justice”…but I cannot in all good conscious see how any of her actions have done a single thing to help her achieve justice or peace of mind.


And I cannot see why MacDonald’s downplaying the seriousness of Brownstein’s offenses. It sounds more like MacDonald says the verbal abuse is regrettable, and then boomerangs back on a subtle blame-the-victim tactic. She did Soma no favors at all. She watered down the topic into a repellent tabloid column, and if Buzzscope thought it best to keep the victims anonymous for their benefit, MacDonald did the opposite. For this, Soma (and Lillie-Paetz) should sue her, and never lead friendly relations with her ever again. What MacDonald did 14 years ago was monumentally obscene, and she should get out of comicdom to never return. Her repellent rant destroys her credibility as a “reporter”, and only compounds why it’s ill-advised to take anything she says at face value. Again, let’s not forget her role in the aforementioned Whisper Network. All concerned creators would do well to avoid taking interviews with her, let alone lead any kind of connection to her and the staff at her horrible “news” site, because what MacDonald’s engaged does more harm than good to actual victims and their causes.


Let me just conclude that I hope Soma’s since recovered and is doing well, and for as long as she’s in a cartoonist’s career, she’ll be able to find the success she may have originally been denied over a decade ago by a terrible man like Brownstein. 

For what it’s worth, Comics Beat did cover the news of Brownstein’s resignation, but it couldn’t be ignored by that point. There was also no comment to be found by Heidi MacDonald in that article.




Originally published here.

Avatar photo

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