… and they’ll attempt to use it all against me.
I’m in over my head. Where do I begin?
So a few weeks ago, maybe a month at this point, I decided to start investigating this movement in the comic book industry called Comicsgate. I wrote my first article on it mostly as an exercise in CopyWrong, wherein I wanted to see if I could get away with giving away a book I worked on called Double Jumpers as part of a bundle of about 250 pages of comics and art that I’ve worked on over the years. So far, or at least as far as I know, there have been no cease and desists.
Also, as part of this, I’ve made some disturbing propaganda art. It was refreshing to use art as a means of venting my frustrations with this industry; to appease the shadow. I’ve played characters to deflect criticisms and in order to engage the self-shaped “foes” of this movement. Because I believe if there is a unifying theory of existence, it is a narrative one. As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” And while I’ve at times fallen into the momentum of it, I’ve taken some time to center myself and figure out exactly what I wanted to say here.
A lot of people say they hate drama. I don’t believe those people. In fact, it’s one of my red flags in online dating. If a girl has in her profile some form of “I ain’t about drama” I run as far and as fast as I can in the other direction. You see, under the unifying narrative theory of existence, you cannot escape drama. And even if you could, you wouldn’t want to. We’re all the main characters in our own personal dramas. We have our supporting cast, our antagonists, our heroes journey, and our acts. In this drama, we’re the lead actor, the director, the co-writer, and the editor. I’ve felt this way since I was a kid. But it sucks when one day you wake up to find out you’re the villain in your own story. Nobody wants to be the bad guy, but we all can play that part so well. Some of us just don’t want to admit it.
And right now, in the funnybook industry, we have a lot of people on both sides fixing for the dopamine high of “I’m right, see?” Everyone wants to be right. People don’t want to put the effort in to live right, act right, or even think correctly. They just want to feel as though they are right. We all know people like this, so I know I’m not wrong. And even when you’re proven right, what’s left is the great “but” of special interest. This may be a victory, but there’s more to do. We may have won this battle, but the pop-culture war still rages on.
Don’t worry, I’m getting to the salacious stuff. But in this economy, the most profane thing for sale is truth. It’s downright pornographic in 2018, to tell the truth unadulterated.
Firstly, the easiest to tackle is the people in the industry and on the outskirts attempting to rectify the injustices in our culture. Let’s call them Groundhogs. The more common term is three letters long, but I find when you start using the terminology of any group they get in your head. I’m a student of semantics; words are important to me, but I’m also a Grammar Communist. It’s really the only kind of Communist worth being. I believe that as long as the intended message was received, the means of conveyance matters little. Successful language is successful, in whatever form it takes. Ultimately we’re all just hypermonkeys making sounds and symbols as we make-pretend they’re real things.
So the Groundhogs are trying to make social change in this world and they’ve realized something in the past five years; that popular culture is a great tool for impacting consciousness. This was first shown in the Gamergate movement. The Anna Sarkeesians of this world saw it opportunistic to attack the archetypes of that form of entertainment and attempt to break it down in order to reshape it in their image. But unfortunately, this Punxsutawney Clique dare not look into the void in their own soul. Because they’re not the bad guy. I know I wasn’t, even when I was.
You see, one of the benefits of not exploring your own shadow is it gives you the right to do what thou wilt without concern for moral obligations. If you’re right it justifies any and all action against the perceived enemy. You can take their livelihood. You can sling the arrows of false pejoratives. You can drag another person’s name through the mud. You can bring them to suicidal ideations in your libelous dances. We’ve seen this happen with Peter Simeti, Richard “Yaboi Zach” Meyer, and various others. Admittedly they’re not all on my radar, as I’ve had to step back from it all to digest it.
It’s also happened with “Renfamous”. I won’t use her real name, as she doesn’t care for those who do so. To be honest, I don’t even know what it is, and I don’t really care. I’ve had a few interesting exchanges with her, and the people she surrounds herself with, and they’ve been mostly civil. That gives me hope. It may not be much hope, but the alternative is worse. The alternative is clockwork cynicism that leads to horror. It’s a horror I’ve experienced. It’s a horror I’ve at times inflicted and an atrocity I’m still capable of.
It seems as though in Ren’s past, she was a person she no longer wants to be. I won’t dredge up the details, if you’re reading this you probably already know them. It’s admirable that she’s attempting self-transformation, but it’s disheartening that she seems to have run from her past self, rather than confronting it. She’s poised herself on the opposite end of the social binary. I see parts of myself in her. As Grant Morrison puts it, “All fire is the same fire.” However, she still projects her inner darkness onto those she sees unfit. We all do, to some extent. It’s why racism exists. Xenophobia is a completely natural reaction to a dangerous world, but bigotry lives in its shadow. And the reality is, we don’t hate what we see in others, we hate what we’re afraid to see in ourselves. It’s why Cultural Marxists currently tout conspiracy theories about Russian Trolls while acting like goblins of sovereignty. It’s why White Supremacists claim divine genetic superiority while existing as a sadistic mutation.
However, in all of this, I’ve managed to remain unblocked from interacting with a majority of the people you see building digital walls around themselves. Even people like Mark Waid, who I’ve done a rather unflattering caricature of as a part of this #Impropaganda campaign, still hasn’t erected an edifice of ones and zeros to keep me from viewing his tweets. His algorithmic soapbox. His personal propaganda. However, in my curiosity, while writing this, I’ve come to find that Jamal Igle has. That saddens me, but it’s expected. Just another dark necessity for the mother of invention. What’s even sadder though, is the fact that I’m probably not even important enough to block.
In contradistinction, we have The Gators. That’s not my nickname for them, but apt metaphors are apt. The Gators are a frustrated bunch, and the one thing they have going for them is the element of irreducible rascality, as Alan Watts puts it. At their best they make fun. At their worst they make enemies. And I’ve engaged in Gatordom. At first, it’s fun twisting the logic of another person’s absurdity without breaking it. Attempting to fashion it into a Mobius Loop of self-satire takes keen observation and a quick wit. Watching others do it, it’s an underappreciated art form brought to the forefront by the cybernated era. It’s often villainized as “trolling.” We all want to be right, no one wants to be left out, and we all feel as though we’ve been wronged, regardless of which side we’re seated on. To walk the line between them is a tightrope not many are willing to step on. I know I wasn’t ready. I’m still not.
When engaging in the fun foreplay of this Gonzo pursuit for truth, I started just playing the hype man I usually do online. My own personal Flava Flav; the one I need in order to get anything done in the daily slog of overcoming my insecurities and doubts. Those demons have haunted me my whole life, so they are balanced by the sun-soaked servitor of my own making. As a former friend of mine said, “In order to do art you have to convince yourself that you’re the best there is.” The problem being, confidence so easily slips into arrogance. The next character I played was a satirization of Identity Politics; the Trans-exceptional Trans-dimensional Feminisn’t, complete with a profile pic of me in full drag. I was raised by women in the valleys of northern West Virginia on a steady diet of Mama’s Family and Jerry Springer.
So there’s a sassy broad inside me, and I let her play for a while. And it was fun, for a while. But one night I tweeted something at a guy who was mourning the upcoming anniversary of his mother’s murder. It had only been a few years, and the wound was obviously still open. Part of me wants to say I wasn’t being myself, but the truth is I was. It was just a part of myself I don’t like to admit to. So I quoted his tweet about how he’s gonna be isolating a bit in October as the date approaches, and I added:
“Don’t worry, darling, she wouldn’t have wanted to live to see what you’ve become anyway.”
In a few minutes, I realized how awful a thing that was to say and immediately deleted said tweet, as well as a couple others that I felt crossed a line that I didn’t think I would cross. I changed my profile pic on all social media back to my signature sigil. I decided if I was going to go further, I couldn’t do it in character. It had to be the real me interacting and processing. At least as real as a man who’s struggled his whole life with a phantom sense of self and identity can be. But that would make me vulnerable. If I was not myself, I could say I was playing a character. But If I truly wronged or hurt someone, I would have to take full responsibility for it. And I did, I hurt a close friend in what I can only hope were minimal and emotional ways. And he didn’t deserve that. And if he’s reading this, I apologize. That’s all I can say lest the forces set against us use it against him as backlash for simply being my friend.
But I digress, as I am often want to do. The downside of the Gators is the same as the Groundhogs; they believe they are right. And to many of them, that justifies hurting other people, whether it be emotionally, influentially, financially, or at worst physically. While the Groundhogs are afraid of admitting to themselves how maliciously minded they can be, the Gators fear another demon; their vulnerability. They fear being weak. They fear being preyed upon. And as we all do, they ultimately fear death. But most of these people are not men of conviction, they are barely committed. So in the Diversity & Comics facebook group, I posed a question. I’ll be paraphrasing this all from memory as it was quickly taken down.
“If you could convince Gail Simone to join Comicsgate, but the only way to do so was to be suffocated to death in a 69 position with her, would you? Let’s say as she’s cumming she sees the light of GAWD in front of her and the error of her ways and fully commits to your side, would you take one for the team?”
The responses were at first what you would expect, shitposting gifs of disgust, shock, and horror.
“Why would you post this?!”
“I think I’m gonna be sick…”
“Well, now I’m never going to be able to get that image out of my mind. Thanks for that.”
But one guy chimed in with a worthwhile question:
“I’m on the fence. How enthusiastic is she on her part?”
“Oh, she’s surprisingly skilled and passionate. You go out with all the endorphins. And in your death throes, as the DMT floods your brain, you get to hang out with Ol’ Jack on the other side, as the King explains the secrets of the universe to you.”
“Hmmmmm, well that changes things. You drive a hard bargain.”
Again, I’m paraphrasing with entertainment in mind and the Cloud Atlas soundtrack in my ears, but that’s as close as I can remember it. And it was quickly deleted as I was told privately “We don’t want to give them anything more that they can use against us.” Fear of being preyed upon. Fear of death. But not the conventional corporeal death, what they’re really afraid of is the death of self. They’re afraid of the same void as the Groundhogs, just seeing it from another side. But the sides are illusory, for there is no side in a void. But there is a void inside us, one we dare not enter lest we lose our minds, and our idea of who we are. Everyone wants to quote Nietzsche in a cynical way, but people rarely want to understand his work. He was not a man of cynicism. He was a man of great conviction. And per the above question, would I? I’d like to think I would, but we all make-pretend martyrs of ourselves from time to time. I mean I’ve done worse and lived to tell about it, but then again I died four years ago. And if it meant the truly American art form of comics would rise again to an unimaginable golden age, I think it’d be worth the loss. I’m not even important enough to block anyway. And who doesn’t want to get the Tao of Kirby firsthand?
So how did this all start? Jon Del Arroz claims it started with his #hashtag. You see he won’t speak openly about it, but if you can see the fnords you can find almost anything. And I’m not claiming this is actually what happened, I’m just relaying his personal narrative as best I understand it. According to him, he started the #comicsgate hashtag (editor’s note: Jon didn’t start the #comicsgate hashtag) and it was co-opted by either Ethan Van Sciver or Richard Meyer. Possibly both. This was only on the periphery of my radar at the time I heard about it, and in that three-dimensional bisection of four-dimensional spacetime, I didn’t think it was important. It wasn’t useful to me. Or at least I didn’t see it as such at the time.
[Editor: For those interested in where this iteration of #ComicsGate began and how it relates to Jon Del Arroz & Richard Meyer, see this Bleeding Fool post from last October.]
When researching Del Arroz independently, one of the things that came up was that he was involved with the NoFap movement. For veteran shitposters poised to cannibalize themselves as any special interest group does, he was an easy target for that alone. One source mentioned the group the Proud Boys, which I had initially assumed this was just a fervent group of young men who were proud to have not touched their dick in a long time. The problem with those sorts of situations though is that in most cases nobody else is touching it either, which can lead to neuro-chemical frustrations.
Then comes Vox Day, who attempted to homogenize his right-wing politics with the Comicsgate movement opportunistically. He had a financially successful crowdfunding campaign with “Alt-Hero,” and then afterward attempted to make a Comicsgate imprint which was quickly shunned by the majority of the community on both sides for different reasons. Del Arroz being rather right-wing himself is a supporter of VoxDay, stating “VoxDay’s blog often inspires me to keep going.” I don’t know enough about Day to care, but I’ve had a few back-and-forths with Del Arroz, and he doesn’t strike me as a Nazi. For one, he’s Hispanic, which should be a dead giveaway.
Del Arroz was then attacked in Centipede #4 by Max Bemis, Eoin Marron, and Taylor Esposito. And speaking of opportunistic, using nostalgia to cash in on a series based on a game with no narrative seems about as avaricious as it gets. These creators used an inverted alien language style font to mock and deride Del Arroz in a comicbook published by Dynamite Comics. These statements were hidden in the lettering (Bleeding Fool covered the full story here).
“Jon Del Arroz is a never was fat piece of shit who blames everyone but himself for his ineptness.”
“Alt-Hero is a joke.”
“JDA (Jon Del Arroz) can’t get it up.”
“JDA can’t get hard unless he complains that SFWA put him down.”
When confronted, Dynamite’s spokesperson was not happy, but engaged in damage control rather than have the creators face any sort of repercussions for their bullying. I promised Jon I would do my best to give him a fair shake. And he does make some good points on a blog post.
“1. The overwhelming wins and successes brought a lot of heat and scrutiny on everyone because it went more mainstream than ever imaginable. Indie comic creators are making REAL MONEY and this is a huge threat to the establishment.
2. We’re at a stage where there’s like 20+ outstanding crowdfunds. A couple like Iron Sights and Stardust have started to fulfill, but most people are out hundreds of dollars without much to show for it yet, so there’s a frustration.
3. Because of the first two, large YouTubers with big fanbases are coalescing together and getting more insular – which means less attention on budding indie projects that aren’t from artists with already substantial fanbase, creating frustration among the smaller indies who feel as if they supported these guys who blew up and aren’t getting return support.
4. There’s a GLUT of books on the market now. Just too many to keep up with.
5. A subset of the group thinks if they signal they’re “not conservative” to the fake news media, they’ll somehow win their approval and get back in with establishment comics.”
One of the ugly things I saw in myself at the beginning of this experiment was that a part of me was being opportunistic too. I saw an opening I could fill. I saw something that might get some more attention on my work. I saw the promise of a little praise and validation. This is why I haven’t made any attempt to monetize it, even though to say I’ve been struggling financially lately is an understatement. I knew that would corrupt the ultimate goal. When I shared one of the #Impropaganda caricatures with a professional who will remain unnamed, he asked me a pertinent question:
“What’s the end game here, Billiam?”
I had to think about it. It stopped me in my tracks because I hadn’t thought about that beyond my own carpetbagger tendencies. I had dived in unprepared and unwittingly stumbled on the reason after the action. After a few minutes of thought, I replied with two words.
I thanked him for the question. I still do.
So on October 2nd, I tuned into a morning live-stream of Ethan Van Sciver’s Youtube channel. They were mocking the Mark Waid/ Mark Zaid lawsuit controversy surrounding Richard Meyer. At one point, one of them scoffed “Kneel before Zaid!” Another said that someone needs to draw that. I had already planned on having Waid as the subject of one of the five caricatures, But I was already in the middle of another. But there was opportunity, and I couldn’t deny my nature. So I got to work. I had put aside a commission I was working on and I dove straight in. I pulled up all the reference I could and maddeningly begin putting down shapes. Then lines. I obsessed over the likeness. I kept going back and forth between the picture and the visual metaphor I was attempting. I hadn’t eaten. I’d not been sleeping well lately. I’d neglected self-care for this endeavor far prior to this day and my cracks were starting to show. I managed to drink myself into a nap for a couple hours that seemed to provide no respite. I got up and started the finished lines in photoshop. Digital inks as they are commonly referred to as. As as I stared into the face of Mark Waid, I started feeling as though I was staring into the face of madness.
It started staring back. I started to see a void of darkness behind its eyes. And it started to see a void of darkness behind mine. It mocked me with it’s small, knowing smile. And then I understood; Mark Waid was possessed by a demon, and I don’t say that figuratively. And the demon wanted to possess me as well. It knew the soul it inhabited was too fragile a spirit for what it needed. What it wanted. What it lusted for. To corrupt another. I began to see an ether of Kirby Krackle in the periphery of my vision. I was going too deep, so I stepped away for a moment. But the reference photo sat on my monitor, beckoning. I had to see this through. I kept going. I had no choice. as soon as I got the likeness to a point I was satisfied with, I eagerly and swiftly closed said reference photo. I’d pulled a color palette from it beforehand and went to work on bringing it to fruition. The sun had already dawned, and I still had a couple of hours of work to go. Around 11 AM on the 3rd I finished it, posted it, and laid down for some necessary rest.
I woke around 2:30 in the afternoon to this.
You see, I was tweeting all of these directly to the subject with “Just some fanart you might dig” and the image attached. I don’t think Mr. Waid was fond of my representation of him. But I don’t believe he wanted me to know that. What he did want was a little retaliation. So I imagine my twitter was combed through for any attempt to however briefly silence me. I’d not done everything above board, but I have a hard time understanding how calling Brianna Wu (his compatriot in the Gamergate scandal years prior) irrelevant and a “miserable broad” could be defined as hate-speech. But such are the times we live in. But it gave me time to step away. I had become obsessed and I needed it.
So the other night I was feeling worn out and beat up from all of this silliness. I committed the one sin I said I wouldn’t. I began to take it all too seriously. I had been frequenting some Discord servers, mostly the voice chat belonging to @YellowFlashGuy. I’m not hip, so it took some googling and fumbling about to figure out how it all worked, but the user interface is surprisingly understandable. Once I figured out how to unmute my mic (apparently you have to make sure you put an allowance for it in Chrome’s browser) I experienced the cacophony of purposeful stupidity and anime references that frustrated the living fuck out of me. I don’t like to interrupt people in conversation, but I often have something to say about something. Meaningless, rapid-fire, verbal shitposting rang in my ears. I didn’t get the references. I didn’t get the in-jokes. I was out of my element. For a while, I just listened.
After a bit, I chimed in, in a sort of meek way. When I’m uncomfortable in any social situation I tend to do so. My friends from a local karaoke clique would never believe this, all they’ve seen is the boisterous persona I’ve manufactured for social purposes. After a while, I started to open up a little. I played off the jokes as swiftly as I could. I began mapping the social dynamic of this particular small group of isolated company. I kept coming back. They started to like seeing me show up on the user list in the voice chat. I started to make them laugh. They started calling me “Bad Ankle” for short. I’ve grown fond of them.
I wanted to include them in the article, but they didn’t want to break their anonymity. So they started making up names. They are as follows:
“Cutless the Edgehog”
So credit where credit is due, the night I was healing up from my suffering of spiritual contusions caused by this venture, these are the people I turned to. But this night I started being honest about bigger ideas, deeper thoughts, and the kind of beliefs you keep close to the vest lest someone attempt to harm the bluebird in your heart. The others chimed in. One was a Christian. One was an Atheist. None of that mattered, though. There was no conflict, just one binding appreciation for shitposting from the heart.
And let me tell ya’, these are master shitposters we’re dealing with. Experts in their craft. And while the next few days would test my breaking point, that night it all went away. I had found the “others,” as Timothy Leary put it. They had been right in front of me all along, I just couldn’t see them for the search itself. To them, all this Comicsgate stuff was so last week. They flowed with the current and didn’t look back. The movement had gone tits up and wasn’t worth the attention, much less the effort. They could see the absurdity in this strife over funnybooks. This war over cartoons.
Instead, we talked about topics like our experience with being on the Autism spectrum, or “Spergs” as I like to put it. “Aspie” sounds like the kind small dog an upper-middle-class woman keeps in her purse and mouth-kisses. We talked about jerking off to tranny porn and experimenting with prostate massage. (10/10 would recommend) We talked about the inevitable second term of our hyper-orangutan figurehead. I talked about my love for gay bars, and how they’re good for my self-esteem. I mean it’s not like women are hitting on me and buying me drinks. We talked about the sin of worshiping in the open, and how it perverts spirituality and religions. We talked about how Batman is a representation of the Jungian Shadow, with Superman as a Higher Self counterpoint. We talked about the Gospel of Thomas, the Nag Hammadi texts, and Gnosticism in general. We talked about reality tunnels and our neuro-processing pattern recognition filtering system.
We talked about Alan Moore and his theories on fluid culture and the culture of steam. We’ve lived in a fluid culture since the industrial era took hold of us, and our technological advancements are creating a culture of steam. And right now, we’re seeing the bubbling of the fluid culture. That’s where all of this upheaval is coming from. All this clashing of words and ideas is our culture coming to a boil. And we have no idea how to deal with it. We can’t even imagine a vision of what follows, because we’ve never experienced it. We have no maps for the territory. And we’re all at least a little scared. Some of us are terrified. You can see it in the streets, on the news, online, and in the eyes of those who take it all too seriously. That’s why there’s an absurdist war over funnybooks. That’s why we’re having battles over panels and gutters.
So look for the “others.” Find the ones who had an unhealthy obsession with the movie “Primer.” The ones who are steeped in Transformers lore. The ones who spent three hours reading a collegiate thesis on Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” for fun. The ones who can quote all of Bill Murray’s lines in Groundhog Day from memory. Find the Freaks. The Weirdos. the Outsiders. The Outcasts. At least if you’re looking for truth and honesty, regardless of it’s consequences. They’re out there, somewhere between the ones and zeros. Between the cultural binaries of Right and Left. Masculine and Feminine. Traditional and experimental. Flexing and Contracting. External and Internal. Superman and Batman. But context is non-binary, and if you haven’t found them yet, you might be looking in the wrong places.
I wasn’t prepared to write this article. I’m still not. But I did it anyway, against the advice of my peers. Once I decided what the topic would be, I thought it would be simple. I’ve done a lot of shadow work. It’s known territory for me. I thought I was past it. But the act of actually committing to it has shown me how wrong I was. In the process, I’d almost lost my mind. Almost. In the process I’ve caused more pain, and while attempting to hold to the journalistic ethics of doing as little harm as possible. There’s a lot I had to leave out, just to avoid causing any more. I can tell you one thing, though, I was told in no uncertain terms that just by being involved in this investigation I have made myself “unhireable” at the Big Two. And as of late it’s been popular to dig up people’s past in this Pop-Culture war. And if I’m at all successful in this, it won’t take much digging to find how awful, cretinous, arrogant, vengeful, and loathsome a narcissistic monster I have been in my past, regardless of how I do my best to live, act, and speak nowadays. If my words have any effect whatsoever there will be people with shovels ready to dig up the details…