It was a little over a week ago that Tess Fowler, in a fit of rage and frustration, took a massive swipe at the comic book world.
And in doing so, exposed the black heart of sexual harassment beating inside the beast.
Last month, Fowler talked with Bleeding Cool about being harassed by a HUGE industry name. She wouldn't name him, though. Many speculated who it might be.
Last week, Fowler went on Twitter and revealed who it was. Brian Wood, arguably the one big name no one suspected. See, Wood has a sterling reputation. His comics are very empowering for women and treats them are people instead of sex objects. No one in general suspected he would have such a dark side.
That was a mistake.
Within hours of Fowler's Tweet, she received emails from three other women claiming similar or worse treatment by him. A fourth came out later. Several people started telling tales like one woman who was sitting at Dan Parents' table as she and her husband were friends with him. Wood, across the way, kept creeping on her. When she said she was married, he said, "So what?" And that's just in public. Behind the scenes of the comic book realm, even more stories were flying.
(This is why, when you are the victim of sexual harassment, you need to come forward. Fowler was initially shouted down as just some opportunist or someone who had misread Wood's signals. But other women have come forward, not only validating her story, but inspired by her bravery to face a hostile world. Now, Wood is in serious trouble. You may be only one person, but you can be the keystone. The drop that spills the glass. The person who inspires others to come forward and see justice done.)
Since then, even more horror stories have started. The most shocking was Julius Schwartz, the longtime DC editor that everyone swore was a great guy. Colleen Doran had talked about her treatment by him, and it was later that Valerie D'Orazio lifted the veil when she heard what happened to her while working on a tribute issue to Schwartz, changing some details slightly to
keep from being sued
protect the innocent. Ladies, does this exchange D'Orazio recounts sound familiar to you at all?"Before I knew it, I marched into the office of my other boss, the “sensitive” one, and closed the door.“Is it true?!” I blurted out, the angry tone of my voice surprising me.“Is what true?”“Ned.”There were pictures of Ned covering my boss’s desk — a grandfatherly fellow with wise old eyes and an unassuming grin.“What about Ned?”“The thing about him groping Melia Bratton.”My boss flinched for a second, then took a breath and said, “Melia…she’s a nice woman, but very confused. Sexually confused.""But is there any truth to her story?”
“Yes and no.”
“I mean…did he touch her or not?”
“I’m sure Melia misinterpreted things. And Ned…it’s like OJ.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows what really happened?”
“Well…I have to say that working on this tribute for Ned has kind made me uncomfortable now. Because I kind of believe Melia. Because of what’s happening with (BLEEEEEP!!!!).”
“Is he still bothering you?”
And here's another recollection from D'Orazio from when she was 16:
I felt a certain degree of “protection” from my boss, that kept unwanted “admirers,” mostly adults and a few who were middle-aged, at bay.
So when he told me in private that I sexually aroused him, that I made him “hard,” I was completely devastated. I cried.
My boss acted like he didn’t understand why I was crying. He said he assumed that as a “single girl living by herself” that I was “open to this sort of thing.” Mind you, he was a friend of my dad. But really, considering the caliber of person that frequented his store, was this scumbaggery such a big surprise? As a naive teen with no parental supervision and no security, the answer is — yes, it was a complete surprise. This guy was like my uncle.
The floodgates have opened. No longer is sexual predation something that just happens. Enough enlightened men and determined women have made it an issue that will not be tolerated, and they will not stop until the culture changes.
Wood has attempted to spin things. His response:
"Tess Fowler is correct about this: I did make a pass at her at SDCC Hyatt bar roughly 8 years ago. But when she declined, that was the conclusion of the matter for me. There was never a promise of quid pro quo, no exertion of power, no threats, and no revenge. This was at a time in my career when I had very little professional power or industry recognition. The pickup was a lame move, absolutely, and I’ll accept the heat for having done it, but that’s all it was: I liked her, I took a chance, and was shot down. I immediately regretted it, and I apologize to Ms. Fowler for the tackiness and embarrassment of it all.
"I think the larger issues of abuse in the comics industry are genuine and I share everyone’s concerns. As a father to a young daughter showing an interest in making her own comics, I do really care about this stuff. So I don’t want our difference of accounts to take attention away from that industry-wide discussion that needs to happen."
All of dem words have landed Wood in the Urban Dictionary as the third definition of "mansplain." Kelly Thompson has become collateral damage. Thompson is a reviewer and commentator for Comic Book Resources who has taken a lot of heat for her feminist stances on issues and comics (she was one of the early critics of DC's New 52 and the new portrayals of Starfire and Catwoman). She has also been a staunch advocate of Wood for a long time. When the story broke, she dismissed it on her Twitter feed by saying Wood got her her first gig with Dark Horse, "so there's that." Not only has she exposed herself as a hypocrite, but it has put CBR in the hot seat as well. CBR gets a lot of people calling them lapdogs for the Big Two. A lot of people are asking very uncomfortable questions of CBR in general and Thompson in particular.Times are changing. This isn't going away. This isn't a conversation dying out. People want change. Now.
And for that, we need to change comics and how they depict women. The Hawkeye Initiative is a funny idea, but it's not going to get the job done.
Women are still drawn as sex objects. Slender. Sexy. Fuckable. And with similar body types like that episode of The Twilight Zone. Amanda Waller is no longer heavyset, but slim and sexy. Ma Kunkle, a.k.a. the Red Tornado, used to have a build like Mrs. Claus. Now, she looks like any other sylph-like female in the DCU. Milos Manara still gets hired to draw sexy, suggestive covers for the X-women, Vampirella, and others. Power Girl got a costume with a boob window back. Zenoscope's entire line-up and all of Aspen with one exception, Trish Out Of Water, does, too. G.I.Joe did a cover with Destro and the Baroness in an unsubtly "doing her up the ass" suggestive pose. Even the My Little Pony -- Friendship Is Magic comic does it, with Andy Price drawing the ponies with shapely butts instead of the generic singular lump like on the cartoon show.
We need to stop this. We need to quit buying it. We need to demand accountability from people who produce this stuff.
Because, until we do, there will always be more victims. And with more girls and women getting into comics nowadays, we need to make the world safe and welcoming for them.
And take a moment to honor Tess Fowler, a hero among us.