“It’s going to end with someone killing themselves.”
Is what I said, talking to a friend and comic industry employee, about the current climate in comics, the pervasive nastiness that I’ve spoken about before. We were chatting on the phone about the Nathan Edmondson thing specifically, and what the natural end to all this will be. Because the means at present do not support the end that people say they want. What they support is the continuation of this spectator sport style ugliness and will, I fear, only come to an end after some terrible event.
A word I keep hearing people use around these events, and the larger goals they claim, is empathy. Which is a good word and as a writer its an important, necessary, skill to have. Its required when you write people who are very different to your own personality, or to people you know well. You have to be able to humanize flawed people, bad people, and put yourself in their shoes and figure out how they might think. And this push for diversity and inclusion and representation requires a good deal of empathy from everyone involved, and that needs to go both ways. I don’t know Nathan Edmondson from a hole in the ground, but I do know that a good deal of the smug disgust people have for him is because of the politics attributed to him. And people who will claim empathy and representation all day long seem to believe that someone with awkward politics is an outsider at best, to be ousted at worst.
Since I started CrossFit (sorry, gonna talk about CF for a second), I’ve found myself sharing company with and becoming friends with people with politics starkly different from my own. CrossFit, in its infancy, was embraced by military, law enforcement, and early responder types as a superior training system, and a lot of that has since worked its way into the DNA and identity of the sport, all in a positive manner. So there’s me, the socialist liberal art school dude alongside wounded veterans, active duty soldiers, cops, and others who are, I’m sorry to say, the type I’ve often demonized in my work. They are people who hold the same beliefs and biases that I’ve literally ended friendships over in the past. I was zero tolerance when it came to that. I was a dick about it. But then I grew up a little. I haven’t changed any of my beliefs, except to be a little more understanding and empathetic and less snobby. I’d like to think the same is true of everyone I know in CrossFit, as its hands-down the most egalitarian environment I’ve come across in my life - not just in regards to politics, but gender, race, body type, and age.
But schadenfreude is the name of the game these days, and in this industry of people who refuse to put a ceiling, or even a definition, on what the proper punishment should be for transgressors, or people who believe that “persecution” (their word) is the same thing as due process, or that doxxing and similarly abusive tools are a-okay when deployed by a righteous mob… how can this end well? How is this a unifying movement? Answer: its not. Instead people put up that popcorn-eating .gif and laugh.
Obviously I have some personal feelings on all of this. But I’m not going there right now. I’m speaking merely as a generic industry insider, someone who, while not a very social person, has been around long enough to have witnessed a lot of shit and know most of the personalities. So this is what’s going on, just under the shiny happy surface of more diverse books on the stands, more diverse talent, and a more robust creator-owned industry. There’s a lot of confusion and fear, since no one knows what the ’rules’ are, what the lines are. Look at this tweet from Jess Fink, starting from the bottom:
The replies (link: http://mail01.tinyletterapp.com/brianwood/funeral-at-sea-brian-wood-sep142015/3369041-twitter.com/jessfink/status/642081021677170688?c=4d76a6da-571f-4b0e-8119-8d3d4e30ebb2 ) as well are telling (and numerous). I don’t think I know a single person in that massive tweet chain, including Jess, but I recognize all the words and sentiments and feelings. This causes people to act in certain ways: friends get scared and they dissociate from targeted individuals out of fear of being ‘contaminated’. Others, insecure about their own history, whip to the other extreme and adopt personas of cutting edge inclusion and change, hoping this new skin will protect them from the bogeyman. Creative choices and publishing decisions are made out of fear or greed, and these cynical decisions get held up as the paragons for a new age, further skewing reality. Behind the scenes the knives come out, as creators backstab other creators. And some people just bounce out, call it a day with conventions and social media.
Like most people who have spent some time in the industry, I know where the real trouble is. Ask anyone who’s been around 5, 10 years, and I guarantee they can rattle off a list of 20 people in comics who are the stuff of HR nightmares. Not some random dude in the trenches or some comic shop employee, but company executives, top people with actual hiring and firing power, and A-level creators who function as job creators.
I can look them up on social media and find them amongst the friends of the watchdogs, the people self-appointed to police up the industry. It’s all just more cynical behavior, and its why I believe that the stated ends will never be met by the currently employed means. And someone will probably kill themselves.
Is it really that hard to imagine?
And because, even here, I have to watch my ass: that “shiny happy surface of diversity” I just said is not a denigration. Like all sane, empathetic people, I want as diverse and robust an industry as we can get.
This newsletter skipped a week, and I apologize for that. I’m sure it’ll happen again at some point, but I’ll always make an effort to avoid it.