Let’s Talk About Scott Lobdell
Long story short: A few days ago, cartoonist MariNaomi wrote an op-ed about being harassed by professional comic-book writer Scott Lobdell on a panel at a convention. MariNaomi was very careful to avoid identifying information, but Lobdell apparently read the piece and recognized himself—maybe because the shit he had pulled was extreme even in an industry and environment with a long, gross history of tolerance of and complicity with misogyny and harassment.
Lobdell responded by contacting Heidi MacDonald, a self-described friend of his. He sent Heidi an open apology of sorts, which Heidi ran at The Beat, and which is such a spectacular load of equivocation and dodges that my spit-takes are doing spit-takes.
I’m gonna break this shit down, because someone needs to:
"First and foremost and without any conditions I would like to formally and publicly apologize for offending a fellow comic book creator."
Not, you will note, for behaving inappropriately.
That said, this is the best sentence of the apology, because it’s the only one in which Lobdell appears to have even the faintest inkling that his actions were the problem.
"I am also sorry because if I had realized my failed attempt at humor had offended MariNaomi or her husband in the moment that I made those statements, I would have certainly apologized in then and not have left her to feel victimized in the hours and days that followed."
Let me be really fucking clear here: what happened on the PRISM panel was not an off-color but innocuous joke falling flat. It was Lobdell persistently, systematically, and explicitly sexually harassing a peer, on stage, for an hour. This wasn’t a slip of the tongue: it was a display of power and an exercise in intimidation.
Nor was it an accident: Lobdell’s spontaneous apology to MariNaomi’s husband at the panel makes it clear that he knew then and knows now that his actions were inappropriate. He knew he was violating someone’s boundaries—he just didn’t give a fuck as long as those boundaries belonged to a woman. It’s telling, I think, that Lobdell has now apologized to Naomi’s husband twice: the only thing he seems to recognize as actively wrong on his part was the incursion onto the territory of another man.
I’ve written a lot about harassment and abuse in the comics industry. As a result, a fair lot of women have written to me with their own stories of harassment. Today, a number of those stories involved Scott Lobdell, and they were fucking horrifying. What happened at the PRISM panel was not a fluke: this is a guy whose treatment of women in the comics industry has been habitually, flagrantly predatory; and who has been called out on it before. Either Lobdell knows exactly what he is doing and doesn’t care; or he lacks even a remote baseline concept of what constitutes acceptable behavior.
"I am particularly saddened because I was completely blown away by not only her talent as both a writer and artist, but more importantly by the fact she was using her talent to speak so openly and freely about her own life experiences and how they informed the artist that she is today."
This would ring truer if he hadn’t used the panel as an opportunity to punish her for exactly that, treating her frank discussions of her personal history as an invitation to ask lewd questions and outright proposition her.
"As someone who has only ever written super heroes, I marvel at the type of courage it takes for someone to put their whole life out on paper (or blogs) for the world to see."
I wonder if Lobdell is at all aware of the irony here: that assholes like him are why publishing personal work—especially when you’re female—takes so much courage. He is part of the reason so few people do what MariNaomi does.
"Finally I am sorry that my presence on the panel caused her experience to be anything other than a celebration of her work."
This is the part where I actually lost it. This passive, slimy dodge. No, bro, it wasn’t your presence that caused her experience to be anything other than a celebration of her work. It was the fact that you treated her like a sexual object and held her up to the audience as the same. It’s that you ignored her work entirely in order to interrogate her about her sexual experiences. You straight-up propositioned her—and then, after spending the entire panel doing the professional equivalent of one dog humping another into submission, apologized not to her, but to her husband, for overstepping his boundaries.
It’s the fact that you made comics that much more hostile and unwelcoming an environment for women. It’s the fact that you felt entitled, by virtue of your gender, or your professional reputation, or your institutional power, that it was okay to piss in someone else’s sandbox. It’s the fact that, in your world, some people are more people than others.
"Presence," my ass.
Heidi MacDonald, meanwhile, has lauded this asshole for “getting out in front of this and apologizing once he became aware of the ramifications of his actions,” for which she should be seriously embarrassed as both a journalist and a human being.
Which ramifications would those be? The idea that being called out for aggressively harassing a woman might hurt Lobdell’s own reputation, I assume, since his apology demonstrates absolutely no understanding of or concern for their impact on others. Look, I know you have known this dude for a while and consider him a friend, but Jesus fucking Christ, Heidi. You are better than this.
I am, at least, inclined to agree with Heidi’s conclusion that Lobdell’s “apology” means “we’re moving to the next level.” He’s certainly set a new bar for bullshit and prevarication.
There are a few common threads in the discussion surrounding MariNaomi’s article and Lobdell’s response that bear examination as well, one of which is the basis of this plum from writer Mark Waid. The fallacy Waid is echoing comes up a lot in this particular conversation, but Waid’s response is particularly tone deaf:
”A word to young freelancers, for what it’s worth: despite what you may hear (or fear), I wouldn’t even have to take off my shoes to count how many people in this industry can single-handedly ruin your chances at success. Here’s a good litmus test: can they sign checks or approve vouchers? No? Then they can’t do shit to you, especially if you have real talent. There are a lot of established freelancers out there who can (and will) help young talent, but despite what the creepier ones might want you to believe, almost none of them can actually blockade you these days, not with as many outlets for your work as exist. Your fears of burning bridges are understandable and rational, but–again, especially if you have real talent–they are grounded in myth and stem from a time when comics was a much, much smaller community.”
What? Marc Waid, I don’t know what comics industry—or, hell, universe—you’ve been working in, but please let me know if they’re hiring, because it sounds awesome.
In the reality where I work, though, the truth is that calling out harassment does destroy women’s careers, and not only if the harasser in question is someone with direct hiring power. All it takes is an industry or individual that values you less than your harasser, or even just less than lack of controversy. There are a lot of Scott Lobdells in the world. They don’t need hiring power—they just need the complicity of the folks who have it.
The aphorism “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” does not, for the most part, apply to wheels which lack significant institutional power. Women who call out harassment get branded as malcontents and drama queens and troublemakers; harassers, meanwhile, insulated by privilege and the fact that their behavior is part of a long-established status quo, get a pass. Do you seriously think that it’s Lobdell, not MariNaomi, who will feel the primary professional repercussions of this—even though it was Lobdell who outed himself as her harasser?
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine wrote an article about her experiences with sexual harassment in professional settings in the comics industry, and one of her former bosses—from a job where none of the incidents in question had occurred, a dude with whom her working relationship had been affable, who had or should have had no personal stake in the conversation—immediately tried to intimidate her into taking it down. He was worried, you see, that it might harm someone’s career, or that someone might blame an innocent party. And he found it more offensive that this woman was calling out harassment than that the harassment was happening in the first place.
Now imagine what would have happened if she’d written the post while still his employee, and tell me again that women who call out harassment only face consequences from their harassers.
Here’s the thing: for most women, in comics or any other industry, and in daily life, this is not an exceptional experience. When someone with privilege abuses someone without it, nine times out of ten their mutual community will close ranks around the abuser, and the more they identify superficially with the abuser, the more quickly they will leap to his defense.
Pop quiz: With whom do you think most people in comics with hiring power have more in common—MariNaomi, or Scott Lobdell?
Do you really think that any woman’s career and safety and dignity, let alone fostering a culture of equality and respect, are more important to the comics industry than not rocking the boat, when we’ve seen otherwise over and over and over? That Lobdell’s behavior—of which DC has good reason to be well fucking aware—will matter more to DC than not losing a writer with his fanbase?
Maybe you are basically a good person. Maybe you are patting yourself on the back that you would never do what Scott Lobdell did, or that you would have spoken up if you’d been there.
Maybe what you should actually be thinking about is the fact that when you read what had happened, MariNaomi, not Scott Lobdell, was the person you decided to spend your time taking to task.
Two Guys Who Read Comics Theatre Presents
kate or die!: Women and comics - the best of frienemies
Let me start this off by saying that I don’t read comics.
Wait, hold on. That’s not right.
I don’t read DC or Marvel comics.
Hang on, that’s not true either.
I don’t read any current series put out by the big two.
There we go.
Now, does that mean I don’t like comics? No. Not at all. I love comics. I read them all the time, at least twice a week, and I think sequential art is incredible. I work in a comic book store and I draw almost constantly. I’ve torn through almost all of Y: The Last Man in the last ten days, and that’s a 60-issue run. I’m nearly done Locke & Key, and it’s four hardcover books thick so far. I love the medium.
I’m the demographic that Marvel and DC can’t seem to grab. I read collections and miniseries; I adore Batman: Year One and Spider-Man Blue, but I never buy single issues. The first question I ask when picking something up is if it’s in continuity, or if I can enjoy it on its own. I don’t mind missing a reference or two, but to pick up Batman & Robin as it is now, I’m lost. I don’t recognize the characters or plots. Give me New Frontier any day.
DC’s solution to folks like me (definitely not just girls, but we’re a big portion) is to reboot their storylines and characters. Okay, great! I hear grouchy old men complaining every day about how they’re going to cancel their accounts over it, but they said the same thing when DVDs came along to replace VHS tapes. They’ll still buy them. I get dismissed when I mention how excited I am to be able to read comics as they come out. The glare in response says “you’re not a real comic person or you’d understand it.” It doesn’t matter that I’m really eager to check out Batgirl, Batwoman, Justice League: Dark and a handful of others. They don’t want me in the club.
The thing about comics is that as much as they try to appeal to new readers, they ignore people who are already trying to break in. I’m going to step into “girls” territory now. It’s hard for a lot of girls who walk into my LCS to find a new issue of anything to pick up off the shelf. Most series are so deep into complex plotlines and cross-overs and lengthy, detailed histories that it’s almost another language. If you’re not already a nerd girl, if you haven’t been into it for years, it sure ain’t easy.
I think, for a lot of girls, comics are like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter. If you know what you’re looking for, you can find it, but if you aren’t exactly sure, there’s no easy way in. I had to be reintroduced to comics through my male friends after a years-long hiatus (I hadn’t checked out anything since Blankets and Black Hole in high school), but they were really good at it. My ex-roommate lent me Runaways and Astonishing X-Men, told me about Buffy: Season Eight and got me visiting the shop I work at now. First, I only went with him, but then I started going on my own. From there, I researched and found books like Scott Pilgrim and Allison Dare. I got involved with a girl that worked at the shop and she got me into Miyazaki’s work, showed me Fray and Lost Girls. What I was really interested in, though, was finding more female artists and writers after having followed Kate Beaton’s work for a few years and realizing that (woah, shock!) she wasn’t alone.
And that’s just it. I was surprised. Genuinely surprised and incredibly excited that women worked in comics. I tore through Dar and Chester 5000 and spent hours online flipping through the art of Fiona Staples and Amy Reeder. It wasn’t even limited to webcomics (not to belittle that in any way), but they worked on big-name titles! In print! I couldn’t believe it. I started drawing almost without realizing it, on post-its and notepads everywhere. Giddy out of my mind over Vera Brosgol and Faith Erin Hicks’ smooth, brush pen linework. Working on my facial expressions.
What I’m saying is this, and I know I get rambly: I draw and make comics because women draw and make comics. I see them and they inspire me. I’ve changed from being a person that thinks hypothetically about making art for a living to the girl I am now, who knows with unwavering certainty that I will make it happen. I can, because they did. They do.
So when that brave Batgirl stood up at SDCC and asked why more women aren’t hired to create comics, or why female characters are barely more than a pair of tits in a cape half the time, my heart leapt a little. Yet, she was booed. She was called a bully and asked to sit down. Let the big boys talk, honey. We hire the best. I couldn’t believe it. Yes, nobody likes the kid in class who always has her hand up, but she’s right. She’s more than right. Comics are one of the last stands in the creative world, the treehouse that still says NO GURLZ on the door. Sure, you might get let in if you wear overalls and catch frogs like the boys, but you can’t bring your friends.
All these reasons and more are why I’m pretty much only reading indie comics and work put out by publishers like :01, Top Shelf, Oni Press, Fantagraphics and D&Q. Companies that don’t care if you’re a girl, so long as you’re producing fun and engaging work. They even go so far as to encourage comics that appeal to women, because, although DC and Marvel occasionally forget, we still have wallets and we want to buy.
I want to end this on a positive note, so here are my hopes:
I hope that the DC reboot works. I hope they’re smart enough to tie in merchandising that girls want. I hope they promote the living hell out of Batwoman.
I hope that Diamond starts soliciting shirts and toys for girls that aren’t just Big Bang Theory or Tokidoki. My shop sold out of girls’ Walking Dead t-shirts in about a week. The market is there and feverish.
I hope that the big two take a closer look at female creators, and not just for Girl Comics or Strange Tales (though they are both really great!). With the popularity of Kate Beaton’s strips in the latter, how can they ignore the potential? We all love Gail Simone, but there are so many more out there that deserve more than a guest spot or a cover.
It’s not unreasonable. At least once a year, Strange Adventures hosts a “Ladies Night” wherein we promote titles by and for women, are staffed only by women, and let only women (and trans or female-identified, of course) into the shop. In two hours, we usually do better sales than in the entire business day beforehand. The place is packed, and everyone is just so excited to be able to geek out without feeling excluded. It’s my favourite night of the year.
Again, this is only my perspective, but I just don’t understand why it feels like such a struggle when the answer is so obvious. We’re working our way into the treehouse. We’re climbing the ladder. We’re sneaking in the windows. Just take down the sign, and let us in.
Had to highlight my favorite part of this mini rant by Kate. Also, on a related note, I have yet to meet anyone genuinely stoked about the upcoming DC reboot. Is there anyone following me who excited about it? just curious.
Added some bold parts myself, because this is where I’m at. Part of it is worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to figure out what’s going on. But there’s more to it that’s been preventing me from delving into comics, like wondering whether or not I’ll read some sexist or otherwise problematic things that may send me into a rage, but that’s a problem I have with pop culture at large.
Vindication for Half-Black, Half-Hispanic Spiderman Miles Morales
In the wake of the death of Peter Parker, Ultimate Spider-Man is still slinging webs across Manhattan. In the fourth, and final, issue of “Ultimate Fallout” to be released Aug. 3, the mantle of the wall-crawling hero has been taken on by Miles Morales, a young half African-American, half Hispanic.
USA Today reported that the Ultimate Universe of Marvel comics was killing off Peter Parker and having a new Spiderman, the half-black, half-Hispanic Miles Morales, take up the suit. And this has ignited a minor uproar.
Aside from the fact that the response to the “black Spiderman,” has been absolutely thumpingly out of scale and crazy, we hit a larger problem: the problem of The One Who Looks Like Me. The world of comics-readers and toy buyers seems to be divided into two camps. (Forget Glenn Beck – he says he doesn’t care about it anyway.) “It doesn’t matter what the character looks like so long as he tells a compelling story!” some say. “Look,” the others say, “after a certain point, you have to wonder why all the leading roles resemble somebody else and you’re stuck with the sidekicks and Spunky Best Friends and Guys With Lame Powers Who Get Killed Off Immediately. I want a hero who looks like me.”
How do you strike a balance?
Superheroes have long served as a sort of national uber myth. Their deaths and origins and intricate conflicts portray, on a grander scale, and in spandex, all kinds of truths about ourselves that we can only metaphorically grasp at.
Silly man in a suit? Not quite. This matters, viscerally. So the debate has barred no holds, as the comments on USA Today suggested.
For every person who comments something like, “It doesn’t take kids long to realize that all the main characters look like someone else and all the sidekicks and extras look like you. This is a good thing…not saying it’s going to change the world, but it will change some kid’s outlook on the world,” there is someone else saying, “So, why now come out with homie the spider man? Wonder if he wasn’t elected marvel would do this. but at least the comic book character will HELP better than the real life comic elected.” (In humanity’s defense, this has received 15 negative votes.)
There is no limit to the asininity of people on the Internet. One of the laws of the Internet is that the stupider the forum, the nicer the comment, which explains why websites entirely devoted to sexual images of cats have generally friendlier and higher levels of discourse than those for most major newspapers.
But what about the larger question? “What’s next? A Spiderman who is half black, half Cuban gay vegetarian who works as a Community organizer and drives a Prius that practices Tai Chi?”
My answer would be, “Why not?” although I’m not sure about the Prius. Seems suspect. I want a superhero to whom I can relate, after all.
And that’s the problem. What makes a character relatable?