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.