• William Valle

The Truth About ComicsGate

About a month ago, I was turned onto an ongoing underground movement in the comic-book community that seemed to have an odd political agenda attached to it. Although the phrase "ComicsGate" originated closer to mid 2017, it's suddenly had new life injected back into it. Without knowing too much about what it was, or where it originated, I delved into the history of the growing controversy and found that what I was reading, not only rang true for so many people I know, but also seemed to be misrepresented; albeit somewhat deliberately. I also discovered something even more fascinating, that being; 'ComicsGate' may be the only thing that could actually keep the industry afloat in the coming decade. So exactly what is the 'ComicsGate' movement, and is it being purported unfairly? As of late, it is assumed that addressing the continual trend of promoting social politics and cultural diversity should be met head-on in the pages of everyday comicbooks, (and genre films alike). It's now become the mission statement of many comics industry professionals and the labels/studios that employ them. Even though this sounds altruistic, the simple fact is that this type of marketing pivot hasn't quite worked as well as many would have hoped. If anything, it's lessened the industry's bottomline and created a rift between old fans and new. A brief history: Catering to specific audiences in the early 1930's and 1940's where comic readers were predominantly male and in their early teens would prove successful for nearly 70 years. Targeted marketing in advertising is the plat du jour of all campaigns geared towards consumers and consumer based products. However, expanding marketing past its primary focus doesn't always create the same positive results with newer/different audiences; nor should it. It's ok to have different things for different people. Profit sharing by catering to new trends almost always leaves the business holding the bag once that trend is over. In this case the trend seems to be "social awareness". Catch-all marketing campaigns can be short sighted, because they end up peddling in mediocrity. For example: men genuinely don't watch daytime Soap-Operas and that's ok. They don't need to be advertised to as a way to expand a declining profit margin, because Soap-Operas aren't produced for them.

Moving forward, for decades comics occasionally became the target of any naysayer looking to point fingers and attach their own politics to the medium. Virtue signaling and public scrutiny became somewhat expected by critics of the art form. This was (and still is) no different than arguments made about porn, video-games, music, violence in film, sex on TV, or whatever other hot-button topic the entertainment industry is being attacked for (usually somewhat meaninglessly), at that moment.

When these assessments are made by critics, often those who don't agree blindly or fall inline, are categorized and ostracized from within their community. It's then often suggested someone is a bigot, sexist, or racist if they don't co-align themselves with whatever statement/movement is being made by the "woke" SJW crowd and their agenda. And under the guise of "inclusiveness" and the ruse of "social justice", a movement was created in the hopes of expanding to an audience that didn't really exist, and it was dubbed; "Diversity in Comics." Now this doesn't suggest that underrepresentation isn't a real thing. However, woman and minorities have both been a huge part of the comics landscape since the 1960's. And as is true with every market; demand dictates supply. Marvel's campaign strategy for 'Diversity in Comics' was set to include minorities, expand stories and characters by sex, gender, religion, and political affiliation... to a degree that surpassed basic inclusion. Instead it seemed to represent an ultra liberal agenda by indirectly pushing out those who didn't follow suit or spoke out. Which inherently is understandable in principal, but it spits in the face of the fandom that has kept the industry afloat for nearly 8 decades. {This was the case recently with Apple, where the company spent the better part of the last decade catering specifically to its casual Apple patron by offering new watches, phones, and tablets. However, they willingly seemed to ignore the interests of its longterm users (the ones that kept the company afloat for decades prior with their purchases of laptops, desktops and software), by not updating certain desktops for close to 5 years. That balance of new and old is always difficult to navigate. It's a razor's edge.}

Part of the purpose of 'Diversity in Comics' was to expand beyond the themes and characters of current stories. The movement actively required the hiring of artists and writers chosen impart due to their backgrounds or lifestyle choices as a way to entice new readers with inclusivity. It was also hoped that their backgrounds would draw on real life experiences and hardships to better the comics they were helping create. Postulation then began that these positions were given regardless of the hiree's actual skillset; and as a result, better artists and writers weren't being hired, and the industry as a whole was forced to suffer. This is where the disconnect began. And although this may be difficult to prove, the aforementioned reductive description of 'Diversity in Comics' became the decided narrative by the movement's detractors. Now back on topic. The countermovement, labeled, 'ComicsGate' rejects the idea of needing to align yourself with the political agendas of comics publishers or its writers/editors/artists, and suggests that the overt political and social awareness being promoted in comics will kill the industry way before it expands it. Good stories and good art will help the industry succeed into the next decade; not the rhetoric of forced inclusiveness. However, sects of the internet had other ideas, and instead used the platform as a way to troll, push hate, and engage in online flamewars with women, minorities, comics professionals, or anyone who associated themselves with (or was pro), 'Diversity in Comics'. In fact, in many circles this was the one and only deliberate intention of 'ComicsGate'; not the attempt of creating better comics. Where did this go wrong? Well due to today's "1 or 10" internet culture, where you are forced to pick sides and all talking points are whittled down to the simplistic binary choice, the option became: If you're pro-ComicsGate, you are by definition: "a misogynistic, rightwing, Neo-Nazi, nationalist." Whereas if you're anti-ComicsGate, you're a "bleeding heart, socialist, libtard, snowflake." And once again, tribalism and identity politics finds their way into yet another form of media, instilling a divide where there doesn't need to be one. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm as liberal as they come, but I also have no problem calling out people on either side of the aisle; especially when exposing cry babies, whining children or entitled adults. That being said, categorizing supporters of either movement into the duelist, "black and white" option is akin to aligning yourself with either "minorities" or "racists", and it's easy and dumb. However, ComicsGate's should only be about creating good stories with good art, and not about politicizing it for personal gain. Bias nepotism will kill the industry.

You can tell good stories that include transgender, gay, muslim, etc etc, but it can't be the only reason to buy the book. The political awareness and aggrandizing of a movement needs to be secondary to the story, not the reason for it. That practice will only help divorce current fans and exclude more people down the road. I don't want to read a comic BECAUSE a character is gay. I want to read a comic that is well written and if the character happens to be gay... "sure, why not", but it shouldn't be the sole motivator for the story. No one wants to be beaten over the head with how they should think. You shouldn't monetize social awareness. Iceman kissing another man in the next issue of 'X-men' is not a good enough reason to buy the book. In fact, it's actually lazy writing. If you attach social politics to forms of entertainment as the means of selling said entertainment... it's no longer entertainment. It's propaganda. So why is ComicsGate important? Because if you have your ear to the ground or listen to a bevy of industry professionals like Ethan Van Sciver sounding off on the topic, it would appear as though the comic industry as a whole may be dead in 3-5 years. This is not hyperbole. Past trends suggest that the industry is on the brink of another bubble pop.

In the past few months, 'Mad Magazine' was cancelled after it's 65 year run. 'DC Vertigo' was aptly renamed as 'DC Black Label' in an obvious attempt at rebranding. (Rebranding always happens when companies are about to go under.) And AT&T (DC's new parent company) has made some not-so-subtle hints to tightening its bottomline. Month to month sales are not what they used to be across the board, and Graphic Novel sales seem to be diminishing, suggesting a market shift. Over saturation of known characters and forced diversity in new books aren't flying off shelves like comic shop owners would like.

This was expressed in a closed-door panel at ComicCon in 2017 when retailers were noticeably annoyed with Marvel's expanded direction of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in their ongoing monthly line-ups. A frustrated retailer at NYCC2017 stated: "People leave my store when they see that Thor is a woman and Captain America is a black man.", while others backed the retailers claim and offered the advice that Marvel should create new characters and not ride on the coattails of established fan favorites. And since, Marvel and DC have both double-downed on their attempts of retelling old stories with new coats of paint. Which brings up some bigger questions, like: Is this a passing trend or part of a larger systemic issue? Is 'Diversity in Comics' just an impudent response to the lack of ideas by the writers of yesteryear? Is it just a marketing ploy?

It's no secret that the powers that be at the top of the comic company food chain are growing long in the tooth. They're refusing to hire new talent that could potentially usurp their authority in the near future, so instead they pivot and change the conversation. Now if you don't like what they have to offer, you're not apart of the 'Diversity in Comics' movement, and instead are demonized and labeled as a bigot. As a result, good stories by new artists and writers often aren't made, allowing the comics industry to limp forward. This false narrative keeps the top at the top, and the minorities at the bottom; as they peddle out irksome, cringe fests, panel by panel. And so the rich stay rich. If that doesn't sound like sexist, racist, white supremacy, I don't know what does. And if you don't think Marvel and DC are out of ideas, Tom King just spent 50 issues retelling Batman's KnightFall in the most boring, banal way possible. And Marvel just reimagined 'Maximum Carnage' as 'Absolute Carnage'. And they did it halfheartedly without an original script. I know this because the first 3 pages are ripped from a student script they used to give us newbie comic artists when I was studying at SVA in 2000. The story was relatively simple: "A guy runs into the subway, falls on to the tracks, and finds a train baring down on him; only to realize the train is actually a monster." How oddly prescient that seems right now... -Will Valle

Marvel's 'Absolute Carnage' 3 page layout

Will Valle's 2001 SVA homework assignment

Cut me some slack... I was 18.

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All works © Camel Moon Studios 2019. Please do not reproduce without the expressed written consent of Camel Moon Studios or William Valle.