So, how did we get here?
The pattern we’ve seen happen over and over again has finally come to our little comics community, and everyone seems to be divided between being flabbergasted by the existence of a right-wing hate mob participating in cultural warfare in 2018, or knowing this was a Sword of Damocles hanging over the entire industry — shit, hanging over EVERY industry — ever since GamerGate ruined the Internet forever. We’ve been seeing it happen in film (see: anyone who can’t stop complaining about The Last Jedi), in SF to great effect with the Sad/Rabid Puppies movements (seriously who names this crap?) and in television to a weirdly far lesser extent, partially due to the medium’s relative democratization. It was going to happen to comics. The only shocking thing is that it took this long.
It’s not the first time a reactionary movement in comics has been attempted. The Batgirl cover debacle of 2015 — in which a group of GamerGate adjacents and right-wing dipshits directed by Milo Y. himself attempted to defend the honor of great rape-portraying men in comics and, especially, that of artist Rafael Albuquerque, who specifically asked for his cover to be pulled when he realized how tonally inappropriate it was for the comic it was on — was the first attempt at building Comicsgate, and was even named that at the time by people calling out its bullshit. The fact that this is the name they later unironically, voluntarily took betrays either an excess or lack of self-awareness, depending on how loud they wanted their bigoted dogwhistles to be. It didn’t work then, but Richard C. Meyer (the Diversity & Comics guy)— a bigoted asshole with a tenth of the charisma or gleeful, Loki-esque mischievous malevolence Milo had — has managed to pull it off with far less flair and built-in support.
To understand it, you’ve got to look back to the comics journalism landscape around the late oughts and early ’10s. You had two major news sites — Newsarama and CBR — with a few other smaller sites rolling in its orbit. The entire industry was predicated on access — DC and Marvel’s websites were threadbare at best; if you wanted interviews, solicitations, full issue previews, and the like, you had to go to Newsarama or CBR or, for the truly exclusive stuff, Wizard magazine, where things like the first announcements, previews and interviews relating to the Busiek/Pacheco Superman and Morrison/Kubert Batman ran. It was a corrupt enterprise run by an inveterate grifter named Gareb Shamus, but it had a lot of talented writers who ended up becoming significant parts of the comic book industry, and a truly premium level of access no website could touch, which freed up the online comics community to not sweat about that and instead focus on reviews, criticism, and honest writers honing their craft writing about what they love.
Then Wizard imploded because, well, it was run by inveterate grifters.
Out of the ashes, Newsarama and CBR suddenly began to depend even more on access, and new blogs that came up — like IGN Comics, which had the advantage of the existing IGN brand, or my beloved hometown team of ComicsAlliance — suddenly had that access and those relationships with DC and Marvel. However, many of us had come from the independent blog community — all of us had been writing on personal or smaller group blogs basically for shits and giggles, and suddenly we were getting paychecks and press access and interviews and review copies, because DC and Marvel could no longer depend on Wizard as their informational outlet, and their extant web presences were still in relatively nascent forms.
So when we just kept being ourselves and posting honest, heartfelt criticism and news instead of kowtowing to corporate edicts of appropriateness, access stopped being a benefit and started being a burden, because now that we had it, it was something we could lose. Everybody reacted differently to this. ComicsAlliance, for our part, burned a non-zero amount of bridges, and while I don’t think we were ever unfair or unthoughtful, DC and Marvel simply weren’t used to dealing with 1000-word essays about the racist side effects of their legacy nostalgia, and suddenly that access became a weaponized threat that could explode at any time, blowing up ongoing features, interviews, or any number of things. We let the access go and continued, while weekly chats with the editor of 52 or Countdown, or with the EIC of Marvel Comics, bounced between Newsarama and CBR like ping-pong balls. In retrospect, this was the moment we all should have linked hands and told them that, in Wizard’s absence, they get either all of us or none of us, but to be fair, there were few signs of the moral pestilence that would creep in through this gap. Gamergate hadn’t happened yet; Fox News’s supremacy and lunacy hadn’t fully taken hold.
This is where it hits the thesis of what I’m trying to say, and I’m going to bold this like I’m in tenth grade doing a five-paragraph AP essay because I think it’s important: when existing power structures denigrate and question the integrity of a free and fair press, it opens a hole for an unfair press to seep in. It happened with FOX News, Sun Media and InfoWars; it happened with Breitbart and The Rebel; it happened with GamerGate; and now it’s happening again, as the grand threat of access is used by publishers to make journalistic outlets jump and dance.
As access dried up, so did clicks, and as clicks dried up, so did money. As more and more of us decided that writing about comics professionally, especially in our spare time, simply wasn’t any fun anymore — because we sure as hell weren’t in it for the money — it opened a gigantic gap for all kinds of unprofessional ass-kissing fansites masquerading as journalism to become the new normal. Go to Comic Book Roundup, our little corner of culture’s depressing iteration of the popular review aggregator page, and click on any title, and you’ll be inundated with a level of sophistication in writing last seen taken seriously on a 10th grade book report about The Great Gatsby, not to mention some of the most atrocious website design this side of geocities.com.
All of these sites got access. The bar for quality hit the floor.
So, in the aftermath of the great comic book Internet war around Secret Empire where this community completely ate itself to death like an ouroboros snake after doing gravity bong hits, as we were all pissed off and disillusioned, some jackass with a YouTube page and a thesaurus of slurs finally makes ComicsGate work after multiple failed attempts (think of the Frank Cho/Milo Manara Defense Squad). Why then?
The answer: in the past couple years, the bar of comics journalism and criticism had fallen so astonishingly low that it was impossible to distinguish a group of overenthusiastic fans happy to be getting PDFs every week from an honest-to-God hate group playing the *gate “just starting a debate” card. The first chisels in the stone creating the crack were on YouTube, but the absolute dissolution of actual reporting in comics media created an environment where suddenly actual creators who’d been sympathetic to this “culture war” the entire time felt like they could start opening their mouths without getting shut down everywhere. And they could, because nobody wanted to hurt their access.
ComicsGate isn’t recent, and it isn’t simple. It’s the explosion of a kettle that’s been simmering for a few years now, and the causes aren’t just outside the house for comics creators, comics journalists or comics fans. It’s a bacterial infection, but the petri dish of agar that allowed it to culture wasn’t built by them; it’s on the media landscape, on creators for dismissing the entire landscape of comics criticism, on companies for using press access as a guillotine, on us comics critics for letting a dumb fucking Nazi Captain America storyline tear us apart.
I don’t know what the fix is. But I sure as Hell know that we’ll never figure it out as long as we keep ignoring the root problem. If we stamp out ComicsGate, something else will come through the hole that’s left. Critics, companies, and creators need to stand together against Nazi pricks, TERFs, misogynists and anyone else who wants to use our previously relatively minor squabbles to create a divided community that’s easy to conquer. This never would have happened if we’d had our shit together and had each others’ backs.