Comic book publishers and creators have been under attack from bigots since Captain America punched Hitler in 1941. But now, bigots have organized under a new banner: Comicsgate. But what is Comicsgate? And how did it happen? Like Gamergate before it, the origins of this latest intolerant movement are ugly.
Update, August 27, 2018: After a Year, Comic Pros Express Solidarity Against Comicsgate
On Friday, Comicsgate proponents on social media released a public blacklist of names for their followers to boycott. The names are organized under inflammatory titles like the “Pravda Press” and the “SJW Vipers” (“SJW,” for social justice warrior, a derogatory title for progressives). Those attacked are major figures in comics like Larry Hama, Mark Waid, Alex de Campi, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others. Nearly all of the people singled out are either women, people of color, or left-leaning.
The Comicsgate people claim the blacklist is meant for “educational purposes only,” according to the preamble. “You are advised not to engage in any harassment/doxing/Twitter trolling with these people. The list is meant for all concerned with the state of comics to see who the main contributors are to the declining quality.”
The statement continues:
“The players in #Comicsgate are not responsible for your actions if you DO NOT take the advice of the above statement. If you want to hurt these individuals, do it with your wallet. Don’t buy their products. Do not give the false reporter any clicks. Use archive.ie for any ‘reporter’ links.”
But how did this start? And what do these people actually want? Because the hazy origins of Comicsgate are siphoned from the 2014 Gamergate movement and “alt-right” white nationalists, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific origin.
Still, it likely all begins with milkshakes.
Here’s a brief rundown of how Comicsgate got its bizarre hate game rolling.
Make Mine Milkshake: The Beginning (?) of Comics Gate
In July 2017, several female Marvel staffers got together for milkshakes and a selfie, shared by editor Heather Antos (The Unbelievable Gwenpool) on her Twitter page. The women had gathered to celebrate the life of Flo Steinberg, an industry icon who had a key role in expanding Marvel and had passed away a few days earlier. For some reason, women enjoying milkshakes broke the dam on what would become Comicsgate.
Bafflingly, some people believed Antos’s selfie represented what was “wrong” with Marvel. Between calls of “fake geek girls,” putting down Antos and her colleagues for being “the creepiest collection of stereotypical SJWs anyone could possibly imagine,” and harassment levied at Antos through Twitter’s direct messaging (via The Mary Sue) this selfie weirdly set off sexists.
To defend Antos, fans used the hashtag #MakeMineMilkshake, but it seems like #Comicsgate had begun. It just didn’t have a name, until later that year.
At New York Comic Con in October 2017, a breakfast held by Marvel exclusively for comic book retailers went awry when a few retailers, peeved at declining sales, laid the blame on “black,” “homo,” and “freaking female” comics put out by Marvel. Since 2015, Marvel had a dramatically changed universe, in which the mantles of white, straight male characters like Thor and Wolverine were handed to women, and the Hulk had become an Asian teenager.
Of course, there were retailers who opposed this view, but the event added momentum to what would happen later in the fall and winter, and it showed that a vocal segment of comic consumers was eager to express their dissatisfaction and bigotry to Marvel’s face.
YouTube, “Diversity and Comics,” and Ethan Van Sciver
Two important names to know about Comicsgate, because its supporters rally behind them, are Richard C. Meyer and Ethan Van Sciver (#StandWithEVS). After the milkshake episode, Comicsgate began to crystallize through those two individuals on YouTube.
On YouTube, Meyer runs the Diversity and Comics channel, boasting over 57,000 subscribers. Contrary to the title, Meyer’s videos don’t explore the values of diversity and representation in comics. Rather, the videos — 12-40 minutes in length, usually — feature Meyers thumbing through random issues, poking fun at every page. His jokes are also generally offensive. In a review of Mariko Tamaki’s She-Hulk, he describes one character as “a bored, sullen, Y bitch” talking to an elderly woman, “her future lesbian self.”
(UPDATE: In a tweet, Richard C. Meyer said he was actually saying “whibish.” YouTube’s caption on the video read “Y bitch.” It’s what “whibish” means that remains a mystery.)
In December 2017, Bleeding Cool listed Meyer in an end-of-year countdown of influential people in comics, calling Meyer “the centre of alt-right comics hate speech” with “the ability to get comic creators who really should know better, to engage with him, even if they are screaming for blood.”
Online, Meyer aligned himself with Van Sciver, a freelance illustrator whose works include The Flash: Rebirth and Green Lantern by DC Comics. On Twitter, Van Sciver insists he supports diversity, but his personal politics — he’s publicly identified himself as Republican — lean to a Breitbart-flavored right. Earlier this year, Twitter unearthed Van Sciver’s sketchbook, titled My Struggle, autographed it with a Swastika signature. Van Sciver insists that My Struggle was just a joke.
But regardless of Van Sciver’s views, his actions have raised red flags. In 2017, Van Sciver told a Facebook follower to kill themselves (he later apologized). Then, in late January, Van Sciver engaged in a Twitter dispute with Darryl Ayo, a black independent comics creator. When Ayo, who had been the subject of a Comics and Diversity video refused an invitation by Van Sciver to appear on his show, Comicsgate supporters harassed him in droves.
Unlike most “-gate” scandals, there wasn’t one thing that kicked off Comicsgate, a name attached organically and has trended throughout 2017. Unlike its ancestor Gamergate, the demands by Comicsgate are unclear. Sure, Gamergate began when a guy got mad at his ex, but it at least pretended to aspire to something bigger in its call for “ethics in gamming journalism.” Comicsgate, meanwhile, seems to just want less diversity, both in characters and creators, in an attempt to save comics and keep the medium white, male, and familiar. That’s it.
Comic sales have slowed, that much is true, especially compared to the early nineties when the speculator boom was at its highest. But book sales have slowed across the board, along with prose literature, in the face of changing media. But the profile for comics have never been higher, as mainstream pop culture is actually excited for a movie featuring Thanos and the Infinity Stones. Not only are the demands made by Comicsgate offensive idea, they don’t make sense.
We’ve seen this before. It happened with video games and science-fiction literature. Despite the complicated origin story worthy of a supervillain, Comicsgate isn’t anything new. It’s little more than the latest irate gasp of fading white hegemony in geek culture.