In August, widow Marsha Cooke was attacked on Twitter for coming to the defence of her late husband, acclaimed Canadian comic book artist Darwyn Cooke. The harassment started after somebody on Twitter claimed that if Cooke was alive, he would have been aligned with Comicsgate — a movement challenging diversity in the comic book industry.
The controversial online campaign’s followers believe that comic books, specifically superhero comic books, are being ruined by the industry’s hiring of content creators from diverse ethnicities, religion, gender, and sexual orientation.
“I simply look at it as a hate group, no different than the people marching in Charlottesville last year,” said Anthony Ruttgaizer, a comic book writer from Toronto, said in an interview.
Marsha Cooke quickly disputed the notion that Darwyn Cooke, who died in 2016, would have wanted anything to do with Comicsgate.
Hi guys, this is Darwyn's wife and I can guarantee he thought you comics gate idiots were a bunch of crybaby losers ruining comics. because you are.
— Nicest Girl Evr (@Nicest_Girl_Evr) August 21, 2018
The dispute wasn’t the first time Comicsgate had garnered attention. In 2017, an incident involving milkshakes marked what most consider its rise.
After the death of Marvel Comics publisher Flo Steinberg, a group of women who worked at Marvel Comics paid tribute to her by posting a photo of themselves on Twitter drinking milkshakes, which she had loved. But the photo was bombarded with sexist comments and harassment that pushed some of the women to leave either Twitter or the comic book industry altogether.
“That was when I first heard about this being an issue in comics,” said Jennifer Haines, owner of The Dragon, a comic book store in Guelph, Ont. “It hadn’t sparked until that moment, then slowly went away for a while until recently in the past six months.”
The latest incident involving Marsha Cooke prompted prolific comic book creators like Bill Sienkiewicz, Tom Taylor and Toronto’s Jeff Lemire to speak up against Comicsgate. Lemire put out a tweet suggesting that it’s time to stand up for each other, while Sienkiewicz made a Facebook post dismissing Comicsgate followers and saying that the industry is “a forum for creators of all stripes.”
I believe comics are for everyone.
There is no excuse for harassment.
There is no place for homophobia, transphobia, racism or misogyny in comics criticism.
— Tom Taylor (@TomTaylorMade) August 26, 2018
The tweet trended as people copied and reposted it more than 2,000 times.
“There comes a point where you can’t just stay silent,” Ruttgaizer said.
Haines, who knew Darwyn Cooke, believed that one of the reasons creators spoke up was to protect his memory. “I think it was that moment,” she said.
Comicsgate is a powerful movement online. Its supporters include former DC Comics artist Ethan Van Sciver and comic book critic Richard C. Meyer, who runs the YouTube channel, Diversity & Comics. It currently has more than 89,000 subscribers and more than 29 million views.
Although the title may suggest that Meyer’s channel would promote diversity, it’s actually the opposite.
In an interview with comedian Jim Jeffries, Meyer said he felt that comic books were dying due to the “inclusion of politics, specifically identity politics being forced into everything.”
That caught Haines off guard.
“Comics have always been political. The first issue of Captain America sees him punching a Nazi because they wanted to bring Americans into the war,” she said.
“Comics have been about politics since they’ve come onto the shelves and have always challenged issues that were relevant.”
As a woman with 20 years of experience in comic book retail, Haines is focused on making sure her store is welcoming to everyone, while highlighting diverse content and creators.
“I think it’s valuable to do these things, fighting on a small scale in part of the larger fight,” Haines said. “Even small resistance can lead to change and that’s how I kind of view my role when making these small stances.”
Steven Bergson, an application support specialist at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and editor of the SCI The Jewish Comics Anthology Vol. 1 and 2, said he believes “there are lots of avenues for self-expression.”
“If you have any ability to put out comics content, you can just do it,” Bergson said.