303 – No Simple Answers, feat. Laura Hudson

In which writer and editor Laura Hudson joins us as we take a break from X-Men comics to discuss the complicated ethics of consuming and covering comics by creators we’re not comfortable promoting.


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No visual companion to this one, for obvious reasons; see the links listed above.

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12 comments

  1. Damien says:

    Content warning- child sexual abuse

    I want to thank you all for such an interesting and involved conversation. It’s so difficult to come up with a coherent way of responding as a fan, but I thought I’d share my story.

    I was repeatedly sexually assaulted as a child. As you would expect this experience has caused me to struggle with my mental health for most of my life. Comics were/are an escape for me and are deeply cherished. I have found it really difficult in recent years to hear that they are often produced in toxic circumstances.

    I told responsible adults about my abuse and they did nothing to stop it. I don’t know if it’s because they didn’t believe me or if it was because they didn’t want to face it but they did nothing and I was abused. I’m sure that this personal experience is why my rage about abuse in the comics industry is focussed so much on the people in power who supported the abusers.

    For this reason I am personally boycotting DC and Dark Horse until they have changes of leadership. As far as I’m concerned Jim Lee, Bob Harras and Mike Richardson created abuse through their management of their employees.

    Unfortunately it’s a historical problem that retcons my experience of comics. And probably does the same for many others. I am a huge fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes and I find it hard to read my old comics without thinking about the fact that I have read accounts of Paul Levitz in HR meetings demoting and firing people who complained about harassment. I don’t know how to deal with that.

    I also struggle with how to communicate myself around this issue. A few days after we all found out about Warren Ellis I saw an article on a fan blog celebrating what would have been Julie Schwartz’s birthday. I found this triggering and I was furious, but I also see that there is good work which can’t be completely disregarded. If you remove everything touched by toxic people what is left?

    When I was 11 X-Factor by Louise and Walter Simonson was my favourite comic. It is a part of my comics DNA and I can’t separate it from my love of the medium. It was edited by Bob Harras, the guy who promoted Eddie Berganza knowing he was a predator. It makes me so angry and I don’t really know how to focus this anger.

    I do try to balance my anger by supporting marginalised creators. Until the pandemic limited my finances I would deliberately buy comics by people who shared their stories. In fact I made a point of buying works by anyone who I saw those comicsgate arseholes going after even if it was in a genre I dislike.

    I hope the choice to positively purchase the works of marginalised creators helps make up for boycotts. I do feel bad that my choice to avoid a publisher because of their leadership could have consequences outside of my intentions. For example, I tweeted that I was boycotting Dark Horse as long as Mike Richardson is there but I live and work in the capitalist system so I know that my actions could harm the workers who I don’t want to suffer whilst he is protected.

    Basically 90s X-Men is ruined for me. Jim Lee and Bob Harras are traumatically bad bosses, Warren Ellis and Scott Lobdell are abusers, and Art Thibert is a transphobic piece of shit. And just when there all gone we get to the Morrison run which is partly drawn by that awful frog-guy.

    Anyway, thanks for being brave enough to ask the questions even if no-one has the answers.

  2. thom74 says:

    I don’t have anything to add to the conversation, but wanted to thank you for covering this topic on your podcast.

  3. Voord 99 says:

    I will be interested in the Graphic Policy discussion when it comes out, so if it’s out when you do the As Mentioned post, and you think of it, and it’s not too much trouble, I would be grateful for a link in the As Mentioned post.

    Obviously, one can easily anatomize several different aspects of the way in which the comics industry operates that make it structurally prone to sexual harassment (and other abuses of power). It would probably be shorter to list ways in which it’s not.

    It’s easy for someone like me, who’s never worked in the comics industry, to say things like, “Yeah, any industry that recruits through networking in order to ‘break in’ to a very small charmed circle of people who can do this full-time — that’s a disaster area.” But it’s never going to be apparent to me where the pressure points are where that might be susceptible to change, and where the opposite are, those things that are going to confront reform of the system suddenly and (to an outsider) unexpectedly with resistance.

    So I would be very interested to hear people who actually know how this all works from the inside talk about the possibilities for changing the system.

    Unionization is indeed a very important goal. I do have a little (very small) experience with unionization, and the little experience that I have suggests to me that the form of unionization that one wants should always first and foremost be the one that you can actually achieve. It is, obviously, well-known that US labor law only protects unionizing efforts on paper, and that companies are generally very happy to pay the rather small costs that they suffer – if they suffer them, which depends on litigation – if they break the law. I think it’s important, given the extent to which America’s management class views it as a moral imperative to prevent unions from existing*, always to concentrate on winning the fight to have a union.

    • Icon_UK says:

      The extent to which Unions are demonised in the US is perplexing.

      I know Thatcher and her ilk have done their level best to do the same in the UK, but even they didn’t succeed to the same extent.

      Somehow convincing workers that the munificence of their inherently benevolent employers would always be prefereable to collective bargaining is one hell of a feat of social engineering. Evil, but one hell of a feat.

      Admittedly, the fact you can point to one of the more successful US unions being the Police Union and they seem inherently corrupt, doesn’t help the pro-Union side of the debate, but even so…

      • Voord 99 says:

        It’s a complex topic with a complex history, and I don’t want to drag this comments thread away from the issue at hand (unions are relevant, but they’re not the main thing). But briefly: it’s not so much demonization – there is some of that, but less than you might imagine – as priorities.

        Republican politicians act consistently and in a disciplined, sustained, and patient manner to use power when they have it to erode the position of unions. They fail once, they will come back and try again next time. This reflects the priorities of business owners and management.

        Democratic politicians generally support unions, but they do not do more than make intermittent efforts to promote them; unions do not occupy the same central dominating position in the Democratic coalition that business does for Republicans. But it’s not that ordinary everyday Americans violently loathe unions, any more than it is the case that ordinary everyday Americans particularly long for tax cuts for people vastly richer than them. But general preferences and sympathies make little impact on American policy outcomes compared to sustained and well-funded commitment and focus on a single priority over the long term.

        • Icon_UK says:

          True, though I will note that in discussions with several, otherwise fairly normal (ish) American friends in different parts of the country, the very mention of a Union being a good idea was treated with somewhere between derision and contempt.

          • Voord 99 says:

            Depends very much on who you talk to. It is certainly the case that people who dislike unions, often *really* dislike unions. I’ve had some interesting conversations with management types. Words like “infested.”

            But overall, unions have gone up and down in popularity, but the approval number has never been lower than the disapproval number:

            https://news.gallup.com/poll/12751/labor-unions.aspx

            That being said, it’s important to distinguish between “It doesn’t help, because it would never work” and “It would be a bad idea if it did work.” A lot of the time, unionization is genuinely very difficult to achieve and demands a lot of courage from people who have to stick their neck out. One of the big problems is that people’s scepticism about whether unionization is practical is justified, but also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    • Voord 99 says:

      Just managed to notice that, for obvious reasons, there will be no As Mentioned post this week. So I apologize for the silly request. I will continue to try to remember to check regularly to see if the podcast is up.

  4. Icon_UK says:

    I don’t think we’re ever going to get an answer, as consumers rather than creators or those inside the industry, beyond “It’s complicated and messy and you have to deal with it pretty much on a case by case basis. Good luck!”, but thank you for the thoughtful analysis, it is appreciated.

  5. Kelvin says:

    Well said! An issue this complex has no hard and fast black and white line in the sand, it’s whatever each individual is comfortable with. I know that I myself am not perfect, therefore I don’t feel justified doling out punishment or even passing judgement on anybody. Just as I don’t follow the personal lives and causes of celebrities, even those whose work I enjoy, I try to always judge creative works based solely on the quality of those works. I would no sooner deride Ender’s Game for it’s author’s belief system than I would leave this podcast after all these years because of the hosts’ political leanings. Quality content can be enjoyed as such regardless of outside elements. bravo for encouraging people to think for themselves on a case by case basis and act on what they’re comfortable with.

  6. Sinister Pryde says:

    Thank you so much for this podcast. It’s a difficult topic and has been something I’ve questioned for a few years now.

    As you say, there are no good answers and I don’t think there ever will be.
    So I have to rely on Cyclops’ advice to Dracula and follow my heart.

    Having said that, I hope to see more topics like this covered in the future. These are morally trying times we are living in and while I doubt many, if any, are black and white it’s always helpful to hear other viewpoints, if only for angles I haven’t considered myself.

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