So Brian Wood, Rob Ford and Orson Scott Card Walk Into a Bar... by Jordan Ferguson
Sometimes, friends, I think it's going to be a slog finding that perfect topic for the column. Other times, a writer whose work I've quite enjoyed for years is outed as a creep and a pig the week before my copy's due.
For the unfamiliar: Last month Tess Fowler, a rising (and dope) cartoonist spoke out on Twitter about her experiences as a woman in the comics industry. As you might expect, they were not pretty. She spoke in specific about an encounter early in her career with a writer at the San Diego Comic Con who tried to lure her to his room by feigning an interest in her work, and then publicly embarrassed her on the show floor when she declined to show up.
At the time, Fowler withheld the name of the writer in question, even though it was easy enough to deduce given the discussion she was replying to when she told the story. However, in light of a number of letters and messages she received from other women in the industry about this specific creator, Fowler decided she was done, tweeting: "I'm going to say it. And fuck anyone who doesn't like it. Brian Wood is a DICK. And he's preyed on women for too long."
A troubling accusation for a writer often heralded both for the frequency with which he works with female artists and who, on the strength of things like his all-lady X-Team book, often gets trotted out as the sort of progressive the industry could use more of.
Wood, for his part, released a carefully worded statement in which he copped to making a pass at Fowler at the Hyatt Bar, but that her refusal ended the matter for him: “There was never a promise of quid pro quo, no exertion of power, no threats and no revenge... I liked her, I took a chance, and was shot down.” He does not comment on Fowler's claim that he was married to his then-pregnant wife at the time of the exchange.
I can't say anything about Wood's alleged and admitted behavior any better than the flurry of posts by other writers that have gone up over the past couple of weeks (I always like to defer to Heidi MacDonald on these matters anyway). It's creepy, and repellent, and probably far too common in the industry. I've long lamented in this space on topics ranging from Kevin Smith's Comic Book Men to publisher-wide crossover events that comics in general need to do better; this is needing to do better at its most basic and essential. Here's the deal, nerds: you wanted the world to pay attention to you, to give your passions the respect you felt they deserved? Congratulations, Marvel Films, Joss Whedon and Christopher Nolan have made all your dreams come true. However, this means that the world is now paying attention, and you need to learn to act like it. God damn, people, just do better.
But what does all this hoopajoop mean for a guy like me who, up until now, has always had some small amount of admiration for Wood's work? I consider Demo and Local among some of the better comics I read in the last ten years. It was just a year ago that I was rhapsodizing in this space about finding Pounded in my stash of longboxes and remembering how fun it was. And I thought it was cool that he was writing his all-lady X-team book (even if it would have been cooler if the writer was a woman).
The problem with art is that it still relies on artists for its production, many if not most of whom are still living human beings. Terrible, fallible, human beings. Often times, people are able to separate the work from the person who made it, arguably it's a distinction that should always be made. But where is the line drawn? Orson Scott Card is a rampant homophobe, yet people still read his books and the film adaptation of Ender's Game has been a modest-to-mid-level hit. At the risk of being too on the nose, our current mayor's ongoing buffoonery and maddening refusal to accept any consequences for his actions other than offering impotent mea culpas continues to slap smeared clown make-up all over this city's public face, but there are an alarming number of people who would vote for him tomorrow because he nixed the vehicle registration tax. And if Brian Wood gets creepy with aspiring artists he finds attractive (allegedly) can I continue to get a kick out of Northlanders? At what point does an artist's behavior begin to tarnish the work he produces? When should one start getting a bad taste in one's mouth?
What's I found most curious (and telling) about Fowler's tweets is the sort of somber understanding that comics will always have pervy dudes, they can't be eliminated, all you can do is control them: "If you're an editor/publisher and you know you have a predator in your stable of talent, REIN. HIM. IN. Or else you're to blame too."
Not fire him. Muzzle him. And that's so saddening. I would never want to live in a comics world without Gail Simone, or Fiona Staples, or Pia Guerra, or Jill Thompson, or Colleen Doran, or Amanda Conner, or Raina Telgemeier or on and on and on. And I feel like, even if I'm a fan of a certain creator's work, there comes a point where it's essential that I, and we as fans, ensure that publishers are aware of what we do and do not support, to ensure the culture of this medium we love is a safe one for all the aspiring Simones, Guerras and Fowlers making their own comics in their bedrooms right now.
We can do better than what is.