The Cliffs of Insanity: Will Things Change for Women in Comics?

Cliffs of Insanity Featured GeekMom
harley quinn zero resized
That is a very good question, Harley. Page from Harley Quinn #0 by written by Amanda Conner,and Jimmy Palmiotti, drawn by Dan Panosian. copyright DC Comics

Welcome to this week’s adventures in climbing the cliffs of insanity and, yes, once again we’re talking about women in comics. Why? Because I’ll keep talking about it until things actually change. This week, the discussion over sexual harassment in the comics industry continued with many female creators chiming in with their experiences.

In personal news, my kids and I took a trip into New York City to tape a segment for the Nickelodeon show, Take Me To Your Mother, and I received a cover for my upcoming steampunk detective romance, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. (Have I mentioned I’m never satisfied with just one genre?)

That’s the Sound of a Butterfly Flapping Its Wings

Sexual harassment of female creators in comics, in the mainstream press, at conventions, and even in the independent press has historically been an issue. But as I noted last week, it’s not an issue of the past, it’s one of the present and it affects what we read, the characters we love, and the myths we tell ourselves.

And if anyone thinks that comics, particularly superheroes, aren’t important inspirations, I’ll only point to Batkid’s adventures in San Francisco last week, one of the most heartwarming news stories I’ve read in ages.

The current discussion (or furor depending on where you read the articles) was kicked off when comic creator Tess Fowler identified Brian Wood of the X-Men, DMZ, and a game designer for Grand Theft Auto, as someone who made a pass at her one year at San Diego Comic Con, watched her for hours in a bar, invited her up to his room to help her with her ‘career,’ and when she didn’t show, publicly humiliated her on the con floor.

Fowler’s full account of the incident is on her Tumblr. Brian Wood released a statement that didn’t dispute the basics of Fowler’s account.  Heidi MacDonald at The Beat covered it last week, as did The Mary Sue.

Fowler’s account led to another woman, Anne Scherbina, coming forward about her harassment by Wood, which led to a blind item at a comic news site basically alleging she’d been providing sexual favors at work. Mariah Huehner, formerly of DC, Virgin, and IDW, also talked about remaining silent for years about harassment she experienced, as did Janelle Asselin, a former editor for DC Comics, on her Tumblr.

From Huehner’s Twitter: “I mean, who does this sh** have to happen to before you care about it? Who else has to be subjected to this?”

From Asselin’s Tumblr post:

because there’s always a reason for us to stay silent about our attackers.  In my case and in the case of many of my friends and acquaintances it’s because we want to keep working in comics and we don’t want to get wrapped up in the insanity that invariably follows the outing of such harassers.  It’s even come up that saying anything at all, even not naming names, could impede getting work (a big consideration for me at the moment).  Here’s the thing: if you don’t want to hire me because I’ve lived through harassment and refuse to be scared off from the comics industry, frankly I don’t want to work for you anyway.  I, and other women who have been harassed, shouldn’t have to feel shame because we were harassed.  I can be ashamed that I didn’t always call out the behavior, but I can also know that occasionally, as often as I could, I did the right thing and stood up for myself and other women.

And Gail Simone, current writer of Batgirl, Red Sonja, and The Movement, pointed out in her twitter feed that Colleen Doran, author of the classic A Distant Soil, and Lea Hernandez, an Eisner-nominated creator and artist on Simone’s Killer Princesses, have been talking about this for years and taking all kinds of abuse for it. Doran told me at New York Comic Con that she wished for a time that she didn’t enter comics because of all the harassment.

Think on that. We might not have Colleen Doran’s brilliant storytelling because of this.

This is unacceptable. Everyone who’s anyone in this industry knows this stuff goes on, even at the highest levels. No one’s naming names because the female creators fear, quite rightly, that they won’t get work if they do. They’ll be labeled “problems” or “bitchy” or even “crazy.”

That means the problem isn’t just the direct harassers. No, the problem is those enabling those direct harassers by not calling them on it or taking action. After what I’ve heard this week, publicly and privately, I will never believe those in charge don’t know who among their people are problems.


We’re losing too many brilliant creators this way. When Doran talks about wishing she never started her comic career partially because of this stuff, when others never get their work seen because they’ve been hit on my editors and refused them or are turned away if they’re not pretty enough, their stories are lost and that’s a tragedy for everyone who loves comics.

The harassers are a problem. They’re a small minority. But there’s another group who stands by, does nothing or even belittles the events that happen.

So if you’re a guy and you’re standing around and watching when an incident happens at a con—do something or you’re part of the problem. If you’re an employer of a creator who does this garbage, impose consequences or you’re part of the problem.

If you’re in a position to hire and you notice you’ve only got two female employees out of 200, you’re part of the problem. That’s not hiring for diversity’s sake, that’s correcting the impulse that obviously led you to self-select male creators for your entire work force. If you’re working for DC Comics and you actively work to sideline female characters because they’re not “sexy” enough or if you change their body type to make them more “sexy” and thus more f*** (see: Amanda Waller), then you’re part of the problem.

If you’re on a message board and someone relates a story of harassment, don’t let your first response be “oh, it wasn’t that bad” or “ah, she’s crazy” or “hey, I’d hit that too.” If you do, you’re also part of the problem.

Some of these are larger problems, some smaller. None of them are happening in a vacuum. The sooner we all realize it, the sooner change will come. That’s why I’m writing this, to keep the conversation going until action is taken.

A sea change is coming, slowly and it will eventually become a tidal wave.

Or so hopes the optimist in me.

Meanwhile, while the internets were abuzz, the mom in me was busy schlepping my four kids into New York City so we could be stars. Well, not quite stars. Maybe geek stars?

Forbidden Planet Field Trip!

Last weekend, all four minions and myself went into New York City to be part of a morning filming of the NickMom television show, Take Me to Your Mother, at the Forbidden Planet near Union Square.

I love trips to the city because they’re always an adventure.

Crossed off the bucket list as a result of this one:

1. A real NYC, hair-raising, terrifying taxi ride.

2. Proper New York City-style pizza! I ordered way more than I expected the five of us to eat. We had one slice left.

3. Forbidden Planet, of course, a city mecca for geeks.

4. Seeing the Empire State Building, all lit up, only a block away.

5. Finally figuring the proper exit door to take when leaving  Grand Central Station. (And, no, Grand Central Station never gets old.)

And the filming itself?

A fascinating process. We all dressed up in some form or another. I was Lois Lane (Amy Adams-style), my youngest daughter was Wonder Woman, my eldest wore her Sunnydale High School shirt, my eldest son rocked his Bobby from Supernatural cosplay, and the youngest son wore a Flash t-shirt. (Jay Garrick version.)

Comedian Andrea Rosen narrates the show, asking parenting advice from different types of moms so her kids don’t grow up to be jerks.  She asked us questions about what geeky means, what type of things we’re geeky about, and whether my being a geek influenced my kids.

That all was fun–and less nerve-wracking than I expected–but I was more interested in watching the behind the scenes stuff.

The crew set up the shoot as a mock book signing, with Andrea asking us questions while we were “in line.” There were numerous cameras, various lights, and  crew that numbered about ten. (They all kept moving around, so I couldn’t get an accurate count.)

I wish I had more time to ask all the crew how they got into this work, and what they loved or hated about it. (Hey, I picked Lois as a cosplay for a reason.)

Our segment will only last about a minute or so, though filming took nearly half and hour and will air in the spring at some point. So stay tuned for details.

And speaking of geeky kids, one of my very first geek-outs when I was a kid was over Sherlock Holmes. I devoured the Canon for years, until I nearly had not only the stories memorized but also the notes in W.S. Baring-Gould Annotated version.

And so you can imagine my glee when I sold my Holmes-inspired romantic steampunk, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. It’s due out in ebook on April 22nd and here’s the cover:


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8 thoughts on “The Cliffs of Insanity: Will Things Change for Women in Comics?

  1. I think a lot of the problem may be people’s definition of sexual harassment. In the Tess Fowler case, until Wood publicly humiliates her, it doesn’t really seem like sexual harassment to me. The same thing with the DC woman and Wood. The way I read it is that they went for a walk and he asked for oral sex. She said no and he didn’t press the issue. But where he crossed the line from my perspective is when he started mentioning her to Bleeding Cool. Until Wood starts mouthing off about these women and from where I sit, publicly demeaning their character, he is just basically a jerk coming on to women for a sexual encounter.
    I would think my description of sexual harassment should be revealed. If my views seem skewed knowing my definition of harassment will probably explain it. Sexual Harassment: any kind of touching of another person that’s designed to feel them up – usually a breast of butt cheek, sticking in sexual innuendo in what should be professional dialogue whether spoken or written, sexual favors for work place advancements or jobs, continued dialogue from one person seeking a relationship when the other has plainly told the first ‘no’, and purposely communicating to another that they are not wanted or disapproved using gender devaluing tactics.

    That’s probably not an exhaustive list but it is what I can think of at the moment. This issue does affect me as noted in your article but also because I have a female co-worker that I have been flirting with. I think, from our discussions, that some interest might be returned. I don’t want to be one of those accused and I certainly hope I am not guilty of sexual harassment. I try to keep things tame. No amount of sex has coming into our conversations and I have only sort of asked her out to see a movie.

  2. Taking Fowler’s account, though, it’s clear from the situation at the bar that he kept staring at her enough to make everyone around them uncomfortable and despite her efforts to basically keep things on a more professional, if casual level, by talking about her art. So there was already some level of unwelcome attention there.

    The other incident is very much being a dick–I mean, who asks for that from a person they barely know, though it’s raised from merely that to job-related issues with the gossip. Sexual harassment can be more than unwanted touching, it can be creating an atmosphere that, overall, consistently diminishes and belittles.

    So I’d basically say following Wheaton’s Law of Not Being a Dick is a very good standard all-around, for how one would treat both women and men. As far as your personal situation, and since I know you, I’m guessing you can read people well. If she says “no” to a movie, well, she’s probably not interested and then you’d just treat her casual and friendly afterward, which I’d expect you would anyway. 🙂

  3. Having to leave for work sucks but I have to pay the bills. In my case, a supervisor showed up just as she was about to answer so I never got an actual answer.
    I forgot about an unfriendly atmosphere. That is pretty big. The leery part at the bar I missed in the account before. I’m not trying to defend Woods actions, especially since he was married during some of these incidents. I’m trying to see where people’s limits are as to regarding boundaries. Since those will vary between individuals I think that’s where a lot of problems coming into saying what’s harassment and what is not.

  4. True enough but I think we can all agree that the comics industry, in general, has gone over the line, especially if pretty much every single women in comics I know has a horror story.

  5. Sorry, Tess’s case screams sexual harassment. He was promising her an opportunity and then he started to get a little too chummy at a convention. He was making inappropriate advances and making her uncomfortable. Inviting a woman up to your room to “talk” is a major red flag. That he was married during the time does not make it untrue. It makes it that much more detestable.

    He overstepped his boundaries and because he was “shot down” and his fragile ego was damaged, he felt the need to lash out at her. He is the classic arrogant pig that thinks he can smooth talk his way into a woman’s pants by dangling the hope of a career opportunity.

    What about those women that have gone up to that room under the guise of talking about “work” and then it turning into sexual congress? Doing something that you do not want to do because you feel like you have no other choice? That is a little too close to rape for my liking.

  6. In reading the article from The Beat, unless I’m recalling it incorrectly Fowler went to his room to have her portfolio reviewed. Unless some later information came out I haven’t seen anything saying he was offering a career opportunity.

    Corrina – I agree that any male dominated field probably has this issue. I’m guessing that you’ve seen other articles where in the digital gaming creation the have been such stories. And just being on a recreational football team I’ve heard some horrible things said about women in sexual matters. There is a HUGE amount of room for improvement by men in regarding women.

  7. I didn’t phrase my last statement correctly. I apologies for that. What I meant to say was that Fowler was suppose to go to his room to have her portfolio reviewed. Of course, from that pretense Wood would have her alone and a chance to press the issue of sex. I made it sound like she did go to his room which as Corrina said is incorrect.

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