Fandom Stories: The Great, The Lousy, and the Harassers

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Superhero Comic Fandom
My Birds of Prey figure set: Black Canary, Oracle, and Huntress

My superhero comic fandom experiences started at an inauspicious time: 9/11/2001.

Since that time, my online fandom experiences have been amazing and wonderful. The wonderful includes moderating Gail Simone’s forums, meeting a ton of fellow fans and creators that became friends, and being exposed to all sorts of comic stories I would never have heard of otherwise.

But my online fandom experiences have also included death threats, being stalked, direct harassment, subtle insults along the lines of “you’re a girl, so you don’t belong in superhero comic fandom,” and witnessing the beginnings of the reactive and regressive ComicGate movement which, if people had been paying attention, probably could have been snuffed out at the start, instead of the views being basically tolerated and allowed to grow.

Even with all that, I still love superhero comics and I still love the majority of comics fandom.

It’s just the yelling, screaming, irrationally angry minority that still causes problems, to the point where there’s no fandom public that I can recommend for those who want to find their people. Instead, I would suggest finding private corners with like minded-individuals who treat others with respect.

Note: For more fandom stories, please see past posts, on Metal Gear Solid, Anika and the Boy Wizard , What Is Fandom Anyway, and why we’re putting together a record of these fandom stories. (And if you have one, please contact us or post in the comments with contact info. We’d love guest posts!

My Superhero Comic Online Fandom: In the Beginning

Why do I remember the date I went online with my love of superhero comics? Because on 9/10/2001, I went searching for other readers of DC’s Birds of Prey, the series that brought me back into superhero comics after a five-year break. I remember being thrilled to find the Words of Prey threaded forum, and the site it connected with, Canary Noir.

I made ready to introduce myself on the next day. 9/11.

I was worried about introducing myself on that tragic day because it seemed, well, trivial. But wanting the connection with others, I posted, and received a warm welcome, especially from those posters who lived in NYC and needed a distraction. I keep track of some of those people online to this day, including the founder of Canary Noir.

A little while later, I also joined Chuck Dixon’s message board, Dixonverse—another threaded forum—but I didn’t find that it suited me nearly as well as Words of Prey. At the time, I only knew Dixon from having revitalized a couple of my favorite characters, Black Canary and Oracle, in Birds of Prey, and as the writer of a terrific Tim Drake Robin series.

Dixon was gracious—he’s never been otherwise to me—but there were some intense far-right people on his board, even back then, who could sometimes make others who didn’t share their views distinctly uncomfortable. I did meet a forever friend, Sarah Beach, who later wrote a terrific book on myths, The Scribblers Guide to the Land of Myths, which I highly recommend. Sarah was a moderator there and kept the peace, so much as was possible.

But I knew the Dixonverse wouldn’t be for me when Dixon posted that allowing LGBTQA+ people to serve in the United States armed forces was too logically complicated, comparing it to changing food services for vegatarians. There’s no more sinking feeling for a lover of a particular story than to realize the creator of that story would be actively hostile to either yourself or those you love. And that dichotomy—the work is very good but creators and other fans of it are homophobic or racist or prejudiced in some form—always lurks at the edges of my superhero comic fandom. It’s a sinking feeling.

Dixonverse and Words of Prey were small communities, likely no more than 50-100 people altogether. Issues here and there aside, they were a great place for someone with no internet experience to begin to talk to other readers.

Then Dixon left Birds of Prey and the new writer eventually became Gail Simone. And with that creative change came an explosion in my fandom experiences, most for good, some for ill.

Comic Book Resources, Gail Simone, and You’ll Be Sorry

superhero comic fandom
Cover to Birds of Prey: Mystery and Murder trade paperback

Comic Book Resources, or CBR, was a site that offered news, columns, and commentary on comics, as well as an active and lively forum that came with what seemed to me a vast number of users. CBR’s boards were my first experience with forums divided by categories. Roughly, there were boards for several DC characters, a Marvel board, General conversation, X-Men, Rumbles, plus several creators had their own forums, and I’m forgetting a few because I didn’t spend much time in them.

Gail Simone had her own board, called “You’ll All Be Sorry” aka YABS, named after the comics humor column she wrote for CBR that helped lead to her comics writing career. Simone was one of the early members of the CBR community before she became a comics creator. I, however, was a relative newcomer. The only difference that made for me is that there were undercurrents of support and hostility among the original CBR posters, including both for and against Gail. This would later become relevant.

At first, I only wanted to talk about Gail’s new job as the writer of Birds of Prey. Dixon had left the book and there had been a few runs by a couple of acclaimed creators, but none had really landed well. It seemed to me that Simone’s run would determine if BoP would survive at all. Given that, at the time, it was the female-led book at DC Comics, I was very much rooting for her run to be good.

superhero comic fandom
Birds of Prey: Between Dark and Dawn, part of Simone’s definitive run

As we know, Simone’s Birds of Prey was more than good. It was a definitive run, the kind of run that you hope for as a reader but rarely receive. It was a glorious time to be on YABS because so many new posters came to the forum to share their love about BoP.

With all those new posters came the need to find moderators for the group.

Let me stop a minute and point out that all the CBR boards had volunteer moderators to keep things civil. I didn’t find this unusual at the time, but given how most social media is not moderated or barely moderated, allowing some horrible behavior, CBR was ahead of its time. (Until it wasn’t.)

Gail didn’t have mods on YABS before Birds of Prey, preferring to handle things herself, but, at some point, that policy changed. Perhaps it was due to the site’s founder, Jonah Weiland, asking her to do so or perhaps she knew it was needed. But, for whatever reason, YABS added two moderators. Eventually, I was asked to be a co-moderator. Thrilled, I agreed. These were my people. I felt honored. I still do.

But, reader, I didn’t know quite what I was getting into.

Comic Book Male Toxicity and the End of YABS on CBR

Let me first say that the majority of people on CBR, whether on YABS or another sub-forum, were welcoming. I made friends who I keep in touch with to this day. (Hey, GeekDads Mordechai Luchins and Jim MacQuarrie!) I had some wonderful, awesome, thought-provoking conversations that expanded my worldview, as YABS attracted a diverse community, one that didn’t share the straight white male vibe that dominated most of the other boards. It was generally a pleasure to moderator YABS, as it was a happy community and Gail was awesome and supportive of her moderators.

But, it’ll surprise no one to say that the toxic male garbage that would later rear its ugly head in ComicsGate existed on CBR at the time. Mostly not on the YABS board because my fellow moderator, Shel, and I didn’t allow it any insults, especially of the racist, misogynistic, or homophobic variety. But these things existed in some part on the other subforums and occasionally spilled over to YABS. And no one seemed to care about letting them continue.

What would happen would be posters from another sub-forum would jump over to YABS, insult people, be, well, dicks, and then jump back to their home sub-forum, like the X-Boards. I’d ask for a 3-day ban and, often, I was told by the super-moderators that the ban would only apply on YABS and not the rest of the boards. (There were over 10 forums, and probably double the number of mods, so we had to have some super-moderators in charge.)

At first, this seemed reasonable enough.

But what would happen is these posters (which I believe included the guy who eventually became the main instigator of ComicsGate) would post to YABS, be garbage people, I’d ask for a ban, it would be applied only to my site forum, and, meanwhile, while said poster stirring the hatred pot would go onto their favored forums and talk garbage about YABS and its moderators.

Now, I can take insults but, one, that seems counterproductive to site harmony that other subforums would allow insults to go unchecked. Two, these weren’t just everyday insults. Shel is a lesbian and many of the YABS posters were LGBTQA+ people, especially once Gail started writing Secret Six. YABS was a decent public space for them where the moderators tried to have their back, though we didn’t catch everything.

The rest of CBR was, generally, not. Many comments about superhero comics not being for women, or dismissing female creators, or fans, or yelling at people who were not well-represented in superhero comics—i.e., anyone not a straight white dude—should stop trying to “force diversity down people’s throats.”

This means that the majority of the CBR community, including my fellow moderators, were okay allowing YABS, the subforum that had the most diverse population and the only one that had two female moderators, to be consistently insulted and degraded without consequences. These posters were never banned outright. Most of the time, their posts would be deleted and that was considered the end of it. This ended nothing, save that we now no longer had a record of this homophobic and misogynistic behavior. Eventually, Gail caught wind that her moderators were not just being insulted, but were being met with homophobic slurs.

Because that’s who she is, Gail said “enough” and pulled the board from CBR and placed it over at the Bendis Board. (Which doesn’t exist anymore. I’ll get to that.)

It’s one of the ironies that insults to her moderators, which Gail had originally said she didn’t need, was what led her to pull the board to another site.

But this changed nothing for CBR overall. The people being harassed had left, while those who did the harassing were allowed to stay. Perhaps if CBR had acted at this early stage and cleaned house, those harassers would have felt less emboldened to eventually become so openly hateful everywhere. Eventually, CBR shut down their forums entirely because of toxicity. (And CBR was later sold by Weiland.)

That toxicity would never have flourished if it had been met with a “no” at an early stage.

Thus, I learned the lesson that allowing this kind of harassment and insults inevitably destroys the good parts of a fandom space. That lesson would be reinforced on the Bendis Board.

The End of the Bendis Board & My Superhero Forum Fandoms

The Bendis board, run by the well-known and acclaimed creator Brian W. Bendis, had two main active boards. The Benbo, which was ostensibly about the comics Bendis wrote but was really a comics community that discussed everything, and our much smaller community on the Gailbo, as Gail’s new board became known.

Shel and I instituted only one rule on the Gailbo: don’t be a dick. That did away with all the rules-lawyering and allowed us the ability to shut down the a**holes from the start. A few times, people started things and they were either banned or met with outright hostility from the Gailbo posters, who knew how to protect each other at that point. That made existence mostly easy there. Few bothered us, as had happened on CBR.

The Benbo, however, was another story. That particular sub-board contained many great people, including Ray Goldfield, who now reviews comics with me on GeekDad. The BenBo did have moderators, but it was mostly laissez-faire and things worked relatively well until a clique formed that seemed to exists to bully anyone they deemed unworthy. At one point, I posted in a new thread of insults against a poster they’d been bullying that if they were on my board, the Gailbo, I’d ban them for being dicks.

Their reaction: you would think someone had run over their dog. Then the female moderator of the Benbo liked the idea of people not being allowed to behave like dicks and deemed that anyone being a jerk (or worse) would be banned.

You’d think someone had physically run over them this time. What followed were people posting threads literally about how they had a right to be a**holes. Threads upon threads objecting to being asked for civil behavior. Bendis must have looked at it with angry eyes because, not long after, he nuked the entire board.

It doesn’t exist anymore. Because some people intent on harassment and bullying wouldn’t give way.

My Superhero Comic Fandom Today

Where do I talk comics today?

Mostly with Ray in our comic reviews, in the YABS community that remains in a couple of private spaces, and with a few friends on Facebook. I’m sure there are spaces that are full of incredible discussions, possibly on Reddit, but I’ve been soured on large superhero comic fandom communities. I often wonder if the problematic elements that are behind systemic issues in superhero comics are partially responsible for the continued toxicity.

I’ve kept the friends I adore and I refuse to let the bullies ruin the rest of it. I will forever love the allies and friends I’ve found online who love comics the same way I do. I also love the initiative DC Comics is doing to get more young readers and young adult-friendly, inclusive comic stories out there, such as Black Canary: Ignite and Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass.

But I wonder if anything will ever truly change for the public comic superhero fandom spaces.

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