AMBER LOVE 04-MAR-2014 Today I saw an announcement of the forming of a comics retailer advocacy group called Comic Book Retailer Alliance. The responsibility there has big implications. No doubt this action was propelled by the now infamous attention that Image Comics’ publisher Eric Stephenson brought on at the ComicsPRO summit for retailers and publishers. If you’ve missed it, here’s what happened in a nutshell: the hardworking and respected publisher of one of the best companies in comics alienated a ton of creators, retailers, and fans. However, he made a great point that all parties have been missing the boat in creating and hiring products that would balance out the gender inequality currently rampant in the business. He also spoke about how the direct market is essential to the success of the industry (gee, I hope no one with an online store or Comixology affiliation was there). It certainly is a different age and buying online if you’re not socially active through places like Twitter or message boards means you might not have a place to ask questions about titles, characters, or creative teams. Nothing replaces the brick and mortar environment but consumers have been adapting.
As an example, fans listen to podcasts and take those recommendations that might have come from a retailer. If it’s a show like 11 O’Clock Comics or Comic Geek Speak, you listen and feel like you’re standing around a comic shop with a bunch of avid fans talking about the things they discovered, loved or disliked. It’s not the same as being at a store where you can interact and ask questions but it’s not a shabby alternative when you can then go online and ask those hosts further questions.
I’ve only ever attended the retailer conferences by Diamond (the primary source for comics distribution to comic shops) so I’m not familiar with ComicsPRO specifically. Days after Stephenson’s speech was picked up by the blogosphere, I saw this announcement that a group of retailers were banding together to form “An advocacy group for the protection of the local comic shop (lcs) and the for a future in print comics for all creators.” [sic] The quoted statement comes from comic shop owner Dennis Barger who is never one to be shy about his concerns for the industry.
What I found alarming was that included in the nine people/shops that will form the Comic Book Retailer Alliance, it included the one and only Larry’s Comics. This is a problem.
Larry Doherty of Larry’s Comics is a known public bigot, racist, homophobe and transphobic individual. Don’t believe me? The internet keeps everything. Larry’s hate speech caught my attention when he had a Twitter war with Christian Beranek, a transgender comic book creator. Doherty refused to use “she” when referring to her and instead called her “sir” and “dude.” Larry’s Comics is so successful, he likely had zero fucks to give if he lost one potential customer or carried one less creator’s work. I’m guessing he didn’t realize the magnitude of what a war with one sole person does; it is seen by masses. Does Doherty have the right to alienate or refuse service to someone because he doesn’t approve of their identity?
Let’s take a look at recent events in other non-comics news: As we just saw, a bill was vetoed in Arizona when they tried to pass a law that says businesses can refuse to serve customers based on sexual orientation/identity if the business owner has religious objections; comics retailers should remember this landmark decision by Arizona Governor Brewer.
Now let’s revisit 2011 when Doherty spewed his racist remarks about Miles Morales, a Marvel Comics fictional character of minority ethnicity that was the new Spider-Man in the Ultimate universe. Again, GraphicPolicy did well to preserve the tweets where Doherty “jokes” about a non-white Spider-Man with Uncle Ben and saying “dem lips nigga, no mask gonna hide dem.” He had several such tweets he later deleted saying it was too labor intensive to reply to people who were offended by his “good natured jokes.” You can delete your tweets, Doherty, but the world knows the real you – the you that is a hatemonger, racist, misogynist that belongs with the Westboro Baptist Church, not in a “comic retailers alliance” that is trying to advocate for the sales of print media in the marketplace.
Doherty issued a statement and said that making Spider-Man an African-American was a ploy to increase sales. Isn’t that point? Sales are good. Sales keep the retailers in business, keep the fans happy, and certainly would make Marvel happy too. And if sales increase because a major character in a book was a person of color it is crystal clear evidence that people want to embrace the diversity that more realistically reflects our world – our world where an African-American man is the President of the United States. If a non-white man can be POTUS then one sure as shit can be Spider-Man, Nick Fury, Johnny Storm or Kingpin. If you want to join a comic retailers alliance to bolster sales then you need to get with the times and embrace the changes that bring in new dollars.
I get upset every time I hear those boys at Penny Arcade said more stupidly offensive shit too. It’s something that happens on a regular basis over there. You can pretty much bet there will be an annual shitstorm because of those guys. Penny Arcade, Larry’s Comics, and certain people at Bleeding Cool are famous for all the wrong reasons in this industry.
People ask what makes a good comic shop. Time and again I’ve told my own story. I had shopped (or rather tried to shop) at several comic stores in New Jersey before finding Comic Fusion. I wasn’t treated like a person who had money to spend in any of them. I wasn’t asked questions about what I was looking for and as person who had never purchased a comic before, I didn’t know how to begin that conversation but the people in those shops should have known. One shop owner couldn’t be bothered to stop playing Magic with his teenage customers long enough to get to know me at all. When I spotted Comic Fusion in Flemington, I drove by at least a dozen times before mustering the courage to try again. It was the best decision I ever made when it comes down to it because I wouldn’t have begun reading comics, getting into cosplay or knowing how to network with people who taught me how to actually write my own comics. If I never had regained that courage to go in where Stacy Korn talked to me for an hour, none of that would have happened. By then I had watched a lot of Blair Butler on G4TV and knew a couple things but barely anything at all. I knew enough that when Stacy asked me what I might be interested in, I had some vague answers. I became part of the family and together we began our charity events and running more signings at the store. I used to work there most of the week until I moved. Then Stacy put me in charge of bringing in cosplayers and running half the social media. None of that would’ve have happened if a nervous and sexually liberated person like myself went into Larry’s Comics and felt unwelcome or heard him say the color/gender of a character should determine if they headline a series.
Doherty has also gone head-to-head with Mark Waid calling him a “traitor” and a “cunt” who can’t wait to abandon the direct market for the fortunes of digital sales. Doherty does not foster warm fuzzy feelings with anyone in the comics industry but somehow he’s successfully paying his bills. It’s a mystery to me. It’s a bigger mystery that people who do seem reasonable and caring want to team up with him and think it’ll bolster the brick and mortar market. Make no mistake: this isn’t about “comic sales” which would include online retail sales; this is strictly about selling in a comic shop through the direct market (ie, Diamond). As any creator and publisher knows, there is more to selling than brick and mortar sales of individual “floppies.” Maybe this alliance will address how to expand the trade paperback and OGN market. I don’t know. All I know is that if a retailer like Doherty has nothing to offer but vitriol, I don’t know what good he can possibly offer. It pains me as a MY LITTLE PONY fan that someone like him gets hundreds of exclusive variant covers on books that are supposed to teach about camaraderie, friendship and fixing mistakes as a team.
I’m also not about to imply that retailers aren’t people and not allowed to dislike whoever they want. I was pretty vocal about my dislike of Orson Scott Card. Fortunately, where I shop is an LGBT-friendly store and OSC lobbies against equal civil rights so my store’s owners had their own opinions about that situation. Someone like Doherty or OSC might argue that we are the opposite side of the same coin — looking to support the interests that reflect our own values. I don’t see it that way since I’m looking for retailers, publishers and creators that are willing to be indiscriminate and not spew hate.
Immediately after Barger made the announcement about their new retailer alliance, I posted a friendly and tactful reminder in his thread that any alliance that wants to succeed has to remember to be inclusive. We’ve had enough gatekeeping. Sure enough, minutes later, someone replies aggressively to me claiming I’m complaining when nothing has even happened yet. I wasn’t complaining publicly, first of all. I posted a reminder that this new alliance should make an effort to be inclusive. My “complaints” actually happened privately where I had a very reasonable exchange with Barger who I’ve enjoyed chatting with on and off for months. In other words, he and I are friendly enough with each other that I felt comfortable talking to him as more than some stranger on the internet. Honestly, I don’t see how I could’ve said my opening statement nicer and still have it be my voice. After facing an aggressive reply, the gloves came off. That’s how I am and that’s how I’ll always be. I said flat out that their line up of founding members of comics retailers includes a hatemonger and it looks like klan meeting of all white dudes.
At the last Image Comics Expo, there was a photo circulated of all the key players in attendance on the stage. Everyone knows that Image Comics has women behind the scenes in publishing administration, as creators, and tons as fans but that photo didn’t reflect it at all. It was a lineup of all white men. My concern about this new retailers alliance is that it’s heading in the same direction before it even takes off.
I completely believe Barger when he promises to be inclusive and promises to reach out to all business owners. I don’t know the rest of the blokes in the lineup personally. I know Barger and I believe his word. I know of Doherty only through Twitter which I stopped following and through research and have determined I don’t like what I see. I don’t know if any LGBT-friendly retailers or non-white retailers would even consider joining a collective that has someone like Doherty on its board.
I’m not perfect. Nobody is. The key is to learn for your flubs, shortcomings, and mistakes and grow as a person. I knew nothing about the plight of transgender citizens around the world no less the ones that may be trying to make a go of careers in comics. I wasn’t taught that gender is fluid or that it’s a different issue from sexual orientation. In that regard, I look back at my childhood and the only non-white families I ever saw and interacted with were in church but not in my neighborhood or my elementary school.
A real example of how I looked either prophetic or flat-out stupid was when I was on a Women in Comics panel and one of the other panelists mentioned Dynamite Entertainment. To give you some background, I used to write for the parent company (or sister company, I don’t really know – Dynamic Forces) and tried to get a real paying position there after giving them years of free columns for their online content; one time I calculated it and it was somewhere around 95% of their online reviews were done by me. I love Dynamite’s comics. I used to read most of their titles but have scaled back to LONE RANGER and RED SONJA. I support them as a consumer and podcaster. But every time I would try to have a discussion about getting women in their creative teams (other than Leah Moore who is a co-creator with her husband) and on their administrative staff, I got shut down; now I can’t even get on their press list. So when this other panelist mentioned how she wanted to work for Dynamite, I openly said, “They don’t hire women.” Six months later they made announcements so big it shook comics: They hired a woman in editorial and Gail Simone was going to write RED SONJA plus she would be doing variants with all female creative teams. That’s a bit misleading since the actual artist on Red Sonja is a man but still, they paid a lot of women to participate in one of their greatest titles and all I could say was, “Congratulations! It’s about damn time.” Did I make a mistake saying this publisher was anti-women? Not at the time and I’m elated that they saw what they were missing and grew to be more welcoming. I’d rather have that opportunity to celebrate about how a publisher got something right than how some organization got it wrong.
I don’t think Doherty has learned any lessons like I have. This nascent Comic Book Retailer Alliance plans to have their first meeting in May at the Diamond Retailers Summit where the founding members will iron out their mission statement. In my personal opinion, if Larry’s Comics wants to be a dues-paying member of such an organization, that’s fine but I would not want to see Doherty on the board.