Warning: This article may not be appropriate for younger readers, as it contains the discussion of sexual and physical violence, as well as discrimination. It also contains quotations that have aggressive and harmful language.
On April 11th, 2014, journalist Janelle Asselin posted an article titled Anatomy of a Bad Cover: DC’s New Teen Titans #1 regarding her critique of the cover and DC’s marketing decisions that the cover represented. From that, she received various rape threats and negative responses, which resulted in a number of subsequent articles by The Mary Sue’s Jill Pantozzi, ComicsAlliance’s Andy Khouri, and many more that opened a larger discussion about the treatment of women and minorities in the comic book industry. This eventually led Asselin to post a follow-up article detailing the kinds of threats she received titled It Happened To Me: I Received Rape Threats After Criticizing A Comic Book.
In response, comic book editor Rachel Edidin launched the We Are Comics campaign. This is a social media campaign that asks comics fans, professionals, and journalists to speak out and show just how diverse and welcoming the comic book community community can be by submitting a photo and bio to the campaign’s tumblr or Twitter with the hashtag #IamComics. I decided to go straight to the source and interview Edidin to learn more about the campaign.
Jason Enright, Fanboy Comics Senior Contributor: What is the idea behind the We Are Comics campaign?
Rachel Edidin: I’m really, really tired of the idea that comics only belong to one narrow demographic. I’ve worked in this industry for eight years and been part of the community for longer, and over that time, I’ve been continually astonished and disheartened less by the dearth of diversity in comics than by its systematic erasure and dismissal.
These past few weeks have been kind of a tour de force of the s—-y end of geek-culture identity politics, from the harassment cases at GitHub, to colleagues and friends getting yet another barrage of rape threats for having the temerity to be women writing about comics and pop culture on the Internet.
I am used to this. I’ve been a woman who writes about comics and pop culture on the Internet for a long time, and that’s not really something you can sustain if you’re not able to grit your teeth and keep walking. But, this time, one particular comment that was sent to Janelle Asselin really stuck with me:
“Women in comics are the deviation, the invading body, the cancer. We are the cure, the norm, the natural order. All you are is a pair of halfway decent t–s, a c–t and a loud mouth. But see, it doesn’t matter how loud you get. It doesn’t matter how many of your lezbo tumblr and twitter fangirl friends agree with you and reinforce your views. You can be all “I’m not going to be silent about misogyny so f–k you!” all you want. In the end all you are is a pathetic little girl trying to effect change and failing to make a dent. You might as well try to drain the ocean of fish. That’s the kind of battle you face with people like me. We won’t quit. We won’t stop attacking. We won’t give up. Ever.”
And, this just blew my mind. Because, first of all, if you want to look at the fundamental state of comics, the comics-are-for-boys mentality is the product of decades of systematic effort. It’s not something that arose naturally; it’s not a default. This is not your playground that we’re trespassing on; we are comics as much as you are.
But, more–it’s still not what comics is. Look, I work in comics, I write about comics. They are so much more, and so is the community around them. And, it always has been.
Comics is a visual medium; I want to offer a visual rebuttal to both the idea that comics are only for one narrow group and the dogma that *the members of that group* are incapable of or unwilling to open the doors wider. We’ve been saying, “Comics are for everyone,” a lot. I want to show that.
JE: Why is it important to you and to the industry?
RE: In a purely mercenary sense? Because comics are limiting themselves into extinction, catering to a target audience that will inevitably die out, that is already doing so. Acknowledging the actual breadth of the actual–and more, potential–base of readers and creators is vital to our survival.
But, from a human angle, it’s also just the right thing to do. Why wouldn’t you want that breadth of representation? That’s the question we should be asking.
JE: Who can submit and what should a submission include?
RE: Anybody who’s part of the comics industry or community can submit: professionals and fans; writers; artists; publishing professionals; retailers; and readers. We’re not here to evaluate how you choose to engage with comics; if you care enough to submit a photo, you care enough to be on the blog.
Your submission should be a photo–or drawing–of you, with some variation of the phrase “I am comics.” We’re not requiring bios, but we’d love it if you’d include one–who you are, your relationship to comics, and why you’re here. You can also post this stuff on your personal tumblr or Twitter – just tag it “i am comics” on tumblr, or #iamcomics on Twitter, and we’ll find it and reblog.
We’ve heard from a number of people who are parts of groups that are already very visible in comics—say, straight white men between the ages of 18 and 39—who were concerned about expressing solidarity and speaking up without drowning out other voices. For those folks, we recommend including a statement of solidarity in your photo and/or bio.
Allow me to take off my journalist hat for a moment and talk to you as a fan. I find it very heartening that the comics community has chosen to answer harassment and threats with a campaign that is positive and inclusive. I recently posted my photo and bio to the We are Comics tumblr, and I’d like to invite you to join me and do the same. If you’d like to engage in the discussion, visit twitter.com/WeAreComics or wearecomics.tumblr.com/.