I'm a Fantasy writer, essayist, and overall nerd with big dreams.
Dear lord, what am I getting myself into? Why do I feel the need to talk about Comicsgate? Forgive my lack of enthusiasm, dear readers, but this is one area of geek culture that I truly wish did not exist, mostly for two reasons. The first is that trying to be objective about this is incredibly difficult. The second is that the more research I do into this subject, the more disgusted I become, and the more I realize that Comicsgate is, by and large, not motivated by a desire to make the comic book industry better. No, it’s purely motivated by two things; nostalgia and politics. Nostalgia because the movement’s goals seem to center around a desire to return to a simpler, happier time that probably never existed, and politics because professional comic book creators who are conservative feel like comic books are becoming too liberal in their content, and that because of that, they’re being censored, marginalized, and/or ousted from the industry. To be fair, there is some truth to this. It’s hard to deny that some comics in recent years, particularly from Marvel, have been playing with liberal ideas and themes. However, with that said, I’m not at all convinced that it’s as much of a problem as they have made it out to be, and Comicsgate's desire to go back to what they describe as ‘apolitical entertainment’ is so rose-colored that it makes me physically ill. Besides, when you look at the movement as a whole…well, let’s just say that their actions don’t match their argument. In this essay, I’m going to go over what Comicsgate is, talk about its history and some of the major players involved, and also describe in detail how the movement destroyed itself.
Oh, one more thing: there aren’t going to be any shocking revelations here. This essay is meant for people who don’t know what Comicsgate is, but wish to learn about it. So, unless stated otherwise, everything I say is based on information that is publically available from numerous online sources (with my own opinion sprinkled in here and there). For the sake of transparency, I will provide a list of all my sources at the very end. Also, this essay is rather long, so I had to divide it into separate parts. As such, a link to the next section will be provided at the end of each part. With that out of the way, let’s get started.
To begin with, what is the Comicsgate movement in its own words? To answer that, let’s look at the words of one of the movement’s de facto leader*, artist Ethan Van Sciver, best known for his creator-owned comic Cyberfrogs as well as his work for DC Comics. In an interview conducted on September 18, 2018, with the website gamingculture.com, Ethan explained that Comicsgate was “[...] a consumer-led revolt against what is clearly a left-wing dominance in the comic book industry. It’s an opportunity for displaced comic book fans, fans who have often quit the hobby, to take control and make or support the comics they’d rather read. It’s an opportunity for creators who cannot find work in mainstream comics for political reasons, or any reason, to create again, free from the oppressive social justice warrior harassment and blacklisting that made work difficult or impossible for them.” 
When asked by the interviewer about a possible middle ground in the debate. Ethan replied, “We are the middle ground. Even though many of us share moderate to right views, we’re committed to the business of creating neutrality in our stories and art. This isn’t a counter to the radical left. It’s merely a rational alternative.” 
This is what the leader of the movement says it is. Sounds a little grandiose, doesn’t it? I’ll be honest, Ethan’s explanation leaves a bit to be desired, as he doesn’t properly define what the movement is actually against. Thankfully, an article from the Website Bounding into Comics put together a list of that very thing which is as follows:
- The adoption of art styles influenced exclusively by Progressive politics, & by the awkward, stilted injection of said political messages into stories regardless of whether context demands it or not.
- The hiring of people based purely on their surface traits and “oppressed demographic” status (Women, Minorities, LGBT) rather than hiring based on merit & affinity for craft.
- The change or outright replacement of beloved classic characters in the interest of shallow appeasement, supposedly in the name of progress.
- The elitist attitude & purge of anything that is not progressive under the mantra of “not progressive enough”.
- The rejection of honest criticism, swept aside as harassment or discrimination.
*correction: originally, I stated that Ethan Van Sciver had co-founded Comicsgate. I have been informed that this is not the case. Ethan didn't join the movement until a year after it started. The article has been corrected to reflect this.
Does this list sound a bit contradictory to Ethan’s explanation? Well, that’s because it is. The movement’s right-wing political motivations are kind of obvious from the first and second items alone. The third item, meanwhile, is purely about nostalgia, while the last two items are things that Comicsgate itself is guilty of doing when it comes to those who don’t agree with them. It's because of this that the Comicsgate movement has a substantially negative reputation. The movement has often been compared to an alt-right hate group who wish to, among other things, keep both women and minorities of any and all descriptions out of the industry.
While Ethan touches on this briefly in the interview, his statements are dismissive and drowning in denial. He believes the attention the movement has garnered is an overall good thing and waves away the negative press as a “response to a culture war festering within comics, those who actively engage in that war are furious at the popularity of Comicsgate and smear us in the most incredible ways.”  He called the allegations made against the movement “absurd,” and that Comicsgate welcomed all creators, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. so long as they only wanted to create non-political entertainment.
“Our 'failings' aren’t failings so much as they are growing pains.” He said. “Keeping this movement apolitical and neutral and out of the hands of bad actors is a challenge. We had some trouble with the alt-right attempting to co-opt the movement and that needed a response that the majority of us agreed upon but Comicsgaters are establishing themselves now.” 
He also paints Republican creators as victims of their left-wing colleagues’ frustration that arose in the wake of the Democratic Party’s loss in the 2016 presidential election. He elaborates on this; Saying that the parties loss radically changed his Democrat colleagues’ behavior and “caused them to behave in shameful and hateful ways. And then some of my friends became enemies and then those enemies joined with very peculiar gadflies on the fringes of this industry to engage in this culture war with all their might.” 
The Lies Fanboys Tell.
Dear Readers, Ethan’s not being entirely honest. While when exactly Comicsgates began is debatable, most sources agree that the movement at least solidified in 2016. The comics that prompted its creation, however, began publication three years prior, in 2014, and almost exclusively came from Marvel Comics. At the time, Marvel had begun introducing both new characters and new versions of classic characters. For the most part, these new characters fell into one of four categories.
The first category is admittedly an established trope in Superhero fiction, in where famous characters will temporarily stop being the hero and allow others to take up the mantle, two recent examples of this are Sam Wilson (AKA ‘Falcon’) becoming Captain America, and Jane Foster becoming a new version of Thor. The second category is newly created characters who become new versions of older heroes such as Kamala Khan becoming the new Ms. Marvel. The third category encompasses alternate versions of heroes such as Miles Morales becoming the Spider-Man from another universe. And the final category encompassed characters who were being updated for a modern audience and given a new series such as Mockingbird.
Why the sudden rush to make new characters and new versions of old ones? The keyword to remember here is “diversity.” Marvel wanted to bring in a larger, more diverse audience that they believed had hitherto been largely ignored by modern mainstream comics. As you might imagine, the new audience they wanted included women, those who identified as LGBTQ and racial & ethnic minorities. In addition, they wanted to start featuring stories and characters that these groups could identify with, and these new stories would draw on real-world political and social issues for inspiration. The Comics that resulted from this was branded “All New All Different Marvel” or “ANADM1”
Sidenote 1: Sadly, despite strong initial sales, most All New All Different Marvel titles were canceled in mid-2015. But despite what they claim, Comicsgate ultimately had nothing to do with the line’s failure. The truth is that several idiotic business and creative decisions confused and alienated both new and old readers alike and most stopped reading and moved on to books from other companies, particularly books from DC Comics. (source:https://www.cbr.com/no-diversity-didnt-kill-marvels-comic-sales/)
Ethan and Comicsgate would have you believe otherwise, but this sort of thing is old ground for Superhero comics. Many of Marvel’s most famous creations were inspired by or were meant to be a commentary on real-world politics and social issues of the 1960s and ’70s. The most famous example of this would be Marvel’s X-Men comics, whose creators (Stan Lee and Artist Jack Kirby) have admitted was designed to be an allegory in favor of the Civil Rights Movement. Around the same time, DC Comics also published stories inspired by real-world politics and social issues, like in Green Lantern #76 from 1970, in where Green Lantern is accused of being a racist.
In other words, this sudden diversification of Marvel’s universe in 2014 was a business decision. Not a political one. Please keep that in mind as we move forward.
Now, whether or not the ANADM comics are any good is a matter of opinion. Just as the same though, the fan reaction to this new direction was mixed. Some people loved it, some people hated it…And some just lost their minds. This leads us to the years 2016-2017. So, what was the spark that got this “consumer-led revolt” started?…it was a selfie posted to Twitter…this picture, in fact, posted by then Marvel editor Heather Antos:
I have no words for the sheer amount of dumb on display here.
Okay, all joking aside, Marvel isn’t exactly innocent in this either. As previously stated, many fans were not happy with the new direction Marvel was taking. And in the years leading up to the formation of Comicsgate, said fans felt the need to express their displeasure to Marvel’s various creators and editors that worked on these books. But as time went on, and the books stayed the way they were, feelings of resentment began to grow. And Marvel, in its infinite wisdom, believed that the solution to the growing animosity was to do nothing at all.
To add insult to injury, many of the creators and editors in question didn’t take to the criticism well. And rather than being rational and learning from it, far too many of them they pulled the classic “well if you don’t like this, you must be sexist, racist, blah blah, blah.” And in that sense, yes, I can sympathize with those fans frustration…and then the milkshake picture happened and my sympathy evaporates. Angry fans claimed that (among other things) that the picture showcased “everything wrong with Marvel” and that the picture was “the creepiest collection of stereotypical SJWs anyone could possibly imagine.” And that Heather herself was “an unqualified bimbo” and that she was the kind of woman who would falsely charge someone with rape.  Um, What?
Dear readers, this is the part of the story that truly baffles the hell out of me. As I said, I can understand the frustration, but why was this selfie the bat that shattered the cookie jar? I mean, look at it. Even if you don’t like these women and their work, they’re not being mean spirited or insulting. For god’s sake, Heather and her colleagues went out for milkshakes to celebrate the life of late Marvel employee and indie comics editor Flo Steinberg, not to force-feed an SJW McFlurry into your eyeballs, but I digress. Shortly after the picture was uploaded, Ms. Antos sent out a tweet condemning the abusive messages and Tweets she’d been receiving over the picture.
Some Comicsgaters say that Ms. Antos was lying about these messages because she never posted any evidence of their existence. To which I ask...are you blind? Not only is the original thread still up for anyone to peruse, but several publications have also showcased many of the Tweets in question. They are not hard to find. But for the sake of argument, let's say that Ms. Antos did receive some nasty messages outside of Twitter. You might ask, "how do we know those exist if they never showed them?" Guys, this is the internet were talking about. And, as anyone who’s been on any public internet forum and/or any social media platform can tell you, for every ten normal well-adjusted people you encounter online, there will be five walking mounds of human garbage who take things too far, and not every harassment victim is comfortable with publicly sharing the bile they receive with random people they don’t know.
It was in the aftermath of this incident that Comicsgate was born. And with it we also get our first problem. You see, in addition to their political goals, Comicsgate is also supposed to act as a kind of consumer advocacy group and call out anti-consumer practices and those creators who are hostile to fans and par-take in unprofessional behavior.
The problem is that too many Comicsgate supporters don’t seem to know what any of those terms actually mean. Because when you actually look at their actions in this regard, you quickly discover that they define said terms in relation to themselves and not to consumers as a whole, in turn, meaning that their definitions of “anti-consumer,” “hostile to fans,” and “unprofessional behavior” are so broad and subjective that it could consist of literally anything and anyone that doesn’t pander to their personal tastes, engage with them whenever they want, block bothersome people and/or actual harassers, or dares commit the crime of criticizing the movement in any way.
As if to celebrate their ignorance of consumer ethics, in February of 2018 a Comicsgate supporter going by the name of YellowFlashGuy, wrote up a boycott list of liberal creators, executives, and critics and shared it in a now-deleted Twitter post. Supposedly, the purpose of the list was to help Comicsgate supporters speak more easily with their wallets and avoid books by those listed  . Which is fine in and of itself, it’s their money and they can spend it how they want.
The problem, however, is that some of the more vile members of the movement have used the boycott list as a “who to harass and when” list, and even more damning, when you actually look into it, 70-80% of those named are people that have done nothing except criticized the movement and/or won’t submit to Comicsgate’s constant insults and harassment. Most damning of all; some of those creators listed, such as writers Gail Simone and (in an updated list) Scott Snyder, don’t even put politics of any sort into their work. No, they really don't.
The only thing even remotely political Simone has done in relation to comic books was when she wrote an essay on the storytelling trope known as “Women in Refrigerators”, but said essay was written before her comic book career began, and today she doesn’t even talk about it unless someone else brings it up.
The only thing Scott Snyder is guilty of is not agreeing with Comicsgate and of calling them out on their bigotry. To be fair, he also has a more personal reason for not supporting Comicsgate. According to Snyder himself, while he was teaching a comic book writing seminar, some Comicsgate supporters somehow found out who his students were and viciously attacked them on social media for no reason . It stands to reason that nobody at all blames him for not liking Comicsgate.
Wasn't This Supposed to be Consumer Led?
Another problem is that most of Comicsgate's significant players, including Ethan Van Sciver and the movement’s founder, Richard C Meyer (whom we'll talk about later), undermine the “consumer-led revolt” thing by producing their own comics with money acquired from crowdfunding. Now, by itself that is perfectly fine. And In my personal opinion, it is far more noble and constructive to create the content you feel is not being produced. But what they don’t seem to realize is that in doing so, they have effectively spat in the face of their stated intent.
Why? Because when you start creating content, you cease to be a consumer. As such, you are now open to be criticized by the same standards to which you hold your competition. And In this aspect, Comicsgate is an absolute failure and would be the cornerstone of their downfall (more on that later).
Now, I'd be remissed if I didn't point out that not all of the Comicsgate comics have been released yet. And while I confess that I have not read the books that have come out so far, I did do my best to dig up as much objective information on them as possible. A task made unnecessarily frustrating because apparently, sending critics review copies is for chumps. Eventually, I did discover that all of these books seem to have the same problem. Namely that they suck.
Examples of Comicsgate comics.
The artwork ranges from mediocre to terrible, the pacing might as well not exist, and the writing is garbage. Also, they've been stuffed with all manner of bigotry and/or ham-fisted Right-wing political messages. In other words, Comicsgate comics are--so far--the very thing that the movement accuses the industry of doing. Where I'm from, that's called being a hypocrite.
Saving Nothing But Nostalgia.
Another goal that Comicsgate claims that it wants to do with all this is to "Save the Industry." To illustrate this, the point back to the late 80s and 1990's, and the unprecedented profits that the industry earned during this time. In other words, they believe that making a lot of money equates to better quality .
This is a false equivalency backed up by nostalgia. Yes, the industry was far more lucrative back then, but Comicsgate doesn't understand WHY. And the most straightforward answer was the collectors market.
In the late 80s and early ’90s, people started to notice that vintage comic books (particularly those from the ’30s and ’40s) were suddenly worth a crap ton of money, and some adult comics book collectors were becoming millionaires overnight. The industry, seeing this, thought “Hey, Adult comic book collectors exist, let's milk them.” So they did.
Slowly but surely Comic Books moved out of Drug and grocery store magazine racks and into Comic Book shops. And it was about then that the greed set in. Suddenly, Old series started over with new #1s, multiple copies of a single comic would be sent out with some gimmick to entice readers ( multiple covers for a single comic, the introduction of a new character, packed in trading cards, etc.). Everything was marketed as a collector’s item, and the comic buying public was eager to throw down the cash, snatching up multiple copies of a single issue in hopes that they would be worth something one day.
That did not happen. The reason that a mint condition copy of, say, Action Comics #1 is worth millions today is because of how rare it is. There are not many copies of that book left in good condition, as they were either thrown away, destroyed or recycled for scrap during World War II. The comic book industry during the late ’80s and early ’90s didn’t seem to care about this. Why should they? They might as well be printing money, so who cares about over-saturating the market, right? That short-sightedness almost ATOMIZED the industry. When the bubble burst in the mid-’90s, Several publishers were driven out of business, and even Marvel Comics was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1997, which eventually lead to Marvel being bought out by Disney.
As for the comics themselves, well, I think an article on the website Atomic Junk shop.com explains it best:
"The comics of the 1990s were, with some exceptions, generally bland. Titles were tailored to the tail end of the grim and gritty trend that started in the late 1980s and then directly aimed to satisfy the speculator market [...] Titles of the decade such as Marvel’s Force Works and DC’s Extreme Justice serve only as examples of artistically shallow works that vastly outweigh the rare but celebrated 90s gems such as Kingdom Come, Marvels and Sandman." 
They're not wrong. By trying to pander to the speculator/collectors market, the overall quality of books suffered. Now obviously that is a very subjective statement. I for one still love The Death and Return of Superman, The Spider-Man Clone Saga, and Green Lantern Emerald Twilight. But when you compare them to books like the aforementioned Sandman, Kingdom Come, and The Maxx…yeah, they don’t hold up. So why would Comicsgate want to go back to that? Nostalgia. They have happy memories of that time, and they think that it was always great...except that it wasn't.
Why Would Anyone Want To Go Back To This Drek?
We haven’t even really started yet, and already this isn’t looking very good. That’s how messed up this movement is. But wait, some might cry out, didn’t Ethan mention something about Conservative creators being persecuted for their political beliefs? Yes. Yes, he did. Let’s talk about that for a bit, shall we?
(Click here for Part Two: http://hub.me/amJmF)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Will English
Will English (author) on June 26, 2019:
@Nicholas Gallagher: Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you’re enjoying the essay, and I hope you continue to do so. CG gets much, much worse from here, believe me. I also apologize for taking so long to get back to you.
And actually, I am not familiar with Innuendo Studio’s videos. I didn’t really realize that GamerGate was a thing until after it was a rotting zombie torso, gumming uselessly at the hobnail boot of oblivion. And say good riddance to them.
Nicholas Gallagher from Millersville on June 20, 2019:
Good morning good sir, it's an honor and a pleasure to make your acquaintance through the reading of your writings.
I find this to be a fascinating and captivating read, and I applaud the idea that you're going to take this examination of what appears to be yet another toxic, butt-hurt fandom whining as a piece-by-piece endeavor rather than a 200-paragraph single script.
If you're not already familiar (though I suspect you might be given the formatting and style of this piece), I would HIGHLY recommend looking into Innuendo Studios' critical examination and think-piece on GamerGate, the series of Youtube videos having been titled "Why Are You So Angry, Parts 1-6."
In the meantime, I will bid you farewell for now - at time of writing this comment, it's 5:50am EST, and I am exhausted from work. However, I eagerly anticipate getting a refreshing morning's rest, followed by further reading of your work and the discoveries to be made.
Many blessings to you in your endeavors, and keep up the phenomenal work!