Monday, January 30, 2017

r. crumb is a sexual predator

Once every year or two a journalist wheels Robert Crumb out from his basement, crumbles a few viagra into his coffee, and prompts him to say something offensive. I haven't read that many Crumb interviews myself, but a few standouts include the one where he said he didn't believe in science (2011) and the one where he called Obama a "house negro" (2015). More than anything, though, journalists love to talk to Crumb about sex and women. Among Crumb's many controversial thoughts and feelings on those subjects, there are times he has unwittingly described sexual assaults that he has committed over the years. It is harrowing to read.

The worst example I'm aware of dates back to 1991 (republished in 2014). In the introduction, Gary Groth describes an image of the artist where Crumb is "tweaking his critics" by depicting himself "standing atop a (presumably dead) naked woman's buttocks, chortling, 'Fuck 'em and cut their heads off!'" This is of course the sort of edgelord garbage for which Crumb is celebrated, but Groth wants us to know that looks can be deceiving. "No raving pervert, Crumb is soft-spoken, articulate, thoughtful and--above all, honest, both about his work and his own sex life."

Really, Gary? Because that's not what I'm getting from this clip:


To recap, Crumb did...something...to a woman that made her scream and flee his homeMost humans at that point would realize they had done something wrong and experience guilt, shame, or alarm. Not Crumb! He just felt like a loser because he didn't get laid. "Oh, well."

He interpreted a woman screaming and running away from him as sexual rejection. Is that what you see?

You'll notice something else about that exchange, which is that Groth himself has watched Crumb "jump on women" (plural, meaning multiple times). Does that qualify as making a pass at someone, or were those assaults, too? Who knows, but Groth describes himself as "astonished," and whatever went down was weird enough that he wondered if Crumb had ever been punched for it.

Cool interview.

But hey, that was in 1991, right? Maybe sexual assault was never okay, but attitudes toward it were certainly more permissive back then. (If there's one thing we can say about history, it's that the past is always more rapey.) For anyone with thoughts along those lines I'd point to good old Gary G's 2011 interview with Crumb, in which Groth complains about how Crumb's honesty is "ideologically used against" him. They chuckle about women and Crumb's sexual conquests through the whole interview.

Fast-forward to 2017, when Crumb was interviewed about famous people in history for some reason. (The premise of caring about what Crumb thinks about Napoleon is hilarious to me, but to each their own.) Here's what Crumb had to say when he was asked about Donald Trump:


The assaults that Crumb describes committing here aren't as specific as what he described in the exchange that he had with Groth, but I think the implications are plain.

It is within this context that Crumb's art exists.


And it is up to each of us to decide to what degree we should separate the art from the artist.

The comic above was celebrated by the AV Club in 2008, #1 on a list of comics it describes in the headline as "confessional" and "unflattering." (Julie Doucet picking her nose was #5.) Per the write-up, "In the 1988 story 'Memories Are Made of This,' Crumb recalls an evening in 1976 when he worked overtime to soften up a woman who was his exact physical ideal...and finally succeeded when she drank enough wine to be practically incoherent." This looks and sounds like rape to me, but the AV Club seemed to find it pretty hot: "Then he had his way with her, sticking his hand in her mouth, pressing her head to the ground, and mounting her from behind like a cowboy on a bronco." Yeahhhhhh doggie! Rape that drunken bitch like you mean it.

The headline also describes the comic as "autobiography," though as someone who doesn't read Crumb I don't know enough about its context to say that was strictly how these panels were presented. I do know that if you talk to almost any autobiographical cartoonist (maybe any cartoonist full stop) over 45--even progressive ones like Joe Sacco and Alison Bechdel--you will find that Crumb is universally beloved, with the notable exception of Trina Robbins. Because Trina Robbins is fucking rad.

Allegorical interlude 

And then we have the Comics Journal. Just a week or so ago, here's how Tim Hodler linked to the interview from which that long pussy-grabbing excerpt was taken:


You'll note the way in which Hodler's excerpt frames Crumb as the counterculture hero that so many people wish he was. (Comics men just love talking about how Crumb has been taking down Trump since 1989.) How did Hodler read that interview and choose that quote, while completely ignoring the much more newsworthy fact that Crumb found common ground with Trump over the one thing during the campaign that was so egregiously awful that even the most reprehensible Republicans denounced it? Well, probably the same way that people read the "house negro" piece back in 2015 and chose to circulate this quote:



Bitch he lives in a villa in France. But bomb the banks! Sure! He sure is sticking it to the man from his fucking castle. Never mind that a single cover drawn by your anti-capitalist hero recently fetched more than $100,000 at auction.

I have beef with people on my "side" too. Someone read my roundup the other day and tried to start a conversation about how Crumb is gross...


...which is great. But then the people who weren't shocked and/or disgusted just seemed exasperated that this was coming up again and were really condescending about it.


I find the psssh that's old news take really fucking irritating because there's a good reason that this is news to people, and that's because Crumb is routinely whitewashed into a "politically incorrect artist" by comics movers and shakers. I'm not convinced that the term politically incorrect even begins to capture the frequency and degree of racism in his work, but that's a whole other ball of wax.

Crumb's "ironic" racism

I might be wrong about this, but I think a lot of people outside comics find images like the above shocking because this is the type of imagery that most people associate with Crumb:


But I'm getting off topic. To return to my point: Yet another thing preventing Crumb's sexual predation from entering the record is when people conflate his whole thing with the more general strain of misogyny in the work of other autobiographical cartoonists from around the same period.


Please don't do that shit. It's insulting to all those other misogynistic piece of shit cartoonists, because most of the time there really is a distinction to be made between IRL assault and fashioning a career out of drawing yourself jacking off.

The interviews I've quoted are possibly the tip of the iceberg; Crumb is old and has been interviewed many times over the years, and I've skimmed maybe six of them. There's potentially other stuff that I'm not aware of. On top of that I would argue that comments that may have read as more or less innocuous in the past come across differently once you understand that Crumb's notion of sexual assault is limited to rape and attempted rape. Here's him talking in 2013:
Any apartment where two or three girls were living together was constantly being invaded by young males on the prowl, including me. With little or no courtly preliminaries I would impudently assault any young, luscious girl flesh that happened to be in the room. Sometimes they would just as casually push me off, sometimes not. It was “hip” at the time to be sexually permissive, but if they spurned my advances I would back off. I was a “sensitive” male. I was not a rough hard-ass. I gave off no vibes of menace. I never forced myself on them or committed what’s now called “date rape.” I was “playful.” I liked to horse around. I liked big, strong girls and would climb all over them, push them down and go for a ride on their butt, stuff like that. It’s amazing now to remember how often the young girls I knew put up with my shenanigans. Maybe they liked it, I don’t know. 
Granted, this is an exercise in interpretation--unlike his other discussions of assault, which are unambiguous--but can you really trust his framing here? Certainly the phrase "little or no courtly preliminaries" gives me pause. Recall Gary Groth's comments from that 1991 interview. Recall that in the 2017 interview Crumb described anything that's not rape as "people's sex life." Even with rape, we're talking about whatever he considers rape--which doesn't seem to include, say, fingering a girl who's in a "drunken stupor" apropos of nothing, without giving her any indication of what he was about to do. Note that you can only make that last leap if you read the comic from earlier in this post as something that literally happened. Is that fair? Crumb has other unsettling sexual comics that seem to be pure fantasy, so does it make sense to take a more banal one that's about date rape literally? I don't know, but someone who can take a long hard look at that comic without wanting to puke should probably give that some serious thought.

Consider this: Even the likes of Eddie Berganza don't have the balls to publicly discuss the assaults they've committed. Even within the toxic milieu of corporate comics, that isn't permissible because even those empty fucking goblins have at least some vague notion that sexual assault and date rape are bad. I guess this is the "honesty" for which Crumb is so loved: being ignorant enough to assault women throughout his life without even realizing it, and existing within an environment that idolizes him for it. In comics today, there's a Crumb Divide that can be broadly (if imperfectly) broken down into the older people who revere him and the younger people who find him repulsive and increasingly irrelevant. Crumb's defenders--and make no mistake, cultural gatekeepers like Groth have spent decades defending this guy, painting anyone who doesn't lap up his bullshit as an ignorant rightwing prude--would prefer to frame the central conflict as being purely about Crumb's controversial art. But that is only one piece of what becomes a very unsettling picture of a serial abuser and the underground comics scene that enabled him that emerges from even the most cursory examination of words that Crumb himself has said in interviews.

Such interviews are more or less consigned to obscurity, and people like Groth, for all their empty declarations about how much they value "honesty" in comics, will gladly whitewash Crumb's reputation until the day he dies, and probably long after that. The mythology of art comics relies heavily on these counterculture heroes who unwittingly perpetuate the status quo and celebrate themselves for it. Surely it's possible to acknowledge their failures without denying their contributions. Surely that would be the "honest" and "brave" thing to do, to use a few terms those people profess to understand.

I could care less whether or not people like Crumb's art. I'd like the record to show that he is a sexual predator, but I don't have high hopes for it. Apart from huge obstacles like misogyny and hero worship, I think it's hard for people to perceive someone who looks like that as being capable of sexual assault--and that includes Crumb himself. It seems like the least that comics historians could do is acknowledge the stuff that he's on the record talking about, which seems germane to his work, particularly his comics that depict sexual violence. Sadly, I don't have high hopes for that, either. So how about the rest of us stop pretending that Crumb being gross is old news. It has never been news at all, and that's symptomatic of a much larger problem.
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Thursday, January 26, 2017

comics links

1. The NYT is getting rid of its graphic novels bestseller list
Well folks, I looked deep into my heart and I definitely don't give a fuck about this at all. But I do have a take, and I'm pretty sure it's correct: it's ludicrous that anyone thinks that the NYT is obligated to promote the comics industry.


Comics artists and publishers are pushing back against the NYT getting rid of some of its bestseller lists because they're worried about losing a marketing tool. But the purpose of the NYT bestseller list is not to be a marketing tool, even if that's how publishers and artists have used it. The NYT is not an extension of Drawn & Quarterly's marketing department. (Well...sometimes it is, but you know what I mean.)


This is from the email where the NYT announced the change:
“The discontinued lists did not reach or resonate with many readers. This change allows us to expand our coverage of these books in ways that we think will better serve readers and attract new audiences to the genres.”
As a reader, I can confirm that the list didn't resonate with me. Every time I looked at it it was old Batman and Raina Telegmeir. It never occurred to me that those lists were the result of real human labor. (I guess I thought they magically aggregated themselves?) I think the argument that it frees up resources to use for other better, more substantive, forms of coverage is a compelling one. Plus, it sounds like they're expanding their comics coverage:


More reviews and news and features? Gosh, that sounds great to me, a reader who subscribes to the NYT!


Counterpoint, Bendis: No one fucking cares. Only artists and publishers have a stake in whether or not comics is considered legitimate.

Listen, there are more and less compelling versions of the legitimacy argument; I'm more inclined to be sympathetic to women artists who say that it helps them get contracts, for instance, than the likes of Brian Michael Bendis. My own feeling is that comics' obsession with legitimacy has been a mixed bag at best. But wherever you stand on that question doesn't really matter: the mandate of the NYT is not to serve the comics industry; it's to serve readers. That comics types are stuck so far up their own asses that they fail to see this obvious point, and prefer to imagine that it's some grand conspiracy to delegitimize comics, is amusing to me.

2. R. Crumb thinks that Trump grabbing pussies is none of your beeswax
Diehard liberal R Crumb has found common ground with our new president, and surprise surprise, it's the one thing that even the most reprehensible piece of shit Republicans found it in their hearts to publicly denounce: the pussy-grabbing incident. "I thought it was rather lame that they made such a big issue out of Trump's crude sexual remarks," he said. And it only gets worse from there:
It's like Clinton, who cares about Monica Lewinsky? I couldn't give a shit about any of that sexual behavior unless he's raping women, which he's not doing. ... I've been inappropriate, and I'm sure you have at times in your life, you know? ... People's sex life, unless they're committing rape or doing something like that, should be nobody's business as far as I'm concerned. To make that an issue, and not talk about what a fucking crook he's been in his business transactions? What's that about? 
... I don't know if he really grabbed women's pussies. I don't know. 
Yes, truly, who can say? Verily, this is one of life's great mysteries.

PS: Celebrating sexual predators isn't just a Big Two/Big Two fan problem. I found this link via TCJ, which excerpted the portion of the interview where Crumb denounced Trump.

3. Jughead fucks now
"Some people have started using the official Riverdale hashtag to bring awareness to the fact that Jughead is asexual in the comics, even though he will supposedly have a heterosexual love interest on the show."

I'm sorry, this is just very funny to me for some reason.


4. Scott McCloud: "We must not let Nick Spencer's bad opinion die"


Q: What's worse than Nick Spencer's dumb opinions?
A: Regurgitating Nick Spencer's dumb opinion after everyone's finally finally moved past how dumb it was.

Man, if I were in charge, we'd be punching all the Spencers. At 400k followers, Scott McCloud has one of the loudest voices in comics, and this is what he chooses to talk about? Any other dumb causes he's taking up?


Figures.

5. Why isn't anyone making fun of Alan Moore's rap music??
This is not normal.



6. Zainab Akhtar is doing a Comics & Cola newsletter
You probably know this already, but let's end on a positive note. Zainab's doing a comics newsletter.

libby's dad, a comic by eleanor davis

I wasn't sure I'd like Libby's Dad. Nothing against Eleanor Davis, who's plainly great, but the tagline skewed a little too after-school special for my taste:

Libby's mom told everyone that Libby's dad said he was gonna shoot her. With his gun.

One reader's hook is another reader's Aerosmith-grade reflection on the legacy of abuse, as they say. Obviously Libby's Dad got a lot of praise in 2016, but it's hard to know how much that means? Few people seem willing to say anything negative about top-shelf indie cartoonists these days for any number of reasons, and only one of them is that the work is really that good. (I don't really care enough to chide people, just sometimes it's hard to know what to buy.) In any case, against expectation, I found this title interesting. It's also very nice to look at, but I knew that much going in.


Davis is a cartoonist and an illustrator, and she combines those sensibilities here to great effect. Formally, these images are sophisticated without calling attention to their own tricks. The design of a given spread is thoughtful and intricate without feeling overworked; there's an easiness about everything down to the word bubbles, which feel like they've been truly weighed and considered as part of each composition. Davis's clever use of mixed layouts and multiple perspectives give the story the beats of a comic without relying on the use of formal panels, which brings a satisfying sense of fullness to the page.


The sunlight-colored paper imbues the daytime scenes with a light and airy feeling, while the after-dark scenes feel more intimate--and sometimes oppressive--with heavy blue shading.



Of course the lack of panels also makes Libby's Dad look a lot like a children's book--a presentation that pulls against the menace of the story in a way that feels more subtle and poignant than its other stylistic nod to childhood, the crayon-like finish of the colored pencilling. To be honest, I found Davis's pencil work uneven. While she draws with a delicacy that's perfect for rendering a languid summer afternoon, her more minimalist images toward the end of the story are far less effective.

not feeling this dramatic stencil

sorry, also meh

The simplicity in those two drawings was clearly meant to have dramatic impact--and also convey that the images are ideas and memories, as opposed to part of the material present--but they just look unfinished to my eye.

Much like Davis has considered the visual weight of words so they feel organic to her compositions, her pictures carry the storytelling with practiced economy. Many little character-making details can be found in the body language. For example, the innocence of the youngest character, who always stands out most because of her freckles, is clearly broadcast through the unselfconscious way in which she moves through the world:





Then there's Libby, who's old enough to feel awkward in her body. She recedes into the background in almost every image; you can almost hear her willing herself to disappear. Sometimes she's physically set apart from the others in some way, and other times she wears a distant expression.

"kill me"

I like the way that the girls' expressions here, even though they're crudely drawn, convey so much. You can see how Libby always feels alone in a crowd:

"or maybe kill them, idk"

Libby's recently divorced dad doesn't have to be pictured (or even mentioned) for me to feel his desperation to please his daughter. All that stuff is palpable just in watching the girls eat cake.


These last two images in particular convey the central strength of Davis's work (apart from sheer skill), which is its considerable charm. It really can't be overstated, and somehow it never feels canned or forced.

As for the story's central mystery--and now we're sort of moving into spoiler territory here, if that's the kind of thing you care about--I found it more ambiguous than most readers. Is Libby's dad an abuser? The story doesn't definitively answer this question, to my mind. On one hand, we have secondhand information--possibly a rumor, given that we hear it from a kid--that Libby's dad said he was going to shoot Libby's mom. We know that one kid's mother took this information seriously enough that she won't let her child go to Libby's house, and we also live in a world where these sorts of "rumors" are usually true. Plus you can build a persuasive case from the clues scattered throughout the comic: Libby's moodiness...that image of her mother sobbing in the supermarket...the (somewhat heavy-handed, imo) Garden of Eden imagery in Davis's lush floral setting. There's also the liminal nature of this group of characters, who are at that age where some, but not all, of their friend group are maybe crossing over into puberty. It's all this Lost Innocence stuff in particular that makes "Libby's dad is a total dick" seem like the "real" conclusion.

Despite all that I found myself skeptical. Like...could Libby feel withdrawn simply because of the divorce, and not because there was something sinister going on with her dad? What are we to make of the fact that she lives with her father? (That's not as rare as it used to be, but still only one in four of single-parent households are headed by dads. Is that a coincidence? A class thing? A judge's prejudice against women with mental illness?) Why doesn't Libby seem afraid of him at all? Was that image of her mother sobbing really indicative of some trauma inflicted by an abusive husband, or did she just get weepy when she saw her daughter's favorite snack at the store? Is the mother mentally ill, or is she just perceived as mentally ill for having a normal reaction to abuse? If she's truly unwell, is that linked to the abuse or a preexisting condition?

I mean, I can hear myself making excuses. But also: there's not really much information here. Still, knowing the political leanings of the author (which I share), it feels a little gross to bring any sort of skepticism to the story's thread of abuse. The simplest answer is usually the right one. Also would I even think to ask so many questions if Libby's dad didn't have such a nice house? And so on.

What I finally decided was that maybe the questions the comic asks were meant to be open-ended--that maybe even there was an absurd sort of hubris in imagining that I could figure this family out from a 40-page comic that describes one day in Libby's life. There's something about that tagline--right?--that, whether or not you appreciate the hook, makes you read with a sort of tacky curiosity about what Libby's dad's whole deal is. The curiosity with which you approach the comic as a reader ties into the most interesting undercurrent in the story, which is the unwitting damage we do as all-too-interested spectators to other people's lives. That theme comes through not just in the words of the children, who are inadvertently cruel to Libby, but also in the characters of Taylor and her mother, who are never pictured because Taylor's not allowed to hang out with Libby anymore. In what was probably just a quest to keep her own child safe, Taylor's mother has inflicted unintentional, but very real, damage on Libby--damage that might be affecting Libby as much or more than whatever's going on between her own parents.

When I was looking for other reviews, I learned that reading any ambiguity into the conclusion goes against the author's own intentions, for whatever that's worth. To me that reading feels a little boring and even preachy, though giving Libby's dad the benefit of the doubt is problematic in its own way. Bottom line: the art is mostly superb and the storytelling is great, but the meat of the story itself only became interesting to me when I pivoted from "how much of an asshole is Libby's dad?" to "how much of an asshole am I?" That might just be me, though--I worry about being an asshole pretty much constantly, and probably also I've been broken by the patriarchy. :(

-----------
Libby's Dad by Eleanor Davis is available from Retrofit and on Amazon
Rating: 7/10 - Recommended

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

rambling late-night panic post

Christ alive, it's all a bit much. You know, of all the things I've been worrying about, the president threatening martial law in my town during his first week in office somehow didn't occur to me. That was definitely an oversight on my part...I should've seen that coming.

Meanwhile Twitter edges ever closer toward unusable. I'd say about 90 percent of my timeline is politics now and whatever, hey, I get it. I'm doing it too. But I'll tell you what's not making me feel any better at all is that half a fucking onion thing, which is inevitably recycled into my timeline at whatever point of the day I'm feeling the most unhinged or upset. That's maybe part of the algorithm now, where your read so many nightmare tweets and then you get the stupid onion thing.


Hey-ho there friend, are you feeling despair? Is there so much cortisol coursing through your body that you can hardly see straight? Well, here you go: follow this fucking onion. That's pretty much all you can do. I think I'm sensitive about it because the symbolism of this onion is just too on the nose right now. We are all just bags with half an onion.

On the upside I think I'm finally getting to a place where I don't experience weird deep bodily feelings of horror and disgust when I see a photo of Trump. Now what I can't stop noticing is his blank old man expression. It reminds me of those people at the nursing home who are so old they've just gone mute, so they just sit there and scowl at you.


A little oatmeal drooling down his chin would not seem amiss in that photograph. This is seriously his expression any time he's not talking. Normally I'm not that into ugly shaming but I truly feel that we haven't really talked enough as a country about how bad looking these people are. I wish that whole topic would gain some traction on twitter.


Kellyanne legit looks like she died back in the 90s and someone figured out how to reanimate her corpse with a tanning bed. I talked to my mom for like half an hour about this photograph alone.


What is going on in her leg area??

As a person with a casual interest in reading media tea leaves, things are looking very bad to me right now. I don't mean the big stuff like, you know, the six journalists who have been charged with felonies for covering the inauguration protests (though obviously that's real bad). I'm talking about Gawker getting owned by Ted Cruz, which is just unwholesome. Like...that's four horsemen-level irony for sure. It's also a very small example of this much larger thing where we haven't figured out how to effectively frame Republican villains. For ex, in this bad article that asks whether or not it's okay to punch nazis, a NYT journalist refers to Richard Spencer as an "activist." ("For the record, Richard Spencer says he's not a nazi," it also says. Hmmm.) The way the sheer awesomeness of the punch video has been sullied by all these pieces about the ethics of hitting nazis is just very dispiriting to me. Most major outlets have run at least one piece along those lines, and then of course there's the matter of whether or not it's okay to make fun of Barron or whether it's okay to boycott the publisher who gave Milo a book deal.



Meanwhile there has been next to nothing about how a protester was shot by an alt-right guy at Milo's speaking event at UW Seattle. Partly that's because it happened at the same time as the punch, partly it's that the scene was super chaotic, partly it was disinformation from Milo himself, who framed it as an act of aggression against one of his fans during the event. The coverage was extremely convoluted and mostly local up till Monday night. Functionally no coverage from national outlets at all. Like...how is it that I read more about a statement from Simon & Schuster (Milo's publisher) about his book deal than the first(?) alt-right shooter at a protest? I have to conclude it's because the angle that plays is the controversy--the argument about what's appropriate. A shooting outside Milo's event is too far removed from his larger-than-life piece of shit personality for people to really find it interesting.

Ironically I think the Milo shooting raises the only relevant objection to punching nazis, which is situations in which bystanders may get hurt. The protesters at UW were rowdy, but the guy who was shot wasn't punching anyone--he was a peacekeeper. Also one thing I read said the shooter was pepper-spraying the crowd? Yikes. The shooter has already told police it was self-defense, and last I read, the police released him even though the very act of having a loaded gun at the protest was a crime. Anyway.

People keep applauding the media for doing better on calling out Trump's lies, but the same sort of sensationalism that helped get him into office is still doing its thing with these alt-right shitbags. And I feel a lot of its echoes on Twitter, where there's still an awful lot of useless talk about civility. What with that and all the doom and that fucking onion, I'm just not sure how much more I can take. Today I found myself wishing (not for the first time) for some sort of alternative internet that's just completely devoid of politics. I don't have to retreat there full time; maybe it could be like in prison where they let you go outside and walk around in a circle once a day.

I fantasized about Internet 2 all day today. I expect I'll do the same tomorrow.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

this is normal

I think every woman who's not famous enough to be constantly trolled has some sort of sixth sense that kicks in when she realizes a tweet/blog post/etc. has ended up somewhere bad. It doesn't happen to me very often, but there's a vague sick feeling I get when some ancient tweet resurfaces or a random makes a comment that sounds a certain way--not even overtly hostile, necessarily, but there's this tone you come to recognize--and I wait for it to either go away or resolve into something fucking weird.

I was thinking about this feeling--which, while infrequent, is quite distinct and very much a part of how I experience the world online--with regard to all the blank liberal surprise surrounding Brian Stelter's observation that tech corporations are shoring up their communications teams in the event they need to mobilize in response to a Trump tweet. Stelter wrote:
On the other hand -- multiple tech leaders say they or their PR folks have adjusted their schedules to make sure someone is up at 3 a.m. local time to catch the the tweets out of fear that a Trump tweet could crash their stock and put their company into a frenzy. 
Many are saying they've learned how to get Trump Twitter alerts directly on their phone. Some are prepared with an action plan in case he tweets! And we aren't talking about just a reply tweet - more of a full blown media campaign reply...
At the time I saw a lot of the usual shrill declarations about how this is "not normal," but I'll tell you what: while white middle-class men worry about "public shaming" and white businessmen worry about Trump ruining their livelihoods with a single tweet, the rest of us have long understood that we might get fucking murdered for tweeting about Vampire Diaries if the wrong Pepe slimes in our direction. My god, if you're a business in *any* industry that hasn't given any thought to what happens if and when you have a nuclear twitter incident, Trump-related or otherwise, give someone some money to figure that out for you. I feel fairly confident in saying that most women writers who have a twitter following that exceeds double digits have a comprehensive tiered plan for what steps to take when that vague feeling in the gut I was talking about earlier turns into a one-, two- or three-alarm fire.


Anyway, funny story, many thousands of nazis recently swarmed my dumb nothing comics blog. I'm not sure if people were drawn by my craven nazi classmate's  hypnotic nipple or if his engagement level is off the charts or what but holy moly, those nazis turned out. I think it was after someone left a comment with the n-word that I became concerned enough to dust off the analytics I installed when I set up this blog a few months ago and hoo boy, haha, that was a mistake! It was sort of like putting on nightvision goggles and realizing that, instead of standing alone in a field shouting your opinions about Nick Spencer to the indifferent stars, you're surrounded by a great many...I don't know, I don't want to say anything too melodramatic. Let's go with horny opossums. 



Last I looked there were 100-some replies on the tweet that brought them here. (#blessed it went out on a Sunday night.) Some were people making fun of the nipple shot (fair), but there was also plenty of unsettling commentary on my appearance, speculation re: how much I want to fuck that nazi, enlargements of my photograph plastered with coded Jewish slurs, etc. Only one guy talked about raping me, and come to think of it I don't remember seeing it when I went back for these screenshots? That's nice, I guess.



I'd rank this whole incident maybe a hair below a one-alarm fire, if you're curious. I'm no student of the right but there is a distinction to be made between Mister Nipple, whose endgame of govt-sponsored bigotry requires some semblance of civility, and M. Yappadappapotamus, a vocal advocate of straight-up harassment. I suppose that if the Eye of Sauron had to fall on my joke about a scary person fucking his mother, I'm very glad it was with regard to the Gentleman Nazi with all his quasi-poetic "children of the sun" ballyhoo, and not the agent of chaos who has somehow professionalized sucking off gamers in the Hot Topic dressing room rallying goons to silence women. Why, that nazi was a pretty good sport, all things considered!

At the same time, it's irritating to realize that Mr. Nipple's veneer of gentility--consider his phrase "peaceful ethnic cleansing"--is why the powers that be let him log back on at twitter dot com, as opposed to Milo's permanent ban. On some level, a herd of Pepes is a herd of Pepes, and that is what they both command. I was thinking about all this in connection with the most recent dumbass conversation about freedom of speech we had in Comics, which was inexplicably centered on Milo himself. (He has literally nothing to do with comics; I'm just assuming someone liked his edgelord attitude.) In what might be the most stunning display of "Gotta hear both sides" that the kingdom of comics has ever known--and man, that is really saying something--the Comic Books League Defense Fund (CBLDF) recently published several statements defending Simon & Schuster's decision to publish Milo's forthcoming memoir. Cause, see, some consumers and critics who were queasy about  S&S giving $250k to someone whose literal job is to spearhead campaigns of harassment against women decided to boycott the rest of its titles, and now the CBLDF is worried about the "chilling effect" of that boycott. "Only vigorous disagreement can counter toxic speech," one of the two (two!) platitude-laden statements it made reads. "We believe the way to beat ideas is with better ideas."

LOL, sure. Can anyone tell me what that would that even look like in practice? Just for example, however much I might have liked to counter the "ideas" of Spencer's followers with my own arguments--heaven knows I'm a solid fucking 4--I presume that would have gone poorly. And those people were relatively polite.

The romanticization of "debating" trolls is a sentiment you'll often see expressed by Comics types--perhaps Fran├žoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman most recently--and it almost always comes up when people prefer to think of their terrible judgment calls as urgent and heroic matters of free speech. These people seem to think that verbally sparring with any random glorified egg is Lincoln-Douglas level debate, ignoring the obvious fact that questions like "Are women people?" and "Is ethnic cleansing bad?" are beneath contempt, much less discussion. Like, how about we just consider those issues settled--not just because entertaining the notions of anyone who'd suggest otherwise is stupid and sort of insane, but also because making a case for the humanity of a given group of people is in its own way the opposite of free speech. It is an ineffective response to terror. And you know something? Increasingly I think it's for chumps.

So what's left? There's the response the "ideas" deserve, which is get fucked. But saying that, on a practical level, is rarely worth it and often unwise--at least for some of us. When you see a woman standing up to a group of trolls (as opposed to piecemeal abuse), for instance, more often than not what you're looking at is a last resort. Fighting back is a strategy that may work if she's lucky, but even then it's not going to end well. Even the women who "win" will inevitably become lodestones for more attention from trolls. Surely if Twitter has taught us anything, it's that "toxic speech" can't be effectively countered with "better ideas." Toxic speech is countered by giving the toxic speaker the fucking boot or, for the lowly likes of you and me, putting pressure on whoever it is that can. 

Put it this way: if a bunch of violent men break into your place while you're home, you have four options: you can hold a debate in your living room about whether or not they should harm you and/or take your shit (good luck!); you can fight; you can hide; or you can flee. The choices are similar for anyone who feels threatened by trolls online. The "chilling effect" that deserves the attention of the CBLDF and other free speech advocates is not the possibility that nazis will lose their book deals or that publishers will face financial reprecussions for giving glitter nazis hundreds of thousands of dollars, but that regular people--particularly women and people from marginalized communities--will feel compelled to hide or flee the internet altogether to avoid being harassed. Those are the people who are being silenced in this equation. These plain stakes are are very often misinterpreted and misrepresented by vocal Comics Types, including organizations like CBLDF--not necessarily because they're stupid, but because by definition it's hard to hear people who are trying to be quiet. These aren't people who are necessarily making a big stink about quitting Twitter or whatever. These are people who are trying to keep a low profile because they're scared. Telling those people to speak up against aggressors is just really bad advice.

Anyway, what happened here wasn't really a big deal, though I guess it struck a certain chord now that I wake up every morning thinking about nuclear armageddon. The only way in which I was personally "silenced" was in nixing some dumb scheduled "best of 2016" thing that I was too freaked out to post. Together we'll find some way to move forward, I feel sure. In any case, while I was waiting for my nazi infestation to clear up, I had some time to think. So...three points. The first one is a question, really: Why did Twitter reinstate Spencer's account after suspending it indefinitely? It seems to me that was a bad move. (Like, if a bunch of sick rats stuffed themselves into a bad sportscoat and knocked on my door, I probably wouldn't let them in no matter how politely they asked. And that goes double if they were quoting fucking Nietzsche.) Back in November, Spencer himself made a distinction between his use of Twitter and Milo's harassment that's very much like the one I drew above, and I suppose if Twitter were the government (a phrase that makes me shudder, here on Obama's last night in office), I'd find that a compelling argument for letting his voice be heard or whatever. As things stand? Twitter has a responsibility--ethical, social, political, etc--to aggressively cull the nazis from its platform. The rest of us need to have the wherewithal to encourage them.

Second: As many have observed, Twitter feels like it's dying. But that's not just because women are increasingly finding it intolerable; it's also because big business is starting to understand what it's like to have its existence threatened by a tweet. What's interesting is that the very thing that has been killing Twitter might ultimately be its salvation: now that people with money are starting to care about trolling, it seems just possible that someone will actually listen. Jack doesn't care if I'm afraid of nazis, but he probably cares a little more about whatever Skittles thinks. And I have to imagine that Twitter itself feels a little uneasy about our soon-to-be Troll in Chief, who has a volatile relationship with their platform.

Last/not least, when are we going to acknowledge that the "freedom of speech" conversation in comics is badly broken? That the executive director of the CBLDF sexually assaulted a woman at a comics conference says it all, really, and that was more than 10 years ago. Charles Brownstein  probably has a poster of Milo in his hot tub. Amanda Palmer is probably writing a poem about it, and Neil "Trigger Warning" Gaiman will charge you fifty dollars to watch him read it out loud to her bad ukulele version of one of the lesser works of Leonard Cohen. Really I can think of no better symbol for the self-aggrandizing gimmick that freedom of speech in comics has become. So sorry, Leonard. You really deserve better.

The best comic of 2016 was Gulag Casual, for the record. IDK, I just need to say one good thing.
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