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Saturday, May 03, 2014 

It takes more than just responsible message board moderation to build a better community

CBR's founder Jonah Weiland addressed the case of the horrific persecution of Janelle Asselin by quite a few troglodytes who can't stand the idea a woman would dare to voice an opinion about even a coverscan. It turns out the scope of the threats was worse than previously thought:
Over time, CBR's focus shifted from a community to the media outlet it is today, and the forums haven't received the focus they needed from me as I grew the company. While I'm proud of what CBR has become, and I believe CBR has some of the best fans in the world, with some of the biggest hearts and most open minds in all of fandom, unfortunately, we have had an increasingly loud contingent take root on our forums who refuse to behave in a manner respectful to others.

This changes now.

There has been a negativity and nastiness that has existed on the CBR forums for too long. Two weeks ago, that long-growing ugliness became more pronounced than ever. CBR published an article by guest contributor Janelle Asselin, critiquing the cover to DC Comics' upcoming "Teen Titans" #1. Some of you liked the article, some of you didn't. We encouraged readers to share their feedback in the CBR Forums.

Unfortunately, what happened next was unacceptable -- so-called "fans" around the Internet, on various message boards and social media, including the CBR Forums, attacked Janelle personally, threatening her with rape and assault. These same "fans" found her e-mail, home address and other personal information, and used it to harass and terrorize her, including an attempted hacking of her bank account.

All over a comic book cover critique. Just think about that for a second.

If you're one of the people who participated in any of these reprehensible acts, my message is simple: You are not welcome anywhere on CBR, and in our opinion, you have no place in the comics industry.

But you know what? I'm responsible, too.

I failed to do all I can to make the CBR Forums a safer and better place by adequately dealing with this behavior
. And while we employ an army of volunteer moderators, the thread was not properly moderated.

To be clear: this is about more than just this one thread. While there are many examples of good conversation among great members on our old forums, hateful and ugly comments were allowed to be posted in the interest of "free speech," which made the forums a place that wasn't accepting or inviting. I'm ashamed to say, I didn't take enough notice of what was happening.

That failure falls on me. And I apologize.
There's more about the case on XoJane. Until this news came along, I wasn't entirely aware of how horrific the attacks were. All that sadism over a mere coverscan? It's nauseating how cheapjack some so-called readers can be, and bewildering why they'd want to read a lot of these comics to begin with if they hold such repulsive mindsets. According to the introduction in the New Teen Titans: The Judas Contrast TPB, Marv Wolfman and George Perez were the earliest contributors to get a threat letter (which they forwarded to the police), but who knew it would end up going this far? While I think it's noble Weiland's speaking out about this, and I appreciate his courage to admit he's made mistakes, I still think Weiland has some more distance to cover before he - and others of his ilk - can truly mend fences.

Yes, letting all those cyberbigots run amok on the CBR forums was jaw-droppingly incompetent. But that's not the only thing they should be concerned about. What about their own reviews, interviews and op-eds that speak positively of books like Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled, and make no attempt to call out the writers and editors who blatantly published and upheld those repulsive storylines ever since? Yes, seriously, what about them? Here's an interview they did back in 2005 with Brad Meltzer where he gushes fondly over the filth and says:
Meltzer was interviewed for many of the pieces and found that many of the reporters were comics fans who had finally been able to convince editors to let them write about the industry.

"It was like all those people who kind of hid the fact that they were reporters who loved comics, they all finally said, 'Enough is enough, I'm going to write my story,' says Meltzer, himself a lifelong funnybook fan. "Comic book readers are in the closet so much around the country. We apologize for the industry; we apologize for our passion. And I just don't ever believe in apologizing for it."
I can't even begin to describe how astonishingly shameless this is. What he scripted is exactly why anybody with a head on their shoulders is ashamed to be comics fans. Do we really want the wider world to think IC is what comics are all about, and that we just let it pass without a whisper of complaint or question as to whether it gives comicdom a bad name? Forget the industry, what I find offensive is that Meltzer till this day has never apologized for the story he wrote, and worse, CBR's higher echelons never challenged him about it with serious questions. And that's where CBR is at fault, so let's get to the point: did it ever occur to Weiland that even if he kicks some of those monsters who harrassed Asselin off the boards, they could still read their reviews and opinions, some of which are quite favorable to Meltzer's horror story?

See, this is the problem: it's not just a question of whether they've been giving immunity to sexists on their very boards. It's whether they've been influencing some of those very cybertrolls with their very own "opinions", and lip service to awful writers and artists completely free of any objective positions. Sure, plenty of these trollers were obviously the product of bad education. But even an irresponsible review of a book with corrupted visions by writers with no understanding of morale or chivalry can further the bad influence. It's not just CBR who's responsible. Even Newsarama, Comics Alliance, Broken Frontier and IGN, among countless others, have to shoulder some blame. Even the now defunct Wizard has to be held responsible; they ran goodness knows how many articles that were sugarcoated, with little or no attention paid to whether the writing is good or bad, morally or otherwise, and this has the effect of dumbing down the medium's impact. Here's another example, an interview with Brian Bendis, where they say:
It seems like all major changes in the history of the Avengers have required a bit of time to be accepted and Bendis feels that'll probably be the case here as well. "Some people will just fuckin' hate it. That's life, but the ideas are coming from a real honest place and nine out of ten times that gets across. People will read it in its entirety and see we know what we're doing and we love these characters. I also think that when 'New Avengers' starts, they'll see this is a strong entity and a clean departure from what's come before. The language of the storytelling won't be shocking as to people with the new team. If you look at series like 'Ultimate Spider-Man' or 'Powers' where there was no pre-determined style, no language held on to by old school fans and believed to be 'that's how it's done,' then it is easier to accept.
Right, we're supposed to trust a man whose manners are under a question mark. A man whose take on women, as noted before, is dreadful, who took a cheapie path with Scarlet Witch and who concocted a story where Tigra got assaulted much too easily by a villain called the Hood. And a writer who threw out most of the cast with more unique powers for the sake of obvious choices like Spider-Man and Wolverine. Why must we believe they really love the characters? How is that even being honest or justify failure?

And it's not just hostile attitudes towards women that's eating away at the medium's whole structure. Even hostility to conservatives by leftists is a leading factor in the collapse of the press. Weiland went on to say in his announcements for better conditions:
Effective immediately, in place of the forums will live the new CBR Community, a discussion area that will still facilitate conversation and debate, however passionate -- but will show zero tolerance for intimidation or abuse of all members of the community, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identification. CBR and all areas of its website and operations will be a safe space for all people, of all levels of involvement. We're starting from scratch, providing everyone with the opportunity to build a new community, together. Rules will be explicit, and once again -- we will not tolerate anyone who doesn't want to abide by them.
I wish I could appreciate that more than I do, but there's one little thing missing in this announcement: what about political perspectives? Supposing somebody comes around and posts a right-wing opinion, and is greeted with more vulgarity and hatred by people lacking manners who think conservatives are the root cause of all evil? Are Weiland and company going to stand for that? Their whole website's view of righties is very questionable, and they do have quite a few leftists working for them, some of whom could be potentially hostile to the conservative movement, recalling how they acted when the Captain America vs. Tea Party debacle came up. About the only part of their site that impresses me is the Comics Should Be Good section, because that's where some of the better history topics come up.

They also have to mull whether they should be lauding series like the one featuring the Muslim Ms. Marvel, which are supposedly great for girls but underneath are promoting ideologies harmful to women. Such deception is dishonest and dangerous, and by refusing to question whether Marvel's doing the right thing by stuffing divisive political/religious issues into the books at all costs, they only end up doing more harm than good to comicdom.

They also cannot be lenient on major publishers or refrain from serious arguments about why crossovers and the outmoded model of monthly pamphlets are becoming the downfall of the medium. Nor can they go easy on writers and artists who engage in vulgarity. Let's take Mark Waid as an example. His nasty curses and vicious tweets about politics are just what could have a bad influence on readers from ill-informed backgrounds. Like many other people who've gone around the bend, he may be intelligent, and there have been a few things he wrote in recent years like this commentary on DC's policies for creator bonuses that deliver some food for thought. But when he descends into the kind of tirades he's shown on Twitter, he becomes all but unendurable, and for all we know, he may have alienated quite a few women to boot, as this suggests. And what about Dan Slott, who wasn't helping by working as an apologist? This is exactly what's wrong with the medium: you've got writers, artists and editors who are going around being abusive to anybody who disagrees with them yet the major comics news sites are letting them get away with it through a code of silence. How many of these sites ever brought Waid's tirades to the attention of the people reading a particular comics site, as Twitchy did a few months ago? None that I can think of. And did the publishers ever discipline the offending employees? It doesn't look like that happened either.

Well that's exactly the problem. CBR and their compatriots have failed to take various creators and mainstream publishers to task for the bad image they're giving comicdom, and it's only had the effect of turning the whole industry into a joke. They think it's worse if the publishers decide to stop supplying them with free review copies and the writers will no longer talk with them if they dare ask a hard question. It's not an isolated problem, obviously; even movie journalism can be pretty awful for the same reasons. But if CBR and company really, truly want to put a stop to sexism in the industry, both in literature and the office, then they have to stop fawning over the very products that can influence that mindset. Some of the same people who may have engaged in those atrocities back in the 90s might be running the asylum today. As I'd noted before, Mark Millar may have to shoulder some blame too by cooking up books like Kick-Ass. Sure, he came to the defense of a blogmistress who was harrassed by an ogre who used Identity Crisis as one of his tools for plying a vile trade. But if he continues to publish books with similar themes, and they have a chance of influencing even grownups, then he's accomplished very little.

The point is: if DC and Marvel have published books written with structures offensive to women, then major sites like CBR have to make that clear, and not go out of their way to lionize them because the books supposedly make money and mainstream news coverage. I'm realistic enough to know even an adult mind is not incorruptible, and if the books have even a remote chance of preaching to the perverse, then they have to say so and not pay lip service to the writers and artists either. If there's a book out there with a dishonest view of ideologies or is degrading to conservatives, then they should put aside their liberal beliefs and let people know this. If Waid's going bananas on Twitter, then they have to criticize him for the bad image he's giving comicdom's contributors. If Slott's doing his own forms of trolling, they have to say so, and can't give him any lip service. If Joe Quesada and Dan DiDio are giving a show of contempt, they have to say so. If Brian Bendis is speaking with a forked tongue, they should call him out on that. If mainstream newspapers are sugarcoating their own comics coverage, they need to lament that. If the publishers are lenient with their employees, they have to argue to this effect and can't be worried about whether the writers will still agree to an interview. Besides, as Andy Warhol said, everybody's famous for 15 minutes, and sooner or later, some of the worst contributors today will fade into obscurity anyway. If the crude writers don't want attention for the right reasons, it's their loss. In fact, CBR also shouldn't take advertisements for comics like Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled just because the publishers can afford to pay them. Morale has long been kicked to the curb, and without it, they will not save the medium.

There's a lot of improvement needed if the comics industry is ever to stand erect again. If the news sites don't set any better an example than the publishers they're currently paying lip service to, and continue to derelict their duties, then they will not send a convincing message to the cybermonsters who were harrassing Asselin and only continue to facilitate such a vile subsection.

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As Avi notes, the postings of a lot of comics "professionals" shows that such behavior among the more.. special of the comics community could happen. There certainly are a number of people with definite anger and mental problems working in comics before you even get to the fans.

On the other hand, though, seeing Asselin and her supporters inflate her tiff with Booth into "sexual harassment" (or something) makes me wary without actual proof - verifiable and preferably police-verified. No, I won't just take her word. We've certainly seen enough faked hate incidents in recent years to be cautious.

Guess it comes down to, "Produce the evidence and then I'll decide." Not enough facts.

"We've certainly seen enough faked hate incidents in recent years to be cautious."

I agree, Drizzt. I often am skeptical of such stories at first directly BECAUSE of how many so-called "hate crimes" and "sexual harassment" turn out to be fake.

Plus, like Hube and I said at his blog, the so-called comics "professionals" need to clean up their act before anyone else does. That means stop antagonizing people who criticize you (like Dan Slott, who went so far as to threaten legal action against Doug Ernst).

And if Asselin were conservative, there wouldn't be an uproar. At all. Why? Because harassing conservatives is considered acceptable by liberals.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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