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Wednesday, November 25, 2015 

The unclear accusations against Julius Schwartz: another Disney-style posthumous defamation?

This is something I had difficulty deciding before if I wanted to address it, but finally concluded I should, because I'd noticed that something wasn't right in all this mess.

Back in April 2004, The Comics Journal published an interview with a woman whom former TCJ contributor Heidi MacDonald is referring to now as "Christine Dobbs", where she accused the late DC chief editor Julius Schwartz of sexually assaulting her in "the company limousine" (there were 2 other women who may have had negative things to say about him too, but not as severe). Now I know who the accuser is - it isn't really a secret at all - and while it probably isn't necessary to use the pseudonym, I thought I might as well use it too for now. However, it's decidedly inevitable that I will have to let know through some of the articles I'll be linking to here who she really is, if I want to get my points across as best as possible. So here goes.

First off, I don't think Schwartz was a saint. I'm sure there were some things he did in his public/private life that would've made me angry. It's to be expected of just about any past contributor, good or bad. I probably wouldn't find his political leanings appealing either. And I hold no illusions about the past state of the industry, having no doubt that sexual harrassment/assault could've taken place as much in the past as it can in the present. But in this case, the accusations made seemed to have some holes, inconsistencies, and there were hard questions left unanswered - not to mention the accusers and their supporters were of such questionable character themselves - that I have my reasons to be skeptical about whether the accusations, which MacDonald recently dredged up again, make any sense. And while sexual abuse is a sadly existential problem, so too are people who make false accusations for any bizarre reasons, and making phony accusations can damage the ability of those who did experience harassment and assault to get justice properly, and causes them serious harm. Some recent examples include the Duke LaCrosse case, the stupefying Lena Dunham affair, and even a recent case in Canada involving two former colleagues of Justin Trudeau who were falsely accused, but he turned his back on them.

If Schwartz really did do what he was accused of, that was disgusting, and he should've been penalized for the offense. But if "Dobbs" lied about what went on, then that was wrong, and qualifies as defamation of character, not to mention it's hurtful to actual victims. Based on what I've been able to research so far, that's why I find myself having to wonder if it was the latter. For example:
  • Did DC really keep a limousine around? Even after Warner Brothers bought them in the mid-1970s, they never sounded to me like that kind of outfit that would have a limousine handy, even for traveling to conventions. That part sounded rather farfetched to me. I doubt Marvel had one either, and Harvey was surely even less likely to own one.
  • "Dobbs" did say she'd gone to the police and hired an attorney, but are there any police, medical, company and legal records that could help verify whether she'd taken any of these steps at the time? And if the lawyer was only willing to get an injunction against Schwartz, as she put it, why would she want to retain the services of somebody like that?
  • The earliest place where she supposedly alluded to what she accused Schwartz of was in a 1986 story published in Canadian cartoonist Dave Sim's Cerebus. This raised eyebrows for me, as I discovered Sim had been accused of misogynist writings in the past, and after reading a few of his commentaries, they just creeped me out. It makes no difference whether he's a liberal or conservative; I find his views revolting, and want nothing to do with him. His willingness to put Islam on the same level as Judeo-Christianity in a bizarre self-conceived religion he practices is even more discouraging. Isn't that bizarre: a man who published viewpoints that could be offensive to women as far back as the mid-80s is somebody whom "Dobbs" thought would make the perfect partner on a project about her alleged experiences with sexual assault and/or harassment? I don't get it. How does that solve anything?
  • TCJ's interview said that 3 editors/publishers thought the story was about them, and asked it be dropped, but that "none were Schwartz". As it so happens, there could be a reason why: even after he left his job as a chief editor in 1986, he was still working for them for at least 3 more years as a PR spokesman, and at that same time, "Dobbs" was just beginning to do art assignments for DC, so whether he knew about the story and thought it was about him, it's possible he thought it better not to make a fuss, because it could cause friction at work and a "conflict of interests" that the staff would surely have preferred they avoid. Or, maybe nothing happened, and he didn't think it was about him at all, hence, nothing was said?
  • How come, of all the past medium contributors who might've done a wrong, do we only hear about Schwartz? If somebody long past at DC could've committed sexual harassment/assault, there's every chance a now deceased contributor to Marvel, Harvey and Gold Key could've been guilty too. Yet the only one we seem to hear about now is Schwartz, as if only legendary figures matter, and not rank-and-file contributors with less recognition. Do I sense obsession or a lack of altruism here?
  • I also get the strange feeling the article was published to divert attention from Identity Crisis, which was coming out at the time the TCJ issue went to press, in hopes it would get people to throw Schwartz and his past contributions under the bus while ignoring all the modern messmakers whom we shouldn't be letting off the hook for their offenses. Could it be that they saw a brilliant stroke of luck before them when Schwartz passed away, and exploited the allegations for just that purpose?
  • "Dobbs" said TCJ's interview was originally taken nearly 15 years prior to when it later got published. Be that as it may, it doesn't prove she was being truthful, and at the time, it's possible they didn't publish it because they couldn't find any solid corroborations from other people, and Schwartz could've sued them for defamation. And for all we know, he could probably have won easily. Yet it could also be that the reason they published it after his passing was because the people in charge of TCJ by the mid-2000s thought he'd make a perfect scapegoat. That said, from what I could learn, there was some content in the interview from around 2004, proving "Dobbs" gave her approval to publish it when they did.
  • If she really felt she had a case to make, how come she didn't try turning to the mainstream press or other comic magazines? On which note, the story, such as it is, never seemed to go any farther than whatever comics press outlets spoke about it.
And then, there's another matter I'd noticed was curiously absent from the whole affair: she said Schwartz sent a letter of apology to one of her business agents less than 2 years before his death. This was a key element that was missing: the actual letter in its entirety, whether written on paper or electronically. Why, of all the details we could've seen as much as read about, did this not seem to make an appearance?

If "Dobbs" really wanted to prove her side of the story to the crackpots she said were antagonizing her in their backlash, she would've posted the letter on the web immediately, unabridged, whether as a picture scan or a PDF, and any last lingering doubts could've been put to rest. Apologists would've found it harder to defend Schwartz after that, and there's every chance it would've been plastered all over the web since. Yet here we are over a decade later and no full letter has ever turned up. I once tried doing a search nearly 2 years ago on the search engine fields to see if I could find any trace of an actual letter, using some keywords, looking through image menus and such...but I had no luck. If there was ever a letter, my attempts to find it were fruitless. Should we be surprised if her argument didn't hold up? One could probably wonder if the superficial mention of a letter was a pre-planned attempt to mollify dissenters by basically saying "see, he did a wrong, but he at least had the audacity to apologize later, so you needn't feel reluctant to keep appreciating him." But that only brings us back to square one, without really getting anywhere at all.

The point here is that, when you say you were sexually assaulted, and say that the perpetrator later provided you with a form of evidence that could back up your side of the story, it pays much better to show you have said evidence than simply say you do, by keeping the note she said she got stored securely, ready and waiting for if and when it'll come in useful. In fact, one of Bill Cosby's victims did something like that: she showed everybody at a press conference a customized jacket she got that was distributed exclusively to the cast and crew on The Cosby Show. And she'd kept it for over 3 decades! How is it Cosby's victim could keep useful evidence around so long, yet "Dobbs" couldn't even keep what she claimed to have gotten for even a year?

Which brings us back now to the matter of Mrs. MacDonald. Following the recent reports of sexual harassment/assault that came up lately, she used this as an opportunity to rehash an otherwise unproven case, and this time, MacDonald says she was harassed by Schwartz. It's the first time I know of where she's claiming to be a victim of the guy, and if she never said so before, why are we only hearing about it now? How come she never said so before? Here's what she says:
Take the most notorious example of this is the story of a woman we’ll call Christine Dobbs, a talented driven artist who dreamed up her own SF epic and started drawing it while only a teenager. Such a precocious talent should be encouraged and nurtured. It’s hard to imagine that a lad with such ambitious career plans wouldn’t be welcomed into the man’s club (although maybe envied a bit) and pointed to as an example of vital new blood.

Unfortunately, Dobbs had the misfortune to be born female. Instead of her desire to make art and tell stories being accepted as a natural, wonderful thing, it was questioned, belittled (“draws like a girl!” “manga stuff”) and subjugated to her position as an attractive teen-aged girl trying to break into a man’s world. While still a teenager, Dobbs attempted to break into mainstream comics after winning an art contest sponsored by Walt Disney and being hired to draw a Miss Fury revival for a fanzine called Graphic Showcase. Somewhere along the way, Dobbs was left alone in a limousine with Julius Schwartz. Uncle Julie. The guy who invented fandom, who invented the Silver Age. A god among men to the teenagers who doubted their masculinity.

And also a man who was known to be incredibly “handsy” with any woman or girl who got near him. A man who regularly greeted me whenever I was near him with a bit wet kiss on the mouth no matter how much I squirmed away. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Hobbs told the story of what happened in that limousine once, without naming names, in a post now scrubbed from the internet, and to the Comics Journal in the past—a story they decided to run only after Schwartz was dead, which made it look opportunistic. It involved groping, which is sexual assault. And when she complained to the ADULTS who ran DC Comics, they decided to solve the problem by not giving her any work, the symbolic purdah that so many women were relegated to in those days.
You'll notice that her accusation is superficial at best, doesn't say when and how it happened, if other people were present, what year this harassment/assault first began, or if she even had the guts to yell at him for insulting her intellect, let alone lodge a complaint with the company staff and/or police. And I know what book they're talking about, but whatever one thinks of its liberal politics, it was well regarded ever since first being published in fanzines, and here's something to consider: at the time she was beginning to practice illustration, "Dobbs" was 15 years old at best. There was once a time when publishers would hire kids as young as 13 until the early 1970s. Siegel and Shuster may have begun their own careers in cartooning when they were about that age. But in the mid-to-late 70s, legal issues prompted a lot of the mainstream publishers to modify their employment policies so that by the end of the decade, you'd have to be about 21 years old to qualify. Keith Giffen and Frank Miller were 26 and 21, respectively, when they had their first work published, and I can't think of any contributors since the late 70s who were less than 18 when they began official careers. If so, this means DC would not be allowed to hire "Dobbs" until she'd reached an exact age threshold. I'm sure there were also plenty of disappointed teenage boys who were turned away because they weren't old enough.

And that part about "so many women" was becoming pretty moot by the mid-70s, when more women were finding employment, like Ramona Fradon, Ann Nocenti, Jan Duursema, Karen Berger, Louise Simonson, and most notably, Jeanette Khan, who'd become a senior publisher at the time. Not sure what she means when the problem was being solved, more or less.

Through the Internet Archive, I found some interviews from the mid-2000s on a now defunct site called Buzzscope/Pop Culture Shock with women who experienced sexual harassment that I believe Mrs. MacDonald was alluding to, and they don't exactly back up her own arguments. Here's what "Dobbs" had to say:
I'm afraid so. I've had several similar experiences, all when I was just starting out. Each of these men I first encountered while I was still a teenager. Even though I usually traveled to conventions with my mother, I still had problems. I even got attacked right in front of another woman. This man just jumped right on top of me when I was sitting next to him in the company limousine. The woman on the other side of the car literally had to pull him off the top of me. It was utterly bizarre. He not only didn't think he was doing anything wrong, he was genuinely shocked when I made a complaint with the company. He really lambasted me and my career at that company came to a standstill. It was a nightmare.
Make what you will of the credibility of her argument (or lack thereof), but...wow. That is a lot different from what MacDonald had to say. "Alone"? As this states, somebody else, regardless of gender, was there, and bravely helped her out of the awful jam. You wouldn't know this from reading MacDonald's ambiguous account, which doesn't even thank the unnamed woman for saving her from potentially worse. Some way to show appreciation for good samaritans!

This also made me think of something curiously unmentioned here, if we go by the assumption it's true, and if Schwartz is whom she was talking about: what if Schwartz was drunk? It wouldn't make the alleged incident any less reprehensible, and "Dobbs" would still have every right to be outraged and call the cops, but it could explain why he'd go berserk in front of a third passenger in a saner state of mind than he was. Individual rapists who aren't intoxicated usually attack their targets when the twosome are all alone, and while there's strong suggestions Bill Cosby's colleagues knew what was going on backstage, just about every woman he victimized was alone with him. The only time more than one person was present was when he targeted Victoria Valentino and Meg Foster in 1969, and in that incident, both women were drugged, one unconscious and the other at least partially. A drunkard is more likely to rape and commit violence while there's other people present, because all that filthy whiskey scrambles up the mind, making one unaware of what they're saying/doing. That this doesn't factor into the interview even as an afterthought is mystifying. If he'd been a cannabis addict, wouldn't we have the right to know about that as well?

And in the second interview, "Dobbs" says something about employment that conflicts with both her previous statement and MacDonald's:
I don't really know if there is a blacklist. If there were, I would be on it. I work for every single major publisher, including DC Comics, the only mainstream publisher at which I ever made a complaint about harassment. Since I made my complaint, I have gone on to do numerous comics with them including a couple of series and some graphic novels. Immediately after my complaint, DC editorial was not so anxious to work with me. But that was many years ago, times changed, and I have worked with DC ever since. I have discussed these matters with several of my editors and have received nothing but support.

[name redacted, read original for that] also complained about the same man. She was not blacklisted, either.
So what was even MacDonald saying? She did get work. I did research on the GCD, and this 12th issue of Amethyst's brief ongoing series from late 1985 is the earliest I could find she ever drew for them. I even own a copy of the New Teen Titans Annual 4 from 1988 where she was one of the illustrators (very impressive artwork too, I might add). It's only a case of that she didn't get hired all at once; as noted before, legal issue involving age thresholds must surely have played a part in determining when anybody could be hired. Plus, as she says, they may not have been excited about working with her initially, but certainly did gave her assignments when the time was right, and her relations with them solidified.

But then, why'd she say in the first interview that her relations with DC, if that's whom she was talking about, came to a standstill? What she said in the second contradicts that, and it's the second, along with any careful research of her portfolio, that proves the second holds truer to reality.

My theory is that, if there was any kind of incident between "Dobbs" and Schwartz, it could've been that she was trying to get a job before she'd turned 18-21, but the aforementioned legal issues prevented DC from employing her immediately, and Schwartz tried to explain that, but "Dobbs" wouldn't listen and got into a quarrel over it, and he got so furious that he threw her out of his office on her ear, so she became vindictive. Or, maybe he did act like a total jerk in one of their meetings, but she took it all out of context and exaggerated everything? We'll probably never know what really happened, but for now, that might explain what could've happened.

You'll also notice that in these Buzzscope interviews, she no longer refers to Schwartz by name. There may be a plausible reason for that: it's possible any remaining relatives of Schwartz (he does have a granddaughter) threatened to file a lawsuit for defamation of character. And if "Dobbs" had no evidence to back up her allegation, then she'd have to avoid further direct accusations against him for those precise reasons. Also important to note is that the Buzzscope interviews came out in 2006 after the TCJ interview, and not before, as MacDonald's post implies.

She also said in one of the interviews that she heard from almost no women at the time who gave their support or wished her well, with MacDonald one of the few who had, but did hear from a lot of menfolk. Really? So many men? For whatever reason, this brought to mind Jim Shooter. Whether rightly or wrongly, Shooter had his share of detractors who disliked him for various reasons when he was Marvel's EIC. From an artistic/business perspective, my reason for feeling let down was his engineering the crossover that served as catalyst for the many that since destroyed superhero comics, Secret Wars. In fact, several writers left Marvel at the time because they felt their creative freedom was being sabotaged. I'm sure Schwartz had his own share of people who disliked him for reasons both just and unjust, and even Stan Lee probably has his own set of detractors of those sorts. People who probably disliked them because they detested their visions that didn't coincide with their own less clear, more irrational visions. But which is no reason to want them to be monsters if they weren't. If there's ingrates out there, that's simply terrible.

But now, with that having been discussed, let's turn our attention back to Mrs. MacDonald. There are reasons why I'm skeptical she's being altruistic, and can't buy her own accusation instantaneously as she must want everybody to believe. I've done some research on some of the things she's said about the Big Two's MO, and what have we here for starters from earlier this year:
Say what you will about Dan DiDio: in his time as DC’s first executive editor then co-publisher, he’s remade a lot of what made the company tick, starting with Identity Crisis, the controversial but best selling mini series that kicked off what we at Stately beat Manor call The Crisis Era. (Infinite Crisis and the misleadingly named Final Crisis would follow)
Dear dear dear. Another example of somebody who's taking a pretty unconcerned, dismissive approach to a perverted book with a viewpoint that's over 99 percent masculine. Acting as apologist for the very kind of excrement that got me into the blogging business, I see. Earlier examples of apologia include this sugary lip service item about Brad Meltzer being "king" of all media, and even these "quotable" moments. How fascinating that somebody who claims victimhood doesn't seem to see anything wrong with trivializing serious issues she supposedly went through, let alone what "Dobbs" allegedly experienced. Mrs. MacDonald, do you know what you've done through your apologia for DiDio and company, and their repellent little miniseries? You have effectively trivialized the very plight of the victims in whose name you claim to be speaking. Are you saying the disrespectful, inconsiderate attitude in the miniseries towards the fairer sex, not to mention victims of sexual abuse, is no big deal? But then you're saying your own supposed harassment by Schwartz is no big deal! Why, you're even saying that what "Dobbs" went through is no big deal! Sure, what takes place in fiction may not be as noxious as what goes in real life. But that's still no excuse for insulting victims of a serious offense, and saying that what they experienced is less important than what the aggressor was subjected to in return (and in the DC miniseries, the magic "lobotomy" is peanuts compared to what real life felons might be subjected to). One can only wonder what MacDonald would say if Sue Dibny were Latina. I can hardly wait to hear all the pathetic excuses she's welcome to blubber away with. "But I was just trying to help!" Oh yeah, and so was Henry Kissinger. *AHEM* Mrs. MacDonald, you do NOT help by a]being otherwise dismissive of screedish books that make light of serious issues, b]playing drama-queen and spicing things up like an overwrought TV show, c]taking prior allegations out of context by obscuring certain details and lying by omission, and d]being totally inconsiderate of what victims of terrible felonies in real life might think of these one-sided atrocities published in comics. Your claim that DiDio boosted DC into stratospheric success is not looking at the horizon through realistic lenses either. And you even expect everyone who realizes this to buy into your own accusations instantaneously? Please. My grandmother's Chevrolet Nova got better mileage in several years - even with automatic transmission - than your own allegation does in a fortnight. I'm sorry, but excuses are unbecoming. MacDonald's flippancy is just why I can't take her own allegation at face value. She even let one of her co-writers post an item condoning vandalism of Pamela Geller's ads on her site without objections. Will we find out next that she gave Marvel's race-baiting miniseries The Truth: Red, White and Black her full backing? Oh wait, she did! Man, what a money quote: "brilliantly mixed". And no consideration whether she was throwing Jack Kirby and Joe Simon's visions under the bus for the sake of bizarre agendas that see nothing wrong with Chomskyism.

And you know what? At this point, it isn't "Dobbs" who bothers me. Not one bit.

It's MacDonald.

For all we know, people like her may have done more to undermine the ability of anybody who's been victim of a terrible crime in the industry from getting justice properly. MacDonald comes off here sounding like a professional victim, and for somebody accusing TCJ - which she'd once written several articles for in the past - of opportunism, that's just what she's doing herself, following the recent news of sexual assaults, using that as an excuse to rehash older accusations that weren't proven or fortified properly. What makes this even weirder is that in the past, she actually posted some items on her site that were far from hostile to Schwartz; in fact, one could say they were otherwise favorable, including a link to a pretty favorable experience Gerard Jones relayed of a meeting he had. "For some reason I bookmarked" does nothing to prove she has a valid beef with him. If she really had been wronged by Schwartz, why would she want to say - let alone link - to anything positive? "Diplomacy" doesn't wash with me. Either she resents him or she doesn't. Which is it? Let's also not forget that this was the same woman who earlier regurgitated debunked accusations against Walt Disney, completely ignoring the recent refutations. And now that I think of it, that's exactly what the case involving Schwartz is beginning to resemble, with Uncle Julie cast in the role of Uncle Walt, and subject to accusations of the worst kind yet. (Similarly, a lot of the trumped up accusations against Disney started coming out after his death too, in the late 60s-early 70s.) My guess is that Mrs. MacDonald read the same interviews I did, spotted the same puzzling discrepancies, but the difference is that unlike me, she did not enter this topic with an open mind, and wanted to believe, in a way not all that different from a 9-11 Truther, that Schwartz was guilty. And because the allegations did not have firm corroborations, she decided to dramatize everything by not even mentioning what sources originally published them, so that nobody could judge for themselves, and didn't even bother going to the plaintiffs for a repeat of their stories. And for added measure, she might've decided to claim victimhood herself. But that only suggests she knew the allegations could be weaker than even I might think, demonstrates how disloyal the comics press really is to an objective viewpoint, and makes it look more like they want to throw past contributors under the bus, while the newer ones, by sharp contrast, are considered more acceptable.

On which note, does anybody think Mrs. MacDonald would be accusing Schwartz of wrongdoing if he were still alive? Would she even speak out against any current contributor who knowingly committed a felony, even if they got arrested for it, and say they should be banished from showbiz? No way. And that, in a nutshell, demonstrates what's wrong with the comics press past and present: they talk big, but do little, and valid complaints about sexual abuse in the medium are few and far between. As for those times when they do speak about it, while it is important to hear felons apologizing, I'm not sure MacDonald should be providing them with a platform when they have their own Facebook accounts where they can let people know their confessions. Since the Dark Horse editor Scott Allie admitted to assaulting Joe Harris, she's pretty much dropped the subject, without nary a peep about whether Dark Horse should continue to employ somebody who could commit such a vile offense, and so far, he's still under their employ, getting paid with their money, and still editing their books, sans protest from MacDonald and company. Nor has she criticized Mike Richardson if he still refuses to show Allie the door, and she even posted a statement from him without comment. The only reason why people like Schwartz are scrutinized is because it's easy - they're long gone, unable to confirm or deny the accusations. That's not very challenging or bold at all. If she were serious about these concerns, she'd be publicly encouraging any victim of abuse to go to the police and file complaints, and agree to give it some kind of mention if offenders are arrested and charged, so that everybody could know and judge for themselves. And if the publishers threatened to blacklist? She could tell them not to let it get them down, and make clear that sometimes it's best not to seek careers and fame at all costs. But she's not doing that, so we remain firmly one square one.

And what if someday, a historian like Neal Gabler comes along, gains full access to the DC archives, and finds no solid evidence to confirm the accusations against Schwartz? Will she acknowledge that, or, will she continue to act like everything must go according to the vision she wants to be "reality"?

The best take I could find on the whole subject was this op-ed on Sequential Tart, written by a woman who'd known Schwartz when he was alive, and knew another woman who was more acquainted with him in his private life. It's a pretty well-balanced article, and it shows that there are women out there who realized that "Dobbs" did not fortify her allegations correctly, and hints that there could be a lot more women out there who had no serious problems around Schwartz when he was under DC's employ. And that, within just 2 years of TCJ's article, she never published the aforementioned letter for everyone to see and pass judgement on. If she had, I'm sure we'd be reading an entirely different story.

It's been nearly 12 years since the allegations were originally published, and Schwartz's reputation has thankfully suffered no serious damage, though I do expect this subject to continue being dredged up from time to time. I honestly hope he's innocent, not because he was famous in his time, but because it's not like we should want there to be so many felons in this world. But, for all we know, I may have turned up a lot of details that could exonerate him of anything severe. At the same time, I'll decidedly hold no animosity towards "Dobbs", even as I find her claims weak. MacDonald, however, will still have to be held accountable for the grave disfavor she's done to actual victims, and has explained perfectly why I became so bored with her website. This should serve to inform everybody how MacDonald is decidedly one of the most biased and unreliable reporters in comicdom.

In conclusion, I hope this'll be the last time I have to address this particular subject, because, even if Schwartz is innocent, it's still an aggravating topic.

But if there's any important point to take away from this, it's that, if we're to defend Schwartz, it shouldn't be simply because he was a legend.

It's because it's wrong to besmirch the name of an innocent human being.

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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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