On Saturday I came across an article on The Mary Sue reporting on Tess Fowler who had spoken up about some creepy treatment she’d received years ago at a convention. As I read the article, it seemed familiar to me. Not the specifics, but the tone. I thought it sounded very much like someone I used to know. I understood what Tess was feeling, because I knew it well. It’s the feeling that something is happening beyond your control; that just a minute ago you were standing on concrete and now you’re on a roller coaster clicking up, up, up while you look over the side of the car, watching solid ground get further and further away.
That feeling is the fear you feel when someone is asking you to do something you don’t want to do, and you have no idea how to say “no” and put everything back the way it was. The way it was before you accepted that drink, or made that crude joke to be “one of the guys”, or let someone sit too close, or didn’t push their hand away fast enough.
Women in comics are still in a boys club. A clubhouse with a sign on the door saying “no girls allowed”. To get into the clubhouse, you have to convince the boys in charge that you belong there. In talking with Tess and hearing about other women who have been in similar positions, the common theme seems to be that we all feel like if we’d just been able to keep up with the big boys, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in these situations. I think a lot of us have been shaming ourselves for a long time about our failure to “play the game” successfully.
Yes, comics are tough to get into. Most worthwhile things are difficult. But why the hell are there still people making it even harder? Why am I hearing all of this about things that have been going on for years, creeps and pervs and predators slinking around and getting away with it over and over because no one wants to be responsible for these people, so long as they’re getting good work out of them?
You can point out all of the wonderful women who have made it, or are on their way and doing wonderful work, but how many other girls and women out there never got a chance because they couldn’t stand the bullshit? How much great work have we lost from talented sensitive people who are not prepared to navigate a system that will try to feel you up and then throw you out with the trash?
I worked in a comic book store from 1993 – 1999. I worked at DC Comics from 2000-2002. I have had icky experiences in the comics community, but I’ve usually told myself they were my fault because I couldn’t play the game. When I was in comics, it wasn’t the cool visible side. It was the “write up the travel arrangements and mail the promotional materials” side. Very dull. But I had been reading comics for years, and I was always a little star struck when talent came by the office or I had a chance to meet them in a social setting.
Back in 2002, I became acquainted with Brian Wood through informal drink-ups that would happen down on the Lower East Side. He struck me as a little detached, a little too cool for the room. He was well known in the group, and welcome. I had heard rumors of womanizing behavior, but didn’t think it applied to me or anyone I knew, and paid it no mind.
When he suggested we step outside and take a walk around the block one night, I agreed. I was rather surprised that he was paying attention to me, as I’d seen him hitting on other girls at other times. As we walked, there was some friendly and suggestive banter between us. I had learned through experience that if I seemed shocked or uncomfortable with “good-natured joking”, I would be seen as boring, someone with no sense of fun that couldn’t hang with the cool kids. I wanted to hang with the cool kids.
When we had walked 2/3 of the way around the block, we stopped at a neighborhood garden. Walking among the trellises, he pointed out that no one would be able to see us there. I pointed out that people could come by any time. He assured me this was not the case, and suggested that I could… lower my head, so to speak. I was standing very close to him, and his hand was on my arm. I reminded him that he had a girlfriend. He shrugged that off as a non-issue. Standing in this secluded place with him, I didn’t feel like one of the cool kids at all. I felt… wrong. I felt anxious, like I was on my way up the roller coaster. I told him no, thank you. He let the matter drop. We walked back to the bar, and that was the end of it. However, I learned much later that Mr. Wood went on to tell that story to others, but reversing the parts so that I was asking him, and he was declining. This was disappointing, but not surprising.
Not long after that walk, Mr. Wood came up to the offices. I’d never seen him on my floor before, but it was not unheard of. Sales & marketing occupied the same floor as DCU Editorial. Mr. Wood swung by my office unexpectedly, and we exchanged hellos. After he had left, I got an IM from Brian, saying he hadn’t expected to come by. I joked that it was a shame he couldn’t stay, as I could have “shown him the storeroom”. It was just a joke, because of course we had established that nothing inappropriate was ever going to happen.
Later in the day, I was alerted to a rumor posted on Lying in the Gutters. The rumor said that the word was the girls at DC retailer services were giving out a lot more than posters in the storeroom. I was shocked. I was hurt. I was embarrassed. And I couldn’t do anything. I asked my employers at DC if I could say anything to refute it, since everybody knew that I was the only person in that position, but they said no, it would blow over. It did. No one talked about it online, or called me a slut or even said anything to me directly. But the suspicion was there. The subject had been raised in the office and now it was in people’s minds. My job didn’t change, but I was not given any new responsibilities. I was observed. I found printouts of my online posts in the office printer.
I left DC Comics in autumn of 2002. I don’t read comics anymore. I don’t want to think about the bad memories I associate with that period of my life. It’s not who I am now. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my Superman tattoo, I still re-read my old Sandman trades, I still have a set of Cerebus phone books on my shelf. I just don’t want to think about the people who write and draw them. I merely want to enjoy them, and I can’t.
What happened to me was not criminal, and hardly the worst thing that’s ever happened to a woman in comics. But it sure as hell wasn’t right. When I tweeted to Tess to show her my support, I just wanted to add my voice to what I assumed were many others. It was only later that I realized I was the only other person to say anything. So, my little squeak has been mentioned by others now. And now you know my Brian Wood story.
I would like to add that shortly after I tweeted to Tess, I got an email from Mr. Wood. His response was about what I would have expected.
On Nov 16, 2013, at 2:07 PM, Brian Wood wrote:
I saw your tweet. l don’t recall much of our interaction - just the drink ups and casual flirting, but I apologize for making you uncomfortable in anything I did.
This response made me a little angry. To apologize by qualifying it with “I don’t remember that, but sorry if I made you uncomfortable” really isn’t an apology. It’s an excuse. So I reminded Mr. Wood of his behavior. I also told him “It was a long time ago. I don’t have anything to do with comics anymore, but it doesn’t mean I forget or forgive lies and slanderous gossip. I appreciate that you are in a difficult place right now and feeling serious regrets over your behavior. Thank you for addressing it.” That would have been the end, but Mr. Wood couldn’t let it go:
My recollection was I wasn’t in a relationship during those drink up days… that was sort of the point of all of my WEF drinking, was that I had ended a long relationship in 1999 or so and my next one wasn’t until late 2002 or so. But I don’t recall the date of our incident exactly. I also felt like our attraction was mutual. But perhaps not. I thought we didn’t end up fooling around at that moment simply because it was a public place.
The supply closet thing was a dumb error. I didn’t name you, but I also didn’t know that only one DC employee ran the storeroom, which I heard about way later. I should have tracked you down then and apologized but I had no idea it had gotten you in trouble. I’m sorry about that now.
The only apology I see in this whole reply is “I should have apologized. I’m sorry now that I didn’t.” I bet you are sorry, Brian. I bet you are. The problem with “apologies” like this are that they are really excuses. All Mr. Wood needed to do was say “I’m sorry about that. I’m not that person anymore.” But he didn’t. He had to explain why my experience wasn’t really something to get upset about. He refers to making untrue (if unnamed) statements about me to the media as a “dumb error.” Not a mistake, an error. Like the wrong thing here was that he didn’t do a head count of how many people he would be hurting. I am disappointed with this non-response, and I hope you are, too. It seems to me that Mr. Wood isn’t sorry, he just doesn’t want to look bad.
I used to try to keep up with the boys, but in truth, I only want to keep up with actual mature men and women. It’s a shame that so many people treat comics like an alternative to growing up instead of an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow.
It’s not too late for you to call this kind of behavior out.
It’s not too late for you to speak up.
It’s not too late.
~ Anne Scherbina
This is an important thing to read. Brian Wood didn’t make one sleazy mistake, he has a pattern of inappropriate, dishonest, sexist behavior that is harmful to women working in the comics industry. He is not an ally, he is not a “feminist writer.”