“We Are Comics” was born from frustration.
In April of 2014, every woman in comics was talking about Janelle Asselin: one of us, an editor and writer who’d been getting a nonstop barrage of graphic rape threats and other harassment in response to an article where she criticized the hypersexualization of a teenage girl on the cover of Teen Titans. Ironically, most of the worst threats were coming in the form of responses to a survey Asselin had posted about sexual harassment in the comics industry and community.
And among the threats and insults, there was one comment, more than others, that stuck with me. “Women in comics are the deviation, the invading body, the cancer,” wrote one man. “We are the cure, the norm, the natural order.” He went on: dismissals, slurs, threats. But those two lines were what I kept going back to.
For eight years, I’d been working in and around the comics industry, first as an editor, more recently also as a writer and journalist. For eight years, I’d seen my peers sidelined, edged out of the industry and community, erased again and again by the stubborn myth that comics were of, by, and for only straight white men. For eight years, I had talked about intersectional diversity and geek identity politics — at Girl–Wonder.org, at Comics Alliance and io9 and Sequential Tart and Kotaku; online and in print; on panels and podcasts; in auditoriums and college classes. I’d watched and lived and documented the ways marginalization and invisibility reinforced each other: seen people who didn’t fit into that narrow target audience shy away from a medium and industry in which they saw no place for themselves.
For eight years — and in generations’ worth of backissues and reissues — I’d seen journalist after well–meaning journalist write article after article asking, “Where are the women? Where are the queers, the people of color?” With the best of intentions, they ignored and erased generations of readers and creators who were already here and always had been; whitewashing an industry and community, stripping it down, once again, to that narrow target audience.
The more that image was reinforced, the easier it became to see the rest of us as somehow Other to comics, to write us off as somehow less than “real” as creators and fans.
After the rape threats, a small handful of male comics professionals spoke up in solidarity with Asselin. A few attacked her, writing her off as a fangirl, accusing her — a ten–year industry veteran — of courting threats by criticizing a medium she “knew nothing about.” From the majority, the response was resounding silence.
And I wondered: how could they? What did it mean that so many people I knew and liked and respected found it so easy to write what was happening off as someone else’s problem. It didn’t matter how long we’d worked in the trenches and bullpens, how much we’d drawn, written, edited; what we read; how fiercely we loved or identified with comics. We were still something else: not quite real enough to matter.
“I don’t care who you are: a fan, a creator, a publisher, a journalist—this is your town, too,” I wrote, livid. “We are your colleagues, your friends, your employees; the journalists you follow; the creators you publish; the people who buy your books. How dare you think you can stay above this? How dare you think you can close your eyes and walk away?”
“How dare you think this is not your problem? We are comics, too.”
And I thought: If only they could see.
It took about two hours to take We Are Comics from concept to reality: two tweets, a brief flurry of e–mails, a marker, a tumblr account, a bad webcam photo, two short paragraphs. Comics are a visual medium; We Are Comics is a visual message: photographs of people who read, make, publish, and sell comics, accompanied by personal statements.
We Are Comics is unincorporated, unofficial, and minimally curated. Management and policy are bare–bones, decided by consensus between the handful of friends who check the inbox, update the queue, and answer questions.
We are not spokespeople, nor do we aspire to be. Spokespeople have failed us, again and again. Collective voice is a powerful tool for empowering marginalized populations; but also for silencing them in the service of incremental victories, recentering the target rather than expanding it.
We Are Comics exists as a platform from which members of our community can speak for themselves. It’s about solidarity, but it’s also about visible diversity: hundreds of distinct faces and stories from across the comics industry and community. We are as different from one another as we are from that elusively narrow target audience.
What we have in common — with each other, but, ultimately, with everyone — is the desire to be heard. Our medium is our message: We are here. We are real, and we always have been. This is our town, too.