[UPDATED] A Brief Timeline of Harassment and Sexual Assault in the Comics Industry
A timeline of harassment and sexual assault in the comics industry is lamentably challenging to truncate, but a girl can try. The comics industry, like too many others, has a big problem with harassment and assault, and it needs to be examined and fixed, not swept under the rug.
Julius Schwartz becomes an editor at All-American Publications, one of the publishers that will eventually develop into DC Comics, where he will become the long-time editor of Superman, Batman, Justice League of America, and many others, and known affectionately as “Uncle Julie.”
Throughout his career, there are murmurs of varying volume about his unwanted advances and wandering hands, and despite repeated complaints, DC never seems to do anything to rein in his behavior.
Uncle Julie retires from DC after 42 years, but continues as a goodwill ambassador, attending as many as 12 conventions as year for the next 18 years.
Comics professionals Trina Robbins, Heidi MacDonald, Deni Loubert, Anina Bennett, and Jackie Estrada found the nonprofit organization Friends of Lulu to promote readership of comic books by women and the participation of women in the comic book industry.
Uncle Julie is inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame.
Uncle Julie is inducted Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.
While working on Fables and Lucifer at Vertigo, editor Mariah Huehner says that she received an email from a freelancer, requesting a pair of her panties and a sexual recording of her voice. Huehner reports the message to her manager, but management at Vertigo takes no action that she’s ever made aware of, and the freelancer goes on to be hired for other projects within the company. (She details further instances in a blog post years later.)
After Julius Schwartz dies, several female comics professionals come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment at his hands, including Jo Duffy, Jill Thompson, and Colleen Doran, who has said that he had attempted to fondle her while they were in a limousine together back when she was an aspiring artist still in her teens.
Tess Fowler says (in 2013) that during SDCC 2005, Brian Wood, a writer applauded for his strong female characters (himself married with a pregnant wife at the time), attempts to lure the aspiring artist to his hotel room, to “get to know her better” before taking her work seriously. The next day, Wood shouts at Fowler as she walks by his table about how she never showed up the night before. Wood later makes fun of Fowler’s art and mocks her for her cosplay.
Valerie D’Orazio settles a sexual harassment claim against DC Comics. The claim involves her superior from 2003–2004, former Executive Editor Mike Carlin. She does not sign an nondisclosure agreement because she wants to discuss the topic of sexual harassment publicly.
November 16, 2006
Valerie D’Orazio publishes a series of posts called “Goodbye to Comics” on the now-defunct blog Occasional Superheroine, about her experience with sexual harassment at DC. She uses pseudonyms for most of the people. This series also discusses Julius Schwartz in an unsentimental way, and opens a dialogue on harassment and abuse all over the comics blogosphere.
November 25–26, 2005
A female comics professional is sexually assaulted by a male comics professional at an after-hours gathering at the Hilton Columbus Hotel at Easton Town Center during Mid-Ohio Con. This incident is not reported in the entertainment media, but is widely discussed in personal blogs.
Ronée Garcia Bourgeois publishes “What a Girl Wants: Well Grab My Tit and Call Me a Liar” on the now-defunct Buzzscope (no link available), in which she describes the sexual assault of the woman referred to only as Beatrix Kyle at Mid-Ohio Con, and in two followup pieces, talks with women including Lea Hernandez and Colleen Doran about their experiences with harassment at the hands of male comics professionals.
Taki Soma identifies herself to Ronée Garcia Bourgeois on Buzzscope as the victim of the alleged assault at Mid-Ohio Con.
Newsarama confirms Taki Soma as the victim of the alleged assault at Mid-Ohio Con and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein as the perpetrator. Soma explains that she filed a police report (report #051059701) soon after the incident, but most of the report has since been redacted, and no charges were ever filed. Similarly, most coverage of this incident has since been scrubbed from the internet. The Comics Reporter maintains a chronological list of coverage, though, and has kept Brownstein’s statement available as a Word document.
In it, he excuses his own reticence: “I did not come forward sooner out of respect for Taki, as I didn’t want to cause her any more hurt than I already, unintentionally, had.” He then claims to “feel terrible for hurting Taki’s feelings” but that his “sincere apologies have all been rejected.” His statement seems to make less of what happened by invoking his own goodness as a person and as a professional.
Liz Gehrlein Marsham is an employee of DC Comics (as Elisabeth V. Gehrlein) for less than three weeks when, while at a party at a pub near the DC office, Marsham says Eddie Berganza corners her, sticks his tongue in her mouth, and attempts to grope her. It’s unknown whether Berganza is ever reprimanded for this assault.
Blogger Chris Sims allegedly bullies and harasses former assistant editor at DC and blogger Valerie D’Orazio to the extent that she develops PTSD. This behavior continues for two years. [Correction: An earlier version of this article contained inaccurate details about the timing of events involving D’Orazio and Sims, as well as the start of Sims’ work at ComicsAlliance.]
Valerie D’Orazio becomes president of Friends of Lulu.
Chris Sims begins contributing to ComicsAlliance.
Valerie D’Orazio publishes the content from her “Goodbye to Comics” series, as well as details of other incidents from her life until 2006, in her eBook, Memoirs of an Occasional Superheroine.
Janelle Asselin files a harassment complaint against Eddie Berganza, and says she’s “one of many.”
December 1, 2010
Berganza is promoted to Executive Editor of DC Comics by editor in chief Bob Harras.
Friends of Lulu ceases operations.
September 27, 2011
Janelle Asselin resigns from DC Comics.
March 16–18, 2012
During WonderCon, in the middle of the lobby of the Anaheim Hilton, multiple witnesses say Eddie Berganza attempts to make out with a woman against her will. At least one witness reports it to DC staff, and many more share their accounts with sites like Bleeding Cool and ComicsAlliance, who report on it. Berganza is temporarily banned from attending conventions.
April 10, 2012
Eddie Berganza is demoted from executive editor to group editor after a widely-reported public display of sexual harassment at WonderCon. Editor in chief Bob Harras then assigns Berganza to all Superman titles.
During the months and years that follow, DC seems to implement an informal policy that no female staff be assigned to the Superman office and no female freelancers be hired. Following the same fallacious and inherently sexist logic that women should dress modestly if they don’t want to be raped, this informal policy suggests that women—not their harassers—are the problem in DC’s offices.
October 24, 2013
Comics artist Brandon Graham tweets that Brian Wood is “my platonic ideal of a fake feminist.”
November 14, 2013
Tess Fowler tweets about her experience with Brian Wood eight years prior: “I’m going to say it. And fuck anyone who doesn’t like it. Brian Wood is a DICK. And he’s preyed on women for too long.”
November 14, 2013
Comics Beat publishes Comics Have Hit Puberty … And It’s Not Pretty by journalist and former DC editor Heidi MacDonald, which details her own experiences and refers to the open secret that “at one super mega comics publisher, many of the top execs have had huge human resources files and nothing has been done about it.” Her essay remains relevant today.
November 15, 2013
Brian Wood apologizes for his behavior toward Tess Fowler, yet minimizes his harassment or its effects. His statement has since been removed from his personal site, but has been preserved here.
December 18, 2013
Cartoonist and comics professional MariNaomi describes her experience on the Prism Comics panel at Long Beach Comic Con in a personal essay on xoJane titled “It Happened to Me: I Was Sexually Harassed Onstage at a Comic Convention Panel.”
December 19, 2013
Writer Scott Lobdell identifies himself to Heidi MacDonald, at The Beat, as the panelist who had sexually harassed MariNaomi, and makes a public apology.
April 11, 2014
Janelle Asselin critiques the cover of Teen Titans #1 on Comic Book Resources, citing the way teenage Wonder Girl’s anatomically absurd breasts spill out of her costume. DC employee Brett Booth—who himself did not work on the cover of Teen Titans #1—responds to Janelle Asselin’s critique on Twitter by belittling her knowledge and experience and challenging her right to publish a critique at all.
May 3, 2014
The Guardian publishes an op-ed by Joan Hilty titled Wonder Girl’s Head-Sized Breasts Illustrate the Sexism Problem in Comics, in which she writes “women do now fill far more of the editorial and creative ranks in the comics industry, but there are still very few women in senior editorial management.”
Former MTV Geek editor in chief, comics professional, and blogger Valerie D’Orazio criticizes Marvel for hiring Chris Sims to write Secret Wars: X-Men ’92, citing her own experience with harassment by Sims in the past.
March 17, 2015
March 20, 2015
In an interview on CBR, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Alex Alonso diminishes D’Orazio’s contributions to Marvel, and minimizes her experience with bullying and harassment from Sims as “some sort of bad blood developed between them.”
July 9, 2015
During the BOOM! Studios SDCC party at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie becomes intoxicated and allegedly assaults comics writer Joe Harris, grabbing and squeezing his crotch, and biting his ear, as well as licking the face of then-colleague Tim Wiesch.
July 10, 2015
Scott Allie still holds his position at the Dark Horse.
Scott Allie steps down as editor in chief to become executive senior editor at Dark Horse.
September 8, 2015
Loser City publishes A Chorus of Silence: On the Impossibility of Reporting on Chronic Abusers in Comics, by Nick Hanover, in which he explains that he and David Fairbanks have been investigating predatory figures in comics for two years. One name mentioned throughout the piece is Nathan Edmondson, whom installation artist, illustrator, and graphic novelist Laurenn McCubbin refers to in a tweet (embedded in the article) as “an abusive creep.”
September 10, 2015
Graphic Policy publishes a call for victims of harassment by Nathan Edmondson to come forward.
September 16, 2015
Emma Houxbois publishes a response on The Rainbow Hub, about Brian Wood’s plead for empathy for female victims of harassment, but also for comics creators with conservative politics. Houxbois analyzes the way in which Wood appears less concerned for female victims of abuse, and more concerned for the men accused of it, and describes an industry that “continues to hemorrhage female creators and editors due to unpunished harassment by their male peers.”
October 1, 2015
Graphic Policy publishes Enough Is Enough: Dark Horse’s Scott Allie’s Assaulting Behavior, by Janelle Asselin, in which she describes “an industry-wide problem where harassers and abusers are protected by their employers.” On the same day, Comics Beat publishes How a Toxic History of Harassment Has Damaged the Comics Industry, by writer and editor Heidi MacDonald, who describes Julius Schwartz as “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.”
Founder and president of Dark Horse Mike Richardson releases a statement on harassment that includes the statement “I agree that harassment of any kind, routine or not, is unacceptable. It always has been.” Scott Allie releases his apology to CBR, later the same day.
October 2, 2015
Scott Allie still holds his position at the Dark Horse. Uncle Julie is still venerated for his contributions to comics.
March 6, 2016
Kelly Sue DeConnick creates the hashtag event #VisibleWomen to spotlight any women comic artists who tweet her a link to their work, to “disabuse folks of the notion that women comic artists are rare, to get eyes on said artists and to get them work.”
November 10, 2017
BuzzFeed reports that three women—including Janelle Asselin and Liz Gehrlein Marsham—have come forward with accounts of sexual harassment by Eddie Berganza.
November 11, 2017
November 12, 2017
Writer, comedian, publicist, and YouTube personality Molly McIsaac says Eddie Berganza harassed and assaulted her every time she saw him in person between 2011 and 2015.
November 13, 2017
DC officially terminates Eddie Berganza—five years after the incident at Wonder Con, and seven years after Janelle Asselin first reported his behavior to management at DC.
November 22, 2017
BuzzFeed reports that five more women (none of whom told anyone at DC about their experiences at the time) have come forward to share their experiences with Eddie Berganza, including Maya Nord, Molly McIsaac, and Jami Bernard, who says Berganza forcibly kissed her in March and again in May of 2006. Bernard describes Berganza’s behavior on both occasions as abrupt and aggressive, rather than sexual or even flirtatious.
November 29, 2017 (date of publishing)
There are still very few women in senior editorial management in the comics industry. No one has yet come forward with a personal account of sexual harassment by Nathan Edmondson. Scott Allie continues to work with Dark Horse on a freelance basis.
How many more of these stories exist that we simply don’t know about yet, and may never know? How many more years will it take for the comics industry to act on other instances of harassment? How many more years will it take for the comics industry to believe women when we report harassment, regardless of how many credits we have to our names or how many our harassers have to theirs? Because at this point in the timeline, the comics industry can no longer nurture a culture of misogyny in which people in positions of power can silence valid complaints, and punish victims of harassment and abuse.
[ADDED December 1, 2017] November 30, 2017
Stephanie Cooke shared her own story about Nathan Edmondson after reading this article. In a Twitter thread, Cooke wrote that Edmondson, some years ago, privately asked her to meet him at 3AM, after her boss had offered for her to show him around her home city of Toronto while he was there on a work trip. Cooke wrote that, when she declined, Edmondson told her, “It wasn’t a request.” She also wrote that he gave her his hotel room key and told her to take a nap there and wait for him. She’s urged anyone else who has a story about Edmondson to come forward, as well.
Joseph Keatinge has corroborated Cooke’s account:
This was me. I confronted Nathan about it at SDCC on the show floor, in front of other creators, and he denied even knowing who Stephanie was. When I called him on his b.s., he caved in, saying he had a problem, was going to stop going to cons and deal with his issues. He didn’t. https://t.co/T7FMC7CUHQ
— Joseph Keatinge (@joekeatinge) November 30, 2017
We’ve reached out to Edmondson for comment and will update if we receive a response.
Aria Baci is a pop culture journalist and comic book script writer with a multifaceted passion for literature, comics, and make-up whose work can be found on sites as diverse as Geeks OUT and Design*Sponge. Her comic Dismantlers will be published with Black Mask Studios in 2018.
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