“Not a Victim, But a Victor” — Roc Upchurch’s Wife Speaks Out Against Abuse, Silencing
John “Roc” Upchurch, formerly the artist for Rat Queens, has quietly returned to the comic book world, illustrating commissions of popular characters (including the Rat Queens heroines), as well as taking part in other projects and collaborations. Readers may recall that Upchurch left the Rat Queens team following his arrest for domestic abuse; Rat Queens co-creator and writer Kurtis Wiebe found a different artist after Upchurch’s arrest.
Upchurch’s decision to return to the comics industry was marked by an interview he did at CBR with Casey Gilly, in which he described the counseling he underwent following his arrest, as well as his decision to restart his artistic career. I wrote about the mixed reception to that interview at the time, including references to a blog written by his wife about her experiences. I also included a link to a photo from that blog of a 2012 Notice of Substantiation from Delaware Family Services; this document apparently states that John Upchurch was “responsible for an incident of abuse regarding [his] child.”
Very few articles made reference to this document, nor to his wife’s blog, nor her experiences. Upchurch’s wife, who has asked us to refer to her as “Reese U.” in this piece, reached out to The Mary Sue, as well as several other media outlets, to share her thoughts about what’s happened since John Upchurch began his comics career again in earnest, and to offer her own perspective about some of the statements that he has made to the press.
Reese U.’s initial email to us and others began with her clarification that she is still legally married to John Upchurch, contrary to his description of her as his “ex-wife” in the CBR interview. In her letter, she alleged “assault and rape at the hands of my husband Roc Upchurch. He is a comic book illustrator who fell off the deep end into alcohol abuse, extra marital affairs, and physical assault… all because his comic book found success.”
Last August, John “Roc” Upchurch told CBR: “If you ask me what I am, the first thing I would say is a father — so I want to be the best father I can possibly be to my three children. Now, it’s different. I see them as much as possible, I do as much as I can for and with them. I want to be there for them in every way possible.”
Yet the story that Reese U. related paints a very different picture. In a follow-up email interview with The Mary Sue, Reese U. alleged that her husband “hasn’t seen his children since Father’s Day weekend … He promised his children, especially his 7 year old daughter, that he would return immediately after his classes that he had to take as a result of our domestic dispute. Those classes ended in July… He has stopped all communication/visitation with his children.”
Reese U. feels as though her perspective has been forgotten. “On a personal note, I just want people to know that the children and I exist,” she told us. “He neglected his responsibilities as a father and a husband and continues to still neglect his children’s emotional well being. What he’s doing isn’t right, and people need to know that. He abandoned a family. He left then 14, 9, and 6 year children without a father. He has scared them… scared me.”
In her original letter to media outlets, Reese U. expressed a lot of reservations about her husband’s return to the comics industry. She alleged: “As I write this, my children’s father is living with one of his female fans in Texas. And he’s quickly insinuating himself back into the comic book community. He’s been granted interviews in which he claims many untruths about our status. About his involvement with his children. He requests publicly to be allowed to interact with fans and the community once more. To what ends? If his past is any indication, I fear for the innocent young women who will cross his path. Or even his fists.”
“While he lost his position on his first project, he still enjoys success from it,” Reese U. wrote. John Upchurch’s own Twitter feed corroborates this, given that he regularly posts commissions and art for sale depicting Rat Queens characters. In addition to the earnings from these commissions, Reese U. also alleges that John Upchurch makes “thousands of dollars in residuals, which barely trickles down at all to his children.”
Reese U. provided us with what appears to be a copy of a contract between her husband and his former colleagues at Rat Queens. This document seems to lay out the residuals that her husband receives as follows: “(a) Fifty percent (50%) of all advances, royalties, fees, bonuses or any other compensation in any form derived from the sale of the print or electronic versions of the comic book version of the Work that [Rat Queens co-writer, KURTIS] WIEBE receives for those issues of the Work that UPCHURCH specifically illustrated. UPCHURCH shall not receive any compensation derived from sales of the comic book version of the Work that UPCHURCH did not illustrate.”
Back in her original letter to the media, Reese U. singled out several publications and journalists by name, including CBR’s Casey Gilley, for whom she wrote: “You claim to be a feminist. And I’ve seen your written support of victims, in other articles, discussing your background in HR, and your desire to keep the comics community safe from abusers. Yet you failed in your job as a journalist to question Roc Upchurch about the Child Abuse Case brought against him by the State of Delaware. You ignored my public blog which described in detail his physical assaults, and his abuse of fans, and his lack of support/contact in regards to his children… Do you have any idea how much damage you have done? To me? To my son who had to read your lies? To the innocent women who read your words and trusted you and now think Roc Upchurch is ‘healed’?”
She also addressed a paragraph to Bleeding Cool, the outlet that initially shared her story and linked to her blog, but later chose to uncritically highlight CBR’s interview. She alleged that by doing so, Bleeding Cool “helped to put countless women in harm’s way. This man is unrepentant. And will harm again. How dare you.”
In a paragraph addressed to Image Comics, Reese U. emphasized her strong misgivings and reiterated her allegations about her husband’s past: “Thank you for rehiring my soon to be ex husband on a new project, after he did his best to wreck the ship that was the beautiful comic Rat Queens. He was notoriously late, due to his boozing and philandering. Never mind the fact that he blamed his chronic lateness and unprofessionalism on me and our children. Never mind the fact that his paychecks from his time on Rat Queens do nothing to support the children he abandoned. I’m sure he’s a brand new man, and won’t do exactly the same thing with this new project. Good luck with that.”
The letter concluded with a message for other abuse survivors, whom Reese U. encouraged to speak out as well: “To anyone in the comics community that has ever suffered at the hands of another, been ridiculed, made to feel as if your voice doesn’t matter… I challenge you. SPEAK UP. Don’t hide. Don’t be ashamed as I was. Make your voice heard. Speak up and speak out.”
In her final statement to The Mary Sue, Reese U. wrote: “I can’t see his faults without seeing my own. I made mistakes and have done things in my marriage as well, but it was a marriage and I was faithful to my husband, my children, and my family. No matter what was happening in our marriage or between the two of us, Roc should have never left his children. He got on a plane without a goodbye. We had to find out about his relationship through Instagram …”
“I want to make it clear that I am not a victim, but a victor. I’m sure many will question why I’ve been reaching out and why I blog. Why I am sharing such personal things about what went on in our family. This is more than a story. It’s a testimony. A wife and children were abandoned by their head of household. This man has not apologized or giving us closure. He just picked up and walked away. We were left to mend the pieces of our broken hearts. We are healing. I want our voice heard. In the same way he reaches out to do interviews or belittles me in emails… I want our voice heard. I want our side shown.”
We reached out to John “Roc” Upchurch for comment on these various allegations in an email sent on October 28th, 2015. He has not yet responded. We will update this post should he issue any statement to us.
(Image via Tumblr)
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