Image from Francis Rothbart! The Tale of a Fastidious Feral by Thomas Woodruff

Former Students Call Out Author of Racist Comic “Opera” After He Racks Up Multiple Eisner Noms

Multiple former students of Thomas Woodruff have come forward with accusations against him after his comic “opera” Francis Rothbart! The Tale of a Fastidious Feral somehow racked up four Eisner Award nominations. Woodruff is an American artist who spent many years working at the School of Visual Arts in New York City (SVA) and served as chair of the BFA Illustration and Cartooning Department for 20 years before retiring in 2021. It is likely most individuals were unfamiliar with his work and career before his graphic novel received its nominations, despite that it has been accused of racism.

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Francis Rothbart! The Tale of a Fastidious Feral is a graphic novel, which Woodruff pretentiously calls a “comic opera,” that follows the story of Rothbart, a feral child raised by magpies who gets struck by lightning multiple times. The “feral” child is believed to be of South Asian heritage but has been criticized for looking like a racial caricature, and the comic is filled with bizarre “eroticized child-animal encounters.” The comic received very little press before its Eisner nominations, and even now, sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads each have less than 10 reviews of the work. Considering that the comic costs an astounding $75, it isn’t surprising that it hasn’t been widely distributed.

Something certainly seems fishy about Woodruff’s nominations, as his pretentious, racist, and erotic comic “opera” that no one has ever heard of, has no widespread appeal, and hasn’t been receiving any press has suddenly scored four Eisner nominations.

Then, several former SVA students came forward and called out Woodruff for being a Grade-A jerk and trampling all over comic books and comics students.

Students come forward with allegations against Woodruff

Since the Eisner nominations were released, several individuals have come forward with allegations against Woodruff on social media. These users claimed to have been former students of Woodruff and described him as being a nightmare for comic book students. Apparently, he had a deep-seated hatred of comics. It’s unclear why, but he seemingly looked down on comics and considered them “low art.”

They also said he would make “comics student’s lives complete hell.” His abuse of comics students was so bad that he may have even dissuaded many from pursuing careers in comics and contributed to students dropping out of the program.

While comics students seemed to get the brunt of his ire, other students also recalled his unreasonable harshness and cruelty. Students in illustration recalled being “mistreated” and even told outright by Woodruff that they should drop out because their art wasn’t good enough. One student allegedly got made fun of for their looks while trying to review their portfolio with Woodruff.

They also said he ignored or had bizarre responses to comics majors requesting business classes in their curriculum. Plus, he also allegedly let his sexism and racism show, such as inquiring about the sex life of a female student and even trying to prevent an admissions counselor from including “certain nationalities” on international student scholarship lists.

Some students also touched on how it wasn’t like Woodruff was some creative genius who was pushing his students toward perfectionism. He seemingly just enjoyed belittling and traumatizing his students and urging them to drop out of his program. Now, after 20 years of treating comics this way, he has four Eisner nominations for his own comic book, which he seems to believe is special and not like those other comics.

Woodruff responds to allegations after Eisner noms

Woodruff issued a statement to The Beat regarding the controversy surrounding his nominations. In his statement, he claimed that his book had been developed for over a decade and “was made only with love.” He didn’t directly address the student allegations but did launch into a spiel of all his achievements and accomplishment as Chair of Illustration and Cartooning.

Woodruff did admit that he had “frank critiques” but claimed he only used his frankness to “develop keen minds and strong spines.” He also mentioned being an openly gay man and dealing with homophobia throughout his lifetime, and then seemingly implied that the accusations against him were fostered by intolerance. He stated, “Francis challenges the torches and pitchforks, he is stronger than the misunderstandings, the bullying, and the hate. I am too!”

It was a fairly strange statement, as no one was “bullying” or hating on him. In fact, many of the students showed great restraint in their discussions of him but did simply seek to raise awareness of how he mistreated them and disrespected and hated the comic book industry. It is also difficult to understand how he takes allegations of racism and sexism and twists them around to paint himself as the victim.

On May 27, 2023, Woodruff released a new statement declining the Eisner nominations that his book received. This statement came after a petition racked up 760 signatures from members of the comics community to rescind Woodruff’s works from the Eisner nominations. It remains to be seen if the Eisner Awards will accept Woodruff’s request for his comic to be removed from consideration for the four awards it was nominated for.

(featured image: Fantagraphics)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.