[UPDATED] Writer Valerie D’Orazio Calls Out Marvel’s New X-Men Writer Chris Sims for Online Harassment
This isn't about The Comics Industry - it's about human decency.
TRIGGER ALERT: online harassment, abuse, trauma
Comics fans were in for a shock yesterday as comics writer, Valerie D’Orazio, took to Twitter reacting to the news that Comics Alliance writer Chris Sims would be writing his first Marvel book, X-Men ’92 (which I was actually looking forward to, before this situation put a sour taste in my mouth). The reason? The online harassment Sims directed at her via his forums over the course of three years.
It started with this tweet:
So. I just found out that the misogynist POS who was responsible for ringleading harassment against me online is writing the X-Men.
— Valerie D’Orazio (@ValerieDOrazio) March 17, 2015
I’ve been looking at the [image of the controversial Batgirl variant cover] on all my social media ALL day. It has been deeply triggering for me to see this image, but I’ve figured that I have no right to discuss this because blah blah blah blah blah.
The word “triggering” means that it makes me occasionally—and quite suddenly—flash back to previous instances of deep trauma. Instances where I have felt victimized and scared.
I have PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. I have specifically been diagnosed with it because of cyberbullying that I experienced between 2007-2010.
One of the effects of PTSD, on me, is that if I read about another woman being cyberbullied or harassed, I get extremely upset. My blood pressure rises, my adrenaline shoots up, I sweat, and I start to feel scared and anxious. Because I also have heart issues, this is rather a dangerous state for me to be in o a regular basis. That is why, in 2010, I quit regular blogging on comic book related topics.
I had several cyberbullies during that three-year span, but Chris Sims was one of the worst. Not so much for what he said about me directly, but because he had a popular forum from which to direct harassment to me by many other people.
I never could figure out what I did to Chris personally to be singled out for this type of treatment. But week after week, he would have posts focused on me in which he would be a ringleader for others, who would then go off and harass me personally via my blog, social media, and emails.
This hit its peak when it was announced that I was to write a one-shot for The Punisher. Apparently Chris thought this was the wrong choice, and he made his opinions clear.
8:00 in the morning the issue was to hit stands, Marvel Comics called me to warn that there was a “harassing” atmosphere on the internet regarding my comic. They told me to “be careful.” Over the next week I received constant harassment and threats. The result was that, among other things, I refused to go to comic book conventions or other events in which somebody might know I would be at a certain time—because I believed I would be hurt or even killed.
While at that point the highly-influential Sims had pulled back from the harassment—me at one point engaging in a “cross-blog” interview in the hopes that if he “liked” me, the harassment might stop—the damage was clearly done.
I have spent many hours in therapy dealing with the fallout from cyberbullying. I have considered committing suicide, and turned to drinking as a way to medicate my anxiety. I now still struggle with the effects from this bullying.
Sims very recently sent my husband an email that read:
“I saw what you said to that dude yesterday, and just felt awful. You, and Valerie, have a very good reason to throw me under the bus, and you have always treated me with way more respect than I deserve. I was a complete asshole to Val, and by extension to you, and while in my head I thought I was keeping it about the work rather than being personal, I know I stepped over the line more than once. I was completely the bad guy, and once I realized that, I stopped, and the only reason I haven’t reached out to apologize is because I know that both of you (rightly) think I’m a real jerk, and I didn’t want to try to insert myself into your lives because I suddenly realized I was being a dickhead about it.”
A lot of interesting things to unpack here.
#1, it really seems like he is apologizing to my husband—who I guess is actually worth something, as a man—than me.
#2, he refers to a potential exposure of what he did as me and my husband “throwing him under the bus.” Note how in his phraseology, HE is the victim here, not me…he is the warm body being thrown under a vehicle.
#3 It is highly suspect that he has finally decided to apologize for his actions right on the heels of him being announced as the writer of an X-Men comic.
The irony that Marvel hired the man who ring-led the harassment against me over my Punisher comic is not lost on me. Neither is the omni-present victimized crying Batgirl image I’ve been seeing all day today…or the fact that Sims had once left a message on my blog that said “Are you going to CRY, little girl?”
I think Sims totally has the right to write his X-Men comic, which apparently is set in the “Golden Age” of the 1990s—this is the exact period of time I STOPPED reading the X-Men and began to notice a distinct “women not allowed” vibe in comics. For a living I help others tell their unique stories in comic book form—and every story is important.
Actually, I feel quite relieved that this all allowed me to finally talk about the trauma I have experienced; I literally feel much better having done it.
But one thing still bothers me…
Chris, you said you thought I was the WORST person to write the Punisher.
But I have to disagree. Frank Castle is one hard-ass stubborn Italian who doesn’t take shit from NOBODY. And he had a pretty good memory, too. Who knows? Maybe the experience, in the end, made me a stronger person.
The Mary Sue reached out to D’Orazio for clarification, and to ask her why she felt the need to speak out about this. She said:
Every time I get into this, it is really “triggering” to me. But the fact is, I know a number of talented young comic book female writers and artists…and when I think about them potentially going through this stuff, it horrifies me. For example, I know an incredibly talented female writer who writes more in a genre/style that men usually write in. I picture her trying to do something like the Punisher one-shot I did, and getting all this shit, and it makes me sick.
It’s really not about me or Chris Sims, in the end. It’s about opening up this dialogue and making sure other women don’t go through what I went through. Because once you’ve become a target and are getting all the threatening and insulting emails and social media…that’s a lot. Let’s just prevent this from happening.
Honestly…I felt, for several years, that if I was a “good girl” in comics, and didn’t act openly feminist, I would get less harassment. And I did. But it cost me in terms of my peace of mind.
I’m done with all that. Protect these young women who are comic fans, and who want to work in this industry.
I asked her if she thinks it was a mistake for Marvel to hire a writer who had done what Sims did, and she said, “Actually, I feel *not* hiring him at this point will only add to the ‘women ruin it for comics’ hysteria at this point, where complaining about a particular cover is equated to the Taliban, Charlie Hebdo, and Fredric Wertham. I work as a freelance editor where I enable people outside of comics to tell their stories through the comic book medium. Every story is important.”
She then referred to a quote from a blog post she’d written earlier that day – before hearing about the Sims/X-Men news – and said that it applied here as well:
If you’re among the comic professionals scapegoating the so-called “vocal minority” on the Internet because of various decisions by DC and Marvel to become more diverse and inclusive—know that you are helping feed into the harassment and even threats of violence against females online. As such, I will not buy your books or support your work in any way, and I won’t support any publisher you are strongly connected to.
It’s clear where D’Orazio is coming from, and what her stance is on all of this. But I wondered, since Marvel recently announced Sims’ book, if they had anything to say about any of this in relation to one of their newest hires. Sadly, as of this writing, all we’ve received from Marvel is a “no comment,” which is disappointing to say the least.
With no word from Marvel, I decided to go directly to the other side in all this. Sims, too, posted on his blog about the situation yesterday:
If you’ve been reading my work for long enough, then you probably remember that I had what I used to refer to as a “feud” with Valerie D’Orazio a few years ago. That’s the wrong word, since it was more one-sided than anything else, and I was in no uncertain terms the aggressor and a complete jerk.
I was needlessly harsh about her comics work, I left jerky comments on her site, I talked trash here and elsewhere, and while in my head I justified it as as purely being critical of her writing, I know I stepped over the line into making it a personal attack more than once. What I said is a matter of public record, and frankly, my intentions at the time don’t change what I actually did. At best, I was making someone’s life harder when I had no reason to, and at worst I was giving others a reason to do the same that went far beyond just me being an asshole and contributed to and validated the harassment of both Ms. D’Orazio and of women in general. When I finally realized that, long after I should’ve, I stopped, and I’ve tried to be better going forward.
I’ve never apologized for it, for the simple reason that I don’t think I have the right to insert myself back into someone’s life when I’ve treated them as poorly as I did to her, but I regret what I did. This is not a plea for forgiveness, or a clean slate. If what I did changes how you feel about me and my work, that’s completely understandable; I was wrong, and in every way the bad guy.
In the few interactions that I’ve had with Ms. D’Orazio, she has treated me far better than I would have if the situation was reversed.
Well, at least he addressed the not reaching out to apologize directly to her issue. Though, he’s not really apologizing to her here, either. It seems like he’s apologizing more to his fans, playing up how horribly he treated D’Orazio in order to make his redemption seem that much more epic in order to ingratiate himself to what he hopes will be his future comics readership.
We also reached out to Sims for clarification and additional comment as well, because I wanted to see if what he wrote on his blog really was the end of it as far as he was concerned. Had he ever tried to reach out before someone commented on his treatment of D’Orazio on Twitter in relation to his upcoming X-Men title? Here’s what he had to say:
As for why now: When I realized that I was being a jerk, and that Ms. D’Orazio was mostly ignoring me, I stopped and I didn’t feel like I should press the issue, even with an apology. She was clearly trying to disengage with me, I didn’t want to push further and make things worse than they already were. I haven’t tried to make contact with her personally for the same reason.
The reason I’m doing it now is because recent events have made it clear that it’s something that I’m responsible for owning and addressing publicly. I’ve regretted what I did for a while, but acknowledging that I was in the wrong is a lot more important than just wishing I hadn’t done it.
That’s very true. Acknowledging wrong is extremely important. But just as the phrasing of his blog apology is interesting, so too is his phrasing in his email to me. He never says that he tried to apologize and she wouldn’t hear it – simply that he realized he was being a jerk, and she was ignoring him.
Of course, she was ignoring him. He’d been harassing her for years! That’s not the point.
The point is, if you know you’ve wronged someone and you really want to make it right, before you start apologizing to their husbands, or to your readership, you should really start by apologizing to them. You do what you need to do. And if you apologize to them, and nothing, well then you move on and do what you want. But the “I didn’t want to push” argument doesn’t really hold up when there was no effort made in the first place. From what I can gather, there was nothing to push.
In my conversation with D’Orazio, she said, “From what I understand, he saw a tweet by somebody yesterday or the day before linking him to harassment of me–in relation to the X-Men announcement–and sent my husband the initial email.”
So, it all comes down to sales and money, and this is what makes Marvel’s “no comment” stance particularly frustrating, as Marvel seems to have a history of laying the burden of harassment at the feet of the victim with advice like this…
…”sorry, but it looks like you’re going to get a lot of harassment for your book. You should lay low for awhile.”
— Valerie D’Orazio (@ValerieDOrazio) March 17, 2015
…all the while continuing to employ creators like Brian Wood, who have a long history of accusations of harassing women. And it isn’t only Marvel. Harassers are employed at DC, too. It’s time for publishers to realize that not only do they have to do more to hire female creators, but they should be doing everything in their power to ensure that – as Marvel employees – they are able to do their work in a safe environment. People like Chris Sims make the comics industry unsafe. Not just for female creators, but for fans as well. Anyone who is guilty of this…
I’ve got proof of him harassing me on my own blog and then commenting, “you gonna CRY little girl?” — Valerie D’Orazio (@ValerieDOrazio) March 17, 2015
…should be expected to make serious amends before being employed by “the best” comics publishers in the business. Where are their standards?
Comics Alliance released a statement today about all of this, which you can read in full here, but here’s the gist:
Someone was targeting Chris not out of a sense of justice, but because they wanted to destroy his success. The campaign may also have been one of several efforts we’re aware of to discredit ComicsAlliance. These are not the tactics of progressives concerned about harassment in comics, but of agitators looking to tear down progressive voices — of which Chris is certainly one — using methods of harassment. (Notably, the messages referred to D’Orazio as “David’s wife,” rather than recognizing her as a person in her own right.)
No doubt these people also see themselves as the heroes of their stories. They are not. We cannot lend legitimacy to their behavior.
Chris is not the man he was when he directed his vitriol at Val D’Orazio. If he were that man, or if he felt no remorse for his past actions, he wouldn’t belong at today’s ComicsAlliance, given our strong avocation against harassment in the industry.
But Chris is a great example of something else we believe in very much; progress. Chris has shown the necessary intelligence and sensitivity to evolve. He was an early advocate for the positive change that is now taking over the industry.
It’s interesting that CA mentions that Sims’ harassers “referred to D’Orazio as ‘David’s wife,” rather than recognizing her as a person in her own right.” Interesting, because that’s exactly how Sims “apologized” to D’Orazio. Through her husband. Interesting too that they’re quick to discredit the people that protested Sims’ being hired by Marvel, but that they see him as an “example of…progress” when he seems to be apologizing to everyone except the person he actually harmed for every reason other than actually being sorry.
And so, it took an irate fan to get Sims to perform this public mea culpa. Not the pain he caused a fellow professional in the comics industry, but a fan. And that’s the sad part in all of this. Because what we as comics readers do in response to a situation like this is almost beside the point. Sure, we can boycott a title, a creator, a publisher, and perhaps those actions will encourage publishers like Marvel to rethink the kind of person they want to have associated with their brand, or encourage industry blogs like Comics Alliance to really examine how members of their staff conduct themselves in the comics sphere. But the fact is, D’Orazio is owed a direct apology that is long overdue, and has nothing to do with sales, or industry trends. It has to do with human decency.
[UPDATE] Sims has issued a further statement via his Ask Chris column on Comics Alliance. He uses it, in part, to finally apologize to D’Orazio saying, “since this is the biggest platform I have to say it, I want to make this the place where I apologize to Ms. D’Orazio. I’m sorry, I was completely in the wrong, and you have every right to reject this apology for being nowhere near as timely or helpful as it should be.”