Comics toxic heritage strikes again as DC editor named as sexual harasser

Comics toxic heritage strikes again as DC editor named as sexual harasser

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The firing of Shelly Bond after more than 20 years of loyal service to DC has had an unintended consequence. Although referencing incidents utterly unrelated to Bond’s dismissal, it did stir outrage among those who detected a pattern of powerful women editors getting removed at DC while men who had  severe HR problems stayed.

And so on twitter over night, and in a story at The Outhouse, a line was quickly drawn and facts emerged, naming DC Senior Editor Eddie Berganza as the much alluded to figure behind several incidents of sexual harassment.

 

Earlier today, Rich Johnston wrote a well researched piece that laid out some of the behind the scenes on this. If you’re going to make any discussion of the Berganza matter, please go by this, as it is the most accurate description of the WonderCon incident–where Berganza harassed a woman in the middle of a crowded hotel bar – and its aftermath.

There are however, several other matters, including the one Asselin wrote about, which included a number of female DC staffers complaining about Berganza in 2010, with no action taken. At any rate, as Johnstons’s report made clear, after several incidents of problematic behavior, Berganza was considered a valued enough employee that he underwent therapy, and was demoted, while retaining his job.

There are a couple of other aspects of that that I’ve seen referenced over and over so I’d like to address them and what I know of them.

§ “The only reason Eddie Berganza is still employed at DC is because he has blackmail material on someone.” — Not true. Funny, but not true. I’ve pretty much debunked this. As someone pointed out to me, it’s pretty likely Shelly Bond had as much dirt on anyone at DC, so that alone is no reason to keep your job. DC keeps Eddie on board is because they value his talents as an editor. And they value his talents more than those of the women who have left becuase of his behavior. Pretty clear there.

§ “Women are not allowed to work in the Superman office.” — This is a bit harder to get to the bottom of. It’s true that the Superman office is all male, but so is the JLA office. This gets my Snopes yellow light for now but you are free to email me with more evidence either way.

UPDATE: As mind boggling as the above may sound, several sources with first hand knowledge of the matter confirmed that, if it wasn’t a hard and fast written out rule, there was, for quite a while, at least an informal policy in place that no female staff would be assigned to the Superman office, and no female freelancers would be hired. This latter part was disregarded, as several women have actually worked on the Superman line in recent years. I think I didn’t want to believe this because it is just so stupid.  See below.

What investigating this rumor did point out to me, though is just how few women are now in positions of prominence at DC. Rebecca Taylor is an associate in the Batman office, and Marie Javins is a Senior Editor. (Bobbie Chase now works in a non-editorial capacity as vp Talent Development.) With Shelly gone, it’s back to mostly men in the key positions.

In the nearly 24 hours since this story broke, no one has said it isn’t true. I hear it’s been a rough day at DC dealing with the fall out, but there’s no point in even denying that the incident at WonderCon took place and was dealt with internally. Or that Asselin and others filed a complaint in 2010. But for everyone calling for DC to fire Berganza in light of these revelations…there are no revelations. This was all known. And already dealt with. You can’t fire someone for something that happened four years ago that was already dealt with.

What we need to address now and act on is the atmosphere that allows this. I wrote about this all previously here. As I said, I’m not sure if the “no women at Superman” thing is true, but let’s say it is. Now let’s reverse that. Say you have a female editor who isn’t allowed to work with men. Do you think that would last five hours? Five minutes? It isn’t even a credible scenario. The tolerance for harassment and inapporpriate behavior in DC’s corporate culture goes back a long way. While writing this, I was DMing with a woman who worked at DC around the time I did and she told me “I wore shorts under my skirts.” And then we laughed, because we had dealt with all this shit so long ago and just moved on. We really should have cried.

As I wrote in the above piece with regard to the Dark Horse situation, we’re a grown up industry now with adults in charge and HR departments. Dark Horse publicly acknowledged the problems they had and have tried to move on while doing better. DC’s having a rough day with this because they promoted someone with a known history of harassment. That was another ticking time bomb. Maybe DC should acknowledge some of the past mistakes and make a statement about what is and what isn’t tolerated there. That’s hard in a corporate world, but the problems of the past have a way of popping up in the present. Secrets don’t stay buried. If there’s really to be a rebirth at DC, all of the toxic sexism and tolerance of harassment that damaged real lives and real women needs to be acknowledged and a zero tolerance policy adapted. I know that won’t do much to help the women who were already damaged by this, but it’s a start.

There’s now a vocal contingent out there that’s calling for a boycott of the books edited by Berganza. Boycotts are maybe a little old-fashioned, but for people who believe in a comics indusry that’s moving forward, with inclusion for everyone,  it’s another start. We can’t tolerate this as an industry ever again.

And there’s more to come but that’s it for now….developing.

Addendum: I have a lot of issues with Rich Johnston and Bleeding Cool, but they openly reported that Berganza had been guilty of a sexual harassment incident at WonderCon four years ago. This information has been available for a long time. It just needed the right match to light the powderkeg.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. George says

    ‘The tolerance for harassment and inapporpriate behavior in DC’s corporate culture goes back a long way.’

    Yes, back to Harry Donenfeld grabbing secretaries’ breasts in the 1940s. And I don’t guess we need to rehash the Julius Schwartz stories again.

  2. Lucia says

    Maybe a list with the books being edited (or to be edited) by this guy is in order. Then again, a complete DC boycott would work as well. Bath water and babies and all that.

    Also, Dark Horse didn’t really take care of anything. Just more of the same side stepping. No one got held accountable for that debacle, either.

  3. Resp. says

    No, the blackmail accusation has not been “debunked” in any way because you put forward a lame argument against it. And it explains what you clearly do not understand about the staffing of the Superman office and legal liability. Berganza has an HR file, all that he did was documented, that means if something additional happens, Time Warner has a whopping big liability. Corporations do not let that happen. There is no way that happens, unless he does have something very, very damaging. Stuck with him, they are trying to reduce their exposure as much as possible by keeping women away from him, so they do not knowingly expose them to a known offender and get sued. Get it? The blackmail you do not understand and the staffing you do not understand are linked. It isn’t ha-ha funny, t is a reasonable hypothesis that fits all the facts. Unlike your story.

  4. Christian says

    Where is literally EVERY SINGLE MAN who works in that office? Why has all of this stuff gone on and not a single male in that office has come forward and defended their co-workers? Abuse like this does not happen in a vacuum and I find this inexcusable.

    By all accounts Eddie Berganza should have lost his job a loonnnng time ago. But let’s not overlook the rest of the people in that office. We know Eddie’s excuse. He’s (allegedly) a creep. But everyone else? Cowards and enablers.

    Sidenote: from a purely political agitator point of view they should have waited until closer to the bigger conventions to drop this. Giving their PR (and HR) people time to rally and develop canned non-answers puts the cause at a disadvantage. Plus I have always been fascinated by DC Comics complete inability to handle any kind of aggressive questioning. (see also: Batgirl and CBR’s extremely short lived Bob Harrass fan questions column)

  5. MBunge says

    “No, the blackmail accusation has not been “debunked” in any way because you put forward a lame argument against it.”

    The argument is debunked because it is stupid.

    Berganza has been at DC since, what? The late 1990s? How many different editorial and management regimes have come and gone in that time? Did he have blackmail material on ALL of them?

    I know nothing about Berganza’s behavior but what I’ve read. What people should really be focusing on is that you can be as talented and accomplished as Bond but if you ain’t making money for your employer, you’ll wind up out on your behind.

    Mike

  6. says

    As a man who has had to take yearly mandatory sexual harassment training at every corporate job I’ve had, I wish companies would just fire assholes like this when they show what type of person they are.

  7. says

    I agree that blackmail argument has been debunked. And the liability argument in the comments isn’t wholly accurate when you consider labor laws.

    If there was actual sexual assault, the police should have been involved. As such, the harassment allegations were dealt with likely through established HR processes, usually sensitivity training and other rehabilitation and disciplinary efforts.

    Yes, if he reoffends, DC likely has HR grounds to dismiss him. If DC followed due HR process with him, and he, reoffends the liability piece is questionable.

    That said, whether the grounds are strong or not, anyone can sue anyone. Whether they’ll win or not is another issue.

    The other thing people screaming for him to be fired is that DC can’t do that. They dealt with this an HR matter years ago. Unless he reoffends, DC can’t use the years-old harassment that has been dealt with as an HR as grounds to fire him.

  8. Green says

    DC can fire Berganza. Maybe not because he is a sexual harasser, but the books he edits are a big clusterf*ck. He isn’t a good editor and only men working with him is illegal
    I ownder what DC will do or if they will keep silence.

  9. Erik Scott says

    Infinite Crisis
    Final Crisis
    Flash: Rebirth
    Blackest Night
    Flashpoint

    Right or wrong, these are all the reasons Berganza still has a job at DC. He’s edited their biggest selling books of the last 10-15 years for them. Having to either 1) admit their most productive editor of the last 15 years is a serial harasser and as such give up their association with all that productivity or 2) risk him going across town to the competition (let’s not be naive and think, given the opportunity, Marvel wouldn’t immediately hire DC’s most productive editor no matter what the rumors at the time) and making DC “pay.”

    (I’m not trying to go with the traditional Marvel vs DC narrative here, but it’s clear, over the years (Dick Giordano…Marv Wolfman…Alex Alonzo…Mike Marts…Steve Wacker) that one thing that’s clear is that neither side is above poaching the others editors if they have a proven track record.

    It’s Occam’s Razor. This isn’t a soap opera. I’ve never seen a more ridiculous argument than “he’s keeping his job because he has blackmail” in my life. It’s pure business. It’s also can’t be any mistake that all this has been covered up for so long when the person he’s worked closest with over the years in editorial is now the CCO of the company. This is not meant to be an exact indictment on Geoff Johns exactly as it is when you know the people in high places, you can typically get them to go to bat for you more than others.

    The bigger point here is how do we (and comics) change a culture where, for example, it’s easy for Brian Wood to find easy jobs at Marvel and Dark Horse after it appears he harassed staffers at DC and new creators at conventions. How do we change a culture when a threat of being fired for harassment could potentially end up with a bigger and better position at your cross town rivals because the sales numbers are there (we see this happen all the time in sports. Just look at how many athletes who have been “rehabilitated” by the New England Patriots.)

    This is all a much bigger problem than Berganza allowing to keep is job at DC. The culture in general needs to be changed. It unfortunately can’t end with a simple apology from people like Scott Allie or Brian Wood. Transparent zero-tolerance harassment policies need to be put in place and followed stringently.

  10. Erik Scott says

    “DC can fire Berganza. Maybe not because he is a sexual harasser, but the books he edits are a big clusterf*ck. He isn’t a good editor and only men working with him is illegal
    I wonder what DC will do or if they will keep silence.”

    Green, the sales numbers don’t show this to be true in the least. Subjectively, you may not like them. But the books he edits sell. It’s a fact.

  11. Zach says

    He edits the books that are handed to him by the powers that be. You think Berganza somehow has a magic touch that made Flashpoint sell? Of course he fucking doesn’t. Flashpoint sold because it was written by a popular writer, drawn by a moderately popular artist, billed as the next big event that readers “have” to read and was the lead in to a relaunch.

  12. Kyle Pinion says

    Erik,

    The Superman books haven’t been in great sales shape for some time, barring Grant Morrison’s Action run. Heck, Greg Pak’s run was dipping into the 20k figure.

  13. immaterial says

    No women allowed in the Lois Lane department. I wonder if DC ever asks itself “What would Superman do?” before it makes these kinds of moves?

  14. dogunderwater says

    I feel like people are desperate for the blackmail thing to be true, because otherwise the reason he’s still there is just essentially, a sexist culture of indifference to this kind of behavior. But that’s a much more realistic explanation.

  15. MBunge says

    “You think Berganza somehow has a magic touch that made Flashpoint sell?”

    Written by someone who has never had to work with other people on a project.

    I’ve never been a fan of editors taking too much control of a comic but there’s a big difference between a book with a good editor and one with a bad one.

    Mike

  16. Zach says

    What’s that difference, Mike? Cause given the projects associated with Berganza, I don’t see much evidence to point towards him really being a particularly good or particularly bad editor. Just from the list above, you have good (Final Crisis), okay (Blackest Night, Infinite Crisis), and bad (Flash Rebirth, Flashpoint).

  17. MBunge says

    “What’s that difference, Mike?”

    Do you have the slightest idea of how many moving parts are involved in something like Flashpoint? Do you have a clue what it is like to deal with the expectations and egos of everyone involved? Have you ever dealt with all of that while having corporate higher ups breathing down your neck?

    Just getting stuff out is often a minor triumph, even if it stinks on ice.

    Mike

  18. Chris Hero says

    I think the saddest thing about all of this is the comic book equivalent of The Onion broke this story a day before everyone else. Comics journalism is the sorriest excuse for anything ever. Plus, the corporations places like CBR, Newsrama, and Bleeding Cool depend on for content don’t do anything about sexual harassment anyway.

    Eddie Berganza, Scott Allie, and Brian Wood are all still employed.

    Also, fuck you, too, comics pros. Why do none of these men have broken arms by now? Where I was raised, the men would not allow guys like this to hurt women and walk around in one piece.

  19. Zach says

    @Mike – interesting thought, but I don’t agree.

    I didn’t read Flashpoint so I dunno if it was late or not, but Infinite Crisis was a clusterfuck (late, multiple fill-in pencil artists, pages that were neither inked nor colored in the final issue just to churn the thing out), Final Crisis was also late and also had multiple pencil artists, and weird, look at that, Blackest Night, also late. I don’t see the minor triumph in getting stuff out late and not as promised.

    That seems like sloppy work from someone without much value. As I said before, Berganza was working with people like Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Ivan Reis. I don’t think much sales success can be attributed to his presence. That is reinforced by his editing the current crop of poorly selling Superman comics.

  20. Green says

    “Green, the sales numbers don’t show this to be true in the least. Subjectively, you may not like them. But the books he edits sell. It’s a fact.”

    @ERICSCOTT

    Look the creative decision Berganza made on new 52 superman, it is a big mess that is always on crossover mode. sales have been ok, superman barely gets 40k. lack of critical acclaim and expressive sales.

    flashpoint, infinite crises are all event comics, of course it will sell. flash:rebirth started with strong sales but it fell pretty quickly and bad fan rep.

    now compare with mark doyle that made great moves over batman group: gotham academy, batgirl, we are robin, Grayson, midnighter

    there isn’t reasons to keep berganza. The real is that being on didio/lee/harras team will keep you protected at DC. they mess around a lot, but others pay th eprice like shelly bond.
    people are noticing this http://www.denofgeek.us/books-comics/dc-comics/254758/dc-fires-shelly-bond-plans-restructuring-of-vertigo

  21. George says

    “If there was actual sexual assault, the police should have been involved.”

    I’m also having trouble understanding what happened, because of the vaguely worded articles in the fan press. Someone was “sexually assaulted’ in public and nobody called the cops? What???

    Did the guy hug and kiss the woman against her will, or did he try to have intercourse with her in front of other people? What exactly happened?

  22. Michelle says

    For those asking why the other men working at DC didn’t “do something” about Berganza: sexual harassers/assaulters are typically very good at targeting women when other men aren’t around. Duh.

  23. Erik Scott says

    “Look the creative decision Berganza made on new 52 superman, it is a big mess that is always on crossover mode. sales have been ok, superman barely gets 40k. lack of critical acclaim and expressive sales.

    flashpoint, infinite crises are all event comics, of course it will sell. flash:rebirth started with strong sales but it fell pretty quickly and bad fan rep.

    now compare with mark doyle that made great moves over batman group: gotham academy, batgirl, we are robin, Grayson, midnighter”

    I’m not talking about now. If the above story, and what Rich Johnston reported is true, he hasn’t been accused of harassment since the 2011 incident. But when he was accused of harassment, was at the tail end of all this going on, and DC/WB, likely with enough cause had the opportunity to fire him for harassment and didn’t. Why? Because of his most recent track record with hit books.

    Of course the sales numbers are do to creative teams. But, and I’ve seen this utter by many many many editors on twitter over the years, editors jobs and successes, especially at DC and Marvel, are measured by sales numbers. Right or wrong. And you can try to debunk it all you want, but, at the very least, Berganza had a track record of editing successes at DC, many of his event books that launch at tover the coveted 500,000K mark., And yes, much of this is due to those creative teams, but you don;t keep working with those creative teams on event books if you aren’t considered, by the creators and the upper management staff, as successful.

    I realize his numbers on the Superman books during the new 52 haven;t been great (although to be fair, aside from Batman and recently Harley Quinn – none of them have) but people using this in comparison to Shelly Bond (which is where all this started) have to admit that even then his numbers are better than hers. It’s a simple fact from the sales charts. And as someone has noted above, his harassment was dealt with by HR, he went through training, and hasn’t had an incident from what we have heard within that time. So, again questioning why he still has a job has everything to do with his performance with the company when he could be conceived as being at the top of his editorial success at DC and it seems silly to even suggest that “he has blackmail” on other higher ups at DC. It’s all business.

    All this being said, is not a defense of Berganza, DC, or the handling of the situation. I believe DC (and every other company for that matter) should have a zero-tolerance policy in place for harassment and he should have been fired after his first complaint. But they do not (or at least they didn’t when he was initially reported) and he wasn’t fired, so, instead of jumping to soap opera or comic plot machinations, people need to bring things back and look at the hard facts. Eddie Berganza’s books sold well at the time he was accused of harassment (and even now sell better than any of the Vertigo books) and SHelly Bond’s books were not, for a multitude of reasons (I’ve read most of the launch of the 12 series from the winter, and my subjective opinion is that they not only tried to capture the tone and flavor of a lot of the creator owned flavor of when Vertigo launched, but many of the books were good to great) from the market to how the imprint is viewed to the competition they’ve gotten from Image and the like to the creator-owned contracts as they are written at Vertigo keeping many of the huge guns from working there – all those reasons and more it unfortunately didn’t work and I think is more an example of the changing dynamics of the market than anything else (I liken the metaphor to TV – when Vertigo started it was like broadcast TV and HBO starting – now comics are more like the contemporary cable/Netflix/Hulu world with hundreds of more options and places to watch content.) The paradigm has fundamentally changed and when you look at a world Where an Image book can sell 5,000 a month and be a success and a VErtigo book selling the same is deemed a failure…well that kind of says everything I think.

  24. Dana says

    Is this guy under contract? If he’s not, they most certainly CAN fire him. Most if not all U.S. states have hire-at-will laws. As long as they don’t violate civil rights law–burden of proof there is with the employee–they can fire you just because they feel like it.

    If he IS under contract, then never mind.

  25. Remco says

    yagrews says: “That broad is way too ugly to harrass, I smell fake story”

    No. I can’t let that pass.
    This is such an idiotic statement, that either the poster needs to first get his head out of his ass and then needs to step out of his nerd-cave to have a look in the real world, or the poster is a massive troll who should crawl back under the bridge from which he (I just assume it’s a he – call it intuition) came from.
    Bah!

  26. George says

    ” … sexual harassers/assaulters are typically very good at targeting women when other men aren’t around. Duh.”

    According to one account I’ve read, the woman’s boyfriend witnessed it and did nothing.

    I’m afraid this will go on until someone is arrested, or until DC loses a multi-million-dollar lawsuit (or two). Then maybe they’ll take the problem seriously.

  27. Bartholomew says

    I see the apologists are out in full force…

    John F Trent, owner of BoundingIntoComics.com, claims that The Outhousers are “ethically corrupt” for reporting on Shelly Bond being fired and Berganza being outed as an abuser in the same article:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/WerthamInAction/comments/4ftf8h/dc_restructures_vertigo_fires_shelly_bond/

    Trent claims that the two incidents are unrelated… even though Berganza was outed as a direct result of the discussion surrounding Bond.

  28. Tim says

    I am commenting here, because I cannot find anyone to answer my question elsewhere. If we are too assume that everything happened as reported, didn’t Berganza answer for his crime? He was reprimanded, demoted, put on probation, banned from conventions and made to undergo training by human resources. Should he have been fired? Maybe.
    But is the general consensus that the punishment wasn’t enough or do they think he wasn’t punished at all? It seems like he paid for his actions and nothing has happened since. So why go after him again now?

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