I Have an update already, but you’ll have to scroll all the way down for it.
Or: the harassing call is coming from inside the blog
If you are not up to speed on all this Jude Terror has done an incredible job summing up 90% of the most important points up until about 10 pm last night. I was going to do the same but I would literally do the exact same thing as Terror. So if you just want the juicy links go there and then come back. Teresa Jusino at The Mary Sue (great new hire, btw) also has a great piece up with original comments from Sims and D’Orazio.
If you want the short version, without speaking to the principals, here’s what I think happened in the last few weeks. (For details of what happened 7-8 years ago, you’ll need to scroll down.) First the personae: In one corner, Valerie D’Orazio, a former editor at Valiant and DC, a long time blogger, former editor in chief of MTV Geek, and writer of several comics including a Punisher one shot and the recent Edward Snowden biography.
In this corner, Chris Sims, a long time blogger at his own The Invincible Super Blog and a long time columnist and writer at Comics Alliance known for his “Ask Chris” feature as well as co hosting a podcast and many many humorous pieces on comics over the years. He’s also a comics writer with the gn Down Set Fight to his credit and probably more. (I have to admit I know much less about Sims career than I do D’Orazio’s, so you can fill in the blanks in the comments.)
Okay, let’s get ready to rumble!
— David Gallaher (@DavidGallaher) March 18, 2015
• Last week it appears that some G*mergater types unearthed what was a well known at the time feud from 2007-10 between well known blogger Chris Sims and writer/editor Valerie D’Orazio as shown in the above tweet by D’Orazio’s husband, David Gallaher. The GG mischief was aimed at showing how Comics Alliance, a site very well known for its emphasis on creating more diversity and speaking out in often passionate terms against sexism, racism, transphobia and anti-gay sentiments, was in fact harboring a writer (Sims) who had harassed a woman (D’Orazio) online.
• Gallaher wrote to Sims warning him that this was being unearthed. Apparently CA staff also received warnings.
• Sims wrote an apology for his behavior towards D’Orazio to Gallaher in response.
• Earlier this week, Sims was named as the writer of X-Men ’92, a digital first Secret Wars spin-off.
• Without mentioning the GG outing, but mentioning the X-men gig, D’Orazio tweeted that Sims had harassed her online for the period above. You can see the tweets in the link. An excerpt:
• Sims blogged about it, apologizing for his past behavior:
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.
• D’Orazio expanded in a blog post.
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.
• MEANWHILE…social media is beginning build up steam like a pressure cooker that’s about to blow. Up until this point, none of the GGate association had been publicly made.
• Yesterday afternoon Janelle Asselin and Andrew Wheeler, the co-editors of Comics Alliance, released a statement, that, while clearly stating that the Sims cyberbullying and harassment was wrong, they felt that Sims had evolved as a human being and he was being targeted by GGaters:
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.
• Later in the day Sims wrote a longer blog post at CA, expressing more remorse:
Between 2007 and 2010, I harassed and bullied Valerie D’Orazio online. It’s recently become a topic of discussion, and to the people who weren’t following me then, I know this is at best disappointing, and that I’ve rightfully lost a lot of the respect I’ve built up in the years since. I don’t blame you, and I accept that judgment. To paraphrase a friend of mine, this isn’t about whether I did it (I did) or whether any part of it was remotely okay (it wasn’t), but talking about anything else right now would be disrespectful and disingenuous. Believe it or not, this is something I care about quite a bit, so this week’s question is one that I’ve had to ask myself: What do you do when you realize you’re part of the problem?
OK YOU GOT ALL THAT? that was the short version.
And now the conflict began. Because we all hate harassment and bullying and threats and bad online behavior. But what do you do when it’s from a FRIEND OF YOURS?
Rachel Edidin, a writer and editor, and Laura Hudson, the founding EIC of Comics Alliance, who, I believe, hired Sims in the first place, had their own responses. Edidin is a close friend of Sims’, and learning your friend was (to put it mildly) a total jerk is hard:
So: Chris Sims is one of my best and closest friends, someone I trust implicitly. Chris Sims is also a person who has done some really shitty things that have resulted in some very real and serious harm. I think he’s done a really good job of owning that today; and I think he should have done it much sooner; and I understand why he didn’t; and—at least for me—none of those things cancel each other out. I would absolutely not tell anyone for whom what Chris did was a moral or personal event horizon that they were wrong. That’s a really personal call—for you, and for me.
I don’t know what I’d have to say about this if I weren’t friends with Chris; because I am, and there’s no question that’s influencing the terms in which I am thinking about it.
I will say: my stance in the past has been that harassment is never okay; that public accountability is important; that the loss of nuance is incredibly dangerous and benefits nobody; that significant cultural sea change is less dependent on people not fucking up than on people owning their shit, learning from their mistakes, and working to do better. I stand by those positions.
And I will add: Anyone whose response to this whole thing is to be shitty to Val can go straight to hell.
Hudson stepped in to address online comments about how adding the whole GGate element to the apology was a red herring which deflected attention from the damage done to D’Orazio.
But it’s also hard for me to ignore that this conversation is happening in large part because of an anti-progressive campaign. Valerie has every right to come forward and speak about her experiences, but it’s also true that the conversation was initially sparked by the skeleton digging of people seeking to discredit ComicsAlliance as a progressive site. This is particularly upsetting for me, not only because I created ComicsAlliance, but because I’ve spent the better part of the last year living in fear of these exact sorts of people, receiving death threats from them, and watching them try to destroy my friends and colleagues in games. Some people have expressed that this context should not be mentioned—that doing so is merely a way of mitigating or excusing Chris’s behavior. I disagree. Understanding it or acknowledging it in no way makes Chris less accountable. We can and should have accountability, and I’m glad that we’re seeing that. But I don’t believe holding people accountable has to be mutually exclusive with nuance, or that offering context is necessarily a way of making excuses. I think that it is both possible and important to do both.
So as you see, we now have, by some counts, THREE victims here. D’Orazio, Sims AND Comics Alliance.
But HOW? WHY????? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? How was a man allowed to bully a woman in public without anyone caring until now? I mean that happens all the time, but why THIS time?
To understand this, we must return to the Last Days of the Glory Days of Blogging. 2008. Our great nation was wondering if a woman or a black man would be the next president of the US and getting to know a spunky Alaskan governor named Sarah Palin along the way; movie fans thrilled to The Dark Knight even as they mourned Heath Ledger; and comics fans were reeling from Final Crisis! What a time it was. And Blogging, emerging about five years earlier with free, effective platforms like Blogger and Live Journal, was the future of journalism. The comics blogosphere was a lively place, as fans and readers became major voices commenting on the industry, while a few “pros,” such as myself, Tom Spurgeon and Dirk Deppey, were the morning newspaper of the industry, It was also a world where social media was just taking off. People still communicated via message boards, email and blog comments. although all of that would come to an end very soon.
From the early days of blogging in 2002-on it was an easy time to make a name for yourself as a blogger in a community that loved to comment on itself. A strong personality and writing skill went a long way, and people who had just been buying their comics every Wednesday were now independent industry pundits. I actually don’t know when Sims started his site—I never read it, and I’ve never had much interest in his writing because I stopped reading superhero comics before most of the people I’ve quoted in this piece were born. 90s Marvel nostalgia doesn’t hold much interest for me…but it does for a LOT of other people, and Sims’ evident passion knowledge and great sense of humor gained him quite a following.
But one of the weirder sides of blogging in its Golden Age was the whole blogging feud thing. At one point I made up a pretend feud with USA Today’s comics blogger Whitney Matheson, comparing her to the baby with one eyebrow on The Simpsons, Maggie’s mortal enemy. It was a one sided affair (the Beat could never touch McPaper) and after we both appeared on a panel at SPX together it all became a joke. Whitney is one of the nicest sweetest people I’ve EVER met, and the idea of any kind of feud was just stupid.
I have no idea exactly why Sims started his feud with Val. I can sort of guess though. I have to throw in here that I know Val very well, as opposed to having barely interacted with Sims. Val and I worked together at DC, we live in the same town, we’ve had lunch, we’ve been out drinking, and we’ve given each other support at various times…and had some major disagreements as well. We’re not best buds, but I’ve always considered her one of the smartest writers about comics, even when I don’t agree with her, and one of the most naturally talented bloggers in the whole space.
This was not a feeling universally shared. To be fair, Val is not shy about picking her own battles. I believe she had her own blog feud with Johanna Draper Carlson, and she was especially unpopular with Ragnell and Kalinara, two writers who ran a link blog called When Fangirls Attack that is very much the Paleozoic version of today’s geek girl media web. You can read all about it here and here, with Chris Sims actually showing up in the comments to take pot shots. I was going to except these but it’s like reading a transcript of a family gathering with so much calling back and self referencing. But, all that said, I can see why people took umbrage: Val has strong opinions, which although backed up by a lengthy career in the industry, stood out like a sore thumb. She was also always talking about her own victimization, and some people disliked that. TBH, I don’t remember any of the incidents that incited the WFA dislike, but I don’t actually even remember the Sims feud either.
I was a lot more complimentary to D’Orazio in this period, quoting her often because she was eloquent and honest; I’m much more personally interested in how the industry works than in comics nostalgia, but that’s me. Here’s what she wrote about when Diane Nelson took over as head of DC:
You can only place my reaction in context of the massive amount of misogyny I’ve witnessed or heard reported about in selected sectors of DC Comics during the time I’ve worked there. During those four years, I had seen strong women again and again be censured, criticized, grumbled about, and disparaged. I’ve watched my department be emptied out of females one-by-one. I was warned on literally the first day I worked there by two different people to watch my back because I was a woman and not to make any waves. I was told by one boss that females just didn’t have the natural aptitude to edit comic books. I am absolutely thrilled that the buck now stops with a woman at DC Comics. I am overjoyed – nay, almost orgasmic – that certain men will now have to regard Diane Nelson as their boss. It is karma working on the most basic level. Let these men explain to Nelson, who has worked with one of the most famous female fantasy writers in the entire world, how women don’t have the natural aptitude to edit and create comic books. Let these men explain to her the employment and dismissal history of female editors in the DCU over the last ten years. Let these men explain to her the plot of Final Crisis – I dare them. The other shoe has finally dropped. Expect a lot of change before SDCC 2010.
While I’m not sure this post was actually prophetic, it was certainly arguable and candid. But yeah, Val wasn’t out to make friends and she wasn’t popular in the blogosphere.
Sims has removed a lot of posts about D’Orazio I guess but this one survives:
And then there’s Valerie D’Orazio. The fact that I don’t personally care for D’Orazio is one of the ISB’s worst-kept secrets–it was the entire joke behind her interviewing me about Solomon Stone last year–but if Marvel wants to hire loudmouthed comics bloggers to write their comics, that can only be a good thing for me, so good on her for getting the work. But even so, the antipathy’s there, and along with the fact that there’s nothing to keep me from swallowing my own tongue and dying when the inevitable rage-induced aneurysm hit, it’s one of the reasons that I’m opting out of reviewing Punisher Max: Butterfly this week, as you can never really trust someone with an axe to grind. With the Girl Comics story, however, the problem is one that I think I can be a little more objective about.
Ah yes, Punisher Max Butterfly.
Now imagine that you have had a, by any objective standard, difficult tenure at a comics publisher and you leave to follow a writing career. Breaking in to comics writing is never easy and when you’re a woman and a LOUDMOUHED woman it’s almost impossible. But imagine you do it and you have a book come out that may be flawed but it’s your first book and who knows where its going.
And now imagine that a bunch of people on the internet don’t like you and go out of their way to say that this is the worst comic ever made, and personally belittle your efforts any way they can.
Yes, that would be a bummer alright. Because as hard as it is to break into comics writing, it’s even harder to get that second gig when you are a lightning rod for controversy (some of it because you like to stand outside in thunder storms holding a lightning rod, to be sure.)
And imagine that five years later your main accuser has his OWN debut for the SAME publisher announced. How would you feel now? Probably pretty angry. Luckily, now we have twitter and social media to play out every sentence blow by blow.
The D’Orazio/Sims feud wouldn’t have lasted long in a world with twitter…it would have burnt out pretty quick under the weight of lookie loos and people hazarding an opinion. But in the Paleozoic, it could flourish with little or no blowback.
Now, no one has tried to let Sims off the hook in any of this. Asselin, Wheeler, Hudson, Edidin and Sims himself acknowledge just how horrible, petty and damaging his behavior was. And now there are GGate psychopaths waiting in the wings to take it to a new level. Don’t get me wrong. I feel really bad for the Comics Alliance crew, past and present. They’ve come out as one of the strongest voices for a new, inclusive comics industry, one without all the baggage and inane stereotypes that D’Orazio has been writing about since she left DC. But what do you do when the call is coming from inside the house?
What an exhausting week this has been..how emotionally exhausting this job of comics blogging has become. I’ve always been one to prefer the positive to extending finger pointing, but a whole queue of nice art and happy comics news is just sitting there while I weigh in on Batgirl covers, decade old feuds, Erik Larsen, J. Scott Campbell, Pat Broderick, outrages and tone deaf responses to problems that people just began pointing out.
In an era where healthy, needed whistle blowing and speaking out has become more common, I think everyone has had uncomfortable moments. I’ve seen people who are friends of mine called out for their bad behavior, and it’s tough. When someone has been an abuser or a harasser it doesn’t really matter that they like their dog or are fun at parties. Even pointing out that “not all men” are total assholes is not seen as useful, but rather a smoke screen to avoid examining underlying biases. When I see friends nailed for their bad behavior, I hold my tongue because it was bad behavior. Many times I had even warned them about it in the past (which is what you do for a friend) but they couldn’t or didn’t want to engage in self examination and self improvement. And sometimes you just walk away because it’s hopeless. If we’re living in a zero tolerance world, then it needs to be zero tolerance, as difficult as that may be when people are a mix of good and bad and their actions are equally paradoxical.
In 2008 identity politics wasn’t the driving force it is now, and a bunch of bloggers “feuding” with a woman who writes openly about her abuse and sexual trauma would be identified as harassment and not “a difference of opinion. ” Now, it’s important to note that Ragnell, Kalinara Johanna and maybe even Sims did just disagree with Valerie, because that happens as well, but it could have been identified as gaslighting, tone policing and mansplaining.
I don’t know Chris Sims so I have no idea what his level of remorse is. Based on what his friends are saying, people I do know, I’m guessing it’s pretty high. I’ve been genuinely surprised by how many of my friends have come out and told me that Sims was a role model or inspiration for them. They feel sad and confused, and will probably feel that way for a while. I do know that—and this is just me speaking personally—I think the ongoing and petty nature of Sims’ harassment is a more serious matter than a couple of apologies can cover. It was classic “punching down” before that was even a word. It’s also endemic of the whole idea that online life is not real life, an idea from the beginning of the internet that is totally ludicrous in light of how online is intertwined in our lives. Sims would never have engaged with D’Orazio for that long if she was a real human being to him, and not just a bunch of pixels on a screen.
Anyway this is as long as a San Diego con report now, and I’m not even sure what to say any more. I’m sure there’s already dozens more pundits weighing in, more personal axe grinding, and maybe new outrage from some quarters that will make this look like a baby asleep in its crib. I do know that I would like the punishment to fit the crime, so I’ll leave with my tweet from earlier when I first read all of this:
I’m not an eye for an eye type, but I hope @theisb’s marvel debut gets the same online scrutiny as @ValerieDOrazio’s did. That is all.
— Heidi MacDonald (@Comixace) March 18, 2015
UPDATE: D’Orazio has updated her blog with a response to an anonymous latter than asked her to “take a look in the mirror.”
I’m a 41-year-old gender-fluid comic book writer, editor, and blogger. I endorse an expanded feminism that embraces trans women (along with everyone along the vast gender spectrum) and puts more of an emphasis on women of color. I put my feminism into practice in the comics community not just by writing about various issues, but giving women actual paying jobs. I work with female clients to bring their ideas into comic book form, and volunteer my time mentoring female writers and artists who want to break into the business.
I support the greater representation of people—and characters—of color within the comics industry. I support fair wages for people who work in the industry, and making sure older industry veterans continue to get jobs. I also support the greater inclusion of LGBTQ people both in the comics industry and within the comics they produce—particularly the transgender community, who I feel are under-represented and occasionally misrepresented throughout pop-culture in general.
If you think that my gender identification, aesthetics, etc. makes me not “qualify” as a “real victim” (oy) of misogyny…if you seek to rob me of my personal narrative because I don’t fit your image of what a good feminist should be or act or say…if you categorically deny I have had the experiences I have had…please take me off your mailing list. UNSUBSCRIBE.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.