[adrotate group="10"]

Thought Bubble, one of the UK’s leading comics shows, has announced that Frank Miller will no longer be a guest at this year’s show. The news comes after a two-day period of outcry on social media following ShortBox publisher Zainab Akhtar‘s own statement that the festival had failed to address her concerns regarding Miller’s past Islamophobic work, and Akhtar’s subsequent withdrawal of support from the show.

Here is a rough timeline of what happened:

On June 2, Thought Bubble announced its second guest line up which featured Frank Miller. At the time, the news seemed to have either been positively received or passed without much notice on social media.

Miller, whose work includes seminal books like The Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil: Born Again, also has a history of Islamophobic themes in his work. His 2011 graphic novel Holy Terror has been described as “a screed against Islam, completely uninterested in any nuance or empathy toward 1.2 billion people he conflates with a few murderous conspiracy theorists.” While never outright apologizing for Holy Terror, Miller has since expressed regret over producing the book, which he has said is representative, like all of his work, of “what [he was] going through.”

Following Thought Bubble’s announcement of Miller as a guest, it appears some other exhibitors, including Akhtar, immediately issued private complaints and reservations to festival organizers about having Miller as a guest, citing his past Islamophobic work and seeing his presence as inviting a racist element into the safe and inclusive space that Thought Bubble has vocally claimed itself to be.

Allegedly a process of discussion and consideration of the complaints took place but, on Monday July 27, Thought Bubble chose to side with keeping Frank Miller – likely assuming any controversy would blow over (as none occurred publicly at the initial announcement or up until this point) and that the big ticket draw of Miller would provide a vital financial lifeline after the pandemic lockdowns and cancellations last year. In response, Akhtar took to Twitter to announce her withdrawal from and boycott of Thought Bubble.

Akhtar’s statement reads:

Hello everyone,

I am sorry to inform you that ShortBox and I will no longer be attending Thought Bubble festival this November. I was invited as a guest in 2020 which rolled over to this year. I have been excited to attend, represent my authors, and share our books with readers after almost 2 years of no conventions. However, as a proud Muslim woman, I cannot in good conscience attend a festival that deems it appropriate to invite and platform Frank Miller, a person who is responsible for the propagation of abhorrent anti-Muslim hate, particularly via his work. Anti-Muslim bigotry is repugnant and condemnable yet has become so deeply rooted, so widely accepted in society that it is not even given a cursory consideration, as evidenced once again in this situation. I cannot comprehend how time and time again, festivals and communities within comics espouse values regarding inclusivity, diversity, ‘comics being for everyone’, zero tolerance of hate, but all that lip-service evaporates when they are asked to enact those same values.

The tweet accompanying the statement clarifies that Akhtar raised the issue with Thought Bubble in June: “After discussions, I was assured action would be taken. This week it’s been communicated to me that I am the acceptable loss: repercussions to my career/income over repercussions to theirs.”

In the hours following Akhtar’s statement, fans, friends and creators rallied in support of the publisher, and the belated controversy of Miller crystallised as ‘Festival Chooses Racist Islamophobe Over Muslim Woman Of Color.’

With threats of more boycotts and withdrawals from the show, Thought Bubble issued a statement yesterday, July 28, announcing the withdrawal of Miller’s invitation, and the day seemed full of damage control – with the Thought Bubble social media account on Twitter and Facebook working in overdrive.

In a tweet a few hours later, festival organizer Chloe Green explained that the online backlash following Akhtar’s announcement had given the festival the proof they needed to justify withdrawing Miller’s invite (Green has since made her Twitter account private). As Akhtar put it, “I was used to do TB’s dirty work for them, and as an acceptable sacrifice in order for them to garner and provide ‘proof’ to Miller’s team and extract themselves from the situation.”

Akhtar also said she was subjected to racist trolling and attack:

Criticism of the show and support of Akhtar continued throughout the day.

https://twitter.com/bethatintervals/status/1420321396698357761

thought bubble

The outpouring of support for Akhtar has had at least one positive outcome for the publisher: the Kickstarter for the final ShortBox has surged to over 1,000 backers. Still, it’s pretty disappointing to see a previously well-respected festival like Thought Bubble basically throw one of its biggest supporters to the wolves rather than properly address and take responsibility for an ill-considered decision.

[adrotate group="10"]

3 COMMENTS

  1. Frank Miller is one of the best comics artists and writers to ever grace the medium. The show sounds like a snooze without this living legend.

  2. Akhtar has form with these twitter storms. First The Lakes comic con (she felt the whole town of Kendall was racist), then The Lakes comic con again the next year (not enough non-white creators and the organisers were apparently racists), then a book (that no on had read) by Dave McKean was racist and she stopped it getting published, and now Thought Bubble. Same every time – whips up her army of zine-makers on twitter, massive pile on, all nuance and reason is lost, and finally the ritual twitter apology (that no one then accepts anyway). It’s almost like some people love being offended and the subsequent public power play and publicity.
    You’re publishing tweets from only one side of the argument, because anyone with any sense in comics wouldn’t touch this toxicity with a 10ft pole. What next – we demand all comic shops remove all Frank Miller books to make their shops ‘safe spaces’?

  3. This isn’t a news report, it’s an opinion piece. If you were truly interested in covering this as news you would have presented both sides of the argument.

Comments are closed.