I woke up this morning with a bug in my ear about the Taki Soma court case, and the newly-founded Friends of Lulu Empowerment Fund. I've got mixed feelings about the whole thing, and haven't spoken out yet because I was a) waiting for further information, and b) didn't want to risk hurting the feelings of some close friends because of my opinions. Well, I've decided to speak my mind anyway, and hope the friends-in-question still love me enough to be my friends when I'm done.
Let me first start out by saying, perhaps not as eloquently as Heidi MacDonald, that what happened to Taki was incredibly wrong and that she has amazing courage for standing up for herself, and taking on what many perceive to be an indestructable, blacklisting old-boys club at the risk of her own career. Go Taki! I am behind you, and your legal actions, one hundred percent.
That having been said, I do have quite a large problem with the way the incident was originally reported. In the initial article, Ronee Garcia Bourgeois was vague enough with her description of the accused that another man in the comics industry was starting to get eyeballed for the crime. That's not Taki's fault, that's terrible reporting. In fact, based on the description, I too fingered the wrong man, and was incensed that the charity I'd been supporting all this time was being run by a lech. Then my husband read the article, and said, wait, that's not Mr. X___, she's talking about Mr. Y___. Now, I agree wholeheartedly with Ronee's well-intentioned desire to do something about the situation, but the manner in which this information was disseminated has reportedly driven an innocent bystander to take legal action to defend his good name and the honor of the charity he heads. This is the absolute last thing that we need in an already fragmented, faction-and-label-obsessed industry.
In Ronee's defense, she did break this story wide open and get people talking. She also did a couple of follow-up columns that brought together other female creators who have suffered mightily over the years from gender discrimination. She's done a lot of good in her reporting, and that's why it stings that there's extra baggage attached to it.
I also have to say here that I am a little leery of the new Empowerment Fund. Lisa Jonte has written a very concise entry that pretty much sums up my feelings, and fellow Tart Katherine Keller has also spoken out about her doubts.
See, here's where I cross the line into potential misunderstandings with my friends. I don't agree one hundred percent with the direction of Friends of Lulu, and the idea of them having a fund, while excellent in intent, will be terribly tricky at best, and disastrous for them at worst. In the past, Friends of Lulu was rumored to mismanage their funds. It's been quite a while since these allegations, and the current board has nothing to do with the earlier activities, but the stigma still exists. At the moment, comics people are falling over themselves to donate money, and are not only being generous in their own right, but are encouraging their friends to do the same. This is excellent news, and is a positive indicator of the comics industry as a whole, but who's going to administrate these funds? Who's going to make the call on which court cases qualify and which ones don't? Saying "Oh, we'll hammer out those details later" is not an acceptable answer at this point; rampant speculation over Lulu's use of these funds will only hinder their fundraising.
What I certainly hope will happen is that FoL will be careful and cautious in how they create this fund, and will seek legal counsel and work out all the necessary details in the gathering and distribution of monies. If they succeed, the fund will be of tremendous benefit to the entire comics community, men and women alike. Failure to do so could mean hard feelings at the least, and the end of FoL at the worst.
The qualms I have about Lulu's direction stem from certain ways they're carrying out their mission. Ideally, they exist to make comics available to everyone. This is laudable, and this I agree with completely. However, their recent anthology was called "Broad Appeal", and contains 100% female creators. Recently, a similar anthology, again containing 100% female creators, was published by Dark Horse under the title "Sexy Chix" and there was quite a bit of ballyhoo about the sexism inherent in the title. Which title is sexist, and which is satire?
I am of the opinion that if we're going to break down the "Old Boys' Club" stereotype of comics, then herding female creators into their own "Girls' Club" is not the answer, and serves, in large part, to underscore the gap between the two rather than bridge it. In the most recent FOL newsletter, I saw a call for entries for the next anthology, which is to be a theme of women's perspectives of traditionally male topics. I dunno. I just see that as, forgive me, broadening the differences, rather than looking at our similarities. I'd rather see something more in the spirit of the new Flight Anthologies, where male and female creators come together under one ungendered title to really showcase their talents. I'm not even saying the topic has to be apolitical; have the topic be "bullying", and see what you get: everything from gender discrimination to political discussion to schoolyard antics would be fair play.
In the end, I still have a Lulu membership, because I feel that the organization does more good than harm in the end.
I'm also friends with one of the boardmembers, Katie Merritt, and I happen to think that she and her husband Dan are two of the finest people breathing, let alone involved in comics. I've seen Katie in action at several shows, and have travelled with her and Dan, and I know that she's straight-up about making comics available to everyone while still fighting for more attention to gender issues. She's often the face of the organization, at least here in the midwest, and I can totally get behind her and the cause she represents.
And it's not just FoL -- Sequential Tart and Girlamatic also fall under this heading sometimes. Neither is exclusively female in their authorship or readership, but I'd like to see them both push for more non-gender-centric interaction. I've made some of my absolute best friends through SequentialTart, and some of the best webcomics out there are on Girlamatic, and I want to continue to see each grow and evolve over time.
I also find it pretty sad that we still keep needing to have this sort of discussion, and I'm not the only one who feels this way. This is not to say that the mainstream’s a waste, nor that every reader of mainstream books is a grabby lech; neither of these is remotely true. However, when an industry doesn’t have any real inclination towards change, and has an abusive minority that sometimes obscures the integrity of the larger whole, that doesn’t generate overwhelming encouragement for women to make comics, nor does it encourage fresh female readership. This ouroborean cycle keeps women out, if not by intent, then by practice.
I think the only real answer to this kind of public harassment is to broadcast its unnacceptability as loudly and as frequently as possible; as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” This requires men to stand up, too. I've been very, very pleased at the majority of the male response to the incident; over on the Engine and the Bendis boards, where Taki is apparrently a regular, the male posters have been overwhelmingly supportive of her, and her decisions. This is good, and this is a good start. To make this behavior unacceptable, we need both men and women to take a stand. If one jerk decides to make an inappropriate move, but is surrounded by other people who aren't afraid to speak up, chances are good he won't get too far.
Be brave. Be like Taki. Stand up and be counted among those who will not accept this kind of behavior. Moreover, demand better of your friends and coworkers. Don't wait for someone else to say it's not okay. Do it for your sisters, your girlfriends, your wives. Do it for your own self-respect.
And ladies? Make independent comics. Lots of them. Make stupendously good comics, so good that no one can argue with their quality. You don’t need a lot of flashy gimmicks or marketing; most readers of independent comics are just as likely to accept a female-created comic as they are a male-created comic (or a transgender-created comic, but that’s a rant for another day).
EDIT: Link to Lea's site removed at her request. Apologies for any misunderstandings. Will do better fact-checking next time.