Taki Soma

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.

16 Comments

  1. Just as a clarification, when speculating (with no hard evidence) I said I THOUGHT it might be Mr. Y, but as stated, I have NO EVIDENCE to this effect, and that’s where the trouble starts. I think that everyone who has been following this case had an idea pinging around in their head for a suspect, but committing it to print is the wrong way to proceed for all parties.

    In a massively un-enlightened move, I posted on the Tart boards with an inferrence about a suspect and was quickly slapped with a “if you know something, go to the police, if not shut up” response, which was exactly what needed to happen to me.

    This is a tricky situation, mostly because everyone concerned with helping someone like Taki wants to help RIGHT NOW, and not getting the facts straight or rushing something that needs to be set up properly does more harm than good.

    Justice takes time, and clumsy justice is vigilante justice, like villagers chasing monsters with pitchforks. As much as it pains us, we’ve got to trust in the machinery of justice to find the right way, and be ready when it is time for our help, our money, our support. They don’t always occur at the same time, and timing is everything in this procedure.

  2. So I know absolutely nothing about the Taki Soma case, but I just wanted to second Jane’s opinion on fighting the “Old Boys’ Club” by starting up a “New Girls Club.”

    Does it do any good? I guess it showcases female creators and shows that there are indeed female creators out there, which is a good thing. But as Jane says, it widens the gap between female creators (or at least the female creators who take part in the New Girls Club) and Everybody Else.

    If you think the “Broad Appeal” anthology was good in that it only included female creators, ask yourself this: “How would I feel about an anthology called ‘No Girls Allowed’ ” or something similar, which, by design, excluded female creators?

    Of course, the comeback to this is probably going to be “There is no need for any all-male collections, because males already dominate the industry.” This may be true. But does that make it right to be similarly exclusionary when trying to promote good new creators who happen to be women?

    Seems to me, the right thing to do is to promote good new creators, regardless of their sex.

    How about an anthology of creators of both sexes where the reader is meant to guess which creator (or creative team) goes with which story, with the answers at the back of the book? That might get people thinking.

    Cheers,

    Jeff B.

  3. I got sent here by a fellow Tart.

    Beautifully written piece.

    “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” — I’ll have to quote this.

    And hell yes, the only way to deal with this is to stand up and say “no”. And not only no, but HELL NO.

  4. Jane, don’t give the impression I had a problem with Sexy Chix and no problem with Broad Appeal. By linking to me with Sexy Chix and GAM (which I started and edited for its first 2.5 years) with Broad Appeal, you give the impression I objected to Chix but not Broad Appeal.

    Moreover, you give the impression I am a hypocrite, editing a website of comics aimed at female readers while objecting to others doing all-female anthologies.

    I said back when “Broad Appeal” was announced I didn’t like the title. I’m afraid I don’t know how far back the archives of the Sequential Tart message board go back, but that is where I said it. I also didn’t like the Cartoon Art Museum of San Fran’s exhibit of women cartoonists title: Broad Humor.

    My problem with Sexy Chix has been well-documented: it was the use of a picture of Gail Simone, a picture I happen to own, that was used because of a lack of clear communication.

    I have NEVER said the title is sexist, which is pretty much the words you put in my mouth, which disappoints me enormously.

    It sure would be nice if you found someone who actually objected to the content and title of Sexy Chix and linked to them instead of me, because you have somehow formed an incorrect idea of my problem with it, and are now sharing that incorrect idea with many others.

  5. I’m not sure Janer, but you *might* have confused Lea’s opinions on Sexy Chix with mine. I never thought the book itself was sexist, but I did think the title was damned stupid. (Even moreso now that I understand an 8-year-old is one of the “sexy chix” on the cover. Ew.)

    Dianna Schutz made some psychobabble attempt at defending the title and that in particular drew my ire: http://arcana-j.livejournal.com/147107.html

  6. Thanks for the fix, Janer.

  7. The columnist who “broke” the story strikes me as a shrill, attention-lover whose excitement level at “uncovering” this was akin to a hyena finding a fresh carcass on the savanna. Terrible journalism, even worse writing.

    On the other hand I’m not at all surprised that a lot of “men” have rode to the alleged victim’s defense on message boards and blogs. I’m sure most are sincere, which is different than saying they are logical or reasoned or particularly ethical. You see I remember encountering a number of can’t-get-laid fanboys years ago on message boards every time I tried to engage a female in the same level of debate in which I argued with other males. Inevitably any number of would-be white knights would ride in with dopey defenses of their damsels in distress, inadvertantly patronizing the very people they were supposedly advocating. This internet malady continues unabated to this day and most women not only tolerate, but encourage it.

    …”taking on what many perceive to be an indestructable, blacklisting old-boys club at the risk of her own career.”

    Believe it or not there are certain females in the industry known for their “blacklisting” tactics too. Often as the result of third-hand gossip rather than actual reason.

    “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.”

    AMEN to that. But I don’t think the choir is listening. And frankly this oft-referenced “Old Boys Club” is mostly dead and buried.

    “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…”

    No really you don’t. You also don’t need “stupendously good” comics, although it’s a nice idea. With Girlamatic, Seqtart, FOL, and god knows how many other stilted “girl power” organizations and anthologies (not to mention the proliferation of shoujo manga), you really don’t need to be that good to get recognition. Being female is often quite good enough.

  8. ‘”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…”‘

    “No really you don’t. You also don’t need “stupendously good” comics, although it’s a nice idea. With Girlamatic, Seqtart, FOL, and god knows how many other stilted “girl power” organizations and anthologies (not to mention the proliferation of shoujo manga), you really don’t need to be that good to get recognition. Being female is often quite good enough.”

    This is a good point, rob, and underscores what I was trying to say with the paragraph you commented on. By striving to make inarguably excellent comics, the best comics they can possibly make, female creators will start to crawl out from under the stigma of “Well, you’re only getting attention because you’re a girl.”

    It’s one I struggle with in my own right — would _Vogelein_ have been as well received if it were done by a male creator? I want, more than anything, for my work to be accepted in its own right, rather than because of my gender, age, sexual preference or any other category.

    Opinions welcome.

  9. “With Girlamatic, Seqtart, FOL, and god knows how many other stilted “girl power” organizations and anthologies (not to mention the proliferation of shoujo manga), you really don’t need to be that good to get recognition. Being female is often quite good enough.”

    With your talk of white knights rushing to the rescue, how exactly is this statement any better? You support Jane by denigrating other women and their work.

    I started GAM so there would be a place specifically for older girls and women to read comics. If there’s something so wrong with that, then why do we have magazines like BUST and BITCH and VENUS? (I leave out magazines like Cosmo, Family Circle and the like because they are vile cookies-and-diets rags.)

    I did NOT choose contributors on the basis of gender. I DID choose contributors on the basis of appeal to the FEMALE gender.

    As for the proliferation of shoujo you take issue with, it’s been in Japan for a half-century, and was revolutionized (as in FEMALES drawing comics for FEMALES) only thirty years ago. I’ll assume you’re not completely ignorant on that point, and guess you mean “popular and getting more so” in the U.S. So what?

    As for the “Old Boy’s Club”, yes, the Old Boys are dying off. In their place are the New Old Boys. There is still a culture of Boy in comics. Anyone who doesn’t think so is blessed not to have run up against it. Just because something doesn’t affect you doesn’t mean it does not exist.

    Janer: women are not being “herded” anywhere. No one MAKES women artists take those offers.

    What is wrong with a gap? Maybe it doesn’t NEED to be bridged?

  10. “With Girlamatic … stilted “girl power” organizations and anthologies … you really don’t need to be that good to get recognition. Being female is often quite good enough.”

    What the Hell, Rob? Since when has GirlAMatic EVER claimed to be a “girl power” organization? GAM is a site designed to fill a need. It’s a site where female readers can be comfortable in the knowledge that while they might see sex, they won’t see tits and ass shots being used as plot replacement. As Lea did before me, I choose new GAMmers based on the work presented, the professionalism of that presentation, the story’s potential and its likely appeal for our readers. A vagina is NOT required and no one is forced to join or kept against their will.

    Tell me, Rob, do you also protest the Lifetime Channel?* Spike TV? BET? Univision? Fuji TV? Each is an entertainment venue aimed at a specific group. Each fills a need, and not one of them forces talent to work for them or viewers to watch. We are talking about DIFFERENCE here, not EQUALITY. While the latter may one day be achieved, the former will never go away. Unless/until we all become identical, sexless drones, there will always be a need for perspective-based entertainment.

    Honestly Rob, if I didn’t know better I’d say your dismissal was sour grapes, because that’s how that reads.

    *I personally loathe the Lifetime Channel, but it has an appeal for many and as such, is a valid venue.

  11. Lea and Lisa:

    I have a great deal of respect for both your work with GirlAMatic, and for the content therein. I also well understand that no one’s making women participate in all-female anthologies.

    However, it is my opinion — and I stated at the beginning of the entry that I knew it would not be a popular opinion — that all-female anthologies are not the best way to advance the integration of women in comics. GirlAMatic is not an all-female anthology, but _Sexy Chix_ and _Broad Appeal_ are.

    I think that collaborative efforts, like GirlAMatic and the _Flight_ anthologies — gender-integrated works with a focus on smart, well-drawn and -written comics — are a far better solution.

    For the record, Paul and I own a copy of both _Sexy Chix_ and _Broad Appeal_, and I find the comics in each anthology to be good overall and well worth my time to read. I object to the titles of both, and the content of neither. I think the intent of each anthology was excellent but I would argue with the execution. At the same time, there are very very few works in my collection — prose, poetry or comics — to which I have no objection or overt criticism. I am very well able to still appreciate a work that I may have issues with. It is only when the issues become greater than my enjoyment that I will discard a work. I still keep my membership in FoL for that reason: my qualms have not been outweighed by the good I feel the organization has accomplished.

    As for the “gap” — again, this is my opinion — I find that the world becomes a better place the more we focus on our similarities than on our differences, hence I believe that the primary focus of a collection should be on the excellence of the work as opposed to the gender (or race or creed or sexuality) of the creators. GirlAMatic, by its very formation, fits this definition.

    It is my view that the more we can focus on the positive aspects of comics, the easier it will be to unravel the negatives. I’m not advocating a Pollyana view of the situation; there are many negative aspects of comics that need to be addressed, and they won’t go away by wishing. However, sometimes the best way to face the worst kind of situation is to step aside from the mess and simply show how good you can be in your own right. The truth will out in the end.

  12. Hey Janer. For the record, I agree with you on several points. I agree that gender *shouldn’t* be a consideration when discussing the quality or validity of a work, or its creator. It should just be about the work. I don’t define myself as a *female* writer or artist after all. Seriously, it’s not like I hold a pencil with my vagina.

    I agree too that the truth will out in the end. I just don’t think we’re as near to that end as some others (perhaps even you) do. Maybe that’s why our approaches to the situation are so different. BAH! It makes me tired.

    Call me! Or tell me when it’s a good time to call you. We can debate (or agree) at our leisure.

  13. (Sorry it took me awhile to get back to this, I was celebrating my gf’s birthday]

    Now then…

    Maybe Girlamatic shouldn’t be included I probably should’ve instead included much of Trina Robbins’ oeuvre, and anything ever touched by A. E. Moore (former Managing Ed. of The Comics Journal at it’s lowest period, and currently responsible for having turned Punk Planet into an intensely dull version of the aforementioned Bitch).

    LJ could you be more specific about my “sour

    gra pes.” Sure I’ll cop to being very bitter that my shoujo manga about a mermaid who becomes a princess was rejected thrice by Girlamatic and once by Broad Appeal, but aside from that…

    Seriously, I’m warming some humble pie in the microwave, so please speak up with more specific assumptions.

    Actually I think many of the most strident (read: nutty) women in comics (peripherally or otherwise) may be expressing their own sour gra pes. In other words: “Why isn’t my magnificent superheroine Wondrous Woman not being feverishly greenlighted by Marvel or DC or at least by Image? Oh, ’cause I’m a girl and they’re obviously all too sexist to recognize my genius.”

    And yet I think it’s safe to say that if you’re female you have a vastly better chance landing an editorial job at Vertigo than if you’re male. I wonder why that is? Perhaps it’s only that you’re more in touch with your inner Wicca, but somehow I doubt it.

    Also Lea, I wasn’t demeaning shoujo at all. I have nothing against it and I’m heartened to see young girls sitting in the aisles of the Graphic Novel section at Barnes & Noble reading comics. I just hope those girls don’t grow up buying into the myth that the only reason no one’s publishing their comics is because of the “old boys club”; and I certainly hope they don’t perpetrate rotten columns on the world, like “What A Girl Wants.” By the way, I just covered a news piece about CLAMP, thank you very much.

    As for the male-dominated power structure: Who has been preventing women from self-publishing or starting their own publishing companies? Apparently the “old boys club” conspiratorially decided to cancel the romance lines that thrived in the 40’s and 50’s, not because of their flagging popularity, but to prevent a new generation of young women from growing up reading comics? Perhaps westerns and horror and other genres were canned for the same reason? Of course superheroes were kept around because, as we all know, girls don’t read superhero comics. We know this to be true because we’ve been told as much for decades. They only feed adolescent male power fantasies…you know even when they feature Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Sure, they were really only there for the boys to oggle; that’s what all those tight, skimpy costumes were about. Well yes, then again Superman’s costume is pretty tight too, eh.

    When I hear of this legendary “old boys network” I think of round, cigar-chomping, studio-types with names like Julius and Buster who are seen after hours with dames on their arms, and give the broads at work at slap on the fanny as they fetch their coffee. Who’s in this network? And considering that I’m a boy (older by the minute) why haven’t I been privy to this renown industry-wide favoritism?

    Lea wrote: “As for the “Old Boy’s Club”, yes, the Old Boys are dying off. In their place are the New Old Boys. There is still a culture of Boy in comics. Anyone who doesn’t think so is blessed not to have run up against it.”

    “New Old Boys” clubs? Do you have any anecdotal evidence of this? Any at all? Or are you referring the kind of boys who don’t trip all over themselves to agree with everything you say?

    Of course by challenging, rebutting and/or ridiculing some of your presumptions I’m sure I must be one of those pesky sexists that you so despise. It’s just so much easier to participate in a “movement” if you dispatch your critics with a broadsword, of course.

    Now if you’ll pardon me I’ve gotta swill some beers, watch some Spike TV, and review the latest issue of Cock of The Walk magazine with Mr. Sim.

  14. Hey. This is Jane, wearing her official Moderator hat, now. I’d rather not have to censor people on my own blog, so I would ask that if this discussion travels any further, it refrain from personal attacks. Rob, please keep it civil. Responders, measure your words. Take the high road, please.

    Jane

  15. Jane,

    Honestly I thought that was an incredibly civil vivisection. But if one can’t speak their peace here then there’s no point in any further response.

    But a wise decision on your part. Better to stay in the good graces of Lea and Lisa and the warm busom of the Old Girls Club.

  16. Rob, I agree with a good deal of what you had to say, but the tone of your previous entry was enough of a turnoff that I elected to wait until my migrane passed before answering, so that I didn’t respond with something I’d regret later.

    I’m not censoring you, I’m not saying you can’t speak your piece, I’m simply trying to advocate civil discourse. And no, I didn’t find your earlier exchange to be particularly civil: you are negating your own very valid points with an unnecessarily hostile tone.

    I would like to address one of your earlier comments directly: “Who has been preventing women from self-publishing or starting their own publishing companies?”

    The “Old Boys” network *was* a reality, and *is* currently passing out of favor. Lea’s got a point in that there’s still a double standard. You have a point in that there’s no official rejection board telling women that they can’t self-publish.

    This is what drove me to create my own self-publishing company, and why I have a hefty “Resources for Self-publishers” section on my site: I believe that the best way for any creator to illustrate their capabilities, regardless of race, creed, color, or orientation, is to create their own company and set their own rules. I’ve done it. Nothing’s stopped me. I constantly encourage others to self-publish, not because I want to found a “Girl’s Self-Publishers Club”, but because I want to found a “Successful Self-Publishers” club.

    Rob, I hope that you can see this point, as well as the point of the earlier essay, and realize that the intent of my entire site is to encourage other self-publishers to bring their work to light on their own terms, regardless of who they are or what they look like.

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