Weeks After Racist Attack, Portland Company Posts Lynching On Comic Cover
Last month, two women were targeted for racist and Islamophobic harassment on Portland’s light rail system, resulting in the stabbing deaths of two of the three men who came to their defense. The attacks themselves also led to a loud public outpouring of support for both the targets and those who intervened.
Twitter today erupted in a storm of criticism over the forthcoming cover to Divided States of Hysteria #4, graphically depicting the lynching and genital mutilation of a Muslim man adorned with a racist term for Pakistanis.
What do these two things have to do with one another?
Image Comics, the comic’s publisher, just this year moved its headquarters to Portland. While the cover is vile and reprehensible in and of itself, you’d think it would have been astonishing for a company based here to approve it given that immediate context. It’s bad enough the cover ever was approved at all, but that even experiencing the hate on display at the Hollywood Transit Center at the end of May wasn’t in-your-face enough for anyone at Image Comics to put a stop to it is almost inconceivable.
There are times when one should be ashamed to work where they work. There had better be a lot of shame in the halls of Image Comics right now.
The local pop culture press isn’t very good at holding the local comics industry to account for things. No one here really covered harassment issues at Dark Horse. I’m not holding my breath that anyone will cover this. I generally suspect it’s too insular and incestuous here, and you just don’t report bad news about your friends.
Even the mainstream print and television press here covered Image Comics moving to Portland, but I doubt this will even hit their radar. It should.
Portland, and Oregon overall, has a long racist history. We’ve plenty of our own homegrown wrongs to address. But if we’re going to celebrate company like Image Comics moving here and becoming part of our local culture, we also have a specific responsibility to hold them to account.
I’m equally curious to see what, if anything, various Image-affiliated creators who also live here in Portland have to say. As pointed out by Chase Magnett on Twitter, there are a number in comics generally who “actively rely on progressive audiences and claim to be leaders”.
One in particular here in Portland, Matt Fraction, has worked with Howard Chaykin on a comic for Image (one that supposedly is meant to return any time now). He left Twitter due to its refusal to deal with abuse. I wonder what he thinks of the abuse his colleague put on the cover of Divided States of Hysteria.
As of midday, comiXology has removed the listing for The Divided States of Hysteria #4. It’s not clear if this was voluntary or at the request of Image Comics. However, the publisher does still list the comic on its own website; make of that what you will.
Come evening, the biggest Image-affiiliated comics professionals in Portland seem to continue their deafening silence.
They probably all said the right things last month, condemning the MAX attack and praising those who intervened. Now that they’re faced with poison in their own personal backyard, poison they perhaps could actually do something about, silence.
Coincidentally, Portland literally spent
todaythis week commemorating the targeted women from the MAX attack and the heroes who stood up to that attack. I hope every silent local comics creator keeps their names out of their mouths.
The morning after, Image released a statement that is more apologia than apology. In essence, they defend their own bravery. Authentically brave people don’t talk like that.
The survivor of the MAX stabbing attacks? He demurred on talk that he was a hero; he asked supporters to stop fundraising for him and instead support the two women who were harassed to begin with. That’s how authentically brave people behave.
Chaykin isn’t brave. His book isn’t brave. Image Comics isn’t brave. Deafening silence from Portland’s bigwig progressive comics professionals isn’t brave.
Over the weekend, a couple of Portland’s better-known progressive comics professionals weighed in, sort of. Greg Rucka posted an (unthreaded) Twitter thread that was thoughtful if not especially condemnatory.
Kelly Sue DeConnick posted a single tweet that said absolutely nothing about the cover itself, or the pain it caused, and mostly just served to as a sort of “we’re being good people and thinking about it” cover for her and Matt Fraction.
Nothing here, apparently, is worth any response from two of Portland’s biggest progressive names in comics beyond private correspondence.
Fraction effectively has no public, online persona these days. Back in last 2014 he quit Twitter and his account remains locked, but that departure post itself has some interesting things to say about race, speech, and abuse.
If you were to witness a white man calling a child of color by a racial epithet to his face, would you consider that child abuse? Verbal abuse? I would. I’d think – I’d absolutely think that. Look maybe that’s just me and my un-nuanced understanding of race and freedom of expression. On twitter, this is just a case of someone (me) finding something they dislike and found offensive. Why? Because it’s been written, not spoken?
We all witnessed the abuse of Chaykin’s cover, but apparently Fraction’s “un-nuanced understanding of racial and freedom of expression” didn’t seem to kick in, at least not in a way that suggested he might be in a position to condemn it. Why? Because it’d been drawn, not written or spoken?
If you were on a subway train and witnessed a man telling a woman he’s planning to assault her – albeit without a day or a time, sure – would you speak up? Would you notify someone in authority on the train? Sure you would. Anyone would. And that man would be kicked off the train at the very least but, on twitter, this kind of threat, this kind of fear mongering, is actually just another case of someone (me) finding something they dislike and may find offensive.
This one is especially galling in light of recent events. As noted here, 2 1/2 years after he wrote this, two people died here in Portland doing the above. Doing the thing Fraction suggests he himself would have done in such a situation. And yet, when faced not with physical danger but simply with the bad behavior of his preferred comics publisher and an occasional creative collaborator, he couldn’t even find it in him to speak up.
Twitter isn’t a country, it’s a service. And as a store gets to decide what products it sells, services decide what is and is not permissible. Twitter finds a lot of horrible things permissible, is what I’m saying, and it doesn’t want you to be able to filter or curate your experience. They want to sell you shit. They sure as hell don’t want to behave as responsible community arbiters. It doesn’t want to protect its users or act with any kind of moral authority lest they be judged for daring to not permit everything under the guise of consequence-free first amendment protection.
Fraction today, with just a little bit of effort, could rewrite this to be about Image Comics. They want to sell you shit. They don’t want to be responsible community arbiters. They don’t want to act with any kind of moral authority lest they be judged for daring to not permit everything under the guise of consequence-free first amendment protection.
I assume Fraction, when he wrote these things about Twitter, would have blasted anyone he viewed as enabling the sorts of antisocial behavior he so disliked when Twitter was the corporate actor.
I guess, then, that he’d be okay if we view him and his silence the same way today?