The comics industry is currently having another #MeToo movement. Cameron Stewart, Warren Ellis, Brendan Wright and Jason Latour have all been named by people in the comics industry across the last week, which mirrors a similar sweep of discussions brought up two years ago which mentioned Nathan Edmondson, Lucas Siegel and Scott Allie. You can find reporting on all of them through the various links I’ve attached, but in addition to the conversation about men who are potentially dangerous, several women have also spoken up about incidents of casual – almost innocuous – instances of toxic masculinity within the industry they tried to work in. And the stories all relate to the way publishers run their business.

Typically we hear the names of specific people in the industry, whom the industry can put on their twitter blocklist and move on happily, feeling they’ve done something great. They share a pledge, and the issue is resolved. But the stories told over the last few days showcase how the publishers themselves underthink and undermanage when they’re not working with men… and how that affects marginalised people in the industry. The mismanagement and lack of perspective within comics publishing itself is pushing people out of comics in myriad ways each day; ways that men don’t even consider at the time. It’s not just about empty stairs that women have to step over carefully to progress – it’s the fact that their bosses are adding extra steps which only men are able to tread on. It’s easier for men than for women.

Last night on Twitter Mairghread Scott – writer for Transformers and Batgirl, amongst many others – posted something simple:

Presumably this is in reference to the Writer’s Summit DC held in August 2018, which was later referenced in DC Nation #3.

Summits are a regular feature in the major comics industry, with publishers like Marvel, DC, Lion Forge and Valiant all setting dates when they fly their writers and editors into a single room and plan out their future comics – what will the long-term narratives be, what’s the branding, what’s the angle, that sort of thing. Most importantly for creators: summits are also about what new stories can they pitch. It’s a workshop for everybody in the room, and there are countless stories of writers speaking up during a conversation and getting a paid gig on a new series as a result.

The issue is that women and marginalised people don’t get to be in the room as much as the men do, and have to compromise if they do get offered it. At the time Scott started on Batgirl, the Batman-related books around this time (between August/September 2018) were:

  • Batman: Damned by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo (an out of continuity “Black Label” comic)
  • Batgirl by Mairghread Scott and Paul Pelletier
  • Batman by Tom King, Matt Wagner and Tony S. Daniel
  • Batman Beyond by Dan Jurgens and Will Conrad
  • Batman: Kings of Fear by Scott Peterson and Kelley Jones
  • Catwoman by Joelle Jones
  • Detective Comics by James Robinson and Stephen Segovia
  • Harley Quinn by Sam Humphries and Alisson Borges
  • Nightwing by Benjamin Percy and Amancay Nahuelpan
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws by Scott Lobdell and Pete Woods

So hypothetically Batman, Catwoman, Batgirl, Detective Comics, Nightwing, Red Hood and Harley Quinn are the seven titles there which share a continuity and would be looked at as ongoing projects which would require planning. The sort of planning that a summit would offer!

The first thing you can see is that there are two female writers there: Joelle Jones and Mairghread Scott. That’s not many, and they’re on the two comics which feature female characters in the lead.  Their comics are already considered “satellite titles” which have to react to whatever happens in the main books for the line – at the time that’d be Batman. It doesn’t reflect on quality of work to be on a satellite title by any means, and in fact usually those are the better books. But they’re also the reactive books: Tom King gets eighty issues to tell whatever story he wants to tell, with minimal need to accommodate other stories or get tied up in a crossover. On the other hand, Batgirl has to tie in to every crossover story, and every rebrand. So Scott’s series doesn’t tell any other book what to do, but has to actively make sure it falls in line with what everyone else is doing.

So it’s arguably incredibly important that she gets advance notice on what’s happening next, and a voice in the room where people decide the next big storylines and what it means for each character. As you can see from Scott’s tweet, though, women aren’t often in the room where it happens. That suggests a number of things. For one thing, it says that the writer of Batgirl has no say over the long-term future of the character she’s currently writing, and will get told what to do by her editors – on the suggestion of all her fellow writers of the time. Assuming the writer of Detective Comics was invited to the summit, he would have more say over the long-term future of Batgirl than the actual ongoing Batgirl writer… at the time when she was just starting on the series. Both the character and the series was out of her control from the very start.

It also means that DC didn’t invite one of their two female Bat-writers at the time. It seems from interviews that Jones was there, discussing giving Catwoman a more permanent origin story. Benjamin Percy was there, Scott Lobdell was there, and Tom King was there too. And nobody noticed that there was an empty chair at their table. This is an issue. The men with power aren’t inviting women like Mairghread Scott to the table she’s earned a place at, and her colleagues aren’t speaking up about that empty chair. The future of Batgirl is being brought to the table, and Scott will find out when she gets her next round of editorial notes to say that her story’s being scrapped in favour of a new crossover.

It’s frustrating that in the past five years women have only reached a position where they can sometimes get to write the female characters; it’s even more infuriating that they often can’t even get into the room where people are deciding what those female characters will get to do. It seems to be that female voices are kept out of the ongoing narrative – worse, that even when they have the appearance of telling a narrative, it’s actually the narrative of a random different bloke who was in the writers summit a few months previously. What annoys me most is that nobody seemed to think “hey, we have seven ongoing Batman comics right now, and one of them isn’t being represented in the room.” Nobody said “where is Mairghread?”

It reminds me of another story which Alex de Campi told in 2017, when she was part of Lion Forge’s “Catalyst Prime” event. In this case she was actually invited to the summit, but the problem was that no consideration was given to her personal situation: as a single mother, she does not have the ability to fly cross-country for a writing summit. She has, y’know, childcare to consider. She addressed it in a twitter thread.

The issue in comics isn’t just active prejudice and exclusion, like when editors stopped women from working with Eddie Berganza because he’d harrass them. The problem is also casual, basic exclusion. Men dominate the editorial offices and men… aren’t the best at considering other perspectives. They can’t see a situation where somebody could be a single mother, because it’s never happened to them before, because they’ve never hired a single mother before. de Campi was at least offered a seat at the table – but Lion Forge didn’t understand how that wasn’t enough. Support isn’t about just giving stuff to people they can’t use and then screaming “we’re allies!” high into the night sky, despite what Elon Musk might think. You have to offer the correct thing to the correct person, and try to think through what actually helps them in a situation.

Yesterday editor Christine Dinh spoke about her first time working in comics publishing, where she was brought to a convention by the publisher – and asked to share a room with five other men. It’s another example of the male-focused mindset, where men think they can ask anybody to do the exact same things they would do, without considering how the world is different for marginalised people. A male editor being asked to share a room with other men is a very different thing to a female editor being asked the same – but her perspective wasn’t even considered. If a man can do it, that’s The Standard.

Publishers shouldn’t just be considering men to join their editorial teams; to run their publishers. At the same time, they have to remember that the women they’ve hired, the people of colour they’ve hired, the people with disabilities they’ve hired, the trans people they’ve hired? They aren’t exactly the same as the men they’ve constantly endlessly hired in the past. They have to be treated with the respect that their personal status and identity should grant them: and their perspective needs to be considered. Men simply aren’t seeing women in the comics industry. They have been kept out of the business for years, and even now as they’ve started to get more work and ownership of comics, the old attitudes still remain. It’s why nobody notices the missing writer at the summit. It’s why nobody thinks “we should book two hotel rooms this year”.

There was a photo which went viral a few years ago at the Marvel Retreat, where there were only two women sat round the table. One was editor Sana Amanat, and the other was G. Willow Wilson. Wilson got a seat at the table because she was a Marvel-exclusive writer at the time. That was also the argument used: “only exclusive writers got to go!” and that was why, say, Kelly Sue DeConnick wasn’t there. Doesn’t that just deepen the point though? If Marvel only have one woman at their summit because they only hired one Marvel-Exclusive female writer, then that’s still Marvel’s decision to ignore marginalised voices that could sit at the table and add their voice. This is why they don’t publish photos of their summits like they used to. It’s why Image Expo was criticised so heavily when it started. The internet notices those empty spaces where marginalised people should be, but the publishers don’t.

It’s a perspective which the men in power at comics publishers need to see through. Being “anti-sexist” and sharing a pledge is, well, it’s something, I guess. But it’s hugely important for the people in charge to be able to actually see who is and who isn’t in the room. Who is sat at the table, and where the empty chairs are. How many women have quit the industry not just because of active and aggressive abuse or harassment – how many quit because they were simply being ignored and undermined on a daily basis? It’s the men at the top who have to be more accountable, and have to take a wider, more empathetic and understanding view. Companies have to offer marginalised people the right resources; not just the resources they offered the white guys they’ve been hiring since 1991.

It’s not “heartbreaking” to see these stories crop up now, as part of the wider conversation being had about just how toxic men in the comics industry are. It’s shite. This August DC have 12 Batman-related comics on their solicitations. Just like in 2018, though, there are still only two women writing those comics. There is one change though: one of them now has a male co-writer.

When do women get a seat at the table on their terms, rather than on the terms their male bosses allocate to them?