This isn’t about comics. It involves two comics professionals, who at the time of the events in question were two comics bloggers, but it isn’t about comics. Not really. What I want to consider is the subject of progress, progressivism, and who we choose to reach out to for assistance.
As you might have heard if you follow inside baseball in the comics world, over the last few days an old incident was brought back to light, involving the harrassment of Valerie D’Orazio by a man who is now an up-and-coming comics writer, newly hired as cowriter on an X-Men book. Not only did this writer harrass D’Orazio, he stood by while his sizable audience took this harrassment as encouragment to follow suit, leaving D’Orazio with long-lasting PTSD and health issues. In the intervening years, D’Orazio abandoned writing about and for comics, unable to continue in the face of the relentless bullying. The man’s career, by contrast, thrived and expanded to encompass regular paid writing about comics, a few original comics of his own, and now a gig at Marvel.
I have no interest either in defending or further excoriating the man. I don’t know him, but I’ve been a longtime reader of his work, and I own a signed copy of the graphic novel he published last year through Image Studios. He’ll be fine. Marvel is not going to cancel X-Men ’92 or remove him from the book as a result of any of this, his editors at Comics Alliance have already expressed their public support of him in a statement, and he’s got a fanbase perfectly willing to lend him their support.
For a while today, I was torn about being part of that fanbase. A common thread you’ll see in his defense is the belief that it’s important to forgive people who have outgrown their sordid pasts (which by all accounts he have) and seek to make amends (which he, sort of, has). By and large I agree with these sentiments. But the more I saw of them, the more I noticed who was primarily espousing this message, and began to sense an undercurrent of anxiety in it. Many of them–of us–seem to be preaching the virtues of forgiveness with one eye toward the closet door shut against our own skeletons.
I saw much less of what would seem to me to be a vastly more important thread of conversation about this event: how was Valerie D’Orazio wronged, in what way can recompense be made, and how can we correct our behavior to ensure it doesn’t happen again? We all think of ourselves as good allies, but whose allies do we want to be? And in what way? Just because in our conversations Valerie D’Orazio is spoken of as the object of a man’s harrassment rather than his desire does not mean we are not objectifying her.
Valerie D’Orazio is a person. We’ll never know what she might have done with the last seven years in comics, what she might have contributed, what mark she might have made on the industry. That time is gone now. Unlike the man, she did not have the kind of support network that let her weather that storm–we left her alone to face pointless retribution for imaginary sins. But she survives still, and still writes, though the jury is out on whether she will be fine, without the support of a major comics publisher, comics news site, and legion of adoring fans. If you would like to be there for her–if you would like to be a progressive and an ally in deed as well as in word–you can still listen to her, read her work, support her, or even hire her. You can still be her ally if you want. She could use a few.