Marvel and DC need to join the fight against toxic fan culture

Contributed by
Jul 31, 2017

On Friday, Marvel editor Heather Antos (who works on many of the Star Wars titles, including Poe Dameron) posted an adorable picture on Twitter: a selfie with a few other Marvel employees (all ladies!) enjoying some milkshakes.

 

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Comics culture can be very toxic, and it was fully on display in the responses (both public and via DM) that Antos received as a result of this photograph. Twitter users accused Antos of being a “fake geek girl” who hasn’t worked on any comics before (despite the fact that Antos has been in the industry for 4+ years). Others accused Antos and the others in the photograph of “infecting and ruining” Marvel comics and held her singly accountable for Marvel’s plummeting sales.

Antos spoke out about the terrible treatment she’d received as a result of posting the picture. It’s not the first time a woman associated with Marvel has been targeted by trolls; Mockingbird writer Chelsea Cain publicly quit Twitter after a coordinated harassment campaign over the cover of an issue in which the main character is wearing a shirt that says “Ask me about my feminist agenda.”

 

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Those who believe women have a place in comics (and have always had a place in comics) began tweeting Antos pictures of milkshakes as a solidarity movealong with the hashtag #MakeMineMilkshake (a play on Make Mine Marvel, the tagline for the comics company’s soft relaunch coming in August).

 

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Marvel, in a move of support, did the same.

 

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It may seem like a small move, but this show of support from the comics giant’s official Twitter account is a welcome one. Back in October, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso addressed the Chelsea Cain harassment situation via a tweet, expressing support for diverse characters and creators. For some, it wasn’t enough. And for trolls, it was a bridge too far.

Geek media has a harassment and misogyny problem; that much isn’t breaking news. But how companies deal with these toxic fans is of much more interest. Often DC and Marvel will issue general “statements of support” for diversity. However, they continue to court, or at least actively try not enrage, the group they consider their “core” audience — the entrenched fanboys who see comics as “their domain” and who refuse to acknowledge that women, POC, and LGBTQ have always had a place in comics, and it’s only going to grow from here.

But this audience isn’t what’s keeping these companies afloat anymore. As more and more women explore the comics landscape, Marvel and DC are trying to capture more of these readers and market to them (to be honest, they still haven’t figured that out). Marvel has had some very public missteps recently, from their incredibly unpopular Hydra-Captain America storyline to canceling a Black Panther spin-off series before it arrived in trade (when most women and readers from marginalized communities would pick it up). Many female readers who were once huge fans of Marvel have stepped back entirely from the company. It’s not going to be easy to regain these readers’ trust.

One way they can is to publicly and loudly disavow these kinds of targeted harassment campaigns. The toxicity that resulted in Antos’ trolling is terrible, but if companies stand up against this type of “fan,” they will increasingly push them to the fringes. Right now, these trolls believe that their opinions matter and that comics belongs to them. The vast majority of people involved in creating and reading comics disagree. But this toxic group is given disproportionate power by the companies who publish comics.

The problem is that these companies want to bring in all the new dollars they can while not alienating existing customers, even if they harbor misogynist and racist worldviews. It's certainly been disappointing for marginalized readers, especially while much of the “diversity” they were throwing at us was still written and drawn by white men. But things are changing in comics: Women are reading the medium in larger and larger numbers. If you give us authentic stories, if you make it clear you value diversity as more than a marketing strategy, and if you make a concerted effort to reach out to newer readers, we will come in droves. Women and marginalized communities are itching to be catered to. And we will bring our dollars to the table.

It’s gratifying to see that the official Marvel account tweeted in support of Antos with the #MakeMineMilkshake hashtag, but that’s just the first step. Let’s see more female editors at Marvel. Let’s see more lady creators writing and drawing Marvel’s comics. To change comics culture, it has to happen from within, and companies like Marvel and DC can and should be leading the way.

It’s time for these comics companies to take a stand against this type of harassment. All Heather Antos did was tweet a picture of her and fellow lady Marvel employees enjoying milkshakes. This delightful behavior not only has a place in comics, it should be at the center of comics. This should be what a core comics fan looks like, and it’s time for Marvel, DC, and other comics companies to support that endeavor and pave the way for changing the culture.