The comics industry is facing a reckoning after a new wave of allegations of sexual misconduct aimed at several major figures in the industry began spreading on social media last week. Issues of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault are unfortunately not new to the comics world, but the scope of the allegations this time has led many in the comics community to call for changes to systemic problems within the industry, and a pledge from some of the biggest creators in the medium to do better.
This particular wave of discussion began earlier this month, when several women came forward with allegations of misconduct and "grooming" behavior, some of which was reportedly aimed at underage girls, by Batgirl and Sin Titulo writer and artist Cameron Stewart. Statements from Stewart's alleged victims were followed by allegations of misconduct aimed at Transmetropolitan and The Authority writer Warren Ellis, Spider-Gwen co-creator Jason Latour, and others. The discussion also eventually served to shed new light on older issues, including sexual assault allegations against Comic Book Legal Defense Fund executive director Charles Brownstein.
In response to the allegations, the CBLDF announced this week that it has accepted Brownstein's resignation and pledged "a renewed focus on accountability and transparency," something it is already being called upon to honor by former staff. Ellis, in response to allegations against him, issued a statement apologizing for his behavior, and has since been dropped from a planned spinoff story tied to DC's Dark Nights: Death Metal event. Stewart has also been dropped from an upcoming DC Comics project, but has not released a statement and has since locked his social media accounts. As of this writing, Latour has also not released a statement.
The allegations and the resulting reaction (or lack thereof, in some cases) to them has prompted widespread social media discussion in the comics community about what to do next, as one thing was made abundantly clear: This toxic behavior is not new. Stewart and Ellis were not the first major creators to be accused of sexually inappropriate behavior, and Brownstein's allegations in particular go back years. As numerous creators pointed out, this is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions, and criticism has since been leveled at everything from the "barcon" scene that encourages drinking and socializing in the name of networking to the insular, "it's who you know" nature of breaking in at major comics publishers.
What this all adds up to is a problem that takes a collective effort to combat, which is why numerous major comics creators took to Twitter on Tuesday to commit to what they're dubbing the "Comics Pledge," a promise to actively prevent and discourage the behavior outlined in these allegations going forward. Those who have spoken up include many of the most popular male creators in the industry — including Scott Snyder, Tom King, Joe Quinones, Joshua Williamson, Jeff Lemire, Sam Humphries, James Tynion IV, Ryan North, and more.
The pledge, generated by a group of male and female creators who chose to remain anonymous to keep the focus on the conversation, quickly spread across social media, which meant that it also quickly drew some understandable criticism. For some, the pledge read as a performative copy-and-paste statement meant to engender goodwill on social media, or a simple case of words taking the place of action. And while many creators acknowledged the good intentions behind the pledge, they also emphasized following it up with action.
Even some creators who took the pledge, and those who helped to craft it, were eager to acknowledge that simply posting it was not enough, and that the ongoing issues of abuse of power and sexual harassment in the comics industry will need to be addressed in a much deeper way.
While this is not the first time a wave of sexual harassment allegations has moved through the comics community in recent years, the comics pledge is an encouraging sign that a more organized discussion of the need for change in the industry can continue. It doesn't stop with the allegations, or the resulting consequences, if indeed the creators responsible end up facing consequences. As numerous members of the comics community have stressed repeatedly over the last two weeks, this is a bigger problem that requires a change in the overall environment, and that requires the creators making this pledge to make good on their promises.