“There are no facts, only interpretations.”
This notion is a kind of unofficial mantra for Retcon Punch. We fully embrace that our perspectives are limited, which is why virtually everything we publish features at least two writers and an open comment section. It’s an attitude that serves us very well when discussing works of art, where interpretation is paramount, but makes us decidedly less good at journalism, which aims to transcend interpretations in pursuit of facts.
We’ve largely shied away from reporting news (honestly, there are so many sites for comic news out there already), and while we will wade in every once in a while, our cross-talk format results in longer gestation times than the twitter-assisted news cycle tends to have patience for. We’re happy to focus on discussing comics and leaving the news to other sites, but we felt like we needed to speak up about the Janelle Asselin Controversy and fallout. This story is obviously bigger than the facts in question — something that might warrant the kind of longer, slower conversations we do here — and more importantly, it addresses issues that matter to us personally.
First, a brief overview: last Friday, Asselin posted a critique of Kenneth Rocafort’s cover for Teen Titans 1 on CBR. The piece gathered traction in part thanks to artist Brett Booth taking exception to it on Twitter, in an exchange chronicled by the Outhousers. On their own, Asselin’s piece and Booth’s response aren’t particularly notable — the kind of exchange that happens on twitter daily — but then Asselin posted a follow-up on Tumblr disclosing that she’d been receiving rape threats in response to her criticisms. Yikes.
Outcry was immediate and support for Asselin — in the form of tweets and op-eds — came pouring in, along with calls to action, and renewed interest in addressing how women are treated in the comics community. Amidst all of these discussions, several creators and fans disclosed that they, too, have received threats of sexual violence.
Sad to see the response to @gimpnelly calling out /questioning gender portrayal in comics is the same I’ve gotten – insults and rape threats.
— DC Women Kicking Ass (@dcwomenkicknass) April 14, 2014
Indeed, many expressed that these types of threats are entirely commonplace.
@GailSimone That was something that stunned me – like I said, I didn’t even think it was worth bringing up at first. It just happens.
— Janelle Asselin (@gimpnelly) April 15, 2014
Many male creators and fans were stunned at this revelation. We all understood that comics had a long way to go towards equality, but rape threats? An isolated incident might be written off, but that these threats are so common as to perhaps not even warrant mentioning makes it clear that this is a problem. It’s shocking that things had ever gotten this bad, let alone in 2014. The situation is more dire than many members of the community had ever realized, and bringing these issues into the open makes that clear as day.
So how do we change? The comics community is far from monolithic, making it difficult to address any community-wide problems, especially those that have happened in secret for so long. But that doesn’t leave us without hope. We believe that keeping the spotlight on the issue — in all corners of comicdom — is the only way to eradicate it everywhere. Twitter will do it Twitter’s way (presumably, lot’s of hashtags), CBR will do it CBR’s way, and we will do it our way. Our way will take the form of several pieces over the next week deconstructing the facets of the problem as we see it: the representation of female characters in comics, the marginalization of women in the comics community, and the tone of internet discussion within the community. What are the problems? What are their causes? What solutions would we like to see? As always, these will take the form discussions we hope to carry on with our readers. We’ve been blessed with incredibly civil and thoughtful comments sections, and we would love to hear your thoughts on the other kind. We hope you’ll join us as we explore these issues plaguing the community at large.
Drew Baumgartner, Patrick Ehlers and Shelby Peterson