Over the past couple weeks, comics has been rocked by a wave of social media firestorms. At the center of it is Diversity & Comics, a YouTuber and aspiring comics writer whose real name is Richard Meyer. His IndieGogo project “Jawbreakers” was funded to the tune of $294,000 at press time, a high figure for a comic written by a guy mostly known for ranting on YouTube about books he hates and getting into Twitter fights with the comics crowd. Neither is usually considered a writer’s proving ground. But here we are.
His book was picked up, briefly, by the publisher Antarctic Press for post-IndieGoGo distribution. The crowdfunded to published pipeline is not uncommon in comics. “Five Ghosts,” a fun adventure comic by Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham, had its first issue crowdfunded before it was published by Image Comics.
Shortly after Antarctic’s announcement that they would publish “Jawbreakers,” the comics Twitter-verse, professional social circles, and retailer circles exploded. Boycotts of Antarctic were announced, retailers said they’d refuse to order the book, and many a comics industry pro wrote diatribes on Twitter and Facebook deriding the decision. Former Daredevil writer Mark Waid went so far as to call Antarctic Press to urge them to pull “Jawbreakers” from their lineup.
Antarctic Press pulled the book in more time than it took ESPN to cancel “Barstool Van Talk,” but less time than Anthony Scaramucci was White House press secretary.
To many outside the industry, this looks like banning conservatives from the public square, but that’s taking a very simplistic and borderline-false view of it. Antarctic Press currently publishes a number of over-the-top Donald Trump-supporting books. “Jawbreakers” colorist Brett Smith’s graphic novel adaptation of “Clinton Cash” was a massive success and carried in many comic shops, for example. No boycott was announced, no publishers were contacted, and today you can still walk into many comic shops and find a copy.
Meyer’s personal attacks on various creators, taste-makers, editors, and other people in the comics industry made the release of “Jawbreakers” by any publisher a guaranteed controversy starter. Let me explain.
Richard Meyer Is a Professional Troll
Meyer’s popularity needs to be traced back to his start, which began with Twitter spats with different creators, editors, and publishers, generally calling out shoddy work in books or whenever they’d post something political on Twitter. One quote his detractors regularly cite came from him calling an editor a “c-m dumpster” (original word modified).
His Twitter account generally launched attacks on Marvel editors, many of which are young women. While, yes, they were overwhelmingly progressives, attacking them online isn’t particularly a way to gain friends in the industry.
Focusing on female editors is also an offshoot of the “fake geek girl” phenomenon, where many a “fan” complains women in an industry are infiltrating to destroy it and don’t actually care or like the thing they’re working on. It’s hard to put any stock into this idea.
In comics, there is very little mainstream notability. This is not Olivia Munn hosting “Attack of the Show!” Your average Marvel editor is making somewhere around $50,000 a year and has to work in Manhattan. For those who have never lived or worked in Manhattan, a $50,000 salary is essentially the poverty line. This is not a sacrifice worth making if you really don’t care, especially when you add in the harassment from fans who hate you or simply the books you’re making.
Later Meyer formed a YouTube channel based on his Twitter, where he’d discuss books, many of which he’d cherry-picked to incite outrage clicks. He’d take on a book like “Squirrel Girl,” complaining about it being written for a 12-year-old girl with a smattering of politically correct platitudes thrown in. But a book like that isn’t exactly highbrow critical thought, it’s a book written and made for tweens (or tween-brained adults), not dudes who’ve been reading superhero comics since the ‘80s.
Meyer’s channel has clearly created revenues for him, as it boasts a large subscriber number and a huge view count. His YouTube videos tend to further push attacks on individual creators who are overwhelmingly progressives online. In some cases it extends to their written work, as with Nick Spencer, in other cases not so much. For example, Ed Brubaker is clearly liberal but his books with Sean Phillips are all quality work regardless of what end of the political spectrum you land on.
The Progressivism of Comics Has Other Influences
Comics does indeed have a progressive bend, and it’s gotten worse over the past five years, as it has across the American political spectrum. Its influence on comics is worth looking at outside shouting at creators, and much of it is wrapped up in the rise of Image Comics and creator-owned properties.
Prior to Marvel jumping into throwing overt politics into its books, they had a wealth of great writers at the helm. Brubaker was responsible for “Winter Soldier,” the book the movie was based on. Matt Fraction had runs on Hawkeye and Iron Fist that are fantastic reads. Jonathan Hickman did some wild work with the Avengers and Fantastic Four, beyond having some of the more notable runs in Marvel comics since the ’90s.
They all also no longer work at Marvel. All three are producing books at Image Comics, a publisher where they, and the fantastic artists they collaborate with, own their creations. They have the freedom to tell whatever stories they want. Marvel makes no such offer.
Plenty of other talented individuals who worked at Marvel also packed up for greener pastures. Since then, Marvel has had a very hard time filling those shoes and much of the writing is done by either a few over-worked individuals (Charles Soule must be writing something like 10 monthly books) or the occasional headline-grab name like Ta-Neishi Coates.
None of these headline-grabbers come from comics, so their books tend to not be created with comics in mind. Thus they end up being talky treatises turned into narrative. Many writers fall onto using Twitter headlines of the day as muse, which is how a discussion about the pros and cons of brunch ends up in an X-Men book.
This Is People Deliberately Profiting from Rage
Mainstream superhero books have also not been immune to the overt nature of political commentary in entertainment today, leading to the general critique of “there’s too much politics in books today,” which really means “writers are not as good at making meaning inherent to story.” Claremont’s X-Men books, Frank Miller’s Daredevil, and Batman all had undercurrents of political awareness and commentary. Most good art does have something to say about society or people at large, they just usually didn’t do it directly in dialogue. Writing today is much more upfront with what it wants you to think.
Comics’ critical community has never been a place where money can be made, so writers tend to give out fluff reviews of books they like. (My book got good reviews, and my art was objectively atrocious in it.) That’s because it’s much easier to write a quick nice review than to be critical of something, especially when being critical could land you in hot water with a certain loud cabal of people on Twitter.
The comics Twitter crowd is just as unhealthy and vile a community as any other Twitter crowd. It rewards outrage and denies taste or nuance. Many a comics controversy comes from a loud feign of outrage on Twitter—Howard Chaykin’s “Divided States of America” proved its title when the cover featured a man hung with a racist or homophobic slur written on him. The outrage proved the point Chaykin was making with the series—however, he anticipated the outrage to come from the Right, when it actually came from the Left.
The whole episode harkens back to Meyer complaining about “Squirrel Girl,” a book he would never have picked up other than to complain about it, just like those complaining about Chaykin’s cover had zero intention of buying his book. Accusations of “wrong think” coming from both sides of the aisle ends in a zero-sum game.
Diversity & Comics and the people he attacks have a ton in common. Both want the other’s products and preferences removed from the marketplace, and neither will stop until the whole thing is burned down.