An open letter to Chelsea Cain in defense of comic book fans



I’m glad I wasn’t part of the car crash this time.


This isn’t the fault of comic book fans

A brief synopsis for my readers who don’t pay attention to comic books. One Chelsea Cain, respected best selling author of books, of the “thriller” genera, got a writing gig for Marvels Comic’s title Mockingbird.  She used the opportunity to introduce some more socially relevant themes/adult social commentary, got some negative reactions and very bad interactions on her twitter page, mentioned she was sick of it…all hell broke loose on twitter and she deleted the account. She and many others blamed and pointed at the bad behavior of comic books fans, behavior they seem to think lies in a section of comicfandom and comicfandom exclusively.

That’s the long and the short of it.

Here is a quote from her

“Comics readers are 99% the best people you’d ever want to meet.  The other 1% can be really mean.  Perhaps that statistic holds up across humans, in general, but in my experience, this is a different kind of mean.  It’s misogynist and dismissive and obsessive and it thrives off taking down other people.”

Now then, Chelsea, I’m usually rough around the edges but I’m going to be as polite as I can, since it seems like you’ve had a trying week, and had an assfull of abrasive behavior already.  

My first instinct, which I will admit is low character, was to , as someone who has been threatened, has been stalked, has had his address posted online, has received scary actual letters to his actual mail box from someone in prison, and blocks people on a weekly basis for getting out of line, was to scoff.  To be honest with myself, that would be unfair.  While my regular online experience is bizarre do to my work, and most other people with normal jobs have experienced unpleasantness, such as you have described, for merely being a person on the internet…bad behavior that you encountered is still bad behavior. From what I read on your response, you handled it as well as can be expected, perhaps more so, given how blindsided you seemed to be.  Do keep in mind that your pleasant existence online, up until recently, was an aberration.  You were living on borrowed time.  And while, many rightly so, sympathize with you, many others think to themselves “yeah? welcome to the internet”.

I think you handled well, and no effort I can see was made on your part to make a mountain out of a mole hill.  However that mole hill has been turned into a mountain and comicfandom has been slandered and blamed as though such behavior exists exclusively in their ranks…specifically by you, and then forwarded by others.

Please, keep that in mind as I, I can’t believe I am the one doing this,  rebuke your comments about comic book fans.  (I am standing up for Marvel comic book fans…what has happened to our world?) I have worked in the comic book industry for 15 years, I’ve done stand up comedy, I’ve written for Comedy Central, so I have a unique perspective on taking your writing across genres and mediums and the reactions of fans while doing so.  Take what I say to heart.

There are two problems here and neither of them are that some percentage of comic book fans have a form of misogyny and meanness that resides only in comic book fans.   Allow me to quote your blog about the whole fiasco

“The tweets that bothered me were never the ones concerned with content; they were the ones that questioned my right to write comics at all, and were disgusted by the idea of a female hero having her own series. “.

These were not tweets from comic book fans.  Wonder Woman debuted in 1942 and then came Batgirl, Super girl and Spider Woman, and Ms. marvel, and countless countless others that were well received by fans.  Half of the fans who saw “suicide squad” went just to see Harley Quinn.  There have been super hero t.v. shows and movies and cartoons with female leads for decades. Half of this industry kept their lights on in the late nighties with the “bad Girl” genera.  Super hero comics, with female leads have been around since there have been super heroes, and the same thing goes for the long established contributions of female writers. Female super hero comics deserving existence isn’t even a subject anyone who reads comics would question, any more than they would question if the sky is blue, or if there should be female lead singers in a band, or if Pizza should have tomato sauce on it.   You’re not  breaking any new ground here by writing an action comic book with a female lead …These purely and simply, were not the tweets of comic book fans.  I would wager 90% of the people commenting on your twitter page by the end of things were not comic book fans.  They were a-holes on twitter who saw the battle going on and grabbed their sword and charged into it.

It’s TWITTER. That’s what happens there…to everyone, man, woman or child.  Go look at the twitter page of the Chicago Bears quarterback when he costs them a game.   Go back and check out the feed of the guy who writes game of thrones after the Red Wedding, Go look at the feed of the guys who write The walking Dead, or make up a fake identity and announce who you are voting for and wait ten seconds.  Hell, post a comment about what kind of fishing lure is best…by the end of the thread someone will have told you to shove it up your *%$#@ and get aids …IT’S TWITTER.  I don’t even go to my own page anymore and I’m someone who LIKES arguing on the internet.  A year ago I shut my page down, restarted one that just loads links automatically, and I don’t miss it one bit.

It is the culture of twitter that is the first problem here. It is an awful place, that attracts people who only need 140 characters to express themselves.  And just like the naughty child always rubs off on the good child and not the other way around, twitter brings out the worst in people.  It’s TWITTER. Look at your Facebook page…it was a much more clam environment, even during the same time you’ve had the same writing job.  Twitter is an ugly place, where people treat each other like crap. And it is even uglier these days because 100% of the population is pissed off about the election and looking to project that anger on the first thing they see.  They are behaving like lunatics.  You got misogynistic comments because you are a woman, if you were Jewish you would have gotten anti-Semitic comments, if you were an Eskimo…they would have researched what the slur for Eskimo was and used that.  Twitter, not the comic book industry, is currently full of angry mean people looking to take abuse out on someone. You seem pretty hip, I’m a little amazed you weren’t prepared for this.

But you weren’t prepared.  That’s the second problem.  You mention, you have sold millions of books but never had to deal with this until you started writing comic books, as evidence that this is a comic book fan problem.  No, lack of preparedness, who’s ever responsibility that falls to, is the problem. You are a creative soul, and creative souls start to get rubbed raw very quickly and focus on the negative when their work is not accepted. You sold millions of books…to a completely different market.  The book publishing industry is no longer an “impulse buy” driven market.  people are not wandering down the isle with no idea what they want.  They bought your books, by and large, because they were familiar with your work, or have read reviews, or you were recommended.  Very few who where looking for say…action and adventure, happened to pick up one of your books only to find out once they read it, it was something else.  From there you jumped to a market that is impulse by driven, you exposed your work to more people, who were from every conceivable demographic, that had no idea who you were, or what to expect from you,  at all, in 8 issues than you did in your entire career.  So, it only stands to reason that you would get a world of reactions that you had never gotten before.  This is not due to how any percentage of comic book fans behave, this is due to the scale tipping percentage of new people who were exposed to your work in an eight issue run.  Ask any stand up comedian and they will tell you that you can tell a story to a crowd who is familiar with you and get a big laugh…and tell the same story to people who are not familiar with you, had have them stare in silence or even boo.  You told a story to three football stadiums worth of people who were not familiar with you.

And they are not only people who don’t know or care who you are, they are people that do know and care who Mockingbird is.  This is a 40 year old character.  That is 40 years of fans, who expect a certain type of story.  Much of the negative comments, that weren’t batsh*t crazy and from actual comic book fans, are owed to that. You came into their world, not the other way around.  You came in and started doing your own thing with a character that tens of thousands already knew and loved, you should have been prepared for the worst.  You could have written and published your own comic book and character, but you took the check from Marvel to write one of theirs that was already established. Well, now you know what else that check pays for.  It pays for aggravation of having to modify what you want to do to appeal to 40 years worth of fans in order to sell books, or have sales that are flat and catch a world of sh*t from the people who loved that character since you were still in diapers.

Take comic books out of it altogether… if you had taken a job writing the next Harry Potter or Game of Thrones book and decided to put your own spin on it , how do you think that would have went over? About the same?  Worse? I’m guessing worse. Because when it comes right down to it, comic book fans are fairly amicable to seeing things change, they’ve seen their favorites changed over the years, and changed by Hollywood.  Even with that, when you are taking over a character that people have known and loved since childhood, you are in for a rough, uphill road.  Let me remind you, the goal of good writing is to get the reader to feel an emotional connection to the characters.  When this is done well, and done well for 4o years and then you get it handed to you…that is the double edged sword of all double edged swords.  It is a double edged sword that has a smaller double edged sword for a handle.  You should have been clued in, that you, once you start writing property older than you, in a strange way are not a person to the fans.  You are a gremlin that keeps f*cking up the brief moments of escapism they get in their stressful week of working a real job that involves real work.  Again, this is not just comics, this is movies, books…I’m sure the new lead singer of Alice in chains could tell you some stories , as well as the head coach of any sports team. Life sucks, and the moments of escape people get through entertainment becomes precious to them.  When it gets jacked around, they often behave poorly. 

The difference that explains the reactions that you had previously not encountered is not the disposition of comic book fans, but the deluge of readers new to your work, and working on a character that was beloved before you came along, and being on a social media platform that is the haven of a-holes. As far as reactions to a 40 year old character being taken in a different direction goes, seems like you mostly did well.

Much of the more abrasive reaction is also due to the questionable idea of having a cover with Mockingbird wearing a shirt that says “ask me about my feminist agenda” during the ugliest presidential campaign we’ve ever seen.  I don’t know who’s idea that was, but it was bad timing. Something like this shows up on twitter, during a time when everyone is already arguing politics, that’s going to attract a-holes who want to argue politics, to the point anyone who actually reads the book is the minority on the thread.

( if you haven’t seen the cover, that is literally all that it is, her standing there in the t-shirt)


(color me skeptical for seeing no point to this other than to be politically provocative, I certainly don’t see what it has to do with super heroes fighting super villains…which is the escapism people who buy Marvel Comics, women included,  are seeking out with their hard earned dollars.  If someone was hoping for that escape, this cover is basically giving them the finger.  This is raising the battle flag to people who want to argue about feminism.  This isn’t “blaming the victim”, the shirt LITERALLY ASKS FOR IT.  “ask me about my feminist agenda” And when it was posted to twitter…it got it.  It got people who wanted to argue about feminism…instead of just comic book fans. It might as have well just said “could all misogynists please check in”.  and when they checked in…comicfandom was blamed. sigh. )

I don’t know if you have been paying attention, but the entire country is at each others throats and looking for any excuse to start a political argument.  I saw a thread that started about My pretty Pony that ended up talking about Bill Clinton Raping someone, I’m not kidding…that’s twitter… a post that could theoretically be being viewed by children, since it started with a My Pretty Pony picture, degenerated into tweets about who raped who.  and I dare say the people arguing by the end had little familiarity with my pretty pony…they were just trolling around on twitter looking for a fight.

It is ugly out there, and there are scant few places left the average person can go and escape and not have to deal with anything remotely political. And people are looking for an escape, and Marvel Super hero books fall into that category.  You decided to take the one you were writing back into a semi-political realm and the reader was not prepared.  They were bushwhacked. Everyone else on the internet knows that the second they utter something political this year, all hell is going to break lose, normally reasonable people are going to lose their sh*t.  That is something else you should have been prepared for.  I have no doubt that if you had done the same book, that same way two years ago 90% of this wouldn’t have gone on.

I have found in life that most of the time when someone gets upset it is because things went askew from what they were prepared for.  That is the case here with you and with the fans.  You were not prepared for them, they were not prepared for you.

Lack of preparedness and twitter being an awful place full of a-holes are the issues.  Neither of those things were exasperated simply because the medium being discussed was a comic book.

In this environment in our culture when you declare misogyny to be exclusive in a group of people, even though you clearly state it’s 1%,  that whole group is still viewed with a suspicious eye from then on. And it is not true, and it is not fair.  And before you or anyone else says “you’re not a woman, you don’t know”, I say you are not a man, you don’t know.  I do know, I know what men say when you’re not around, and there is no inherent misogyny that is exclusive or unique to comic book fans…if there was, I’m the first guy who’d hear the comments.

You have unfairly declared that there is a level of misogyny among comic book fans, above and beyond what there is elsewhere, after working on 8 issues and based on tweets from people you have no way whatsoever of knowing if they were from actual comic book fans.  I have worked in the industry for 15 years, and am a awful human being who gets to hear every unfiltered comment in this industry and others.  And I can assure you and everyone else, that your declaration is false.

I quote you here.

“Comics readers are 99% the best people you’d ever want to meet.  The other 1% can be really mean.  Perhaps that statistic holds up across humans, in general, but in my experience, this is a different kind of mean.”

In relation to the rest of humanity, comic book fans are doing pretty good at 1% being a-holes, because I’d put the rest of humanity at 25% at least.

Take this to heart though, with all that was against you that I mentioned, by your own admission, the number of sh*ty comments were a small percentage…in the entertainment business, that means you must have done a good job.  Don’t let that be spoiled by declaring that any type of bad behavior is unique the the comic book fan.

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