Rape Restrooms and the Comix Experience

So I didn’t want to write this. I thought I could get away with linking to someone who is a much better writer than me summing it up quite nicely. Then I made the mistake of accidentally tagging the person in what would have otherwise been a private post. I think San Francisco is home to some of the best comic book stores in the country, and most of them do a decent attempt at catering to people other than white men. I try to be supportive of these bookstores, and in return I expect them to be supportive of their employees and their customers.

A few years ago I tried to follow as many people on Facebook in the areas of my interests as possible, and when you want to check out the San Francisco retail comic book scene, you are bound to run into Brian Hibbs. He is the one that has been running the longest and has done a lot of work with the retail associations. Hell, he runs a damn good store and understands the market pretty well. So well that he even wrote a book about it and writes a regular column about it. I by no means wanted to make an enemy of him, but when you write something like he did the other day, I guess it comes with the territory.

Comics has a long time history of covering up abuse and using scare tactics to keep people quiet. Most of the big names have been called out for cowardice by Colin Spacetwinks in his 75,000-word essay Cowardice and Comics and in his other works: Unlockable Kangaroo, Shut the Fuck Up, Marvel, and The Problem With Comics. He lists a ton of sources and I would not do it justice to just link them all here.

The comic book industry has an abuse problem.

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandals, it has become a trend for people who have been abused to open up about it with the hashtag #MeToo. It’s been a very eye-opening trend and it’s hard not to get emotional when you see someone you didn’t expect confess that something so awful has happened to them. I’m not an idiot, I know it’s entirely too widespread, but damn has it humanized it in a way that a news report could never do. I’ve even seen men I know come forward.

So what happened Wednesday? Well, I saw a #MeToo post from Brian Hibbs. I clicked on Brian Hibbs' post expecting to read a story about how someone in the comic industry abused him because frankly it happens all too often and no one is safe. What I got was totally different, and a white man hijacking the spotlight.

Brian’s column is about his store’s private restroom and about how he thought it would be fun to have comic book industry people draw on the walls. He recounts a tale about how Darick Robertson, John McCrea, and Garth Ennis drew a series of rapes on his wall and because they are such well-known industry people he’s proud of it.

The article reads like a bunch of self-congratulations. He spends a lot of time, and I am not making this up, listing all the big names he has had at his store. In those big names he lists, a bunch of them are those known in the industry for harassment: Erik Larsen, Howard Chaykin, Paul Pope, and Dave Sims. And that’s just the ones that we know of.

So the piece by Brian Hibbs is troubling because he spends so much time bragging and opening up about this awful rape restroom of his. Obvious this piece should end with, “and did I did something about it.” But it doesn’t. It stays very clear from having any conclusion at all besides his attempt to say, “but I’m a friend of the women people.” All the while ignoring the women he employees and the comic creators who told him they did not want to be associated with the rape restroom.

Now, this is not my first piece of Brian’s writing I have read. It reminds me of another time he was deeply troubling: the time Brian Hibbs talked about how he didn’t want to pay his employees more than minimum wage, and that the San Francisco minimum wage hikes could put him out of business.

His words weren’t the first. Most notable during this period was the Borderlands bookstore in San Francisco throwing in the towel at the first sign of a minimum wage hike and quickly retracting it after they got their press in order to try a donation model. Last month Borderlands announced they raised $2 million dollars to buy a new location in the Haight.

San Francisco is actively fighting New York City every month to displace them as the most expensive place to live. The trophy for most expensive goes back and forth between them. You cannot survive here on $9 an hour, and a minimum wage hike only affects your business if you were paying your employees minimum wage to begin with. If you were paying your San Francisco employees minimum wage, you are actively hurting them and San Francisco would be better off with a chain, as much as we hate retail chains here in San Francisco.

This is deeply troubling, especially since comics aren’t even selling that well anymore with the big two doing stupid things every other week, as Brian Hibbs knows because he’s written about that in depth in his column.

So back to the rape restroom article.

I read Hibbs' piece after I saw he posted it on Facebook last Wednesday and decided it was time to remove him from my Facebook feed. The article showed a huge lack of judgment. I get that writers need to write, but writers also need to know that when they write the words matter. Actions matter. Not making a choice is making a choice.

Then the NY Times announced they were going after Louie CK, for the exact same thing Kim O’Connor went after him for over two years ago. I went to go find her article, and I noticed she started a Twitter thread about the cowardice of Brian Hibbs’ article.

Kim O’Connor's sentiments echoed mine exactly, and more. Her post helped me see it from another perspective, and how it was even worse than I imagined. Because the comic book industry has a history of protecting bad actors and harassers, I chose to throw this around to my friends on Facebook.

Then late last night I got this incredibly daunting message from Facebook Messenger. I knew what happened: I had ignorantly tagged him in my post. I know the drill, and I knew I had to accept this.

Brian Hibbs says his feelings are “genuine” and says that by talking about something but ultimately doing nothing he is not a coward. He also says this “conversation” he is trying to start is difficult for many people. I don’t know many people who are confused about depictions of rape that he ultimately decided on doing nothing about in his article. Doing nothing is what got tech companies and Hollywood into the situation we are in today. Doing nothing is what is tearing down DC Comics literally as I write this. Nowhere in his remarks did he even show that he read the link.

Comics present the idea of people stepping up against evil, but their creators often forbid anyone to actually stand up for what is right. Just like Brian Hibbs.