What Price Principles?

On Brendan McCarthy, Tess Fowler, Brian Wood, and the price of principles

It’s easy to express outrage about a creator on the internet; the more important question is whether you have the courage of your convictions. If you’re of the opinion that someone is racist or misogynistic, surely you wouldn’t want to continue supporting that person and their work?

Originally, this piece was going to be another instalment of “What the Postman Bringeth!” But sometimes, dragging your feet about writing something can have unintended consequences. I received The Best of Milligan & McCarthy on release, back in those heady September 2013 days when most of us were blissfully unaware of Brendan McCarthy’s political beliefs. Alas, that’s no longer the case. On November 7, McCarthy took umbrage with an anti-Stand Your Ground update comics creator David Hine posted on Facebook, asserting that “There’s more whites shot by blacks. but overwhelmingly more blacks shot by blacks.”

Without getting into the veracity of such claims, quite what they had to do with an unarmed black woman being shot by a white man is unclear. But needless to say, within minutes of him posting his opinion, the internet was in a state of uproar. The reaction on Twitter was one of universal horror that such a respected creator (of the sort most people assumed was liberal) could possibly express such opinions. Yet Twitter also highlighted an unwillingness amongst some to allow McCarthy’s comments to ruin their enjoyment of his work.

Another recent story is relevant to this issue. Tess Fowler has outed Brian Wood as the man who tried to exploit his position in the industry in return for sexual favours from her. Wood put out a statement addressing Fowler’s accusations, but his efforts did little to stem the outrage, given that he denied the bulk of Fowler’s complaints (and didn’t even touch upon the litany of similar experiences female creators have reported).

Ultimately, no-one could read Fowler’s tweets (and the various pieces that have been inspired by them) and feel anything other than disappointment that they’ve supported Wood’s career all these years. Through both his work and his interviews, Wood has portrayed himself as someone who cares about females in comics, yet the various accounts of his behaviour behind the scenes paint the picture of someone who is only interested in furthering the female cause as long as they’re happy to help him out in return.

Yet what effect will the revelations have on Wood’s career? Will sales of X-Men suddenly plummet as people drop the book in protest at his actions? It doesn’t seem likely. Some of Wood’s fans have taken to Twitter and forums to attack Fowler and any other females who have chosen to speak up; many others will put Wood’s behaviour to the back of their mind when they are picking up their comics, not wanting to miss out on the work of a highly regarded creator.

People are surprisingly willing to perform the sort of mental gymnastics that allow them to be morally repelled by an artist’s actions whilst still enjoying their work. They talk about “separating the art from the artist” as though it’s possible to do such a thing without being a massive hypocrite. They’ll blast Chris Brown, and call for a boycott of Orson Scott Card’s work, but when an artist they actually care about is at fault, they’ll find a way to put that to one side and continue purchasing their output.

I’m not here to cast aspersions on the moral characters of Wood and McCarthy. I’m simply reacting to their words and their actions, as well as their responses to the criticisms levelled their way. Indeed, their responses are as important as the inciting incidents. We all make mistakes, we all do things that we later regret, and we all have the opportunity to make amends. The problem with Wood’s and McCarthy’s respective responses is that they are solely concerned with the protection of their own images. Neither response could reasonably be considered an apology for upset caused, and neither creator shows signs of having taken on board the criticism they’ve received. It’s clear than neither individual is likely to change in the future, because they cannot accept that they were at fault.

But that doesn’t matter, because in this situation we need to be the change. As consumers, we have the opportunity to vote with our wallet every time we step into our local comicbook store. This isn’t about calling for a boycott en masse; it’s about consulting your own personal politics and asking yourself whether you can continue to support these individuals, whose flaws have been documented for all to see yet who remain unrepentant. The price of principles in this instance? For me, it’s a negative amount – money saved because I cannot continue to support Wood’s and McCarthy’s creative endeavours without compromising my own values. I’d rather invest that money in the many positive rolemodels the industry is blessed with. It’s up to you to decide the price of your own principles.

Further reading
Comics have hit puberty…and it’s not pretty
Sex, Gender, and the Comics Industry
Comics Guys, Harassment, and Missing Stairs
My Response (by Tess Fowler)
Hate the Player, Hate the Game: Sexual Harassment in the Comic Industry
Nerds and Male Privilege: Tess Fowler and Comic Harassment
Comics, Conventions, and Harassment: A Personal Promise
Silent All These Years
I Am Not The Other Woman. I Am Another Voice

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