DC Entertainment responds to turmoil over sexual harassment claims

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Photo via DC Comics

Several major players in the comics industry have been publicly accused of sexual harassment.

In response to a recent outcry from fans and comics creators, DC Entertainment has released a statement addressing allegations of sexual harassment.

Published in Comic Book Resources (although not on DC's own website or social media pages), the statement promises that DC will expand employee training and “review policies” regarding workplace discrimination. 

“DC Entertainment strives to foster a culture of inclusion, fairness and respect. While we cannot comment on specific personnel matters, DC takes allegations of discrimination and harassment very seriously, promptly investigates reports of misconduct and disciplines those who violate our standards and policies.”

While the statement speaks in general terms, most people are interpreting it as a response to allegations about Eddie Berganza, a senior editor at DC.

For the past few months, Berganza has been the subject of unconfirmed rumors about a “quarantine” at the publisher’s Superman office, wherein DC allegedly avoided hiring women to avoid further sexual harassment incidents with a certain editor. In late April, a number of comics reporters and fans named Berganza as the editor in question, with writer/editor Janelle Asselin saying that she left DC due to the publisher’s lack of interest in holding him accountable for inappropriate behavior.

Back in 2012, the comics site Bleeding Cool suggested that Berganza was demoted from executive editor to group editor after a series of sexual harassment claims, specifying one incident that allegedly took place at WonderCon 2012 in front of witnesses. The idea of a Superman office “quarantine” was brought into the public eye in September 2015, in a blog post from comics writer Alex de Campi. However, what sparked the most recent debate was something seemingly unrelated to Berganza: DC’s decision to "eliminate” the job of popular Vertigo editor Shelly Bond.

Vertigo is the adult-oriented imprint that launched cult comics like SandmanPreacher, and Y: The Last Man. Bond had worked there since the ‘90s and was promoted to CEO in 2013. It was unclear why she was let go when DC announced it was restructuring Vertigo last month, and the comics community wanted answers. Why was she leaving while DC continued to employ a man who, in the words of Alex de Campi, had “multiple incidents on his HR file?"

As reported by comics blog The Outhousers, this quickly snowballed into a public discussion about sexism and discrimination in comics publishing. One contribution was a blog post from artist Katie Jones, stating, "I was sexually harassed and almost raped by a Senior Art Director from DC Entertainment," describing an incident at San Diego Comic-Con.

After three weeks of back-and-forth on social media, DC's only official response is its statement to Comic Book Resources, published on a Friday afternoon. Berganza, who still works at DC Comics, has not answered any requests for comment.

As comics fans would be quick to point out, this isn’t an isolated case, and it would be inaccurate and unfair to single out DC when similar things have happened at other major publishers.

Last October, the former editor-in-chief of Dark Horse Comics, Scott Allie, issued a public apology for biting and groping a writer during a party at San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). The writer in question, Joe Harris, described the incident to Janelle Asselin at Graphic Policy, but the accusations didn’t stop there. Graphic Policy’s report also cites several anonymous sources at Dark Horse, characterizing Allie’s behavior as threatening and volatile. One source claimed that he was nicknamed “Bitey the Clown” due to his habit of biting people while drunk. Several said that they reported his behavior through official channels and were assured that the problem was being investigated.

Brendan H. Wright—an editor who worked at Dark Horse for seven years before leaving last September—tweeted that Dark Horse "worked to hush up" the incident at SDCC, despite other employees demanding that Allie be fired.

After Allie apologized for his conduct towards Harris last year, Dark Horse president Mike Richardson gave an extensive statement to The Beat, championing his own open-door policy with employees. While he applauded Asselin’s desire to expose sexual harassment in the industry, he added that “no one here [at Dark Horse] has ever turned a 'blind eye' to these behaviors, not in this case, not in any case.”

The SDCC incident came to light less than a month after Allie was reassigned from editor-in-chief to executive senior editor. It’s unclear whether this change was linked with harassment allegations, but Allie still holds an editorial role at Dark Horse and writes the ongoing comic Abe Sapien.

In 2013, Brian Wood (who has worked for DC, Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse, and is particularly well known for his original series DMZ) was accused of sexual harassment at SDCC. Artist Tess Fowler said that he “feigned interest” in her career before trying to get her to join him in his hotel room. Wood responded with a statement saying he had simply “made a pass” at Fowler, and that “there was never a promise of quid pro quo." He characterized the incident as a misunderstanding, adding, "I think the larger issues of abuse in the comics industry are genuine and I share everyone’s concerns." (After naming Wood, Fowler tweeted, “when I have 3 women in my inbox in TEARS as they're typing over the same guy? Yeah, screw being nice.”)

Writer G. Willow Wilson (Ms. Marvel) wrote at the time, “Nearly every other woman I’ve met in the industry seems to have horror stories about creepy run-ins with male colleagues and creators.”

Shortly after, former DC editor Heidi MacDonald published an article delving into why comics publishing had such an entrenched problem with sexual harassment. Along with her examination of victim-blaming, sexism, and power imbalances in the industry, one underlying point stands out: Before Fowler mentioned Wood by name, MacDonald wrote, “It was pretty easy to figure out who she was talking about.”

Examples like Allie and Berganza are in the minority because they weren't just called out by name; they were called out by multiple people in respected positions in the community. In Allie's case, he actually made a public apology. Most of the time, these allegations remain anonymous, couched in terms of "blind item" gossip and subtweets. Women in the industry may share private warnings about "known" harassers, but it's rare for industry employees to come forward and name names.

Working in comics is a precarious career. The medium is collaborative, people spend years (if not entire careers) as low-wage freelancers, and most of the steady jobs are at a small handful of companies. Those who have discussed abuse also raise concerns about being ostracized for speaking up. That's why many female writers and artists have said they rely on word-of-mouth warnings, feeling unable to trust publishers to effectively hold harassers accountable.

Comics watchdogs and reporters, however, have been pursuing the harassment issue for years, and DC Comics most recent statement, though unsatisfying to many, indicates the company is aware its an issue readers are closely watching.

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