Trolls Gotta Troll (It's Big Business)

Like many of you, I have family on social media. They know I teach comics, and they want to connect with me. So, when a comics story draws enough media attention to reach Facebook, my family -- mostly my mum because, you know, mums -- is always sure to forward it to me, usually with a note like, “You’ve probably already seen this.” Look back over the last couple of years, and you can deduce many of these stories for yourself: Superman is saving illegal immigrants! Captain America is a Nazi! Superman gives up his US citizenship! The latest controversy to hit my feed is an inside-baseball piece about the comics industry itself: a feud between Richard Meyer -- the face of the curiously-named Diversity & Comics YouTube channel -- and Mark Waid, one of the most highly regarded comics creators in America today. The headline: “Secret Facebook Page Reveals Marvel, DC Comics Writers Conspiring to Harass Comic-Con Conservatives”, written by Megan Fox (no, not that one).

Back in 1979, in the pages of his book Broca’s Brain, Carl Sagan explained that, while it’s easy and tempting to ignore absurd claims or even mock them, this is not good science. Good science advances when we acknowledge absurd claims and disprove them, logically and rationally. And so, as Sagan proceeded to do with Velikovsky’s wildly entertaining and absolutely bananas “Worlds in Collision” hypothesis, I’m going to try tackling this article and its claims head-on, in the hope of persuading someone out there that not only is the article factually wrong on virtually every count, but its readers are being played. (I can only address some of it; it’s long and the accusations come fast and furious. Please understand I do not limit my debate out of a desire to avoid engaging with the topic, but rather because y’all don’t have all day.)

The gist of Ms. Fox’s argument is that Mark Waid asked his readers to tell him if they saw Meyer show up at Baltimore Comic-con. In response, some of those readers said some disparaging things about Meyer. This is the basis for the claim of harassment. She suggests there is a mob of radical leftists waiting to Hulk Smash! any conservative fan who dares to show up in a MAGA hat.

Waid’s FB page, the source of all this, is still up and the entire conversation, including several posts by Meyer in reply to Waid’s initial request, are still there for anyone to read. Scan them, and you will see that Waid repeatedly asserted non-violence and his desire to talk to Meyer about the content of Meyer’s YouTube channel.
  • “I'm not calling for mob violence or any violence at all. I just want to speak with this man or his friends.” 
  • “No one is calling for action other than, "Hey, I'd like to speak to this guy, come find me if you see him." 
  • When Meyer responded on Waid’s FB feed, Waid again clarified: “Glad to have your contact info now. I'm disappointed you won't be at Baltimore, nor will I be at NYCC. I do think a conversation is in order, however.” 
  • And finally, “I simply wanted to sit down with you face-to-face and I'm disappointed that won't happen.” 
The accusation of harassment is demonstrably false. And Waid went on to use his position as a highly respected comics creator to make an appeal for calm conversation, regardless of your political leanings. This is from the same post where he asked fans to tell him if Meyer showed up at the con:

“This was about one specific person, not about villifying (sic) fans, whom I love. It was a request for an urgently needed conversation with one specific man who makes a number of non-straight-white-male creators uncomfortable and nervous and fearful of attending shows. You can decide that their nervousness is unwarranted or overblown—I can’t dictate your feelings—and you can choose not to believe me or that we’re all “snowflakes”—again, I can’t control that—but that this discomfort exists is a reality and needs to be addressed for everyone’s sake. By talking and at least making an effort to engage.”

Notice that Waid recognizes everyone has their own opinions and he can’t tell people how to think. But his motivation is simple: there are some younger creators -- men and women who, unlike Waid, haven’t got the armor which develops after defending your work for decades in public -- who are uncomfortable showing up at cons, and Waid thinks Meyer can help address that. So he wanted to talk.

Ms. Fox does not include Waid’s clarifying comments, or any of his responses to Meyer. That would make Waid appear to be a reasonable human being. Her character assassination of Waid actually begins in the very first paragraph, when she notes Captain America has been revealed as a Nazi, then immediately adds that Mark Waid is writing Captain America’s comic. The implication is clear: Mark Waid made Captain America a Nazi. Except that the revelation Cap is a Nazi comes in the comic Secret Empire, which was written by Nick Spencer. It’s not Waid’s fault Cap is a Nazi. Ms. Fox knows this, but by leaving this information out, she gets you angry.

The primary example of Meyer’s criticism of comics is directed at Captain Marvel, who Meyer describes as “Captain Man-vel.” Fox writes bluntly: “Carol Danvers, or Captain Marvel, is becoming transgendered.”

This is simply untrue. Carol is female and has always been so. What evidence is there that Captain Marvel is turning into a man? “‘We’re watching her boobs disappear in every issue,’ said Meyers.” I’m not making that up. Meyers and Fox are saying: because Carol Danvers’s boobs are not drawn as big as they used to be, she is obviously turning into a man.

For decades, superhero comics have endured scorn as adolescent sex/power fantasies typified by (a) muscular men punching each other and (b) women with big breasts. And there are a lot of crappy superhero comics out there; I’m not saying there aren't. But over the last decade or so women and girls have come to superhero comics like never before, and if you’re a publisher who wants to sell comics to the other half of the American population, you have to create books women want to read. That means making characters women can identify with and, not coincidentally, dress up as.

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of cosplay on the contemporary comics scene. There was a time when dressing up as a superhero to go to a comic-con was considered unusual. Now, it’s the first thing you ask yourself: “Who will I go as?” And if you want to get women and girls to dress up as a superhero, you have to give that superhero a costume women and girls want to wear.

This is exactly what has happened to Captain Marvel. (You can see a similar thing at DC in the pages of Batgirl.) Carol Danvers has had two famous costumes over the years, and neither of them are especially con-friendly. They show a lot of skin and are very sexy. Well, there are plenty of superheroes with sexy costumes, but Carol Danvers is an Air Force pilot and if anyone is going to dress in something more conservative and practical, it would be her. Her new uniform is exactly that: a military uniform, not a costume. It’s even got rank insignia (she is a captain, after all). The costume covers her bare skin, protects her when she flies in space, and, yes, keeps her boobs from sticking out. Captain Marvel is no more transgendered than a female soldier or cop wearing a bulletproof vest. Brie Larson is playing Captain Marvel on film, and I think we can agree that Brie Larson is female. Are her boobs big enough? I leave this question for Mr. Meyer.

The other evidence of Ms. Marvel’s transgender status is this: “Marvel has killed all the heterosexual romances in the stories and replaced them with gay relationships.” In other words, words not designed to get you angry, Carol’s boyfriend got killed and she’s hanging out with her female friends right now. And what are they doing? Putting Carol on a dating app for superheroes and trying to get her laid, that’s what. That sounds pretty heterosexual to me. But saying “Captain Marvel is being made transgender” gets you angry, and that’s the point of both this article and Mr. Meyer’s YouTube channel.

Throughout the piece, Meyer is portrayed as an innocent victim, a kind of well-meaning comics nerd who cranks out YouTube videos in his car, using his cellphone. He’s just a guy having fun, talking about comics. But in fact, Richard Meyer makes a lot of money from those videos. His Patreon account shows over $800 a month in pledged donations. Now, Mr. Meyer lives in New York and I do not envy his monthly rent, but down here in the Golden Isles, you can get a comfortable apartment for the money Meyer makes from the front seat of his car, using his cellphone camera. Ms. Fox knows this, but she leaves it out because she wants to paint the portrait of a humble fan just trying to talk about what he loves, a guy picked on by those big mean SJWs. A guy with no stake. But there is a stake: since Fox wrote that article, ten days before I write this, Meyer’s Patreon pledges have gone up about $1,200 a year. That's a raise. He's gotten a $1,200 a year raise thanks to this article. I hope Ms. Fox remembered to negotiate for a percentage.

Ms. Fox is outraged on Meyer’s behalf, and gives him plenty of room to say what’s wrong with the American comic book industry, something which, apparently, is unique to America. Meyer is quoted as saying, “America only has a few unique institutions, and one of them, comic books, is literally being murdered.”

I’m an English professor, and you have no idea how hard it is to stop myself from pointing out that, in fact, nothing is being literally murdered because “literally” means “actually, in fact” and you cannot murder an institution. (It’s so hard to do this that I literally could not do it.) JFK and Abraham Lincoln were literally murdered. What Meyers means is a metaphorical or figurative murder. But he says “literally” because he wants to make you angry.

America has many unique institutions, institutions we then export all around the world, and that’s why they’re no longer unique. Things like Coca-Cola, basketball, and representative democracy. Comics, however, have never been one of these unique institutions. Comics, as most people recognize them today, were invented in Europe and are actually much more accepted there. For decades, the United States treated comics as something to be ashamed of while Europeans were reading Corto Maltese, Tintin, and Asterix. Now if Meyer had said superheroes were a uniquely American institution, he’d have been closer to the mark. (And we’ve exported superheroes, just like we have everything else, so that they’re no longer unique either.) What this suggests is that comics = superheroes. This is a common mistake, one most likely to be made by aging fans whose idea of comics is guided primarily by nostalgia rather than what’s being produced for, sold to, and read by young people today. But I suggest Meyer actually knows comics do not equal superheroes, he knows non-superhero comics are more popular every year, but he says comics are being murdered because that, like everything else in this article, is more likely to make you angry.

But his suggestion that the superhero comics industry is very small is absolutely true. He is quoted as saying, “They've turned an industry into a community which doesn't have to have sales or success.” Superhero comics do not have to sell… much. Titles which sell less than about 30,000 comics a month are likely to be cancelled. 30,000 might sound like a lot, but in a country as big as ours, that means one in ten thousand people buy a given comic book. That’s enough for a comic to continue publication. This has been true for about twenty years. How can this business model be sustained that long? Comics don’t make a lot of money, but Hollywood blockbusters and streaming television do. The superhero comics industry has become a Research & Development laboratory; characters, ideas, and stories which do well there can be adapted for television or the big screen.

Captain Marvel is another perfect example of this phenomenon; Marvel has put out a lot of superhero movies, but they all star men. Disney needed a movie with a female protagonist, but Marvel’s stable of female characters is limited: Jean Gray, Storm, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Spider-Woman, and the Invisible Woman are all licensed to other studios. Editors at Marvel chose Carol Danvers, previously known as Ms. Marvel, promoted her to Captain in her own comic, got her a new cosplay-friendly uniform, and started experimenting. The most successful elements of that revision will end up on screen in a couple of years. It does matter how many comics Captain Marvel sells, but it’s not her comics that ultimately drive her bottom line. It’s the promise of her movies, which will inevitably be compared to the very successful Wonder Woman film. I do not envy Ms. Larson in this regard.

Mr. Meyer is right when he says comics (by which he means superhero comics) have become an industry that doesn’t need to make money. But he’s wrong when he ascribes that fact to an army of Social Justice Warriors. When superheroes made the jump to successful movie and television franchises, comics became less important to the bottom line. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. That’d be an interesting conversation to have. But it doesn’t make people angry, so it’s not a conversation Mr. Meyer is interested in having.

Richard Meyer is a troll. Most of us know what kind of troll I’m talking about (and I teach Beowulf and play AD&D, so I know me some trolls), but in the hope you’re sending this article to your mom or grandfather, a troll is a word we use for someone who just wants attention. And the troll gets this attention by getting you really pissed off. He can get you angry because you disagree with him, or he can get you angry because you agree with him. To the troll, it doesn’t much matter. What matters is: he says something online, you get mad, and you respond. Maybe you write an angry comment on a FB feed. Maybe you link to his blog. Maybe you follow his YouTube channel. Maybe you chip in $5 a month to his Patreon, to fuel the good fight.

Meyer’s own description of his behavior confirms his status as an internet troll. Replying to the accusation he was harassing black American comics creator Kwanza Osajyefo, Meyer replied, “After me roasting him about 12 or 15 times a day for about four months, he finally blocked me.” Let’s rewind that and do the math; by Meyer’s own account, he “roasted” (by which I presume he means insulted) Osajyefo on social media about 1,620 times before finally his victim had enough. This is a textbook example of trolling, and it’s this kind of behavior that led Mark Waid to want to have a sit-down with the guy.

Trolling is big business in America. Every time you watch a news report that makes you angry, that uses words which just get you so mad, you’re being trolled. Ms. Fox’s article is another example of trolling. She knows her story is a non-story: Waid was not calling for violence on Meyer or anyone else, and in fact repeatedly called for cooler heads to prevail. Meyer responded on Facebook, told Waid he would not be at the convention, and the two agreed to talk later. That’s it. That’s the story. Meyer’s criticisms of superhero comics are factually untrue; what he is upset about is that Carol Danvers is no longer drawn with breasts the size of her head. She is wearing a uniform which other women and girls might like to try on for themselves. Her body looks like their body.

But if he said that, if she wrote that, they would not get you angry. You would not click through to Meyer’s YouTube channel. You would not forward Fox’s story to your kids. Your emotions would not be roused, and you wouldn’t click the box to donate. You wouldn’t help make their rent or their car payment.

And that’s what this article is really about.

Jason Tondro is an Assistant Professor of English; he teaches comics & graphic novels, writing, and British Literature. He is the author of Superheroes of the Round Table: Comics Connections to Medieval and Renaissance Literature and various RPG resources, including The Deluxe Super Villain Handbook. He’s currently editing Arthur Lives! an urban fantasy RPG using the Fate system.
Trolls Gotta Troll (It's Big Business) Trolls Gotta Troll (It's Big Business) Reviewed by Jason Tondro on Monday, October 02, 2017 Rating: 5


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