If you follow comic book industry news, you are no doubt aware of the situation involving DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza and the numerous sexual harassment complaints that have come to light. These complaints stretch back years and have, in at least one case, resulted in employees leaving the company in order to avoid working with him. The sad truth is you don’t have to dig very deep to find other situations like this – and in many cases, much worse – at other publishers. As a whole, the comic industry has created a hostile, toxic work environment.
There has been a great deal written about this over the years, and some really excellent coverage over the past few weeks from places like Bleeding Cool and The Beat. I would encourage you to go read those articles and get some context and history of these situation. There have also been numerous calls for things like boycotts, firings, and restructuring in general. Obviously, the industry as a whole must address this situation and they need to address it now.
The moral implications of this should be clear to everyone. The anger and frustration felt by those that have been victimized by harassers is something we can and should sympathize with. On a purely human decency level, this sort of treatment is not okay. Those who are standing up against it deserve our support and respect.
Now, there’s something else that needs to be said about this ongoing problem. It’s easy to forget, because comic books are art and a creative medium that appears to operate differently from other businesses, but he truth is the comic book industry is a business. It employs people and produces a product where the end goal is to make money. As a business, it must – must – have a zero tolerance policy towards harassment. Performance, talent, friendship, apologies, remorse, none of that factors into a zero tolerance policy. Zero means zero. If comic books are a business, and they are, then they need to start acting like it.
For a comparison, let’s take a McDonalds restaurant. Any restaurant will do, but we’ll go with McDonalds because I like their fries. If a manager at a McDonalds sexually harassed one of their employees, openly in view of the staff, to the point where there was no question whether or not the event occurred, that manager would be fired. Instantly, without a second thought. McDonalds as a corporation has a zero tolerance policy for harassment, so that manager would be gone. It doesn’t matter if they apologized, promised to never do it again, offered to transfer to another location, or any other excuse. They would be fired, end of story.
At this point, the comic book industry is handling things worse than a McDonalds. Think about that for a moment. By not enforcing a zero tolerance policy, by not removing harassers, the industry is not only creating a hostile work environment, they are endorsing it. They are, effectively, saying it is okay to behave that way as long as you produce results. From a business standpoint (and a moral one), that is absolutely insane. By allowing repeat harassers to remain in positions of authority, the industry creating a systematic and abusive chain of events that will not stop. We often look at the angry, misogynistic nature of a small percentage of the fandom, but they learned it from watching you, comic companies. You said this sort of behavior was okay and you created an environment that is unwelcoming, ugly, and dangerous.
As a whole, the comic book industry needs to remember that zero means zero. Not one offense with an apology. It’s not three strikes and you are out. At the very, very least, they need to have the standards of McDonalds. As a lifelong reader and recent contributor to the industry, I don’t believe that is too much to ask.
I want to be clear, I’m not just saying Eddie Berganza is a problem and DC should fire him. At this point, the situation is bigger than that. The comic companies cannot shield folks because they are talented or hardworking. They can’t give second chances. That’s not how zero tolerance works. They have to set the expectation from day one and say, “this is never okay. You do this, and you no longer work here.” That has to be the standard and it has to start now.
Image Credit: Eerie No. 7