Mockingbird is There for Us: Who Will Be there for Her Writer? (UPDATED)
Last week saw the final issue of Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk’s run on Mockingbird. The series combined a well-crafted mystery, super science, attractive men and women flirting, actual humor that you will actually laugh at, mer-corgis, a geek cruise, much #Adulting, the best use of The Hellfire Club since it’s inception and the most relatable adult woman hero in Marvel Comics.
The creative team used the comics medium to its best advantage telling a story that gets even better with multiple readings due to creative page layouts, a puzzle-box story structure and rich visual humor with a Where’s Waldo level of “spot this hidden joke” detail. They draw women and men in clothes that actual women and men wear. Characters are sexy and not objectified. There are paperdolls and a yoga guide in the back.
If you are a grown-up-woman reading superhero comics this needs to be at the top of your list.
And Mockingbird is also explicitly feminist.
Because that’s what Mockingbird, scientist and SHIELD agent would OBVIOUSLY be. That’s also why fake fanboys are harassing writer Chelsea Cain.
How dare women, feminists no less, get a say in how one of our superheroes are portrayed?
This entire Mockingbird series has always been explicitly feminist– practically every issue addresses sexism in some way and every issue features Bobbi standing up for women and girls. But I guess the troglodytes didn’t notice that until the cover of issue 8 came out with Mockingbird wearing an “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda” T-shirt (which had been solicited and shown off since July). Possibly because the bros are bad at context clues. But also because they don’t even read this comic.
These “Antisocial Injustice Necromancers” as Sergio Alexis named them, are using the fact that the series has been canceled to claim that there is no audience for feminist superhero comics. Also, that feminism is bad. And they are straight up harassing Chelsea Cain on Twitter. [Note: Cain has officially deleted her Twitter account].
Not only has their always been an audience for superhero feminist comics but that audience is growing and that is scaring the men who’d like to keep comics insular, pale, male and stale.
The fact that Marvel planned to cancel the series before even seeing how well it would sell in a compiled edition, (a trade paperback) also shows a possible misunderstanding of the market. People are reading comics in trade paperback form in greater numbers and entire segments wait for trade release. When you have a comic that’s really going to be a favorite with adult women you know there’s a good chance it’s going to sell best at bookstores.
We’ve seen this all before: last year DC Comics canceled Midnighter, a series starring a gay superhero written by a bisexual author. It’s been widely speculated that the series was canceled due to sales on single monthly issues which could only be bought at comics shops. And then when sales of the trade paperback were strong because more of the people looking for an LGBTQ superhero book read trade paperbacks, DC brought back the series. They even hired the writer, Steve Orlando to write even more DC comics, including the super high-profile Justice League of America series.
Mockingbird, Midnighter, Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, Nitehawk, Silk and Luke Cage and Iron Fist are the future of superhero comics. They are embraced by an underserved audience who thought mainstream superhero comic books weren’t for them until more were made with them specifically in mind. The new line of superheroes from Lion Forge Comics sounds a lot like the future too.
In fact, socially relevant superheroes are also at the core of superhero comics’ legacy. Jack Kirby, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne where all Social Justice Warriors in their day. Doubt me? The feminism of Kirby’s work can best be seen in the blog Kirby without words. Or read “A People’s History of the Marvel Universe.”
Sexists who are complaining about comics being feminist don’t even know the history of comics. The sad truth though is that there are currently plenty of regressive comics that are made just for them. So even if they don’t want to acknowledge the true power of the medium they still have plenty of sexist, racist, homophobic dreck they can pick up at their local store.
What’s next for the hit novelist Chelsea Cain? When she was on our podcast this summer she said she wanted to write Sue Storm. And lord knows we need a strong woman writer crafting stories about superhero comics #1 mom.
But being subject to online harassment is a harrowing experience and Cain is considering leaving comics. How can we expect talented people to continue working in this environment? Twitter needs to step up. But so do publishers and her peers.
Chelsea Cain herself has tweeted that Marvel didn’t give her any advice on how to respond to online harassment. Publishers need to do more to protect their talent from harassers and arm them with real world steps in how to deal with them.
This can mean stepping in in online conversations to explain why harassment is out of bounds. It can mean using their corporate power to get harassers banned from Twitter.
It can also mean actually supporting excellent work from diverse voices even if it takes a little longer to become a hit and let people who do want to support diverse media know where to find it.
It can also mean telling employees to stop harassing fans online. It can also mean publishers not bragging about being against social justice.
Every single person in comics who circled their wagons to “defend” the creators of sexist and racist comics covers last week need to step up and defend Chelsea Cain from harassers. Harassers may actually listen to them.
The fact that Chelsea Cain was compelled to delete her Twitter account is loss to her and to readers. Twitter has become a major platform for promoting comics and other writing. Cain is a professional writer. Deleting her Twitter account hampers her ability to speak to fans and find new ones.
But she had to delete her’s anyway. This is a position that no-one should have to be in. But it will keep happening and it will keep hurting the industry’s future if publishers choose to ignore it.
Comics industry legend Gail Simone, who herself has been subject to online harassment, even listed ways that the industry can do more to end harassment and has spoken about talent that the industry lost due to it. The entire industry needs to take this on including corporate leadership.
I want to help Chelsea Cain right now. I want you to buy Mockingbird right now because it will brighten your day as it brightened mine for eight fabulous issues. But we also need to recognize what is happening is part of a bigger systemic problem.
If you yourself want to take action today please tweet with the hashtag #StandWithChelseaCain, if you aren’t boycotting Marvel pick up Mockingbird so it can be a hit, buy her best selling thrillers directly from her, and no matter what, actually write to publishers asking them what they are doing to stop harassment inside their own offices as well as from fans online.