Online Culture Wars, pt 1: ComicsGate, an Unfortunate Obituary?

“All organizations that are not actually right wing will over time become left wing” – O’Sullivan’s First Law

A couple of years ago I wrote a primer of sorts on this site about a then new movement called “ComicsGate,” the latest in internet fandom gates. At the time, it seemed like it was poised to do something. Unlike GamerGate before it, ComicsGate had actually attracted the attention of some creative types. People who could actually make a comic book and produce something tangible tied to the movement. Two years on, however, I think I may have been a little optimistic. Yes, there are still some people producing independent comic books under the standard, many of them quite good, at least in terms of art (it was the diminished quality of the visual storytelling in mainstream comics that led to the rise of ComicsGate in the first place), but below the surface, an old problem has reared its ugly head. As is often the case with these right leaning cultural movements and political movements, the circular firing squads started to form up not long after the first whiff of success. I had actually intended to start talking about the whole CG thing more in depth, but after a while, it just became too much nonsense to wade through. It was around the time that former internet comic book boogeyman, and former ComicsGate standard bearer, Richard C. Meyer’s Jawbreakers: Lost Souls comic crossed the 70K or so mark that I started to see it. Suddenly the people who had rallied around this man claiming they wanted X,Y, and Z out of their comics were getting it from someone and the first impulse is to accuse him of being a grifter and the movement of being a cash grab. After Meyer left Twitter and pretty much abandoned any other platform that wasn’t the safety of his Youtube channel, the mob moved on to the next largest target. That being Ethan Van Sciver and his Cyberfrog: Blood Honey project. These days, it doesn’t seem like a day passes in ComicsGate without some new penny ante drama. Creator X didn’t show sufficient fealty to random user Y in a Twitter exchange, random user X is pissed at random user Y and is pissed that creator X won’t interject in their spat, and more of the kind of nonsense that one can only observe when plumbing the depths of the online fandom sphere. Add on top of this the additional weird sadness of things the former Howard Stern Show knockoff turned soy-suffused witch hunt that is War Campaign, and a wealthy homosexual trying to copyright a hashtag to get even with a comic book artist who wouldn’t drop everything to stream with him during Christmas time over a year ago and it frankly makes one believe, no matter how sympathetic they may have been to the initial goals of the movement, that it would be better at this point if one could just gather most of the figures involved in a single place and launch them into the great black beyond. 

I’ve watched several of these movements rise and fall over the years, and they always follow the same trajectory. A group of people claim to want X, Y, and Z from something. It could be politicians, video games, science fiction novels, whatever. People observe this demand and offer a product to meet that demand. The people who claim to want X, Y, and Z suddenly claim it was never about X, Y, and Z, but rather it was about Q and proceed to turn on the people offering to meet their demand, and then subsequently turn on each other. Because, really, at the end of the day, all these online slacktivist movements are about is impotent complaining. They don’t want their demands met by any market player, they want to wallow in misery and discontent together in perpetuity. Like GamerGate before it, ComicsGate also suffers from the stubborn refusal of any of its perceived leaders to take a defined political stance on anything, despite the movement being political in nature. I’ve spent two years watching streams here and there, interacting with people when I can, and most of them are politically conservative (in the American sense), and yet stubbornly refuse to identify as such. I’m reminded of an old canard among conservatives that goes something like “all organizations that are not right-wing will eventually become left-wing over time.” I’ve watched this with my former political party, the Libertarian Party, over the last several years, and I have observed it in ComicsGate too. There is a weird strain of collectivism that runs through it. A creeping rot that will eventually hollow out the structure leaving behind a warped, dilapidated shell. I see it in the way some of the former and ancillary players talk about money. Viewing it as a fixed pie. If Jon Malin makes 100K selling his sexy monster book and Ethan Van Sciver makes a million peddling his cybernetic man-frog comic, then that is 1.1 million dollars less for everyone else. It is a very left wing way of looking at things for people who allege conservatism in a movement that is implicitly (and should be explicitly) right wing. 

ComicsGate is ultimately doomed to fail and make way for the next botched hashtag gate slacktivist movement. Some players that have built up a decent presence independently of the movement, like Van Sciver, Malin, some guy called Cecil, and a handful of others, will probably be able to find some continued success for their indie comic projects going forward. On the whole, however, the ComicsGate label will not be the successful rallying cry it was in 2018. The inevitable result of a failure to take a concrete stance early on. I think by this time next year, whether you view this as a positive or a negative, ComicsGate will be little more than a bogeyman used by left-leaning comics journalists to initiate struggle sessions against whomever they do not like at the moment. A bit like what became of the TEA Party in politics and what has become of GamerGate since 2015. It’s unfortunate, but when you try to be all things to all people, to pander to everyone at the expense of appealing to no one, you end up paradoxically limiting your appeal. 

I am not dancing on the soon to be grave of ComicsGate, not by a long shot. Rather I find its unravelling lamentable just as I found the Sad Puppies sandbagging by the Rabid Puppies, by all accounts ideological fellow travelers, lamentable. If the right is going to have success in the political sphere going forward, they must reengage the culture. As silly and frivolous as things like comic books, video games, movies, television shows, music, whatever, may seem, these things do matter. They can be used to push a political agenda subtly over time by degrees. Far more effective than listening to Walter Williams, eloquent as he may be, drone on about how the minimum wage paradoxically stifles the upward mobility of poor young black men, or Milton Friedman dryly prattling about the long term negative implications of helicopter money. Andrew Breitbart once famously said that “politics is downstream from culture,” and he was correct. The last century showed us the horrors of communism. Yet because the right straight up withdrew from popular culture sometime in the 1960s, 50 years of subtle communist messaging in film after film, in comic books, in video games has shifted the Overton window of this once great bastion of Liberalism so far to the left that an out and out Soviet apologist like Bernie Sanders can not only get elected to the senate, but within striking distance of the presidency. Things like ComicsGate, GamerGate, and the Sad Puppies must be taken as a cautionary tale. It is important to have a defined message, goal, intent, whatever. Do not shy away from what you are until the point that it is too late.  


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