This weekend, DC Comics fired editor Eddie Berganza after former employees shared their allegations against him with Buzzfeed News.
Janelle Asselin and Liz Gehrlein Marsham told their story publicly for the first time, although their experiences are now almost a decade old. In fact, no one has formally accused Berganza since 2012. Asselin and Marsham went to HR seven years ago with several others when Berganza was up for a promotion. They wanted to prevent further harassment, but nothing was done at the time. However, this weekend, DC cited their commitment to “eradicating harassment” as a reason behind Berganza’s termination.
Correction: DC Comics fires longtime editor Eddie Berganza following years of already knowing about sexual harassment claims and they would’ve gotten away with it too if it weren’t for ya meddlin’ kids https://t.co/i62kH8zwJc
— ✨Olive ✨ (@OliveOilCorp) November 13, 2017
In 2010, Berganza’s potential promotion to executive editor inspired women to come forward with their stories. “A total of five people — four then-current employees, including Marsham and Asselin, and one ex-employee, Hilty — confirmed to BuzzFeed News that they shared their Berganza stories, observations, or concerns with HR that summer.” He was unaffected until 2012 when another woman accused him of kissing her without consent at a convention. Instead of firing him, DC demoted Berganza to group editor.
The full story from Asselin and Marsham, including the fact that they had already filed against Berganza, forced DC to take action. After 25 years with the company, accusations against him ranged from “making offensive jokes or line-crossing comments in the presence of or at the expense of women…” to “…hav[ing] forcibly kissed and attempted to grope female coworkers.” An anonymous employee told Buzzfeed that Berganza’s reputation was “…’something that I didn’t like, but I stomached it. Everybody did. It was a gross open secret.'”
Eddie Berganza Vs. Ron Richards
As DC takes one (delayed) step forward, however, Marvel takes one back by hiring Ron Richards as Vice President/Managing Editor of New Media. Personal and professional contacts began to accuse Richards of a variety of misconduct and harassment charges almost immediately after the news went public. Men and women told personal stories or relayed that they knew someone with a story, using social media. Others expressed their displeasure with Marvel.
I swear to God. This isn’t “Take a Penny, Leave a Penny,” @Marvel.
Why would you hire Ron Richards, a known sexual harasser, NOW of all times?
— Matt Santori 🏳️🌈 (@FotoCub) November 14, 2017
The allegations against Richards took a few iFanboy fans by surprise.
I’m an ifanboy listener from the 1st episode forward. I don’t know Ron Richards but he’s been a staple in my weekly life for a decade. I don’t want this to be true but there is genuine proof out there and enough women with similar stories that it’s hard to deny. But you do you.
— M. Boo!holz (@LilScowly) November 15, 2017
Richards worked previously as Image Comics’ Director of Business Development and co-founded the comics podcast/website iFanboy. As of this article’s publication, iFanboy has over 10k Followers on Facebook and more than twice that on Twitter.
“How Did This Happen?” Isn’t Good Enough Anymore
When someone popular is accused of being less than perfect, we have a knee-jerk reaction. We are more connected than ever to our content creators. By following them on social media and meeting them at conventions, we feel involved in their personal lives. Of course, that is impossibly untrue.
As more men are under fire for sexual misconduct, it should be easier for victims to speak up. Women, men, and children in Hollywood are taking a stand against sexual harassment. Gal Gadot, for instance, has promised to leave Wonder Woman unless Brett Ratner is removed from the project. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), dropped his agent after abuse allegations. However, the comic book industry is still relatively small. Which means if a victim speaks out against someone in power, there could be dire consequences for the victim’s career.
Unlike cases in other industries, the people who spoke to BuzzFeed News did not know of settlements, payouts, or nondisclosure agreements with women who say Berganza harassed them. Instead, what has kept many of these stories confined to gossip, blogs, and occasional social media posts is the small size of the comics industry, and fear of being blacklisted by the biggest publishers in comics.
The problem runs much deeper than one man here and another there. Heidi MacDonald explains, in her history of comics, how ingrained sexual harassment has been since the industry’s birth. She describes the behavior of Jules Schwartz, a “goodwill ambassador” for DC Comics. “…[he]was known to be incredibly “handsy” with any woman or girl who got near him. A man who regularly greeted me whenever I was near him with a big wet kiss on the mouth no matter how much I squirmed away. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.” This behavior is displayed by the old guard. The industry hails them as “goodwill ambassadors.” The message to women is clear: your discomfort does not matter.
Enter The Social Justice League
I’m speaking up now because people are listening, and because I have the added protection of not being in the industry. I’m speaking up for the women who can’t.
— Buffy (@buffysaidthis) November 14, 2017
Unluckily for Richards, people outside of the industry are unafraid to speak up. An ex-girlfriend, Buffy Serrano, posted to Twitter about her relationship with him. Most succinctly, she stated, “Go f*ck yourself, Ron.” Serrano does not claim mistreatment. The closest she gets to an accusation is the following: “It’s so strange to find out that your crappy ex is, in fact, a serial harasser/abuser. Makes you rethink all your experiences. Like, maybe all those feelings you had were based on actual facts and behaviors rather than you just being crazy.”
She does share details about Richards’ feelings on women in comics. “He said that women in comics only get ahead because they flaunt their bodies and take sexy pics and that by doing so they take away opportunities for men. He was resentful.” Other women who dated him claim threatening voicemails, stolen property, and other harassment or abuse. Some have locked their Twitter accounts after taking part in the initial conversation. Others have put out a call for more information.
I’ve been told by multiple people over the years that Ron Richards is an abuser and has a history of making women in the industry deeply uncomfortable. Anyone who wants to talk to me about him in more depth, please reach out. https://t.co/XpHYZXR0eT
— Nick Hanover (@Nick_Hanover) November 13, 2017
As of publication, no official response has come from Marvel. Pros are already questioning how long it will take–if ever–to see ramifications. So where does this leave the comics industry? Eddie Berganza is out, but so many others are still in. Is it really about “eradicating harassment,” or just eradicating lousy press?