Monday, June 19, 2006

My former industry is starting to look like Hollywood!

Some of you are aware that I was in the comics business in the 1990's, where I did an alt-comix series called Hepcats that got good reviews but never sold. Then as now, phrases like "sex scandal" aren't something you'd ordinarily associate with a business like comics, which customarily evokes images of spotty geeks wearing faded Star Wars T-shirts, whose closest contact with girls is in the porn they download and the Boris Vallejo posters on their walls.

But last fall (I'm so outside the loop I've only just heard about it, of course), an incident happened at a convention in Ohio that sounds right out of some Hollywood gossip/scandal rag. The accused is a guy I knew well.

A full-fledged news report on the incident is here. But it's long, so for those of you who don't want to click over and spend 45 minutes reading it, the gist is as follows: a fellow named Charles Brownstein, one of the industry's most respected figures, stands accused of getting blindingly drunk as a skunk and trying to rip the shirt off an upcoming female comics artist in a hot tub.

I knew Charles very well when I was in the biz. At the time, he was a plucky lad of only 15, but so self-possessed, intelligent, mature and driven in his goals that he immediately made a profound impression on me and several other artists and industry movers and shakers. He certainly had his shit together better than most folks I know twice or three times his age. And, unlike a lot of highly intelligent and driven teens (certainly unlike myself well into my 20's), he wasn't a smug egoist. He published a fanzine for which he interviewed me and every other creator of note. Now, at 27, he heads up the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which, in the 90's, mostly devoted its efforts to protecting retailers and publishers of adult comics from prosecution but now seems to have its net thrown a little wider.

If the accusation is true — and no one, even Charles, is debating it — then I'm very disappointed in him. It would certainly be an incident I'd have considered wildly out of character for him. However, he has made a public apology which sounds honestly contrite — unlike that you usually tend to hear from real celebrities caught in similar circumstances — and has by all accounts been doing all he can to atone for the incident and make sure everyone knows he is truly sorry for his undeniably appalling behavior.

Not surprisingly, there are folks simply not in a forgiving mood about an incident like this, and the sad thing is, they appear to be manipulating the victim (who went through something humiliating enough as it is). The main organization in the other corner is called Friends of Lulu, dedicating to helping women artists get a leg up in a highly male (let alone male-geek) dominated industry. According to the Comics Journal article...

Friends of Lulu Vice President (of Industry Issues) Ronée Garcia Bourgeois was responsible for bringing the incident to the public's attention Dec. 26.... The reactions provoked by the post among followers of Bourgeois' column were predominantly compassionate but further subdivided into two categories: 1) the avowed desire to wreak Batman-like vengeance against the perpetrator, and 2) perplexity as to where to direct that vengeance or even what exactly was to be avenged. Referring to the alleged perpetrator as a "pervert" and a "leech," Bourgeois said, "I think he should burn. And as soon as I can, I will [identify him and his organization]."

It's one thing to want to get to the bottom of things and find out the facts of an incident. It's another thing entirely to go into wild-eyed lynch-mob mode and pre-emptively convict the accused in the infamous Court of Public Opinion. The problem is further muddied by how the whole investigation has been handled...

Why would Soma call off police, then later express public frustration at the lack of official response to her molestation? Did she think that police procedure would have allowed for some satisfactory action short of criminal prosecution? Did she later find that the incident had done her more psychic damage than she had initially realized — that she needed resolution more than she had thought? Soma is again the only person who can answer those questions, and for the time being, she is not talking on the record.

Then, this observation from my former colleague Colleen Doran, who is absolutely not an apologist for sexual predators, having had her share of unwelcome male attention throughout her career, due in large part to her unusual status as a gorgeous redhead in a business overrun with sex-hungry young guys. (I spent many evenings sitting on the phone listening to Colleen relate disturbing stories about a certain publisher....)

In February of this year, the witness, Ken Lillie Paetz [either the "boyfriend" or "friend" of the alleged victim, depending on what report you read, who was present at the time of the groping and physically restrained Brownstein], and Charles Brownstein stood at my table at the New York Comic Con, and had a friendly, 20 minute conversation with me, talking comics and other inconsequentials in a perfectly normal manner in front of dozens of witnesses....

If Mr. Paetz believed Mr. Brownstein was a sexual predator who was a danger to his girlfriend or anyone else for that matter, I can’t imagine why on Earth he would have carried on this cordial discussion that ended in a warm handshake with Brownstein mere months after the alleged incident.

Moreover, since Ms. Soma’s primary intention is to “make sure (Brownstein) never works in this business again” I am afraid even the Supreme Court does not have the power to grant her wish to have him blacklisted.

Wow. What a sad, sordid affair, and I hope it finally resolves in a fair way to all involved, and that the people who appear to be using the victim for whatever political agenda they're after think twice before they cause her more damage. It just goes to show how rolling snowballs get bigger and bigger, until you can't see the pebble they initially formed around any more.

But boy...this is all so Hollywood, isn't it.

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