This past week, people on Twitter finally started talking about Eddie Berganza openly as the much rumored high-level serial harasser employed by DC Comics.
Those who know me might have assumed I’d be full of self-righteous vindication, but I only shrugged. I’ve known for years – I was warned almost as soon as I started publishing comics reviews and attending conventions as press. It was old news to me, and probably the worst kept secret in the comics grapevine. More to the point…nothing was gained. Not directly, anyway.
Other outlets have already reported thoroughly on Berganza’s past actions, but in quick summary: he has a history of being intensely, physically inappropriate with women. Making out with someone else’s girlfriend, grabbing someone’s chest at a company party, saying inappropriate things to coworkers. It all resulted in Berganza’s apparent isolation in a no-girls-allowed office – if not a matter of official policy, then in practice – over in the Superman bullpen. Former DC editorial staffer Janelle Asselin went public last week as well as one of the people who reported Berganza while she was at DC. Since then, WB HR brought the ruler down on Berganza, putting him through the requisite programs/training/what have you. Nothing has been reported since.
So, why the big story now? Well, Shelly Bond “left”, just another in a long line of qualified, amazing women who have gifted the comics world with their time and genius. Shelly Bond gets fired, but Eddie Berganza is still chugging away in the Superman office.
It’s a pattern. Bad dudes get protected, good women get driven out.
DC isn’t alone. Marvel has their bad actors (Edmondson, I’m looking directly at you), and Dark Horse has Scott Allie. The Comics Industry isn’t even alone in this – I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life in a male-dominated field just like comics, and I have harassment stories from as recently as March – but Comics is a small community, with a grown up pedigree.
What does that mean?
It means that Comics – and I’ll include folks outside of the Big 3 because everyone needs to meet this standard – needs to stop functioning like the stereotype we are so associated with. Comics is not the weirdo living isolated in his parents’ basement, refusing to move past the cusp of adulthood. This is a grown up industry. Specifically looking at DC and Marvel, these companies are owned by bona fide corporate entities. They are entertainment conglomerates. They provide the superhero fuel for the box office fire, and as such they need to conduct themselves as real corporate entities do. That means no more of this frat boy “protect my buddy” nonsense. That means an environment that is safe for everyone, even if that means tossing out a bad actor you’ve known for years.
To some, it probably feels like all the changes lately have ruined the casual, we’re-all- friends- here atmosphere of comics. Maybe so, but I would encourage you to talk to Colleen Doran about her experiences with Julie Schwartz, and then tell me there’s anything worth saving about the old way of doing things.
So how do you change an environment that tolerates harassment? I have suggestions. I come from a political and government affairs background. Any good strategy for affecting change has to be holistic and continuous. There are many actors, and all of those actors have their own leverage. Change is most assured when it comes from both within and without. Those inside the industry could refuse to work with known harassers. They could be as vocal as possible – and this especially applies to the men in the audience, because you are the majority in this industry – to their superiors about demanding a change. Those on the outside have different options. I personally don’t go in for corporate boycotts; it’s too hard to target them and the spray won’t deliver the message effectively. Unless you can get something really organized your chances of effecting the pocket books at the top are slim. This is not a commentary on anyone’s decision to boycott anything – you do what you must to assuage your conscience, I’m just talking about political strategies. But – talking. Loudly. Silence is the enemy here. We, as a community, cannot keep whispering about these bastards in the bar after a con. We have to actually say something.
Conversations, once started, keep going. They grow, to a point where they cannot be ignored. The entire community needs to be talking – about the need for better protections, about the people who are doing harm and the people who are protecting those doing harm. This ugly creature needs to be dragged into the light. It will be painful, but it is absolutely necessary. Hell, this conversation has been going for years, but this specific conversation has already surpassed the average lifespan of Internet Twitter Outrage. I hope that means people are willing to not shut up, to take it seriously (and the people who aren’t invested will kindly stay silent and let the rest of us do our thing).
Firing Eddie Berganza now for stuff he did years ago and was apparently punished for won’t right all these wrongs. What would be helpful, as a female reader of comics who has spent LOTS of time and money supporting DC in particular, would be some public acknowledgement. From DC Editorial, and from Berganza himself. I want to see ownership of past mistakes, I want to see sincere apologies to victims. And above all, I want to see the public declaration of zero-tolerance for this behavior in the future.
I want to see people actually listen to victims instead of demanding proof. The thing about harassment (and any form of bullying) is that it’s usually low-key to start, and doesn’t leave a paper trail. Documenting a pattern of behavior is impossible unless you exist with a Go-Pro on your shoulder. Plus, people don’t make these accusations for fun. Look at what happens to the women who have spoken out! It’s stressful, embarrassing, potentially career-killing. Go ahead and assume if someone says that So-And- So is a creep, it’s not for no good reason.
This isn’t about a witch hunt. This is far from that. This is about taking a community we all love and care about – a celebration of the coolest art form humans have ever created – and making it better, making it stronger, making it more sustainable. To do that, we have to work together. People on the inside of the industry need to speak up, and draw some lines. People on the outside need to speak out, and demand better from the publishers. And we need to change the culture that makes it impossible for victims to speak up without being further harassed or afraid of losing their jobs. It’s a massive effort, yes, but it is easily doable if there’s a sincere enough commitment from all involved. I know the commitment is there from the comics community of fans. I know there are committed creators. What remains to be seen is if the publishers are ready to leave the kids table and join the grown ups.
There are a million things we as a community can do to be better about harassment, but my firm belief is that leadership has to come from the top. DC Comics has to start acting like a real, fully formed business entity. Marvel has to do the same. Image. Dark Horse. Boom. Oni. Black Mask. You need to prove to me, and every other woman associated with the Comics Industry, that you value our basic rights to work without feeling less-than, that you take seriously the need to provide a safe environment for your employees, that you wouldn’t utterly disgust the fictional heroes that live in your halls.