[Content warning for bullying and misogyny]
GamerGate (see chapter 28) and the Puppy campaigns had each chosen their own mode of popular culture to stage a revolt against the perceived incursion of more modern ideas. The offending ideas were not just social/political but also aesthetic or a combination of both — particularly regarding how women were represented. While both GamerGate and the Puppy campaigns included women supporters, both campaigns highlighted feminism as one of the social movements they were pushing back on and also portrayed the respective domains as places naturally suited for the enjoyment of young men.
Among the alt-right (see chapter 57) both of these campaigns were part of a broader pushback against the inclusion of women, a greater range of ethnic groups and LGBTQI people in popular culture both as characters and as creators. This pushback was tied to a politically paranoid belief that sinister forces were attempting to wipe out white people as a group and hence the increased representation in popular culture (from movies to TV adverts) of people other than manly looking cis-het English-speaking Christian white men was regarded as confirmation of a genocidal plot. This overarching idea allowed the alt-right to connect in their rhetoric everything from their opposition to immigration and movements like Black Lives Matter with their support for Donald Trump, and of course to the ongoing struggle over popular culture.
GamerGate had framed itself as a consumer uprising, the Puppy campaigns would adopt similar rhetoric but were predominantly campaigns by content creators (i.e. authors). Even the more GamerGate aspects of the Puppy campaigns (eg the Tor Boycott – see chapter 43) was still led primarily by aspiring authors. However, a more general reactionary consumer revolt tactic was adopted on the right across a broader range of popular culture. In the aftermath of GamerGate, this had included a coordinated campaign against the women-led reboot of the Ghostbuster’s franchise. The targeted harassment of actor Leslie Jones led to Milo Yiannopoulos being permanently banned from Twitter.
Other alt-right backlashes in popular culture included campaigns against Rian Johnson’s Star War’s sequel The Last Jedi in 2017. In 2018 former GamerGate and Puppy supporter Brian Niemeier was one of many on the right who was outraged by Netflix commissioning a re-boot of 1980’s kid’s cartoon She-Ra but with more body-positive character designs. Niemeier saw the move as a sadistic mental game by the media company.
“What follows is crucial. In fact, it’s the whole point. The converged corporation fans initial murmurs of normie dissatisfaction into a full-fledged backlash. Conveniently, the company will have hired a race hustler masquerading as a writer or a LOOK AT ME!!! LGBTQ+ mascot to headline the project. Those who complained have unwittingly stepped into a kafkatrap wherein the production’s SJW fellow travelers in the media can snipe at normal people with their victims caught in a crossfire.”https://brianniemeier.com/2018/07/the-sjw-turkey-shoot/
Even cute Disney musicals got dragged into the culture war with, belatedly, the song “Let It Go” from the 2013 film Frozen being identified as subversively feminist in 2017 by popular right-wing self-help guru of the time Jordan Peterson calling the film “propagandistic” while Vox Day saw Satan and the collapse of civilisation in the song.
“Disney is run by literal satanists preaching Alastair Crowley’s “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” to children. They are one of the primary engine’s of the West’s degeneracy and decline. It is not an accident that everything they touch, in every industry, turns into morally radioactive slime.”https://web.archive.org/web/20171027230425/http://voxday.blogspot.com.au/2017/10/the-devil-that-is-disney.html
However, histrionics about catchy show tunes lacked the same mobilising influence as GamerGate and the Puppy campaigns had. Attempts to derail huge franchises backed by marketing might of the increasingly dominant Disney corporation proved to be largely fruitless.
Among the many areas in this sporadic cultural campaign was superhero comic books. This front in the culture war was initially just part of the same unfocused complaints about the improved representation of women and other groups in modern comics. Most notable of these incidents was the far-right online harassment campaign that sprung up in 2016 objecting to the cover of a Marvel comic featuring the character Mockingbird in a t-shirt that read “Ask me about my feminist agenda”. The writer of the comic, Chelsea Cain, was subject to a wave of harassment on social media. In 2017 an otherwise unremarkable photograph of women staff at Marvel drinking milkshakes became the focus of another social media harassment campaign.
“According to a vocal contingent online, Antos and the Marvel Milkshake Crew were “fake geek girls,” “social justice warriors,” and “tumblr-virtue signalers,” the sort of people who were ruining the comics industry by their very presence. “The creepiest collection of stereotypical SJWs [“social justice warriors”] anyone could possibly imagine,” one user tweeted. Musings on Antos’ sexual availability led another to write, “Better have her sign a consent form, she looks like the ‘false rape charge’ type.””https://www.thedailybeast.com/comicsgate-how-an-anti-diversity-harassment-campaign-in-comics-got-uglyand-profitable
Central to that campaign was a YouTuber and comic book writer/reviewer Richard C. Meyer, who had been using his channel (entitled “Diversity & Comics”) to promulgate the idea that feminism and diversity were undermining comics. Not all of Meyer’s anti-diversity rhetoric was public and his more extreme comments were contained in a private channel for more dedicated fans of his videos.
“In a private YouTube video called “The Dark Roast,” originally posted in November 2017 and obtained by The Daily Beast, Meyer called one Marvel editor a “cum-dumpster,” accused various female writers of “sucking their way into the industry,” and mused which famous creators were pedophiles or had psychological problems. “The Dark Roast is where I get to say stuff like ‘Dan Slott looks like a pedophile,’” he says in the recording. “I don’t have to dance around, I don’t have to say ‘parody’ or wink-wink.””ibid
Meyer was one of the two central figures in Comicsgate but before we get to the second figure, we need to look at the other dimension of Comicsgate and encounter some more familiar faces.
Comics, as an industry, had many features in common with both the book publishing world of the Puppy campaigns and the quite different world of video games. Technological change and shifts in consumer habits had meant that the dominant publishers of superhero comic books (Marvel and DC) were dealing with a changing market. Fewer people were buying individual comics from speciality comic book stores and instead of buying comics digitally or in collections/graphic novel formats. In addition, Japanese manga had become increasingly available to Western audiences since the 1990s. As with book publishing, people hadn’t stopped reading but the market had become less predictable and consumer choice had increased significantly.
Not unlike video games, the comic book industry had also had a long history of difficult and often exploitative relationships not just with fans but also with the key people producing the creative work. In the new century, the value of the intellectual property of many classic superheroes had come to far exceed that of the sales of comic books — especially for Marvel (now owned by Disney) whose superhero movies were becoming must-see blockbuster films.
Digital tools and digital publishing also had reduced some of the barriers to the creation of independent comics. However, comics remained more complex and expensive to produce than written word books and required more collaboration between individuals. As with independently produced novels, aspiring comic book creators taking an independent path faced the issue of how to stand out in a busy market.
The twenty-first century had brought many internet-based innovations but one of particular pertinence to this chapter was the rise of crowdfunding sites. Some of these sites, like GoFundMe, were focused on personal causes or charitable giving, others such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo were intended to help people fund specific projects. The Kickstarter model was well suited to projects such as comics and graphic novels. The time and cost of writing and illustrating a comic involves significant risk for the people involved and being paid in advance of the work had obvious advantages by demonstrating that there was a paying audience for the proposed work.
Inevitably tying the culture war to crowdfunding comic books was a step that somebody was going to take.
Although it was not obvious in March 2017, the shine was coming off Vox Day’s Castalia House publishing project. When the Rabid Puppies campaigns finally ran out of steam, Day’s enthusiasm for publishing new science fiction novels would also wane sharply. Provoked by an article in The Federalist by Jon Del Arroz jumping on the trend of attacking diversity in comics, Day asked his followers if they’d be interested in crowdfunding a line of comics from Castalia.
“Is this something where a Kickstarter would make sense? I don’t like the idea of relying solely upon the Dread Ilk for this, as you are already supporting more vital projects such as Gab, Infogalactic, and Castalia House. Those are strategic projects of general interest, whereas something like this is more specific to a single converged market. My thought is that it would be interesting to subvert the current superhero genre with a group of nationalist superheroes who are totally opposed to the evil would-be rulers of the world; they’d be seen as villains, of course, by those who romanticized saving the UN every Saturday morning in the 1970s and 80s.”https://web.archive.org/web/20170401023420/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2017/03/diversity-in-comics.html
Day had already had some work done illustrating his Quantum Mortis science fiction novel and while Castalia House’s back catalogue wasn’t huge, there was a variety of works he could adapt. Day was already using his many followers for more direct crowdfunding of his various projects (such as his alternate version of Wikipedia).
After considering the mainstream crowdfunding site Kickstarter, Day was faced with a dilemma. He wanted the campaign to be overtly controversial with some of the initial artwork featuring a vigilante hunting down an illegal immigrant who was a child rapist. By 2017, large tech companies had belatedly begun to become far warier of providing material support for the far-right and Day believed that Kickstarter would cave to the inevitable backlash to his campaign. Not that Day didn’t want a backlash (he hoped to provoke one) but he did not want a backlash of sufficient strength that it would derail the funding of the campaign.
In the end, Day used a new (and short-lived) crowdfunding site called Freestartr, the creation of a right-wing activist/entrepreneur Charles C. Johnson. Freestartr was also used by Richard Spencer to crowdfund some of his legal fees in the wake of the disastrous Unite the Right rally. The lowest level pledge for the project was at $10 and was named “Pull the Trigger”:
“This is for those who could not care less about comics, but enjoy tormenting SJWs and would enjoy the privilege of triggering them by being able to say “yeah, I did that.” We will send you a special digital portrait of Rebel, in her Alt★Hero outfit, blowing a kiss and saying “You’re welcome!” that you can send to people crying about it on social media.”https://web.archive.org/web/20170929184914/https://freestartr.com/project/althero/
Your ten dollars would earn you a picture of “Rebel”, one of Day’s superhero characters — a young woman from the US South whose costume incorporated the design of a Confederate flag.
Day’s campaign was a success raising $34,735, although nearly a third of that amount was from just three donors. Freestartr as an overall project would be less successful due to being cut off by payment processing companies PayPal and Stripe in 2018.
The campaign resulted in Castalia gaining a new imprint called Arkhaven Comics and Day had a new channel to bring his combination of the culture war and commercial venture to the world.
This takes us to the fourth figure in the world of Comicsgate: Ethan Van Sciver. A comic book artist who had had some success with DC and Marvel. Van Sciver had also notably provided the illustrations in 2017 for the highly popular right-wing self-help book 12 Rules for Life by Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. Van Sciver’s YouTube channel Comic increasingly became the centre of Comicsgate activity, with his focus shifting from advice on illustrating comics to culture-war rhetoric and promoting figures such as Vox Day and Richard C. Meyer, and like Meyer adopted the anti-SJW rhetoric of Vox Day.
Both Meyer and Van Sciver took the culture war boost into crowdfunding their own comics projects in 2018. Meyer’s Jawbreakers—Lost Souls comic was announced as a Kickstarter project near the start of the year but his connection with the ongoing social media harassment of other figures in comics led to some comic book stores announcing that they would not stock the comic once it was released. These announcements led to new rounds of harassment:
“On the early morning of Friday, May 11th Meyer agreed with a fan’s joke about breaking the legs of those at the stores who refused to carry Jawbreakers, rallying his “army” around his cause. Shortly thereafter that morning, Variant Edition Culture & Comics was broken into, the glass was smashed through in the front of the store, and money was stolen from the register. There are strong suspicions from the shop’s owner and the local community that this was no coincidence. That afternoon despite the problematic violence, Meyer’s “army” continued to threaten Big Bang with unknown “consequences”.”https://web.archive.org/web/20180930081423/https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2018/05/previously-on-comics-comicsgate-gets-aggressive-and-other-news/
The subsequent storm led the publisher Antarctic Press to withdraw their plans to publish Jawbreakers with Meyer. In retaliation, Meyer started legal action against Antarctic Press and announced his own publishing company to produce the comic. Antarctic’s action was then characterised by Comicsgate supporters as further evidence of leftwing censorship.
Jon Del Arroz used his column in the prominent far-right web magazine The Federalist to frame the conflict over Jawbreakers as a battle for freedom of expression.
“Their backtracking had big implications for Meyer and his team, as the book would no longer be distributed to comic book stores. But there was little they could do about it. Antarctic Press was hit by a storm of industry professionals colluding to try to force conservative-authored competition out of the business, which was followed by several retailers threatening to drop all Antarctic Press books from their shelves if the publisher produced Meyer’s book. The precedent set is disturbing, but this kind of anti-conservative discrimination has been festering in the comics world for a long time.”https://thefederalist.com/2018/05/15/mob-attempts-strangle-youtubers-breakout-success-upon-ditching-sjw-infested-comics/
According to Del Arroz, Comicsgate was an anti-harassment campaign, pushing back against leftwing hate directed at conservatives within the comics industry.
With figures like Meyer and Van Sciver publishing their own comics using crowdfunding but also facing issues with potential boycotts from publishers, distributors and comic shops, Vox Day saw an opportunity. Day had already established a second comics imprint Dark Legion, intended for more creator-owned projects to complement his Arkhaven comics. Day himself regarded the broader Comicsgate campaign less like GamerGate and more like the Sad Puppy campaign to the extent of overtly stating that “Comicsgate is Sad Puppies” and prior to that describing Meyer and Van Sciver as “moderates”. This was both dismissive and also a way for Day to support Van Sciver’s claims that the Comicsgate campaign was somehow an apolitical consumer backlash against forced diversity. However, Day also recognised that “Comicsgate” as a brand name was attracting the attention of a large potential market for Arkhaven and Castalia House.
In September 2018 Vox Day staged a very small comic book coup d’etat.
Day announced the third imprint for his line of comics and registered the name in systems for the distribution of comics. The name chosen was Comicsgate Comics.
“Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, the Nazi-quoting nationalist most famous for gaming the Hugo Awards with bloc voting campaigns, has appropriated the “ComicsGate” name for a new comics publishing company. But adherents of the ComicsGate movement, though sharing his distate for diversity, are far from pleased.”https://boingboing.net/2018/09/04/alt-right-publisher-founds-com.html
Day’s move to apparently control the term “Comicsgate” led to a furious backlash from Ethan Van Sciver. Day attempted to explain that he was not seeking to control the term but rather help creative people who wanted to support Comicsgate.
“Arkhaven is for the original material that we create. Dark Legion is what other creators bring to us for publishing. ComicsGate is similar to Dark Legion, but it is specifically for creators and fans who wish to make public their support for ComicsGate. We don’t claim to define ComicsGate, we don’t claim to be the official publisher of ComicsGate, and there will certainly be ComicsGaters who will utilize other publishers and distribution channels, this is merely our way of offering our structural support for the people and philosophy of ComicsGate.”https://boundingintocomics.com/2018/09/03/exclusive-vox-day-announces-new-comicsgate-imprint/
Day, Meyer and Van Sciver had already established social media followings of people involved in notable anti-SJW campaigns. The subsequent fight over the name “Comicsgate” was exactly as toxic as you would imagine setting warring armies of trolls against each other would be.
Caught in the middle was Jon Del Arroz. Arroz had used his social media presence and his platform on The Federalist to boost Van Sciver, Meyer and the Comicsgate hashtag. He also had allied himself with Vox Day and had books published via Castalia and comics distributed by Arkhaven including a forthcoming adaptation of MilSF writer Richard Fox’s Ember War series.
For the first time, Day found himself facing substantial opposition from people marginally to the left of him in anti-SJW right. Portrayed as a grifter and a carpet-bagger, new-found critics of Day discovered (as if they were new) some of Day’s more extreme views, including Day’s endorsement of the political mass murderer and child-killer Anders Brevik.
Right-wing anti-SJW comic review site Bounding Into Comics made a call for peace.
“On September 3rd, 2018, Alt-Hero publisher Vox Day announced his prospective Comicsgate imprint right here on Bounding Into Comics, and it would be an insult to diarrhea to say that the Comicsgate community understandably lost their crap in response. Whether Vox Day was trying to do something he deemed to be positive for the movement, or he was just trying to co-opt it a la Sad Puppies…or both, is mostly irrelevant; the fallout from his move was quite real, particularly when it came to author and occasional BIC contributor Jon Del Arroz.”https://boundingintocomics.com/2018/09/22/lets-not-turn-comicsgate-into-dramagate/
Under pressure, Day had abandoned the idea of a Comicsgate imprint and also wanted an end to the infighting but also did not want to concede defeat. He even took issue with how Bounding Into Comics described his relationship with the Sad Puppies.
“I would, however, like to correct one common misapprehension: I never co-opted Sad Puppies. To the contrary, I was the architect of the Sad Puppies most notorious success and at no point in time was there ever any conflict between the Sad Puppies and me. If you look more closely, you’ll notice that none of the four leaders of the Sad Puppies, from Larry to Kate, have ever made a single accusation on that score. I don’t intend to say any more than that, except to reiterate an absolute fact: I did not co-opt Sad Puppies and anyone who claims I did in any way, shape, or form is wrong.”https://web.archive.org/web/20210808092457/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2018/09/dramagate.html
Day did not give up on his plans for Arkhaven but his attempt to involve himself more directly in Comicsgate had seriously backfired. More generally, Day had narrowed the field of support that he had in the online right. His feuds with figures such as Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin (people willing to adopt the more overt trappings of Nazism) had earned him enemies to his marginal right and now the Comicsgate infighting had earned him enemies to his marginal-left (i.e. people who had embraced his anti-SJW rhetoric but were warier of being seen as white nationalist extremists).
Jon Del Arroz had also found himself on the less fun side of a right-wing social media harassment campaign. By November 2018 he was declaring that Comicsgate was dead and that it was a failed movement. Del Arroz also now conceded a point that many critics of Comicsgate had already observed: a lot of what was being produced by Comicsgate crowdfunded campaigns were either low quality or late or both.
“It divided the audience, made everyone angry. There was no more to it than that. It didn’t help people sell books. A lot of small time creators who were not seeing the indiegogo returns as the bigger names got angry. They were promised a new day in comics, it didn’t come. Books started to fail in their goal, and all because the youtube crowd moved from trying to help everyone and lift all boats… to trying to protect their increasingly shrinking corner of fandom”https://web.archive.org/web/20190125170831/http://delarroz.com/2018/11/16/a-failed-movement-in-three-acts/
When Del Arroz was more openly criticised by Ethan Van Sciver, Del Arroz struck back making another point that critics of Day, Van Sciver and Del Arroz would find familiar.
“Many of these guys do not, however. They’re stuck. This youtube money was never going to last forever. The whole premise was based on outrage, not actual products, and so these guys have to perpetually stoke outrage — at Vox Day, at me, at Miss Sashi, at smaller creators (Ethan dedicated several shows to attacking a guy who had an indiegogo with less than 20 backers because he spoke ill of EVS), at fans even — who I won’t name to protect them. They’re using the same tactics as the pros at Marvel/DC that they were originally mocking to get big.”https://web.archive.org/web/20200808145306/https://delarroz.com/2018/11/13/two-face-finally-came-for-me/
Outrage marketing had found its limits.
Despite this, Comicsgate would continue to rumble on in subsequent years. Del Arroz still continued to crowdfund comics and Vox Day continued to push his Arkhaven line. Culture wars do not have neat or definitive ends.
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milo_Yiannopoulos#Social_media_controversies_and_bans
-  https://www.gq.com/story/last-jedi-spam-rotten-tomatoes
-  2:56 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUkiFxBVpZM&t=203s
-  https://bleedingcool.com/comics/recent-updates/return-feminist-agenda-t-shirt/
-  https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/krishrach/a-women-writer-was-harassed-off-twitter-for-a-feminist-comic
-  https://www.forbes.com/sites/robsalkowitz/2019/10/08/surprising-new-data-shows-comic-readers-are-leaving-superheroes-behind/?sh=1f15151d4d68
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GoFundMe
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indiegogo , https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kickstarter
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_C.Johnson#Websites(GotNews,_WeSearchr,_Freestartr)
-  https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/richard-spencer-manages-find-attorney-federal-charlottesville-case
-  Based on the archive of the Freestartr page, anonymous donations of $5000, $2500 and $2500. Assuming the ‘top donors’ section is accurate, most donations would have been less than $200. A NPR piece as part of the Reveal podcast cast doubt on the donation pattern https://revealnews.org/podcast/never-meet-your-super-heroes/ While it is a good piece overall, I haven’t see anything that supports their claim that Vox Day was directly involved in establishing Freestartr and I think they are overstating the degree to which the pattern of donations was unusual for the Alt-Hero campaign.
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20180822010341/https://www.thedailybeast.com/far-right-fuming-after-big-finance-chokes-off-money-flow
-  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Van_Sciver
-  https://www.thedailybeast.com/comicsgate-how-an-anti-diversity-harassment-campaign-in-comics-got-uglyand-profitable “Meyer internalized a lot of Vox Day’s rhetoric early on in his YouTube career: He told The Daily Beast that he was a fan of Vox Day’s “rules for SJWs”—SJWs always lie, SJWs always double down, SJWs always project—though he says he eventually got a bad feeling about him and distanced himself, roasting him as a “carpetbagger” and a “fraud.””
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20210808125343/http://voxday.blogspot.com/2018/08/comicsgate-is-sad-puppies.html “But it is eminently clear that the growing community around Arkhaven and Dark Legion are to Comicsgate what the Rabid Puppies were to the Sad Puppies. Comicsgate is the Tea Party to our Trumpslide. And you all know how those things turned out.”
-  Apologies for the vagueness here. There were claims that he had trademark the name, which does not seem to be true but he did establish some sort of commercial claim to the name “comicsgate”.
-  https://web.archive.org/web/20181127162328/https://delarroz.com/2018/11/07/comicsgate-is-dead/