Valerie D’Orazio has had a hell of a couple of weeks. She has, in fact, had a hell of a life, as her blog Occasional Superheroine illustrates (Go to the bottom of the page and work your way up, if you haven’t already read it). I’m not breaking any news by identifying D’Orazio’s identity, as Rich Johnston revealed that at the start of this week (with her permission), even though the blog itself uses psuedonyms for all involved, including the publisher she worked for (DC), perhaps for obvious reasons; the blog reveals things about DC editorial and internal practices that I’m sure they would rather have kept quiet, which is just one of the reasons (and one of the more minor of the reasons) why it’s such a brave and important piece of writing.
Needless to say, it’s also the kind of thing that gets a lot of attention.
I first found the blog through Johanna Draper Carlson’s blog last weekend, where she initially posted about the section about the editorial thinking behind the creation of Identity Crisis:
You put a bunch of immature men, many of whom were very sick as children or had absent fathers or both, and all of whom escaped into over-muscled power fantasies as a result, in charge of a publishing subgroup with no prestige and little money. Several of them have never worked anywhere else, or if they have, it was at one of the few similar companies in the same industry that behave the same way. They’re still geeks, mentally, with low self-esteem and no success with women, few of whom they actually know in person, but they’re power brokers within their little world, and there are thousands like them who desperately want to be them… and you wonder why it all ends up so twisted?
This lead to a later post, where Johanna responded to people who had taken issue with her reading of the post:
The question came up, why didn’t people fixated on superheroes learn right behavior from the heroes they read about? How can someone who claims to value the fight for justice be so pigheaded in their behavior towards others?
My answer is that they’ve learned the wrong lesson. Superheroes involve someone going out on their own to fix problems because of unique abilities. Although it’s been tamed over the years and coopted by stabs at quasi-formal agreements with the police and legal system, a hero’s vigilantism is a key part of the character. THEY know what’s right and will make it happen, regardless of what’s allayed against them.
I think these toxic sexists think they’re emulating their heroes, only what they’re emulating is a kind of egoism. They know the right way to do things, and they’re going to stick to it no matter what tries to dissuade them, because that’s what Batman would do. When superheroes provide a way to kids to emulate confidence, that’s a good thing; but a lack of willingness to consider other viewpoints as potentially valid is dangerous. (Explains a lot about the way Batman is currently portrayed, though, doesn’t it?)
(Tom Spurgeon also commented about the Identity Crisis section, more cynically: “In the end, the only thing learning about DC’s editorial involvement in Identity Crisis tells us is that popular writer Brad Meltzer probably didn’t create his comic out of whole cloth backed by complete creative freedom, which given the result’s sweaty-palmed goofiness in my opinion benefits the reputation of popular writer Brad Meltzer. As for the rest of it: cynical, manipulative mainstream comic book companies with an eye on the bottom line and a willingness to play to some pathetic aspects of the overall readership — this is hardly new, and has been a part of comics since the first time they chained Wonder Woman to a giant penis substitute and made a Batman bad guy’s calling card a grotesque form of post-mortem rictus. If it feels new, it may be because there still are very few answers that explain making art of that type that aren’t 10,000 times more cynical than the art itself.”)
Chris Butcher was, I think, next to bring attention to the blog, and added some interesting historical context:
[The blog is all] the more interesting for the fact that the writer was castigated a few months back by female comics bloggers for “actively belittling what feminists are actually fighting for” in regards to the comics industry, and even defending sexism (to paraphrase). In short, there are an awful lot of layers to this story that are going to get peeled back over the next few weeks.
As he predicted, Rich Johnston picked up the blog the next day (although without going into any more depth about the content of the blog than saying that it was something that all of his readers needed to read), and brought it to the message board masses, where the reaction was, to be honest, surprisingly respectful (Millarworld’s thread stands as a good example of the kind of reaction across the board, I think).
Gail Simone linked to it on her board before Lying In The Gutters brought it to a wider audience, and her commentary was worth noting, as she had worked with D’Orazio while she was at DC:
This blog is from a women in comics whom I liked very much in the short time I knew her… do wonder about this a lot. Every interview I do with the mainstream press, seemingly, and I turn down a LOT, they seem to want to hear how awfully I’ve been treated by comics and by the men IN comics.
And I haven’t. It’s been quite the reverse. My experiences with comics have been nearly 100% positive, and the few that weren’t, for the most part, had little to do with gender. I know what they want to hear and I just want to tell them to fuck off. I know if I say, well, this editor stuck up for me or this creator was incredible to me, that stuff will never make the article anyway.
But I’ve had enough friends have the opposite experience that I know my own is just a fortunate roll of the dice. But joining a blanket condemnation when these guys have been so unbelievably supportive feels like I’d be a cad.
Anyway, I feel a lot of sadness for this blogger and hope things are brighter for her soon.
The best part of the whole thing, I think has been most recent posts by D’Orazio herself since the story broke. Not that it comes anywhere close to a happy ending, but… there’s something resembling hope and optimism, as well as the bravery and determination she’s shown all along. As she herself says:
As for the comic industry, there are a lot of good people, men and women, in it. I’ve grown up with comics people my entire life, and I’m taking care of one who recently fell ill now. I just want the industry to move in the right direction, get rid of the lingering sexism & racism, stop the sexual violence towards female characters, get more diversity (gender, racial, sexual orientation) into the characters, and make some of what I wrote in my blog things that no longer have relevance.