It’s hard not to check the news these days without a new story about some sexual harassment or sexual assault issue. Famous people who took advantage of their power and celebrity to molest (or worse) some comparatively powerless victim. Enough headway has been made in both the courts and the court of public opinion that, in many cases, the perpetrator finds themselves facing vocational repercussions even if no legal ones. Kevin Spacey was removed from House of Cards, a show for which he won a Golden Globe, and it was announced just this week that Danny Masterson is being written out of The Ranch.
It got me thinking, though. If whatever modicum of justice is being served this way—where an employer unloads the perpetrator and, in theory, other employers shy away from him—what happens if the person is entirely self-employed? Like, say, a webcomic creator?
Let me clear: I do not know offhand of any sexual assault or harassment allegations lodged against any webcomic creators. That’s not to say there aren’t any; I’m just personally unaware of them. I’ve heard stories about this guy being a jerk and that person being hard to work with or whatever, but I haven’t heard any about any sexual assault or harassment in webcomics specifically.
My guess is that it’s not because it’s not happening. And I don’t think it’s because I’m not paying close enough attention. My guess is that any victims out there have remained silent. That is, after all, why so many incidents being reported now had never been heard of before. Victims remained silent.
But can you blame them? In print publishing, there’s at least a chance that the person’s employer—maybe Marvel or DC or one of the larger publishers—might fire the person. It’s not legal justice, but it’s something at least. But in webcomics, who can get fired? In the vast majority of cases, it’s the creators themselves who are handling the business side of things. They have a staff of one. So they can’t get fired.
Now it’s possible, of course, that their readers might take adverse action by refusing to spend money on the creator. However, this only works insomuch as readers are even aware of the events. If the creators themselves don’t bring the subject up, it’s entirely possible that there’s a decent chunk of their readership who never hear about it. With a print publisher, even if a reader never hears about things, they’re still no longer earning money through the work they had been doing. With a webcomic, they might earn less for a time as offended readers leave, but income will still be coming in, and they’ll have a chance to grow. It’s a set-back, certainly, but hardly an insurmountable one.
Which suggests that, for as technologically and creatively progressive as webcomics are, relative to print comics, one area where they lag behind, by virtue of the job itself, is in repercussions. I don’t know if this says more about webcomics culture or our justice system in general.