Dynamite Faces Backlash Over Comicsgate Support

Comics publisher Dynamite Entertainment is facing backlash after announcing a crowdfunding campaign involving a Comicsgate, the movement that blames the inclusion -- "forced inclusion" in its members' view -- of people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community both as creators and as depicted within comics stories for declining comics sales and a perceived decline in comics quality. The group has a history of waging social media harassment campaigns against minority creators working in the industry and their allies. Dynamite's "Cecil's Big Cover" campaign would have put Cecil, a character from the crowdfunded comic Cash Grab by known Comicsgate personality Cecil Jones, between Vampirella and Red Sonja, two of Dynamite's most popular heroes, on a variant cover published by Dynamite.

Dynamite received criticism for the campaign online and, on Sunday, Dynamite released a statement from Publisher/CEO Nick Barrucci announcing that the company wouldn't be moving forward with "Cecil's Big Cover." The campaign and cover were both canceled. In the statement, Barrucci says he hadn't "realized the cover would be so polarizing."

But by then, the crowdfunding campaign had already drawn criticism and inspired action from creators, retailers, and fans. Mark Russell, the current writer of Dynamite's Red Sonja series, announced that he'd come to the end of his Dynamite contract and would be stepping away from the publisher due to its relationship with Comicsgate, leaving in-discussion Dynamite projects by the wayside.

"I was surprised, because I never imagined a mainstream publishing company would want to be associated with that," Russell tells ComicBook.com in an email. "Though not entirely, because I know times are hard with the recent shutdown of the industry and publishers are having to get creative in where they look for revenue. And I'm in the same boat. I'm having to scramble for gigs more now than I would have if there hadn't been a pandemic, but some dollars are just not worth picking up. But it was definitely a surprise. The first I heard about this partnership with Comicsgate was seeing Dynamite promoting their work on Twitter, sometimes only minutes after posting tweets promoting my own. Nobody warned me that this was coming, so I felt sort of sucker-punched."

Russell isn't the only creator speaking out about Dynamite's association with Comicsgate. Jim Zub wrote comics for Dynamite based on the tabletop roleplaying game Pathfinder from 2012 until 2015. He revealed on Twitter that he turned down a new project with Dynamite in May, stating, "Dynamite contacted me in May about a possible project and I made it clear I couldn't do it because, amongst other things, they were courting outrage dollars via Comicsgate. I made it pretty clear to them that this stuff would bite them in the ass. Welcome to July."

Matt Miner, who wrote comics for Dynamite inspired by the band GWAR, revealed that he and GWAR would be taking their comics elsewhere. Miner tweeted, "A couple people asked my thoughts on Dynamite since they're doing CG projects – bc I have the GWAR book with them. My answer: We did GWAR long before the CG/Dynamite alliance – and before COVID there were talks of doing another series. I pulled that – we will find another home. I want to add that I know some of the folks at Dynamite and there are good people there. I know this was a business decision and not intended to be malicious, but for me, a queer dude making comics and just trying to get by and do less harm, I just can't go there."

Karla Pacheco announced her departure from Dynamite about a week before the publisher launched the "Cecil's Big Cover" campaign. It was also about a week before Dynamite's new Bettie Page series, written by Pacheco, debuted.

"The final line for me was, I think, two weeks ago," Pacheco tells ComicBook.com. "That was just when screenshots were being posted of Nick Barrucci being on Comicsgate podcast, and apparently paying to get his comments promoted on a Comicsgate podcast. I was just like, 'Yeah, I'm good. I'm done.'"

That incident wasn't the first time that Barruci's actions made Pacheco feel awkward about her association with Dynamite. "Right when I started the series was when Nick Barrucci made his keynote address to the Comics Professional Retailers Organization. He went on about cancel culture and SJWs, and he seemed just very much under the impression that the reason people are getting canceled is because audiences don't want books that are challenging or taking risks. And at the time, I remember thinking it's just like, 'No, we just don't want to read books by people who are harassing my friends'... I could just tell it was someone who, in my mind, didn't really grasp the situation."

Barrucci's keynote address took place at the annual ComicsPro industry summit in February. In his speech, Barrucci warned against the dangerous effects that "cancel culture" could have on the comics industry.

"The overwhelming majority of retailers are communicative and are up for discussions," Barrucci said. "At times, there is a retail minority that are loud and the equivalent to 'keyboard cops,' and they may not realize it, but they border on bullying. They prefer cancel culture over discussion and understanding​ and mutual cooperation… Cancel Culture, for some, has also allowed politics and personal views to affect the comics you order or the experience your fans have at your store. We need to be open to everything. We need to service everyone."

Servicing everyone seems to be Barrucci's philosophy when it comes to Dynamite's public facade. Dynamite did not put out a company statement in support of Black Lives Matter at the time that the protests around Greoge Floyd's death began but the company did include some of its comics in a Humble Bundle consisting of books about and by persons of color. The bundle raises money for Black Lives Matter-adjacent charities, including The Bail Project. Dynamite's involvement angered members of the Comicsgate community.

But Dynamite has collaborated with Comicsgate creators before. They allowed Ethan Van Sciver, the highest-profile name in the Comicsgate crowd, to commission crossover variant covers with characters from his crowdfunded comic Cyberfrog: Blood Honey appearing alongside Dynamite characters. Barrucci's proximity to Comicsgate personalities and Dynamite's willingness to collaborate with Comicsgate creators and support their work on social media has troubled those who oppose Comicsgate on the basis that the group routinely harasses creators who aren't cisgender, male, and straight.

"They never really came for me much," Pacheco says. "I watched a lot of friends just being horribly harassed, but for whatever reason... I think that was another reason why I felt it was important for me to stand up and stand up early. I haven't had to pay Comicsgate price yet. That is a bit of a privilege, I think, for being a queer woman of color. I feel like I got off easy. So it's time to take whatever small power or abilities that I have and I need to pay that price to make sure that we're just trying to stomp this down and we're not promoting it, and people don't think that I'm promoting it or even just okay with it in any way, shape or form."

The "Cecil's Big Cover" campaign seems to have been the tipping point where Dynamite's Comicsgate relations could no longer be ignored or tolerated. It's led to comics creators beyond those mentioned in this article openly distancing themselves from Dynamite, comics websites stating that they'll no longer cover the publisher's books and even some retailers reconsidering whether they'll order Dynamite products.

"I don't think of these as boycotts so much as people simply choosing with whom they want to associate," Russell says. "I have no power to stop Comicsgate from publishing their comics, nor to stop Dynamite from publishing or promoting their work. I simply can't be a party to it. And, frankly, I'm glad that other creators, consumers, and retailers feel the same way. One of the stranger personal consequences of this is that it put me on the same side as people refusing to buy my comic. So it's less about this being a calculated tactic for effect than people simply acting on their own conscience about what they are and aren't willing to support."

Russell and Pacheco both say, even after Barrucci's statement canceling the "Cecil's Big Cover" campaign, that they remain firm on their decision to walk away from the publisher.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," Russell says of Barruci's statement. "But this was never about this one cover. It's about refusing my help in normalizing homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny. Which is precisely what I'd be doing if I willingly allowed my work to be published and promoted alongside that of members of a hate group. It wasn't really about the content of the cover itself as giving mainstream cover to a group I've personally seen harass fellow creators and LGBTQ people in very grotesque and dehumanizing ways. I simply can't be a party to that. My decision remains until I am confident I won't have to make it again. I want to know that they're not going to allow themselves to be the publishing or promotional arm of this or other hate groups in the future."

For Pacheco, the situation has gone past the point where ignorance is an acceptable excuse. "I believe it's very possible for someone to be pretty oblivious," she says. "It's at the point, as harmful as Comicsgate has been, obliviousness doesn't really fly anymore because even if it is true that they just had no idea that this would be very polarizing, at this point, we're almost talking criminal negligence not to be aware of something that affects so many of your creators so profoundly."

She continues, "I saw the tweet that Dynamite put out, and I was like, 'That's just not quite far enough yet,' but am I asking for Barrucci to be fired? No. I do want to see a very profound cleaning of house where I would like a firm statement that says, 'Hey, we really do stand against what Comicsgate represents, and we're not going to be promoting it.'"

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"Aside from simply being a hate group, Comicsgate actively targets and harasses creatives on social media, with the intent of draining their will to carry on and sometimes even to shatter their sense of physical safety," Russell says. "So I hope the silver lining that comes out of this is that, as creators, we become increasingly supportive of each other on and off the page. And also that publishers realize we're not going to turn a blind eye or hand each other over to Dracula simply so they can cash in on the dark crypt of hate-based crowdfunding."

ComicBook.com reached out to Dynamite asking for comment on this situation and its relationship to ComicsGate. We received no response.

Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.