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Life Skills for Fanboys: Comics, Sexism and Trolling

written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2014

To further my goal of helping fellow fanboys, I have included an index of links of previous columns with their topics.  Don’t take it personal, I’m just trying to help.  Previous columns are indexed at the end.

 The Recent Incident

So, I’m sad to say, the most recent incident involving comics, sexism and trolling is this.  In a nutshell, a female comic book commenter railed against what she saw as a sexist Teen Titans cover.  The response to her response?  Rape threats over the Internet.

Sad, pathetic, horrific—  Just a few adjectives to describe this response.  Thanks a lot fellow male comic book fans, you’ve made us all look like borderline criminal cavemen.  And all over what?  What the Hell were you even trying to do?


Young men like to show how brave they are.  I know, because I was one.  There’s just one problem.  When you’re a young guy, especially when you’re an introverted comic book geek, you tend to be scared.  Scared of everything, but first and foremost, scared of anything that might question your manhood.  Whether it’s being called “gay” or being teased that you’re a virgin or that you will never have a girlfriend—  These are insults that wither guys on the inside.

The response is anger, frustration and an attempt to hurt those that hurt you.  In this case, rape threats.  Are they serious threats?  That doesn’t even matter.  The target of said threats has no way of knowing and has to take them seriously.  Meanwhile, the anonymous jerks hide behind avatars, secure in the knowledge that they have made someone as miserable as them.


Sexism is like your taste in clothes or food—  It depends on who you are, what you’ve experienced and what you like and don’t like.

I personally think the Teen Titans cover was pretty tame.  I’ve seen women in public dressed with less.  If I had to argue about the quality of the comic, I’d be more concern about the story inside and the fact that the cover was just a ploy for a sale.  But the comic is aimed at a young, male audience, so I understand it.  Publishers make decisions based on sales and comic book sales are driven by the art, which is mostly about the cover.  If you don’t like it, there are plenty of other comics out there.

That’s nothing compared to, say, sexism in the workplace and a boss promoting or not promoting someone based on their looks or gender.  To me, that’s way more important because that has a direct impact on people’s lives in the here and now.  A comic book cover?  Well, maybe, maybe not.

But the issue about the threats isn’t about sexism.  Those threats could just as easily been made by a young, angry woman.  Probably not, but it is possible.  And if your solution is to somehow reduce all men and women into sexless, uniform eunuchs that don’t react to boobies and butts, well—  Good luck with that.

The Solution

That’s a tough one.  Some people would say, curtail the First Amendment and that people don’t have the right to say anything.  I would say those people are wrong.  The problem is not that people say bad things on the Internet, the problem is, the people that say such things escape judgement by posting anonymously.

Now there are websites where being anonymous is desired and required.  But these sites are often catered to adults and are for adults.  And while some are just as immature as the trolls mentioned in this piece, the sort of websites that need people to be anonymous are often sex sites.  You can pretty much guarantee that most of the people involved are adults that can take horrible threats being thrown at them.  Also, they’re anonymous too, so that insulates them.

As a writer, creator or journalist, however, you make yourself vulnerable as a public persona on your website.  People who comment often have to register with these websites, just like on this one or The Webcomic Factory.  I instituted the policy after getting trolled by some fanboy for a few weeks.  Is it curtailing the First Amendment, well no, because that’s about the government curtailing your right to free speech, not private individuals.

And since most of these trolls are often young, they definitely do not need to be anonymous commenting on some website.  Some 14 year-old making dangerous threats or pulling something like Swatting, isn’t about free speech.  It’s about kids that aren’t old enough and responsible enough to use the Internet that need to be reigned in.  Yeah, some are going to do shit anyway, but at least if they know that they are not anonymous on some website, the ones with a little sense will pull back before there’s a problem.

It’s not a panacea.  There are always going to be people that cross the lines and those people are usually young and inexperience.  They don’t understand how a rape threat over the Internet can ruin someone’s life for a period of time.  That doesn’t excuse the behavior, nor do I think you need to be locked away for two years over it.  You do, however, need some counseling or parenting or both.

So if you have a website, especially one that targets young males, be prepared.  Make fans register.

And if you’re gonna be “that guy”, just stop.  Trolling is a waste of time and says way more about you than the people you troll.

Until next time, see you at the show!

Previous Columns
Obesity at Cons
The Art of Conversation
The Line Between Fans and Pros
Geek Elitism
Convention Panels
Convention Volunteers
Food Gifts
Women and Cons
Get Your Room Party Together
Stop Bringing Your Kids to Cons
The Face of Geek Needs Work
Fixing the Face of Geek
Franchise Worship
Presenting Your Project
The New Image?
Stop Trying to Make Geek Cool
 Rethinking the Comic Book Con
Zombie Stories Should Still Be About People
Geek Stereotypes and the Big Bang Theory
Con Locations
Traveling to Cons on the Cheap
Con Economics