In the early morning hours of July 29th, Ethan Van Sciver’s CyberFrog: Bloodhoney set a record by earning a groundbreaking $500,000 by 7,957 backers on Indiegogo, making it the most successful crowdfunded comic book in history and scoring a major win for the ComicsGate movement.
CyberFrog is a comic book originally created by Van Sciver and published by Harris Comics from 1993 to 1998, before Van Sciver says he stopped producing the book to work for DC Comics, beginning a career that would see him serve as artist for several of the industry’s flagship characters, including Green Lantern, Flash, Superman, Batman, and the X-Men. CyberFrog tells the story of a superhero that is part sentient alien robot and part bullfrog.
In his CyberFrog: Bloodhoney graphic novel, Van Sciver plans to tell the story of the return of CyberFrog, who emerges from a deep hibernation to fight against a horde of giant alien hornets that conquered Earth and used humans to create their hives and feed their young.
Securing 6,289% of the original $8,000 funding goal on Indiegogo officially green lights the project slated for release in November 2018.
What is Indiegogo?
Indiegogo is a crowdfunduning website, where users can post a “creative idea” or invention and get the public to “back it” with financial contributions. In many cases, those contributions earn various “perks” set up by the person seeking the funding. For example, in the case of many Indiegogo comic book projects, the perks might include a copy of the finished comic book, signed editions, or exclusive production artwork. It’s a platform many comic book creators are turning to after feeling disgruntled, disenfranchised, and even blacklisted by the mainstream comic book industry, they say, because of their political views.
What is ComicsGate?
Van Sciver, who also hosts the YouTube channel, ComicArtistPro Secrets, is an out-spoken Donald Trump supporter and critic of left-wing “Social Justice Warriors” using comic books and entertainment media (especially Star Wars) to push political and social agendas, even if it means they risk damaging those intellectual properties in the process by alienating portions of their existing fan base in an effort to appeal to a new, politically correct fan base… one that traditionally, in many cases, hasn’t shown much interest in buying their products in sustainably large numbers. Van Sciver is one of the key figures in ComicsGate, a controversial and often maligned movement supported by several comic book industry creators who share the same views.
Because many of the key players in the ComicsGate movement are white males, some of their detractors have characterized the movement as a wave of sexist and racist right-wing fanbabies reacting negatively to increased diversity in comics. Many mainstream comic creators are steering clear of the movement for fear of being labelled the same.
One member of the ComicsGate movement, Richard C. Meyer, host of the YouTube channel Diversity & Comics, has been linked to several online controversies, including allegations that he encouraged harassment of female and transgender collegues with his social media commentary. Meyer was also the center of a controversy involving comic writer Mark Wade, who Meyer alleges interfered with a deal to have his new comic book, Jawbreakers: Lost Souls, published by Antarctic Press. According to Meyer, Wade contacted Antarctic and used his industry clout to intimidate them into backing out of printing Jawbreakers because of the ComicsGate controversy and the left-wing enemies Meyer has made on social media. Wade and Antarctic have denied the allegations, but Antarctic backed out of the project nonetheless. Jawbreakers, having found a new printer and earning over $370,155 in an Indiegogo campaign of it’s own, will still be released as planned.
Meyer, who reportedly has several multi-ethnic children, has also been branded a racist in a recent YouTube video by The Jim Jefferies Show for Comedy Central, where Meyer is portrayed as a bigot who is unhappy that the face of comics is becoming less white and less male. Although the video may not have had the effect Jeffries was after. As of this writing, the video was viewed 118,000 times and received over 10,000 “thumbs down” votes and only 3,000 “thumbs up” votes and some of Meyer’s 84,494 YouTube subscribers say the man they know from his videos is being intentionally misrepresented by his enemies and the media.
One comment on the Jeffries video by user Gerald N. noted, “Diversity & Comics had very good reasons why comic book sales have plummeted and how Marvel comic books are hiring people based on gender, race, and sexual preference over merit, talent, or experience, but Jim Jeffries ignored the real issues plaguing the industry to make a hit piece to further promote the feminist SJW narrative that people who [disagree] with the SJW mob are all sexist, misogynous, racist, nazi, homophobic, etc… ”
Although admittedly upset about how he was portrayed, Meyer is doing his best to laugh off the Jeffries video and the memes it inspired, joking about them on his own channel and noting the spike in subscribers he received after the video was released.
Van Sciver, no stranger to controversy himself, has been accused of being a Nazi and a white supremacist, most notably for the cover art of his 2007 sketchbook, which featured Green Lantern villain, Sinestro, redesigned to invoke the image of Adolph Hitler, with the title “My Struggle,” reminiscent of the title of Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf.”
Van Sciver has vehemently denied the accusations and stated they weren’t motivated by any true feelings he has, but from his critics being incapable of accepting what he really is… “a Republican.” Van Sciver says those attacks are coming from people “who wish [the comic book] industry wasn’t tolerant of people who do not share their partisan political views.”
The response to ComicsGate in many ways mirrors the response to fans of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, who, among other things, complained about how the movie mishandled classic characters and brushed them aside in favor of less interesting and poorly developed characters. Rather than address the criticism for what it was, many defenders of the film simply labelled those criticizing it as sexist and racist, which caused a major rift in Star Wars fandom that led to a boycott that likely contributed to Solo: A Star Wars Story massively underperforming at the box-office.
The same thing happened after a recent reboot of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer was announced with an African American lead. Fans who criticized the plans were immediately dismissed as racists, even tough many were saying they didn’t have an issue with an African American lead. They just didn’t want a new Buffy… ANY new Buffy who wasn’t Sarah Michelle Gellar. After the backlash, showrunner Monica Owusu-Breen later clarified that the show was going to be a sequel, not a reboot, and that it was NOT her intention to recast Buffy, but instead focus on a new African American slayer 20 years later.
Similarly, the critics of ComicsGate are now attempting to paint the movement with the same “intolerant” brush. Although, like many of the Star Wars and Buffy fans, the ComicsGate figures say it’s not about race, gender, or sexual preference, but about the comics, the bad ideas, the low quality, and the fate of the industry as a result.
In a recent YouTube video titled, “The Last Day Of CyberFrog Live Chat,” Van Sciver explains:
“We are multicultural as well… None of this has anything to do with skin tone. None of this has anything to do with any of the things they’re lying about and they are lying. That’s not what ComicsGate is. ComicsGate is a consumer protest against comics professionals, who are turning out substandard work and using social media to verbally abuse their critics and those who hold opposing socio-political views. That’s all it is… That’s all anybody is complaining about.
“And these people just fling around terms like ‘bigot,’ and ‘racist,’ and ‘sexist’… and they’re producing these horrible, substandard comic books USING racial minorities, LGBT, women… as shields. They hire them just on the basis of skin color, and sex, and preference, and then when you complain about the piss-poor job that they’re doing, they say it’s cause you’re a racist…it’s cause you hate women… This is just an endless game and people are tired of playing this game… To confront them about it and have these professionals say, ‘You know what? We don’t want your money… we’re not marketing to you’ – that has to stop and this is what ComicsGate is all about. ComicsGate is professionals and consumers… standing up and saying, ‘Nope!’ The comics industry cannot last this way. This is untenable. It’s unsustainable. This is something that has to be stopped now… It is up to us to stand up to these people and say, ‘No!’
“We’re not alone. We are bringing… mainstream talent from the industry out… away from the security of the big 2 [Marvel and DC Comics] and into the risky world of independent comics. This is a very risky thing.
“We are trying to build a new industry… a new comic book industry. A new way of creating and distributing comics to the fans that bypasses the toxic, left-wing poison that exists in comic books in the mainstream industry now.”
The newest recruit to the movement, writer and artist Art Thibert, is also feeling the heat from his alliance after announcing his plans to ally with ComicsGate leaders and reboot his “Black & White” comic, a 3-issue mini series published by Image Comics in 1994.
He says, “I’ve had a lot of concerned friends private message me and e-mail me and already give me the speech that I’m on the wrong side of history and things like that. I’m already kind of feeling it and it’s already happening. But…I’m just going to kill them with kindness. I don’t have any hate in my heart. I don’t want ill for anyone… I think we can all succeed.”
The ultimate determining factor for whether or not ComicsGate succeeds will be whether or not they can sell comic books to fans and that appears to be happening. Other titles currently being promoted on Indiegogo by ComicsGate creators include:
Jawbreakers: Lost Souls – earning $370,155
Red Rooster: Golden Age – earning $109,699
Lonestar: Heart of the Hero – earning $32,838
Iron Sights – earning $67,487
Additional titles are also in the planning stages.
These are numbers that the industry is not going to be able to ignore. Although some critics of ComicsGate say the comic book industry is doing just fine, reports indicate that comic book sales dropped in 2017 and if that’s a trend that continues, it could threaten other industries as well that rely on comics producing interesting characters that lend themselves to other media, according to MarketWatch.
Michael Brush from MarketWatch writes:
“If the new wave of ‘diverse’ superheroes has caused the recent slump in comic-book sales growth, that’s a trend investors need to sit up and notice… Unsurprisingly, comic-book creators have no easy task when tackling diversity. This is the age of ‘social justice warriors,’ populist ‘alt-right’ and anti-immigration sentiment, and a highly divisive political climate. So publishers face big challenges in introducing minority, gay, and lesbian characters. On the one hand, they risk angering traditional fans with ‘too much’ diversity. Conversely, they may alienate younger, hipper, diverse, and minority fans by not going far enough.”
Interestingly, Brush also highlights that “many of the comic books featuring diverse characters did quite well in the first year or two that they were rolled out, and sales only started to decline in 2016 and 2017. This suggests the sales decline could be more about writers’ slump than diversity.”
That appears to be exactly what the members of ComicsGate are saying: it’s not about hating diversity, but about hating the quality of the comics being produced. After a wave of initial interest in minority, gay, and gender-bent characters, the audience isn’t sticking around because their interest isn’t being maintained. Identity politics alone aren’t enough to keep selling a comic book.
If it turns out that ComicsGate is able to repeat CyberFrog’s success and sell more graphic novels at a time when the industry is seeing declines in readers, then the comics industry in general may have to reconsider it’s business strategy as well as the possibility that they were wrong about ComicsGate, it’s creators, their motives, and how well they know their audience. It’s the fans who will ultimately decided that by voting with their dollars. And, so far, Van Sciver and his CyberFrog have collected over a half million of those votes.
Editor’s note: this article was updated with the correct name of Antarctic Press.