While I was in the process of writing my recent #MeToo story, I was tagged, along with 39 other women, in a Facebook post made by Dirk Manning. He is a writer and colleague with whom I have had a superficial-level, professional friendship (mainly via Facebook) for about three years now. I have drawn a few pieces of artwork featuring him, we met very briefly in person for the first time at San Diego Comic-Con 2019, and we live-streamed one karaoke song together at Grand Rapids Comic-Con last November. In this Facebook post, Dirk detailed what had learned about the unique struggles that women face in the comics industry, how he was working on himself to be a more proactive ally going forward, and urging men in general to "do better."
I was the first person to respond to that post, hoping to have an ally in Dirk, due to my own feelings of being diminished and bullied out of the industry by my ex-boyfriend and his cohorts. Publicly, Dirk responded in a very supportive way to my comments. In private, however, he persistently blew off repeated attempts to talk to him about what I was going through, at both conventions named above, and in our limited private conversations on Facebook.
I saw Dirk for a matter of minutes at San Diego Comic-Con. I thought it might be fun to live-blog together; he wanted me to introduce him and Twiztid, if I remember correctly, on Facebook Live. I knew very little about the group, and the request made me feel like a prop, so I declined. He gave me a giant hug, and told me how great it was to finally meet me. We took a couple of selfies, he pushed a goodie bag filled with promotional items in my hands, and I tried to grab his attention for a few minutes to explain why I cared so much about being there. I was unsuccessful. He invited me to a concert before I left his booth, but I declined that as well, uninterested and a bit baffled.
At Grand Rapids Comic-Con, which was not especially busy, we tabled across the aisle from each other. Again he seemed perpetually distracted, and shut out the few efforts I made to speak to him seriously. He called me friend, told me he was proud of me, apologized for not being more available, and said the kind of things one would expect a friend to say. But his aura in person is that of a brick wall; "used car salesman" is the phrase I hear most often from others. Even at my most "Jin Wicked"est I like to think people can sense the humanity beneath; that it is only one facet of me, as a complex human being. Dirk feels like nothing. I cannot read this man. An empty suit of platitudes and hair gel. He has so thoroughly buried any authenticity, if he has it, that it may as well not exist. He did participate in karaoke with me, which I enjoyed, and after the convention I was curious to figure out what the his 'deal' was.
With his permission, I drew a picture of us inspired by the karaoke, which he encouraged me to share to his Facebook group to "get more much-deserved fans." I eye-rolled a bit at that statement, but did not comment on it then.
Circling around to the now-infamous Facebook post from the beginning of this blog; unbeknownst to me, and apparently for many years now, Dirk has been dogged by allegations of various misdeeds. His post, in fact, may have been a preemptive effort to head several off as they gained steam. After I stopped paying attention to the comments on his post, having fallen off my Facebook radar, women began replying to hold him accountable for how he had treated several of them. The allegations were serious enough that, when it was clear he was going to simply ignore them and hope they go away, I copied one of their comments and shared it on my own Timeline. I also sent him a private message asking for an explanation, which he has never responded to, or as far as I know even looked at. I felt incredibly betrayed by someone, as said, I believed to be an ally. And who had repeatedly called me a friend.
The women who had been involved with him started organizing their effort to be heard, and eventually compiled a document with many of their stories. It was shared with me. While it is not my place to disclose what I have read, I can tell you that they were all remarkably similar, and not that different from my own experiences with my ex-boyfriend and others. I can also tell you that I spent several days quite sick, literally, because of it, and reliving some of my own traumatic experiences through them. I believe them.
Only one woman has come forward outside Facebook, that I know of.
When Dirk simply failed to respond for several days, I unfriended him from all of my social media accounts out of disgust. He issued a very vague "apology" after things escalated, which failed to express real remorse, or acknowledge the scope of what he is accused of and his victim's pain in any palpable way. He returned to business-as-usual, eventually blocking me, his accusers, and most of the people who have visibly spoken out against him on social media. His constant drum-beating of "promote the positive" and "ignore negativity" has taken on a very sinister perspective for me, given what I now know.
I am in the process of removing all photos, videos, and work related to Dirk, and anything that promotes him and/or his books, from my own social media and websites. I will not knowingly work with his associates, or any publishing companies that continue to give him work. My relative independence allows me to do this with very few repercussions, I admit. Others have severed their professional relationships with him at much greater cost to themselves.
Having spent much of the last few years feeling powerless, disbelieved, and unheard myself, after how I was treated by my ex-boyfriend in the industry, I have struggled to let this go. I was left wondering about the sincerity of each compliment; the boisterous hugs, the false concern, the smiles, and whether I was simply another potential conquest to him. My heart breaks for those he has allegedly used and discarded. And it is clear, from what I have read, that he does not regard his female co-creators as equals. I do not believe that he ever saw me as one, though I feel more patronized than denigrated.
Do not lift women up only to wear them like feathers in your cap.
I was not prepared for the levels of casual misogyny and simmering hostility toward women that I have encountered from some, as I attempted to move into the traditional comics industry from the more diverse and inclusive world of web comics. "Welcome to being a woman," I have sadly been told. There is no sense of justice for me, or for other women used in this way. Your options are only to give up, suck it up, or fight to have a voice louder than those who would silence you. Fighting is the only option I can ultimately live with.
On my first Free Comic Book Day, as I sat at my table, drawing, I overheard a woman telling her daughter while pointing toward me, "Look, women can be comic artists, too!" That moment has stuck with me as the events of the last few years have unfolded. I understand that I have a responsibility not just to myself, but to those who come after me. That responsibility includes standing up for both myself and others. I do not always succeed, but I do my best.
Their stories, my stories, are written in ink. They will not be erased.