Today, I have things to say that are relevant. Trigger warning: domestic abuse; all the links in this article will also be triggery, more so than this post itself.
Let’s get the facts straight:
So, there is a comic called Rat Queens. It is an excellent comic with a great feminist bent, superb writing and characterization, fantastic (in both senses) art, and great basically everything else. You should go read it. You should give the creators lots of money. I’ve recommended it before, and I’m recommending it again.
Yesterday, it came out that the artist and co-creator of the comic, Roc Upchurch, has been arrested for domestic abuse.
Upchurch alleges to Bleeding Cool that it is a situation where she attacked him and he lost his temper; Upchurch’s ex-wife (whose name I have not been able to find) acknowledges in a now-deleted blog post (Google Cache here) that she has been the aggressor before, that their situation was bad, and that they had separated because of it, but that in this incident specifically she was not the aggressor. The details she provides suggest that physical altercations were not unusual, but that Upchurch’s behavior has tended to be much more extreme than her own — as she puts it, “a smack across the face” from her triggers an “hour-long beatdown” from Upchurch.
Kurtis J. Wiebe, the writer of Rat Queens and Upchurch’s creative partner, released a statement today indicating that he is aware of the situation, and that Upchurch will no longer be working on Rat Queens as a result of the allegations.
So, there are the facts as we have them. Now, to get political: I completely support the ex-wife in this situation, though I do not condone her bad behavior; and I believe Wiebe has done the right and just thing in booting Upchurch off the project.
I believe this because I believe proactively divorcing abusers and similar criminals from their professional lives is not just a good PR move, it is exactly the way people should be reacting to claims of domestic abuse or sexual assault or other such heinous behavior. The reaction should be exactly as Wiebe’s has been: to believe the victim, and to revoke or check the privilege of the perpetrator while the situation is investigated.
Now, I know there is already an argument against this brewing in the bottom half of the Internet, and I want to address those points right now.
1. Upchurch has not been convicted, and we should not convict him in the court of public opinion first. No-one rational is saying Upchurch should not have a fair trial. What I’m saying is, it is absolutely fair of Wiebe to distance himself from Upchurch after these allegations have come out especially in light of the body of evidence and testimony from his ex-wife, and that this is a much better alternative than the victim-blaming that usually occurs in these situations. Upchurch should get a trial, and if he is found innocent, it is within Wiebe’s rights to begin working with him again if he feels that is the case. The damage to the good name of his victim is liable to be much worse than the damage to his name over this. I mean, people are trying to claim that all of the women accusing Bill Cosby of rape are lying, and he has a much higher expected level of wholesomeness than a guy who illustrates a comic where the main characters are mushroom-dropping professional murderers.
2. Losing his job over an allegation is not fair to Upchurch. Wiebe is not a labor union; he doesn’t have legally binding reasons to keep working with Upchurch, and if he feels Upchurch’s behavior conflicts with the project they were working on together and has the executive power to remove Upchurch, he can damn well do so.3. These accusations will permanently damage Upchurch’s career even if he is found innocent. First of all, yeah, sure, this one guy’s career is worth someone staying silent about being thrown down stairs; I think not. Second of all, no, it is unlikely that this will permanently damage Upchurch’s career prospects. Men’s versions of these kinds of events are pretty uniformly believed over those of women, so even if he is convicted, there will be people who either want to give the ex-con a second chance or who will not see this as a big deal, or even those who will want to hire him to spite his detractors. This is doubly true in the creative world, where it’s unfortunately kind of acceptable to be a terrible person so long as your art is good (says the guy who once, to his embarrassment, tried to defend Roman Polanski). This is not going to hurt Upchurch that badly.4. His ex-wife hit him! If the words of his ex-wife are true, yes, she did, and she cops to that; but “she hit me first” is not a valid excuse for hitting her back, even if it flies legally, and again, everything we know suggests that Upchurch’s reactions were much, much worse than what she did to him. The bottom line is this: When abusive behavior comes to light, it is valid, even for the best, for the assumption to be that the victim is telling the truth and for there to be an investigation, and for the accused to be removed from positions of power, influence, or privilege during that investigation; that is doubly so when the person’s behavior is at odds with the message they claim to be trying to send via the work they are now divorced from, as is the case with Upchurch. It sends a message that the victims’ stories are to be believed, which reinforces the idea that coming forward is a valid, safe thing to do; and it sends the message that abusive behavior will not be defended and will result in loss of privilege and power. What Wiebe did was brave, and right, and heroic, regardless of the results of any investigations or trials regarding Upchurch’s behavior. I sincerely hope Upchurch gets his fair trial, and if he is guilty, that he is found to be so and receives counseling, therapy, medication, whatever he needs to become a more functional adult human being; and that his ex-wife receives the support and, yes, counseling or therapy or medication she needs to move past this relationship and the damage she and Upchurch did to each other. In the meantime, I am glad to know I am supporting a person who chose to believe the victim, and who chose to stay true to the message of the art that he makes. So seriously, read Rat Queens. The pages smell like justice.