No, Brian Hibbs, In Fact, It Ain't You At All.

The recent revelations of sexual abuse perpetrated on women could be called staggering or a “no shit” moment, because it should be a surprise that men feel that they can act any god damn way they want.  Despite the horrors revealed near-daily, there is a perverse joy in the avalanche of apologies, half-ass stances, and pathetic voices of “support” the majority of men have taken.  They espouse the virtue of listening, they make the pretense of empathy with some borderline-braggadocio about their own experience being objectified (“I think of how hurt I feel when I get catcalled every time I leave the gym… I’m more than just guns and abs!”), and, of course, the classic “I’ve never behaved that way!” It is a beautiful thing to watch men come off as assholes when they specifically make an attempt not to be assholes.

            The geek community has no shortage of creepy men.  Many would argue that per capita, geeks top the charts on their creep:not-creep ratio, which should shock no one who has ever seen at female superhero’s costume.  Like the rest of the world, self-styled good guys of geek society have come to the “aid” of women, with results equal parts embarrassing and insulting.

            Brian Hibbs, comic retailer and member of the comic book cognoscenti has shared his awaking to our troubled times in a 3,800-plus word entry in his Tilting At Windwills column titled “#MeToo - When A Bathroom Makes Women Uncomfortable".  To readers who neither have the time nor ambition to slog through Hibbs’ near 4000 word essay, here is a summary:  Hibbs’ store has an employee bathroom that cartoonists have doodled on over the years.  At a recent signing, a cartoonist (and a woman), contributed to this bathroom wall at Hibbs’ request, then, due to the graphic nature of some of the wall’s other artwork, later requested her work be removed. This was Hibbs’ “come to Jesus” moment, as he realized that crude drawings repel some people.

            On the surface, this may seem reasonable, as Hibbs has owned a shop for over thirty years and he thought his “art bathroom” was in good fun. How was he to know that sometimes offensive stuff offends people?  Besides common sense.  Hibbs’ column is a self-serving attempt to seem “woke” that feels like a men’s rights parody.

            The very title of the article manages to be problematic, specifically its inclusion of “#MeToo”.  Mr. Hibbs admits to being a middle-aged white man and therefore is most certainly not part of any “too”, let alone the #MeToo movement.  This is a woman’s movement, this is a movement for victims of anything on the oh-so-wide spectrum of sexual harassment and assault.  This is not a movement for men, no matter how well-intentioned.  In the case of the article that follows the unfortunate title, the intentions are questionable.

            Hibbs begins his foray into the defense of women with roughly two thousand words promoting his store and bragging about its history of artist signings.  In this article addressing the systemic nature of rape culture, the reader learns that Hibbs’ shop has two graphic novel “clubs”, doing creator signings has been an important part of the store since it opened, that signings don’t really make money (Hibbs’ does them in dedication to the artform!). He shares the origin of his art toilet, and then proceeds to mention seventy-eight artists and writers who have signed his store’s shithouse. He shares the anecdote of a series of some doodles in questionable taste (sheep fucking, God’s dick, a masturbating Satan), he brags how well he keeps kids out of his adult’s section of the store (making note that his comic porn has mostly “female-positive depictions”— I would love to know his qualifiers for that), he offers his opinion on art, points out the history of San Francisco vis-a-vis sex, underground comics, and artistic expression. He offers all of this as “context”, as proof that he’s one of the good guys. Nothing written has to do with the incident at hand. 

            For that, Hibbs dedicates 387 words to the unnamed cartoonist who blanched at  her work being displayed among purulent scribblings.   Close to two thousand words on the history of his store, three hundred and eighty-seven for the point of the article. A five-to-one ratio.  This is beyond egregious, and makes clear that Hibbs doesn’t really care. He wants you to think he does, perhaps even he thinks he does, but were that the case a reader would not have to wade through a laundry list of cartoonists and ramblings of San Francisco’s randy, progressive past. 

            Hibbs is such a good guy that he uses the remainder of his treatise to attempt solutions. Should he do nothing? Should he paint the walls of his bathroom? Should he merely paint over the “offensive” pieces? Should he rip out the walls and donate them to charity? Oh, the hand-wringing!  “But what about censorship?”, he asks, not being self-aware enough to know that the housing for a toilet may not be the equivalent of the banning of Native Son

            Hibbs’ reflections on possible solutions leads to the standard “we all have to listen” conclusion, and despite being such a good guy, it’s funny how many things he ignores.  He never mentions the offended cartoonist by name, yet lists seventy-eight other funny-book folk.  It is possible she requested anonymity, but he leaves enough details for someone to suss out her identity by looking at the store’s website.  Her name will not be mentioned here in case it is her request (assuming Hibbs bothered to mention to this person that he dedicated a column to her), but she is an accomplished cartoonist and a children’s book illustrator. 

            Everything Hibbs writes about this cartoonist is condescending.  To wit: “She actually didn’t appear to know the overwhelming majority of the names involved, which isn’t a real surprise – most of the newer crop of graphic novel creating authors don’t know very much about periodical comics or their creators or history at all.” How does he know? Did she ask “who are these people?”  By what measure did Hibbs gleam that this professional cartoonist was unaware of some of the most respected names in the industry? Hibbs immediately points out that there is “nothing at all wrong with this”; so why bring it up? There’s no reason except to emphasize his supreme knowledge or her ignorance.  Of course, the ammendum of there’s “nothing at all wrong with this” exists to prove Hibbs is such a good guy.

Being such a good guy, it’s hard to understand how it never occurred to Hibbs that maybe the reason why the unnamed cartoonist requested to have her work withdrawn wasn’t because she was mortified or offended— maybe it is because the all-ages cartoonist and children’s book illustrator did not want her name or work to be associated with a masturbating Satan.  Maybe, as a professional, she understands the importance of self-branding and did not want to diminish that brand.  Hibbs states she didn’t “want to be associated with” what she termed “aggressively sexual” drawings.  Is this the #MeToo moment Hibbs wanted to brag about, or is this about a professional who justifiably cares about the context of their work? According to Hibbs, the cartoonist does say to him “when I was alone in the bathroom with those drawings, I wasn’t sure if I belonged there.” This could be interpreted in a variety of ways, not all of which point to “I accidentally made a woman uncomfortable because she’s a woman (which I didn’t realize I could do because I’m such a good guy)”. One will never know why she was uncomfortable as Hibbs may have never bothered to ask her, and certainly did not bother to include her actual feelings, in her actual words, in Hibbs article about her. When good guys listen, they decide what a woman feels!

Hibbs did manage to ask his “predominately” female staff if they were offended, and apparently, most of them were. He did not, however, ask, “Hey,  predominately female staff, would you like to contribute to this column in any way?” He never thought to himself “Instead of writing eight pages about my bathroom, maybe I could have a round-table discussion with my predominately female employees, wherein they could educate me and my readers on how women are treated in the geek community?” This is what good guys do: Brag about the women they know without soliciting their opinion. 

Hibbs writes that, regarding his bathroom, “…in the context of what I know, there’s not a problem here, and in literally twenty years this art has been on the wall, I’ve never received anything but positive reactions from anyone of any gender, but if I’m capable of learning, and if #MeToo taught me anything, it’s super super important to have a conversation and to try and fix things if people feel wronged.” This sums it up.  If the point of what Hibbs writes is that he was unaware that what he was doing was wrong, why press the defense that no one else did either? Taking the whole of his piece as fact, it doesn’t matter that he didn’t know he offended others, because he offended others! If Brian Hibbs wants to be “capable of learning”, the first lesson is not to make excuses, justifications, or rationalizations.  He does not need to get on a soapbox, he needs to apologize and atone.  The atonement isn’t huge: cover up the bathroom rape-art and be done with it. Don’t decry harassment while defending yourself, just be decent. Don’t look to the #MeToo movement to teach you anything other than women are fed the fuck up, and won’t stand for our bullshit. #MeToo should not teach that it is important “to fix things if people feel wronged”— Hibbs should know that already. That’s what it means to be a good guy.