It’s difficult to even know where to begin this post, mostly because I shouldn’t have to be writing it in the first place. We are adults living in 2012, yet here I am, about to lecture as though I’m scolding children in kindergarten calling each other names and spitting on each other.
To get you up to speed, notoriously ignorant comic book retailer Larry Doherty of Larry’s Comics in Lowell, MA (a shame that he’s in my beloved home state) took to showcasing his penchant for being offensive under the guise of an “I’m ALWAYS offensive”/”It was a JOKE” defense. Not settling for the racist jokes that spewed out of his mouth around the debut of Miles Morales, he took up transphobia instead, poking fun at a woman talking with him through Twitter that happened to be transgender.
So, when Graphic Policy reported the news and I caught wind of it, I naturally called for any residents of Lowell, MA to shop elsewhere. Because that kind of ignorant stupidity should never be tolerated, in comics or otherwise. It’s bullying, plain and simple. Had this been a first offense with a genuine apology, maybe — MAYBE — it’d be forgivable. But Larry is well-known in comics circles for this sort of behavior, and I can’t fathom why it’s still being accepted. Unfortunately, speaking up about it spawned a whole new issue involving me personally, in which Larry took to disparaging myself, my work, and my friends publicly through his store’s Twitter feed.
I admit that I got sucked into his vortex of negativity, bickering with him back and forth for the better part of two hours as he tore down my work — and more importantly my friends that came to my defense — all the while attempting to turn the situation around, suggesting that there was a vendetta to make him look bad. But he doesn’t need my help; Larry looks bad all by himself. Another shame is that Larry is the one who coined the #comicmarket hashtag — a cool idea to discuss comics retailing through Twitter — and subsequently ran it into the ground with his behavior.
Look, I could care less about him trashing me and my work. He’s not the first, he won’t be the last. That’s fine; that’s not what’s important here. What’s important is that, as Larry so courteously pointed out to me, he’s been in business for 23 years. This terrifies me. While I’m sure he’s got a loyal customer base in Lowell, the fact that this guy has been in business for 23 years tells me that he’s likely done more harm than good. He’s had 23 years for people to come into his store and feel unwelcome. 23 years for people to come into his store and feel uncomfortable. How many people has he turned off from comics because of his atrocious behavior?
Your local comic book store is the one place, as comic book fans, that should feel welcoming at all times, no matter what. Larry clearly has no respect for that idea. Thankfully, with the public nature of social media, we can see it all first hand. Just look at his feed (or don’t, you might throw up) and see how many insults he slings. Under his store’s Twitter account, no less. He’s presenting his store, and any well-meaning employees that work there, as a stew of bile and hatred.
Now, nevermind the fact that at a basic level — as a human being — his actions and inability to take responsibility for them are reprehensible, but consider him purely as a businessman. Forget for a minute that he’s disparaging actual human beings that have thoughts and feelings. Think of them instead simply as faceless consumers. Immediately, whether through racist jokes or transphobic comments, he’s alienating potential customers. Looking at this on its own will tell you that not only is Larry an inconsiderate human being, he’s not a terribly bright businessman.
More than Larry’s actions, what terrifies me as it pertains to comics is that he’s been allowed to stay in business for 23 years. I’ve had many people reach out to me throughout the day to confirm what I suspected merely from his online activity: this guy is bad news, professionally and personally. Yet, because of his status as a retailer, many comic publishers (and some creators too) ignore his actions and continue to deal with him. Meanwhile, the guy has outright bashed those that have spoken up, likely denying his customers some of their product out of spite. Again, a fantastic business strategy.
But my concern is with the publishers that continue to allow this sort of behavior. You are allowing this man to represent your product. You are allowing this man to deny your product to people he thinks it’s okay to bully. Larry sees his store as some impenetrable fortress of immunity that allows him to make derogatory comments wherever he pleases with no consequences. As the comics community, we can’t let that stand.
Because we’re such a fledgling industry, there seems to be some notion that we need to bow to the wishes of a store like this so that he’ll carry our books. The retailer/creator/publisher is a symbiotic relationship, sure, we all need each other. But what happens if we don’t give him our books to sell? We have other means of distribution, particularly as the Direct Market continues to flounder. No new product = fewer sales.
What Larry is doing — and continues to do — is bullying and harassment. After I finally disengaged from him on Twitter, he continued to harass me and others without provocation. While I can take it just fine, that doesn’t mean everyone else can, so it’s time to stop it. Comics are a place many of us came to to feel accepted and be a part of something, not to be further cast aside. That’s what Larry is doing; discarding those he deems unimportant.
If you’ve had an unwarranted altercation with Larry in person or online through his business account, here’s a link to the Better Business Bureau’s Online Complaint System. Will it help? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s something. Obviously bullying is bigger than comics. But I consider comics my home. This is where I live 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and I will not tolerate anyone being bullied in my house.
To that end, some folks and I are looking to put together some sort of comics anthology (details to be hashed out soon) with proceeds to benefit an anti-bullying organization to show Larry that not everyone is going to accept his behavior. That comics is an all-inclusive, wonderful place where archaic behavior like Larry’s should be a thing of the past. I also urge any publishers, customers, and creators to cease supporting Larry’s Comics with their product and their business.
If you are a creator or publisher interested in assisting with the creation of the aforementioned anthology, please get in touch with me. If you can, please spread the word.