Right now, DC group editor Eddie Berganza is the comics industry’s poster child for sexual harassment, our own private Harvey Weinstein, thanks to a Buzzfeed article that brought the story of his misdeeds, and DC’s handling of them, to a wider audience.
People are calling for Berganza’s head on a platter, but they probably won’t get it. DC did in fact sanction him at the time: After he “forcibly kissed” a creator at a party during WonderCon in 2012, DC demoted him and banned him from conventions. When the incident hit the comics news, he sent an e-mail to his superiors apologizing and vowing it wouldn’t happen again. It’s conceivable that he actually did have some sort of epiphany and change his ways. He doesn’t seem to have repeated this behavior since, and it would certainly be difficult for DC to fire him now for something that was acknowledged and dealt with, however inadequately, seven years ago.
That doesn’t mean no one should be fired, though. What I find most alarming about this story is not Berganza’s antics per se but the way that the DC brass protected him at the expense of the women who worked there.
In 2010, hearing that Berganza was up for a promotion, at least five people reported their concerns to Human Resources, with at least one saying she didn’t feel safe working with him. Regardless, DC promoted Berganza to executive editor a few months later. This meant that fewer people would be reporting to him, so it was a promotion that isolated him from most potential victims. But not all:
A few months later, DC launched a reboot of its superhero universe. Marsham then was a coordinating editor, which required her to be in often daylong closed-door meetings with a handful of senior editorial staff — all men — including Berganza. She was horrified. She sought out Harras, the editor-in-chief, and asked if Berganza was now officially supervising every book in the DC Universe. Harras, who Marsham said knew about her encounter with Berganza, confirmed that he was.
“You know I can’t edit books that [Berganza] has oversight on,” Marsham said she told Harras. “I guess I just won’t be able to edit any books.”
Harras, she recalled, didn’t protest. He asked if she was OK with that.
After that conversation, Marsham stopped editing books.
I don’t know anything about working at DC other than what I read on the internet, but if this is true, it’s pretty damning. If you have someone on staff that people don’t feel safe working with, the correct response is not to allow your staff to avoid him at the cost of their own careers. The correct response is to remove him or at the very least make it clear that he will be monitored at all times, and defend the rights of everyone else to do their jobs without harassment. DC apparently failed at this. As Alex De Campi wrote in 2015:
Now, the Superman office allegedly employs no women, and a cursory glance over the mastheads of several Superman titles and Wonder Woman seems to confirm that allegation. The reason, I’ve been told by several people who work or used to work at DC, is because one of the most senior editors is a sexual harasser with multiple incidents on his HR file.
Here’s what journalist and former DC staffer Heidi MacDonald had to say around the same time:
There are at least three editors who worked at DC comics while I was there who had complaints filed against them with HR. I know this because the people who filed the reports told me this directly. Over the years very few female staffers would be hired by DC editorial and the constant weirdness and inappropriate behavior drove most of them away, or led them to question themselves so much that their work suffered and they had to leave. Because women can’t handle drawing superhero comics, you know. I was told that by my supervisor when I worked at DC. Yep.
While Berganza makes a handy poster boy for this whole situation, it’s clear that DC had a cultural problem for a long time.
Whether it remains is an open question. Perhaps converging offices with parent company Time Warner and moving to Burbank, California, helped bring around some changes, although it should be noted that the move would have been an excellent excuse to give Berganza a goodbye handshake and they didn’t seize that opportunity.
The only way DC can make this right is to change their corporate culture and make a determined effort to hire more women. (Please do not say “They should hire the best candidate for the job.” The whole point here is that by not hiring women, they haven’t been doing that for years.) During the dark period when DC was covering up for Berganza and god knows who else, more enlightened comics publishers were hiring and promoting women. There are plenty of qualified creators, editors, and managers out there, and DC should be seeking them out and preferentially hiring them.
We will never be free of sexual harassers. They will exist in the most enlightened society; it’s some sort of pathology. What DC and other companies can do, though, is ensure that the workplace is safe and comfortable for everyone and show respect to victims who come forward, rather than shielding the harassers and pretending nothing is wrong.