The news about Chuck Wendig and the end of his work relationship with Marvel have been making the rounds in the social media in the last few days; if you don’t know what’s going on, then please refer here for the public statement by Wendig. By now, I haven’t found any statement available online about this matter from Marvel.
In a nutshell, Marvel decided to fire Wendig for reasons unrelated to his projects and without any prior litigation between the firm and the author. According to Wendig, that happened for his political activism on the social media. It looks like that Marvel evaluated all the adverse reactions about this activism as a serious marketing problem for its products and acted by consequence.
As you may already realize, this is a baseline case. It stirred a lot of noise for the names involved, but it has the potential to become a kind of milestone in the complex history of working relationships between artist, creators, writers and such with the industry. At the moment, I don’t know if there will be any litigation in court or any other kind of legal procedure in the works, I think that the field is open for a lot of controversies.
In all the democratic countries the right to speech is guaranteed by law. In the USA, it’s about the first amendment of the Constitution. Wendig is quite noisy in the social media, sometimes near to the limit of what is commonly tolerated, but to my knowledge, he didn’t violate any law in his activities. As far as I know, he never criticized Marvel or any Marvel-related product.
In the comics market, the commercial success of a project is often related to the professionals involved, whose names are listed on the front cover as a beacon for customers. In this peculiar economic sector, Chuck Wendig is a big name. It stands to reason that Marvel hired this author both for his talents and for his fame. It’s a win-win situation, both get advantages, and the fanbase is happy. Until a few years ago, it worked fine.
Then we got the election of Donald Trump, and everything went up to eleven in the social media. Political issues, social issues, economic issues, all that became a battlefield of a sort, with the audience forced to enlist on one side of every argument. This phenomenon is called polarization, a condition where there is no more option available aside from ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ On this blog I’ve written a lot about this, I will only repeat that this perennial conflict killed any space for a reasonable debate, leaving room to legions of haters.
As said before, Wendig is a big name. And he got quite some haters out there. People who actively campaigned against him in the social media, to the point to openly call for a boycott of everything with his name on the front cover. I don’t know the real numbers of this group, nor I know how much actual damage Marvel got in its sales. I think that someone in the management got the hint about this kind of pressure and decided to pull the plug. No more Wendig, no more hate campaigns.
This is a risky move, at best. Because it opens the door to the concept that a noisy group in the fandom may apply enough pressure to force a big company like Marvel to do what they want. We got a lot of warning before this case. Do you remember all the public whining against the remake of “Ghostbusters” for its all-female cast? Do you remember all the times when an actress or an actor was forced to close her/his social media accounts by hate campaigns? Well, this is the next level.
Should creators or artists should become neutral, or even anonymous, to avoid any kind of public controversy that could enrage part of the audience? Do they lose the rights of free expression granted by the law in the name of the market? And again, the media companies like Marvel will start to set up contracts with clauses tied to the social media accounts of their collaborators?
This is not about Chuck Wendig or Marvel, this is about a significant shift in the attitude of an industry. If a big player starts a trend, more will follow. If the big names get themselves neutralized by the companies, what will happen to the others? And again, what kind of message will be given to the public?