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News: Micah Wright to DC: Stop Lying
posted May 18, 2004
 

May 18 -- Comics writer Micah Wright and author of the satirical poster book You Back the Attack! We'll Bomb Who We Want! ended a two-week silence on his Delphi Internet forum to inveigh against his publisher DC Comics for what he felt was less than professional conduct regarding his status as a freelancer at the company. According to Wright's post, DC chose to disseminate the news of his removal from a project featuring the character Vigilante through leaks to a widely read Internet gossip column penned by Rich Johnston. That information was misleading and potentially damaging to his career, Wright claimed. "For those wondering why I'm speaking out about this now, well the reasons are twofold: #1) to set the story straight as to why the book was 'in trouble' before it was cancelled. Despite what certain people may want to spin to Rich Johnston, I think I'm a good writer, and the last thing I wanted hanging over my head was the idea that I'd created some sub-par piece of shit and been fired for it."

If Wright's accusation was greeted with less than enthusiastic support in certain corners, even from people who tend to look askance at the conduct of the mainstream comic book companies, an explanation proved more than easy to find. Wright's on-line silence was predicated by a confession on his web site (www.micahwright.com) and vicious follow-up discussions in his forum and elsewhere that a self-penned biography that claimed the writer had seen combat as an Army Ranger in Panama during Operation Just Cause (1989-1990) had been completely fabricated. In fact, Wright had never even served in the U.S. Armed Forces. An article appearing the next day in the Washington Post by columnist Richard Leiby exposed Wright's deception for that publication's national audience and brought on a new round of questions, many of which have yet to be answered.

Leiby began to pursue his article after doubts about Wright's professed background had surfaced during the making of a profile the paper ran the previous summer. Leiby cited a group of Rangers as the primary movers behind the exposure, and built his case for print from information obtained in a Freedom of Information act request after Wright was either resistant to confirm proof of service or provided what Leiby indicated was misleading or partial information. The columnist later claimed with great emphasis -- and offered to provide correspondence as evidence if necessary -- that his article's eminent publication led to Wright's attempt at a pre-emptive confession and not the other way around. In the days that followed, even the content of Wright's apology/confession came under scrutiny, as different versions were posted and dates were changed on the document for reasons disputed by Wright and his principal detractors. For instance, an original dating of the apology to approximately two weeks before the Post article cited football player Pat Tillman's death as a contributing cause for Wright to come clean, but the document had a dated before Tillman had died. Wright later claimed that he had kept the original date of an ongoing document, which surprised many who felt his promise of a forthcoming apology in the Washington Post sounded like someone who planned to make a full confession rather than post one. On-line critics -- some objecting to Wright's politics, others to his personal conduct -- used the controversy to call into question other points of interest on Wright's resume or in various credits published elsewhere, such as the ROTC training in college that gave him proximity to Rangers that later spurred his deception, the nature of a parting of ways with former employer Nickelodeon, an asserted Emmy award nomination, and a few writing credits for which little documentation exists. Others held that the apology was itself self-serving, doing things like glibly ducking the motivation of the Leiby story and taking the Washington Post and other vehicles that have covered him to task for not being more aggressive in disproving his multiple and very detailed lies. "The media was sleeping on the job," Wright proclaimed.

Mostly, though, Wright's statement about DC's supposed malfeasance was greeted with almost no coverage at all -- just two weeks after comics' corner of the Internet exploded with Wright-fueled invective. The silence brought into bold relief several of the central dilemmas regarding the story as comics industry news. Rhetoric aside, Wright is hardly a big fish in mainstream comic books. He lacks a substantial portfolio of high profile professional work, and has yet to pen a breakout series or make a name for himself as either a critical darling or a sales success. Despite how fascinating it might be to unwrap layers of political bias and mistreatment (Wright's version) or levels of deception (the critics' version) presenting Wright's fictional army career, one has to wonder about whether or not the players are as interesting as the play -- like a Dennis Potter script performed by the cast of Charmed. Further, Wright's adoption of a fake military past seems to have had the least impact on the comic book portion of his writing career and personal life. His invented Ranger persona contributed much more significantly to his work as a book author (with the Seven Stories release, to be altered in subsequent printings to eliminate the false claims made in the biography, and a planned second book called If You're Not a Terrorist, Then Stop Asking Questions, currently canceled), to a measure of his power as an on-line presence (he castigated at least one opponent in an e-mailed conversation by using his Ranger experiences as a trump card), and to his general appeal as a anti-war pundit (Ranger turning peace activist was a potent publicity hook). The personal fall-out from the long-standing lie has been obvious and immediate in terms of lost jobs and hurt feelings, while the professional damage to his relationship with Seven Stories and as an activist has thus far developed logically. But what of Wright's career in comics?

As of May 22, very few people cared to offer an opinion either way. Other than the potential leak to gossip king Johnston from staffers/insiders and a no comment on the book's status at a recent comics event, DC has yet to publicly address the situation even to confirm Wright's dismissal. Other publishers contacted by the Journal about potentially working with Wright either ignored the question or responded to with a no comment, while mainstream writer peers of Wright were extremely reluctant to go on the record. Even off the record many writers were either still trying to understand the deception -- "I'm still just shaking my head," one comics writer told the Journal in summary -- or convinced Wright's comics career was through whether or not they could say why. One pointed out that Wright had already burned bridges with Marvel over an abortive Epic Comics proposal several months previous, and that his relationship with DC was tenuous after a more recent stunt in which readers of his on-line forum went to Amazon and ordered a canceled Stormwatch: Team Achilles trade (with no real obligation to eventually buy) in a misguided attempt to convinStce the company into continuing the collections and/or the title. The cancellation Wright's superhero book just prior to the fake military past becoming exposed was itself evidence that during his time in comics Wright had hardly gained for himself a star's bad-boy privileges or the potential forgiveness given a cash cow when it comes to doing things that might make the company less than comfortable.

What does any of this say about the comics industry? Artist and writer Jeff Parker pointed out that comics works differently from other media in terms of the way a story like this plays out. "I don't think the axiom 'no such thing as bad publicity' applies to the comics industry," he told the Journal. "This kind of stuff does make it off the screen and into comics shop banter, and into the halls of publishers. It doesn't affect sales either way really, but it will affect Micah's ability to get work from larger publishers. In other instances I've known editors to be put off by a creator's on-line antics." Parker points out how the on-line nature of how the story broke might play to Wright's advantage. "The Internet is an accelerated world, so it's possible that Micah could move to the Redemption stage faster than usual, if he'll take his lumps and stop trying to put the focus on everyone else."

Veteran comics writer and on-line commentator Steven Grant noticed that much of the buzz around the story died down very quickly. "A week on, and virtually nobody is talking about Micah at all now," he wrote to the Journal when asked to comment. "The impact of his revelation was about what I expected: several personal repercussions for Micah, like losing his Wildstorm/DC books (or, more to the point, Vigilante, since Stormwatch: Team Achilles was already cancelled)." Asked by the Journal on what grounds people in comics might object to what Wright had done, whether it was the political content of the deception revealing a conservative streak in the industry or simply people wishing to avoid the level of controversy surrounding the revelation, Grant noted some of the industry's competing impulses. "Yes, comics is basically a conservative business but it's also a business largely embarrassed by its own conservatism; it doesn't like to rub it in anyone's face, usually, it prefers to project a neutral face. If by 'in comics' you mean Marvel and DC, yes, Micah's going to have a hard time finding work there. He burned bridges at Marvel a while ago, nothing to do with his politics. He has reported -- and I can hear a choir singing 'consider the source,' so, yes, consider the source -- that several VPs at DC have told him he'll never work for the company again, and it's a bit hard to believe this incident stirred up that level of vehemence so, if true, it suggests something else is actually going on, though I couldn't guess what."

For Grant, Wright's eventual way out has more to do with the bottom line. "But this is comics: if Micah came up with an idea that sufficiently struck either Marvel or DC are something they could make money off, and an editor willing to work with him, let's not kid ourselves, he'd get work. I don't know why companies like Dark Horse, Image, etc., would even care about his resume if they thought he spelled money. Of course, any project by Micah at this point's going to generate some small controversy, but comics companies are always desperate for attention for their product anyway. My sense is that any public heat on Micah -- there was never that much to begin with -- has already faded; his story isn't interesting enough to sustain any level of anger, it's already just sort of quaint, the sort of thing that makes people tsk and sigh and shake their heads, not pop veins in their foreheads. Will he get work at Marvel or DC anytime soon? Probably not. Could he get more work in comics if he wanted to? Of course. Like I say, all it takes is someone thinking they can make a buck off him. I know he's talking about self-publishing, too."

Contacted by the Journal for an interview, Wright expressed a desire that the magazine not mention the story at all, as it would likely be published at a point he was further along in his attempt to put the controversy behind him, and could potentially re-ignite on-line furor. Asked questions about concrete future plans regarding comics and if he could confirm any concrete discussions with DC about current projects, Wright demurred, saying "Yeah, I think I'm just going to say that I love the medium of comics, that I hope to continue working in comics in the future, and I'm going to let my apology on my website speak for itself."