Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

April 16, 2012

The New York Times Focuses On Major Feud At Archie

The New York Times had a major piece up this weekend on the dispute at Archie between co-CEOs John L. Goldwater and Nancy Silberkleit. The tussle is apparently heading to mediation. It's not a story I've been able to follow very well except to note its more entertaining aspects, many of which get some play in the Robin Finn-written piece at the Times -- including the now-infamous story of Silberkleit pointing one-by-one at a room of male Archie editors and saying "penis, penis, penis" as she did so.

While I think the article would like to nudge the dispute into the "what is the heart of Archie?" territory, my hunch is that this is a massive workplace-culture failure with various causes and that mediation represents a way for both sides to extract themselves from a death grip that would cause further damage to both. My initial sympathies are always with women in large workplaces because that can be extremely tough, demonstrably so in the history of comics publishing. Still, it's hard for me to find a lot of traction in the details beyond the broad accusations of shitty workplace behavior. As the article elaborates -- and granted, Silberkleit apparently can't participate in such a piece because of court orders (although how that only has come to work on one side of things is a bit beyond me) -- one thing that may skew our view of this CEO vs. CEO battle is that at this point we have some successes to which we can point emanating from the Goldwater-run side of things at the company (the PR buzz surrounding various storyline efforts; modest gains in sales and exposure for some of those efforts) and we really don't have those from the parts of the business seemingly intended for Silberkleit to run (an initiative for co-sponsoring comics-intensive reading fairs; a stage musical). I'm confused as to how a sour workplace or even some overtly shitty office behavior can be said to seriously stand in the way of forward progress in what seemed liked areas that reflect a pretty clear separation of responsibilities. I'm also a bit perplexed as to why Silberkleit had any say in digital comics that makes her participation in their development important enough to note, or why her vote on various Goldwater-driven storyline initiatives mattered other than to score some cheap points against her, or why she'd have a big ex-jock with her on a trip to an office (a trip for which she was fined) to facilitate an anti-bullying comic when she didn't seem to have such editorial duties. Also, and I don't mean to be glib, I'm unclear as to how anyone can generate $100 million of reputation to be defamed in the short period of time we're discussing here.

I doubt we'll ever know the full details, and I doubt that anyone involved has a fully virtuous tale to tell. I expect mediation to work because of what's at stake, and that a lot of this is as resistant to sorting out as what happened at anyone's place of work is when there's one of those crash and burn periods involving people not getting along with other people. Who did what exactly behind the scenes, and for what reasons, is an Archie tradition going back to who created which of their successful characters and why; that, at least, seems to continue here.
posted 5:46 am PST | Permalink

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