Multiple women, including former comics journalist and former editor Janelle Asselin, are accusing DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza of sexual harassment and assault, BuzzFeed reports.
In response, DC — which the BuzzFeed report alleges ignored reports about Berganza’s behavior for years, and promoted him at one point to editor-in-chief of the company — first suspended him, and then fired him on Monday after an internal review.
Within comics culture, Berganza’s alleged behavior has for years been an open secret, the subject of blunt gossip and open speculation. He rose through the ranks at DC to become the company’s executive editor in 2010, despite persistent rumors regarding his inappropriate workplace behavior. In 2012, Berganza assaulted a woman in a widely witnessed incident at a con, after which he was effectively demoted, moved to the still-prestigious position of group editor for the Superman universe. At the time of his suspension, he was overseeing popular DC titles, like its best-selling Dark Nights: Metal series.
In 2016, when DC fired popular veteran Vertigo editor Shelly Bond, the comics community teemed with anger, questioning why capable women were being fired when Berganza, a rumored serial harasser, was allowed to remain.
The answer, as we’ve seen far too frequently in recent weeks with the Harvey Weinstein scandal and subsequent wave of allegations against men accused of sexual assault and harassment, is that women in the industry were afraid to publicly accuse him for fear of it harming their careers.
Those fears were apparently well-founded: As BuzzFeed notes, “among the women who reported Berganza to human resources, none still work for DC,” and all have moved away from working in mainstream comics publishing.
According to BuzzFeed, Berganza “developed a reputation for making offensive jokes or line-crossing comments in the presence of or at the expense of women.” Asselin, who was an associate editor at DC between 2008 and 2011, told BuzzFeed, “People were constantly warning other people away from him.”
An anonymous former employee for DC described his behavior as “a gross open secret” that “everybody … stomached.”
Berganza had an established pattern of behavior backed by an established code of silence
The allegations outlined in BuzzFeed’s report all follow a similar pattern: Berganza forced himself on multiple women, none of whom felt able to report the incidents:
- Cartoonist and editor Joan Hilty told BuzzFeed that at a staff party in the early 2000s, Berganza repeatedly and forcibly tried to kiss her, even after she told him no.
- Liz Gehrlein Marsham told BuzzFeed that at another staff party in 2006, just after she had started working for DC as an editor, Berganza used the excuse of taking a selfie to kiss her, then tried to kiss her again, sticking his tongue in her mouth while she was eating. Later that night, Marsham says, he tried to grope her.
- Another woman who spoke to BuzzFeed anonymously says that in 2012, Berganza forcibly kissed her in a hotel bar while attending WonderCon. The woman says multiple people had to pull Berganza off her after he stuck his tongue in her mouth. The woman did not report the incident to DC — she was not an employee and says she was afraid doing so would jeopardize her or her partner’s prospects in the comics industry — but dozens of witnesses allegedly saw the incident occur.
The women in BuzzFeed’s report all emphasize the competitive nature of the comics industry, where legions of fans dream of working at Marvel and DC, as contributing to the pressure they felt to stay silent. “A lot of people at DC will be mad at me and consider this a betrayal,” Marsham told BuzzFeed.
Though neither Marsham nor Hilty reported Berganza to their supervisors or to HR after these incidents, they both, along with at least three other DC employees including Asselin, went to HR as a group with their concerns in 2010, when Berganza was being considered for the role of executive editor. HR reportedly did no follow-up with any of these employees, and despite their complaints, Berganza was promoted to executive editor — a blow Asselin called “massively demoralizing.”
Marsham says that when Berganza began overseeing books she was editing, she withdrew from the editing process altogether to avoid him — with no intervention from her supervisors. Eventually she and all of the other women involved in the group complaint left DC.
Yes, I was one of many who reported Eddie Berganza's behavior in 2011. I left DC because they promoted him anyway.— Janelle Asselin (@gimpnelly) April 21, 2016
After the 2012 WonderCon incident, Berganza reportedly apologized to DC’s all-male staff for his behavior and pledged to change. He was demoted to group editor, but the incident was not publicly acknowledged by him or DC.
In response to the allegations made in the BuzzFeed report, DC issued a statement to the Hollywood Reporter on November 11 announcing that it had suspended Berganza.
“DC Entertainment has immediately suspended Mr. Berganza and has removed him from performing his duties as Group Editor at DC Comics,” the statement confirmed. “There will be a prompt and yet careful review into next steps as it relates to the allegations against him, and the concerns our talent, employees and fans have shared.”
The statement did not appear to address whether current DC editor-in-chief Bob Harras or other staff knew about the allegations against Berganza before the BuzzFeed report.
On social media after the BuzzFeed news broke, comics fans called for both Berganza and his supervisor, Harras, to be fired:
These were fireable offenses then, and should be fireable offenses now.— Paul Reinwand (@paulreinwand) November 10, 2017
Get rid of him. https://t.co/IpWX01SzJB
If no one has done so yet, let me be the first to demand Bob Harras's resignation as DC's Editor-in-Chief, along with Berganza's long-overdue firing. pic.twitter.com/etpxjMhrLh— C.P. Hoffman (@CPHwriter) November 10, 2017
Several former and current DC employees whom BuzzFeed spoke with insist Berganza has fully reformed and repented. A DC spokesperson told BuzzFeed that “DC and WB are unequivocally committed to cultivating a work environment of dignity and respect, one that is safe and harassment free for all employees,” but did not comment on the specific allegations against Berganza.
While the comics industry has evolved slightly since these incidents took place, DC Comics in particular has struggled with charges of institutional sexism, and the dominance of white male creators on its staff and in its titles has manifested itself in surprising ways. DC’s silence regarding the allegations against Berganza was perceived by many within comics culture as tacit support for him over the women whose complaints were reportedly ignored.
And that perceived support may have been what kept, and continues to keep, women like Marsham from being able to do their best work in the industry — and may have, in turn, prevented DC from recruiting and working with some of the best creators in the business.
Update: Buzzfeed reported on November 13 that Berganza has been fired following an internal review. Representative for DC and Warner Bros told Buzzfeed they were “committed to eradicating harassment.”