An Apology to Dr. Will Brooker

When I wrote yesterday’s piece on Alan Moore’s most recent interview, I wasn’t aware that the “Batman scholar” Moore was mocking was Will Brooker.

I feel really bad about not identifying him, because it perpetuates how Moore didn’t identify him or take him seriously. And I’m afraid I must have perpetuated that. That was not my intent in the slightest, and I feel sick about it.

By way of explanation, I can only explain that I had been avoiding coverage of this entire matter, which I had very strong feelings about and really didn’t want to write about. I only reversed this attitude after hearing responses on Sunday to Harry Edmundson-Cornell’s editorial, which was run here on Sequart on Saturday. Had I done my research, I would have noted that Brooker has, of course, been identified in lots of places, including on The Beat (which frankly has done a better job of covering this story than other prominent comics websites, including this one). Here’s another example of what I missed, which explains the context of this criticism much better than Moore’s interview cared to (and which I really wish I’d read before writing my own piece). All I can offer in my defense is that I would have never thought this “Batman scholar” Moore was trashing and depicting as so pathetic was anyone other than some guy on Twitter — which is precisely how Moore’s interview was supposed to make us think about this “guy on Twitter.”

Will BrookerHaving discovered Brooker was the target of Moore’s deeply insulting venom, I feel compelled to do what Alan Moore should and apologize to Will Brooker.

Part of why I would never would have thought Brooker was the “guy on Twitter” is that he’s very much a known commodity. Will Brooker is anything but a sloppy scholar, or just some guy on Twitter who dubbed himself a “Batman scholar.”

Let’s start with the fact that he’s Dr. Will Brooker. He has a Ph.D. in cultural studies from Cardiff University. He’s a professor at Kingston University in London. The books that he’s written include Batman Unmasked (2000) and Hunting the Dark Knight (2012). So yes, he is a Batman scholar. He’s the real thing.

My father is a professor emeritus of film studies (among other things) who was in the first class of UCLA’s M.F.A. program in film. So I grew up immersed in film studies. In this regard, I can tell you that two things stand out on Dr. Brooker’s resume. He is the first British editor of the Cinema Journal, the journal of Society for Cinema and Media Studies. This is a huge and prestigious organization, as is their journal, and I’ve met and hung out with its officers, discussing things like the journal’s style. Brooker’s credit here is, to those in the know, a Big Fucking Deal, as Joe Biden would say.

So too is the fact that Brooker authored the Star Wars installment of BFI’s Film Classics series. This is fucking huge. I love this series of little books analyzing classic films, paired with top writers and scholars — you know, like Salman Rushie. In fact, my regular reading of this series was a spiritual inspiration for Sequart starting its own line of books about comics in 2005. This is also a big deal.

In addition, Brooker’s written for The Guardian, Newsweek, Huffington Post, the website Mindless Ones, and… yes, The Independent — that same outlet Moore’s sworn off in connection with his verbal assault on Laura Sneddon. Given how Moore seems to think Sneddon’s contaminated from having once interviewed Grant Morrison, Moore may well think that Brooker’s contaminated from his association with the Independent too. (I’m picturing Glenn Beck, connecting the dots on his blackboard.)

Since Brooker’s tweets, to which Moore responded, were about cultural critiques, it’s important to point out that not only is Brooker’s doctorate in cultural studies, but he’s been so upset by depictions of women and girls in comics — and the fact that the many complaints about these depictions haven’t changed the behavior of the industry itself — that he started his own online comic that reflects these values. It’s called My So-Called Secret Identity, and it stars a young woman who’s a Ph.D. student. A lot of us at Sequart like this idea and have tried to support it since even before it launched, including with an interview by me, a review by Colin Smith, and another interview by Forrest Helvie.

In other words, Brooker’s not only a legit “Batman scholar” (that term doesn’t appear on Brooker’s Twitter page, by the way) but he’s also got a record of putting his money where his mouth is about social issues and the depiction of women.

He certainly doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as a fake scholar. He certainly doesn’t deserve to be disrespected by not even being named, which is a well-worn tactic usually reserved for those beneath contempt, in an attempt to avoid promoting someone like, say, David Duke. And he certainly doesn’t deserve to have his criticism dismissed.

I feel positively sick that, having not done my research after deciding I had to respond to Moore’s interview, I perpetuated the silencing gesture of not naming Dr. Will Brooker. And if I’ve also perpetuated Moore’s dismissal of Brooker’s criticisms, I apologize for that too. Probably like most people, I’ve only read and explored Moore’s defense against those criticisms, which I think is well-reasoned. I was under the impression that these claims were a silly matter, consisting of some self-identified “Batman scholar” on Twitter. Of course, the interview did its best to create this impression. It’s a false impression, and easily demonstrated to be so. It’s also a rather ugly business. To have been a part of this makes me feel sick.

For the record, it’s that sickness in the pit of my stomach — the knowledge that I’ve made a mistake and perpetuated something ugly here — that has prompted this apology. No one’s asked me to do it. When I told Will Brooker I felt terrible and would be writing an apology, he said there was no need and a little note on my original piece would suffice. But I don’t believe that’s correct. I don’t believe that’s adequate.

Because what I perpetuated here was a silencing gesture, designed to denigrate a scholar as not even worthy of being mentioned by name. I could understand that, if the criticism came from a random tweeter with a strong bias but little reasoning ability; there’s no reason to shine a light on such a person. Again, this is a long-established tactic. But it’s one that’s completely inappropriate in this case.

In fact, citing Brooker’s tweets without crediting them certainly wouldn’t be permissible in academia, where it would be called plagiarism. That’s why, when this kind of silencing gesture is employed against the well-deserving, most are careful not to quote directly; instead, they summarize the person’s criticism and respond accordingly. Of course, this failing to cite a scholar’s criticism — indeed, to even name the scholar to which one is responding — occurs in the context of an interview that goes on to allege rampant and repeated plagiarism.

(This is one reason why, where interviewees don’t identify people by name, interviewers and publishers often do so in brackets or editorial comments, wherever they can identify the reference. For some reason, this wasn’t done in this interview.)

Now, I’m sure there are some who will say that I’m just circling the wagons here. But my own culture is as much academic as it is informed by my lifelong love of comics or my own creative pursuits. This academic background is why I founded Sequart, way back in 1996, when comics weren’t being taken seriously by the professors and scholars I so respected and admired. It’s also why Sequart has a more analytic and scholarly approach than other comics websites. And it’s why Sequart has a culture of academic freedom, in which I refuse to censor articles or editorials, such as Harry’s, based on their stance (and yes, even based on their usage of curse words — which, despite popular belief, aren’t antithetical to making legitimate points).

Within this context, we can of course still disagree. We can even disagree passionately. There’s nothing wrong with Alan Moore or anyone else saying Brooker’s assertions about Moore are wrong, or even “full of shit,” if one wishes to use that language. That’s completely fair. Personally, I have no idea whether I disagree with them or not, because this interview with Alan Moore didn’t bother to even credit this “Batman scholar” (snicker, snicker) appropriately, and I got sucked into that.

But while we are all free to disagree, we’re not free to dismiss someone on the basis that they’re a “Batman scholar” or someone who made an argument on Twitter. We’re not free to quote someone’s argument without attribution. We’re not free to mock a legitimate scholar as having a brain that’s been addled by his choice of subject. These tactics are likely legal, but they’re not ethical. In fact, they’re anti-intellectual, because they mock the very idea of scholarship (including of comics) and attack someone on the basis of their chosen field or their use of Twitter.

These kinds of tactics only look more unethical and anti-intellectual in the wake of having discovered that the person being attacked on such a spurious basis isn’t a “guy on Twitter” who put “Batman scholar” in his Twitter description but, in fact, Dr. Will Brooker. Again, you can disagree with Brooker as much as you want, but you can’t be thought an ethical player who’s a fair player in a passionate debate and also try to silence your critic by not naming him, by attacking him personally, and by attacking the basic notion of how scholarship works.

This is not okay. It’s wrong.

I’ve perpetuated that, and for this I feel deeply sorry.

In apologizing, I hope I’ve taken accountability and demonstrated how such problems should be handled — in what I hope is a professional and transparent manner.

I don’t know if Alan Moore or Pádraig Ó Méalóid know who Will Brooker is, or even that he was in fact the source of this criticism, which was unfairly represented in the interview as coming from some random guy on Twitter. I wouldn’t be surprised, given Moore’s seclusion from the internet and from the wider world of comics criticism, if he had no idea who Will Brooker is, or if all he was given was out-of-context tweets and quotes.

Something of this sort does seem to be at work, with at least some of the criticism to which Moore responds in this interview; this is suggested by the lack of context to this criticism. I can’t help but feel as if Moore might have been manipulated — handed extracted quotes, to which he predictably responds with, among other things, no small amount of anger. If this is the case, Moore still ought to apologize, but a considerable degree of culpability lies with others as well. Not having been involved, I don’t know to what degree this is the case, and I have no evidence of it, outside of how in the interview Moore seems almost completely unaware of anything beyond the excerpts to which he responds.

Again, I’m sorry for perpetuating the misrepresentation and marginalization of Moore’s critics exhibited by this interview. I screwed up. The fault is mine, because I failed to adequately research the issues involved. I felt passionately about the matter, and I felt compelled to comment upon it (especially with one of Sequart’s writers under attack), and I didn’t take the adequate time to get this right. I was ignorant. It never occurred to me, perhaps foolishly, that the interview would misrepresent a scholar of Will Brooker’s credentials for some random guy on Twitter.

But I also have to say that this only underlines, for me, how troubling this particular interview really is. I pointed out some of the reasons why yesterday, and there’s a lot more I haven’t yet addressed. A lot of my exoneration of Moore, for the social criticism he’s received, was based on the impression, deliberately left by this interview, that these were just complaints made by some guy on Twitter or by some angry fan at a signing — complaints which the interview represented as being rather off-the-cuff and having no real merit. It’s now clear to me that this wasn’t the case. As a result, the way Moore diminishes his critics personally becomes far a more insulting affair.

For example, it’s one thing to mock a random guy on Twitter who proclaims himself a “Batman scholar” — and in the process to attack the very idea of scholarship on popular culture. There, the response may well be, as I suggested, to simply ignore Twitter criticism. But it’s quite another thing to make a very real scholar seem like a crazy guy on Twitter. Once you recalibrate for this, the hostility the interview shows, not only towards particular lines of criticism but to the culture of criticism and scholarship themselves, increases dramatically.

As a result, an interview that I already found mind-boggling has become even more so.

I’ll have more soon. But I wanted to get this apology out there, as soon as I could. Thanks for reading.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

See more, including free online content, on .

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12 Comments

  1. A well written apology is a sign of responsible journalism. Well done.

    It also highlights real concerns with the other journalism surrounding this issue. not least how it has been reported on the Guardian’s website.

    I would be interested to read a balanced piece on this that did cover the background facts and did address head-on the way Alan Moore has been interviewed and reported on in the last few years.

    My concern is that so many peole have read Alan Moores comments and have said he makes some good points or is well reasoned.

    All I see, is an admitably humorous sequence of personal attacks by someone with good comand of rhetoric but seemingly and surprisingly lacking insight.

    • You’re right that the coverage of Moore hasn’t been very complete, especially on this interview. Credit to The Beat for doing a great job on this — better than the other major comics websites, including this one.

      I don’t know that Moore lacks insight; it’s totally possible that he’s been given extracts and poor representation of the criticism of him. He’s defended himself extraordinarily well… but only from these poor representations of real criticism. I think Moore should apologize for this, even if it’s not entirely his fault. But I don’t pretend to know whether the fault is ultimately his, and given that he doesn’t seem to read a lot of criticism, nor follow a lot of scholarship or online writing, it’s totally possible that he didn’t know what he was responding to any more than I did. That said, I think there needs to be some accounting of how this happened.

      Part of the reason this is important is that, as you say, damage has been done. Plenty of people, including myself, read this interview and thought “that sounds reasonable” — not knowing, of course, that the arguments critical of Moore were being grossly misrepresented. This might not be as much of a problem for Will Brooker and Pam Noles, since they weren’t mentioned by name and thus not as directly misrepresented. But not naming them is a silencing gesture, as I’ve said, which has the effect of reducing them to non-entities unworthy of proper citation. This certainly adds to what was already (for those of us who didn’t know this was even going on) a very troubling interview.

  2. Mark Cutter says:

    Academics with PuDs who use the term “doctor” in their normal life are an embarrassment. It’s OK to use it for stationary or applying for funding grants, but to call yourself “Doctor” when you aren’t an MD is really improper, and dangerous when traveling on flights!

    • It is dangerous on flights! (There are lots of academic jokes about this!) I used “doctor” here to emphasize how Will Brooker isn’t just some guy on Twitter; it was my choice, not his.

      • Mark Cutter says:

        I was flying with a colleague of mind to an academic conference and a passenger on the plane had a heart attack, the air hostesses ran up to my colleague and said “Dr. Keegan, quick help” to which he had to reply, “Sorry my qualification is in Old and Middle English”. Fortunately I am a first-aider and was able to do the business, but after we landed a representative from the airline asked us both into their local office and gave my colleague hell for putting “Dr.” on their credit card and therefore their booking. My point extends to you too Julian, you shouldn’t be using the term “Dr.” in your headline, it is profoundly misleading to most normal people (i.e. non-academics!).

  3. It is polite to refer to someone by their earnt title.

    Medical doctors don’t even have a doctorate unless they study for one seperately.

    The term Doctor is properly used for anyone with a doctorate PhD or otherwise, and in in some countries (Germany for example) a foreign medical doctor is diqualified from using the term before their name unless they also have a doctorate.

    Much to the Chagrin of American or British medical doctors.

    • I don’t have a problem with people referring to themselves as “doctor.” Before I got my Ph.D., I thought I never would; it just felt pompous. But after a hard-fought dissertation, which probably took years off my life and which came at the end of (no kidding) a decade of graduate school, I thought, “You know what? I really earned this. This is not some empty honorific.” So I’ll put “Dr.” on certain documents, as is the right of someone who’s earned it. (Also, I think it enhances the idea that comics should be taken seriously, which has always been part of my agenda.) On the other hand, I’d never correct anyone if they leave it off; I personally think that’s rude (at least in American culture).

      And at the end of the day it’s the argument, not the credential, that counts. I’ve certainly heard absurd arguments from Ph.D.s and brilliant ones from people without even a high school degree but who were smart and read a lot.

      • Precisely, it’s hard won and worth respect, but it’s not in and of itself a measure of worth.

        Except when I talk to my good Dr/Wife, when it’s probably wise to consider it both, or she will remind me that we are formally listed as the couple Dr and Mr MacLaren. :)

  4. Brent Holmes says:

    Julian Darius:

    I think it’s commendable for you to acknowledge a mistaken assumption that many people reading the Alan Moore interview made. When I read Moore talking about a ‘Batman scholar’ on Twitter, my first assumption was an angry reactionary fanboy venting as opposed to an actual academic scholar who had valid criticism of Moore’s work. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

    I wonder if the perils of groupthink should be adressed, because I think many, if not most people who initially read Moore’s interview made assumptions. I certainly did and I’m going to read all future Alan Moore comments with a grain of salt and hopefully a more objective point of view. This is unfortunate in one respect; if Moore makes valid points in the future, there could be a ‘The boy who cried wolf’ reaction even if Moore is right. (ie every criticism of Moore is valid, because he’ll just call you a ‘batman scholar’ on twitter, rather than address your concerns)

    Alan Moore has written so many classic, enduring and gamechanging works I just wish he was more receptive to valid concerns, especially coming from credible, erudite people, of whom 2 (Will Brooker and Pam Noles) appear to have been dismissed with a blanket disparagement.

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