When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong (Yellowface Edition)
By the time you’ve started reading this, you will have most likely watched the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War about 815 times, and found yourself thinking NC17-rated thoughts about bearded Chris Evans at least double that amount, while expressing all of the things you’d like to do to bearded Chris Evans, such as making him lie on his back so you can sit that pus—(signal drops)
(signal restored) —as he slowly licks it all off while ordering you not to break eye contact.
And that is something Marvel and Disney are very happy about, and should be happy about. Keeping their fanbase happy when it comes to their movies is something that Marvel prides itself on.
When it comes to their comic books and the people who help create and publish them, however … that’s something else entirely.
Earlier this month, longtime Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso stepped down from the position and was soon replaced by C.B. Cebulski, talent scout for Marvel and food blogger. And before anyone could break out the reggae air-horns and set them off in a celebratory manner, Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool.com wrote an article which revealed something from Cebulski’s history with Marvel Comics that caused many people to raise an eyebrow and ask the immortal question: “What kind of fuckery is this?!” (And surprisingly, it had nothing to do with sexual abuse or harassment) Cebuslki, in order to avoid violation of company policies that forbade Marvel staffers from writing or drawing for their comics, created a pseudonym that would actually allow him to write comics for Marvel and any other company. And that pseudonym was for an Asian man named ‘Akira Yoshida,’ despite the fact that Cebulski is White and not Asian.
Johnston’s article deserves to be read in its entirety, but here are a few key portions:
Akira Yoshida was the name of a comic book writer who worked for Dreamwave, Dark Horse, and Marvel Comics 13 years ago. He was a Japanese writer who in interviews told us that he worked for manga publishers, went to US comic conventions, befriended the likes of Pat Lee, and started working in American comics as a result. He would eventually write a series of high-profile Marvel miniseries — 12 issues of Thor: Son Of Asgard, six issues of X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, five of Elektra: The Hand, five of Wolverine: Soultaker, five of X-Men: Kitty Pryde - Shadow & Flame, five of X-Men/Fantastic Four, and a bunch of one-shots — before, suddenly stopping.
This was surprising — Marvel executives I talked to at the time told me that Yoshida was a rarity. He was someone from non-English speaking country who could write well for an American audience — something Marvel had struggled with in the past when seeking authentic voices.
The only problem is, Yoshida didn’t exist, even though an editor said that had even had lunch with him and saw pictures of his immense Godzilla memorabilia.
…Cebulski confessed to Marvel execs what he had done. He could have been fired, but he pled his case internally to the highest authority at the company. The story was that back then, he had been planning to leave Marvel, but set up a writing career first — and Akira Yoshida was a fiction he created to get his first writing gig on Darkstalkers for Dreamwave and then Conan for Dark Horse. And it was from that gig that his fictional pseudonym was approached by another Marvel editor, quite unaware that Cebulski was Akira, and Cebulski found himself hired by his own company. And kept the lie going.
And as to the Akira Yoshida that Marvel people had met, including his bosses, that was a Japanese translator who had visited the offices … was mistakenly identified as Akira Yoshida. So everyone remembered having met him — even though they never did.
Eventually, Cebulski “killed” Akira off, resigned his position from Marvel, and was rehired as a Talent Manager with a new contract that allowed him to write on a freelance basis under his own name.
…Why was this an issue? Well, Marvel Comics at the time had made it policy not to allow Marvel staffers to write or draw comic books — or at least, if approved, not to get paid over their salary for doing so. Previous to Joe Quesada being made editor-in-chief, editors used to write comics for other editor’s departments, often reciprocated, and it was seen as a corrupt practice. If C.B. Cebulski was getting other editors to hire him as a writer, he had an advantage over others. And that also meant that he may be lying to his employer — or that his employer was making an exception.
Like many of the men whose history actually does involve sexual abuse and harassment, Cebulski could do nothing more than offer a half-hearted apology and explanation for his actions, all while barely acknowledging the magnitude of how badly this could and would look for both him and Marvel Comics.
I stopped writing under the pseudonym Akira Yoshida after about a year. It wasn’t transparent, but it taught me a lot about writing, communication and pressure. I was young and naïve and had a lot to learn back then. But this is all old news that has been dealt with, and now as Marvel’s new Editor-in-Chief, I’m turning a new page and am excited to start sharing all my Marvel experiences with up and coming talent around the globe.
And it’s probably not a good sign when Ben Affleck does a better job of apologizing for his past misconduct than the Editor-In-Chief of one of the biggest comic-book publishers in the world. And Affleck’s apology was comprised of only one sentence that barely even covered the then-140-character limit on Twitter.
The last thing Marvel Comics needs to deal with is yet another news story like this one tarnishing their brand and causing people to question them. Back in 2015, Marvel decided to release hip-hop-themed variant covers for many of their books. And as inventive and beautifully-designed as many of those covers were, they raised many an eyebrow due to the fact that Marvel has very few writers and artists on staff who aren’t White men, and for many, this came off as yet another example of a company willing to take advantage of Black people’s contributions without offering Black people a seat at the table.
Then there was the Marvel Retailer Summit back in April, where David Gabriel, Marvel’s Vice President of Print/Sales/Marketing seemed to imply that diverse characters in Marvel’s books were the reason for their poor sales (Which he immediately attempted to clarify in his best “What I had said was…” voice), and then later in October during a retailer panel at New York Comic-Con when comic-book store owners also expressed their frustration and anger at the low sales of Marvel books in their stores due to frequent variant covers and also characters becoming unexpectedly diverse, such as Iceman coming out as gay, Captain America now being a Black man, and Thor now being a woman. According to these retailers, customers who go see Marvel movies such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: Ragnarok end up confused when they later go to buy comics and the characters they love who they just saw in the movies don’t look anything like they do on the page. (Because back issues and trade paperbacks for comic books are no longer sold in comic-book stores or even in existence, I guess)
Then there was also Marvel’s decision to hire Ron Richards as VP/Managing Editor of New Media. Which would be perfectly fine except for the fact that Richards has been plagued with rumors and allegations of sexual harassment. And considering that DC Comics finally decided to fire Eddie Berganza after his many years of sexual harassment were brought to the attention of even more people thanks to Buzzfeed and the New York Daily News, Marvel’s decision to play Can You Top This? by hiring their own sexual harasser just came off as monumentally baffling.
Shaun Lau (known as @NoTotally on Twitter), an Asian-American writer and host of the film/social-issues podcast No, Totally had a lot to say about this situation on Twitter, which makes sense considering that there is a lot about this situation that needs to be taken into consideration:
1. Someone from a group that historically finds it easiest to be employed adopts a pseudonym to take one of the few positions in this country that he doesn’t naturally qualify for. JUST THIS PART raises so many questions. Did he explicitly claim to be Japanese, in origin or ethnicity, in order to get hired? Believe it or not, that makes a difference. Because knowing the degree to which Cebulski misled Marvel, and/or the rigor or lack thereof of Marvel’s hiring practices will have an effect on how we interpret each side’s claims.
2. You know how institutionalized racism works. Were there other, actually Japanese people who were rejected as a result of Cebulski/Yoshida’s hire? That’s obviously an issue because it prevented Japanese writers from material and career benefit, but it also raises institutional questions. For example: was Yoshida hired over other candidates because of a better “culture fit?” Because yes, a white American masquerading as a Japanese person would project both Japanese-ness and whiteness. And that would potentially speak to bias in Marvel’s hiring practices when dealing with people who grew up/live in a non-white, non-American context. Like, these are just quick takes on the first (chronologically) part of this mess. This is just dipping a toe in. There’s so much here.
3. I have to jump ahead to Cebulski’s apology, which includes the sentiments “it was a long time ago” and “it’s been dealt with.” How long ago it happened is immaterial, if you’re aware at all of how your lies may have played a role in shutting others out of the business. “A long time ago,” without further context, just means “I’ve changed,” which misses the point that it’s not all about you, even though some of it is (I’ll get to that separately). And how exactly has it been “dealt with?” This speaks to who Cebulski thinks the aggrieved party should be. Apparently he thinks it’s Marvel, because this is the first time he’s publicly admitted this ruse. Again, this totally ignores the Japanese people (and any other ethnicities assumed by Americans to be monolithically bound with them) as folk who may have been materially damaged by all of this. White people apologizing to other white people for fucking with non-white people, as a genre, really needs to go.
4. People from Marvel who swear they met Yoshida in person actually met a Japanese translator? No. What the fuck. No. This is a flimsy sitcom premise. How does it happen in real life? Who’s the translator? Who were they translating for? What conversations were had? I’m calling bullshit, mainly because this frankly unbelievable story relies on Orientalist tropes to give it the sheen of truth, to the ears of an average white American. Eg. Asians as socially awkward, reluctant to correct the mistakes of others, clumsiness with the English language (even though this person was a translator?). Even the idea of this person being a translator in itself feels like a weird reach to explain why there would be a random Japanese person around to mistake as Yoshida. More
“Who can we say was Japanese around here? It’s not like there’s an immediately-believable reason that a doctor would just be hanging around. Ooh, translator!”
How. do. you. have. lunch. with. someone. and. never. figure. out. that. they’re. not. who. you. think. they. are.
I have such a weird mix of “this isn’t worth any of my fucks” and “holy hell, burn it all down” rn
Whoa. This is a serious wrinkle. Cebulski may have stolen ideas from (maybe actually Japanese?) writers he was scouting? https://t.co/uE4yLkQ917— Studio Glibly (@NoTotally) November 28, 2017
How are people's most recent tweets always so hilarious after revelations pic.twitter.com/7lIAifYmJN— Studio Glibly (@NoTotally) November 28, 2017
I don't know if Cebulski will be reprimanded for this. DC finally fired Berganza after that Buzzfeed article blew up, despite the decade plus of complaints about him.— chris (@garflyf) November 28, 2017
Cebulski will probably just get a slap on the wrist
Wanna break into Marvel comics? Work hard!— chris (@garflyf) November 28, 2017
And if that doesn't work? Try yellowface
Remember when Michael Derrick Hudson pretended to be “Yi-Fen Chou” to get published and landed in BEST AMERICAN POETRY? Now that we know “Akira Yoshida” is CB Cebulski, can Asian writers who are actually Asian in real life just raise their hands?https://t.co/2cRWnFH86w— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) November 29, 2017
kudos to cb cebulski for finding a fresh new way to embroil Marvel in another racism controversy.— Gavia Baker-Whitelaw (@Hello_Tailor) November 28, 2017
It's sad but not surprising to see some comics creators defend CB Cebulski's actions in what is quite clearly a desperate attempt to be in his good graces for future work— Nick Hanover (@Nick_Hanover) November 28, 2017
It’s really some fucking bullshit when a white dude can yellowface his career in comics & still ascend to the halls of power while Asian American creators hone the hell out of our craft but regularly get overlooked/told we’re too niche/not “authentic enough”.— M.Fieriosa 🔥🍜📖🦄 (@GeekMelange) November 28, 2017
I’ve lived in Japan for 15 years, been a J-E translator for 25 years, been a Japanese PTA president, volunteer fireman and if I EVER tried to pretend to be Japanese in my professional world as that asshole CB Cebulski did, I hope someone that loves me would brain me with a shovel— Jeremy Blaustein (@JeremyBlaustein) November 29, 2017
Who else loves living in the timeline where editors reject a @leonardchang novel for not being Asian enough, and @CBCebulski can pretend Asian his way to becoming editor in chief? https://t.co/6hLO7y5Y4c— The Nerds of Color (@TheNerdsofColor) November 28, 2017
Of course, there are those who are aware of this situation with Cebulski whose only response to all of this is a “So what?” followed by a Kanye-shrug. Rob Liefeld, the veteran comic-book artist who once blessed so many readers by making Captain America look like this…
…is one of them.
When I met @CBCebulski some 20 years ago, he was a translating Japanese comics for English market, some of which he published. Huge proponent for international talent. So what if he used a foreign pseudonym?? Much ado about nothing.— robertliefeld (@robertliefeld) November 28, 2017
A couple thoughts about C.B. Cebulski/Akira Yoshida before I step away from social media for a while:— Alyssa Wong 🌸✨ (@crashwong) November 29, 2017
- People are complicated. Fucking up doesn't cancel out the good work someone has done. But good work/Well He's A Really Good Guy also doesn't erase the real harm someone's done.
(This is why you get a ton of shocked "Well he was really nice to me!" reactions every time someone's ugly shit gets exposed. Their Being Nice shouldn't give them immunity to having to face their problematic behavior.)— Alyssa Wong 🌸✨ (@crashwong) November 29, 2017
- There's a difference between Diaspora Asian/Mainland Asian discourse, & when we talk about anti-Asian racism & the pressure to assimilate, as diaspora, & the harm of cultural appropriation, that distinction becomes v important. Listen to your Asian diaspora friends.— Alyssa Wong 🌸✨ (@crashwong) November 29, 2017
- People who are repeat offenders often mask their bad behavior with intentional Niceness. They do folks favors, they make connections, they appear generous. They do this SO THAT when shit comes to light, they know they'll be protected.— Alyssa Wong 🌸✨ (@crashwong) November 29, 2017
- One way you can take concrete action in response to this CB Cebulski bullshit is to let Marvel know how fucked up this is. Put pressure on by making your voices heard.— Alyssa Wong 🌸✨ (@crashwong) November 29, 2017
& then, just as importantly, if not more, support actual Asian/Asian diaspora comics creators.
Excited to announce that I’ll be re-branding myself as Guy Straightman as I continue to peruse work in comics journalism.— Meg Downey ☠️ (@rustypolished) November 28, 2017
I wake up every single day with imposter syndrome and anxiety about being *myself*. Imagine pretending to be a fake person of another race for *months* at your *job*. That’s whiteness for you, man. https://t.co/Sis6caLzmi— Charles PM (@CharlesPulliam) November 28, 2017
CB Cebulski's tenure as Marvel Editor in Chief. pic.twitter.com/NvwZATch6b— Scott Stamper (@DerfelBarada) November 28, 2017
Marvel outside of the films. pic.twitter.com/nzWU6ucTxC— Holiday Sageman (@SageTerrence) November 28, 2017
If your reaction to this CB Cebulski is Akira Yoshida mess is to bring up Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and other Jewish writers and artists changing their names, I'm sorry but you are a goddamn idiot.— Nick Hanover (@Nick_Hanover) November 28, 2017
Also come the fuck on with this apology, @CBCebulski. You're really going to respond to lying about pretending to be a Japanese writer by patting yourself on the back for the global talent hunting you're going to do as EIC now? pic.twitter.com/oJEr5dy33W— Nick Hanover (@Nick_Hanover) November 28, 2017
How hard is it to say "What I did was gross, insensitive and utterly selfish. I not only behaved unprofessionally, but also harmed the reputations of my employer and colleagues, and by continuing to lie about it I made it worse. I am truly sorry for my inappropriate behavior."— Nick Hanover (@Nick_Hanover) November 28, 2017
I really hope some of you comics folk who were congratulating Cebulski on the EIC gig will now ask him wtf he was thinking with this Akira Yoshida bullshit— Nick Hanover (@Nick_Hanover) November 28, 2017
As many people have pointed out, Cebulski has done much on his end to try and increase the amount of diversity amongst writers and artists at Marvel Comics (though clearly, he wasn’t trying that hard). And it goes without saying that more diversity in all creative industries, especially comics, is absolutely necessary. But all of that work means very little when the person who was supposedly working to increase diversity for his company was willing to:
1) lie about his own ethnicity in order to break the rules of his company and get paid writing jobs.
2) lie about his own ethnicity in order to break the rules of his own company and get paid writing jobs that could have gone to any other non-White writer, particularly an Asian writer who is actually Asian.
3) do all of those things, get called out on it, and refuse to acknowledge how badly you fucked up and how badly your company fucked up, all because you either don’t know, don’t care, or both, all so you can sweep everything under the rug, move on, and proceed with calling the shots however you see fit thanks to your new job.
There are many ways that Marvel Comics can once again increase its sales and remind people why their books are worth reading and buying, and why their characters have stood the test of time for decades. Hiring their own version of Rachel Dolezal to help run the company and acting as if there’s nothing wrong with that isn’t one of them.
Breaking into, and staying in, comics, in any capacity, is just as much about attitude as it is about ability.— C.B. Cebulski (@CBCebulski) November 27, 2017
This has been another episode of “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong.”