The big comics news of the last week is that C.B. Celuski, the new Marvel Editor in Chief, once wrote some comics (about 50 issues worth) under the name Akira Yoshida. There are three angles to this which might jeopardize his ability to do his job: Was it unforgivable that he lied to his coworkers/ violated Marvel policy? What does the cultural appropriation suggest about him as a person? What are the optics? This has gotten media attention in comics websites, as well as general interest publications.
While this isn’t the aspect that has gotten the attention in the press, it seems that Marvel’s big initial concern was the internal politics of an editor writing under a pseudonym. Writing for CBR, Jon Arverdon noted potential financial gains, due to restrictions at the time against paying editors to write.
According to the Bleeding Cool report, at the height of Yoshida’s prominence, Marvel had a policy in place against editors writing or drawing comics. Others, such as Newsarama editor Chris Arrant, state that it wasn’t so much a hard and fast rule as it was simply discouraged. In any case, the general consensus is that if and when a salaried Marvel staffer wrote and/or drew comics, they couldn’t be paid an additional sum as this merely fell into the wider gamut of their overall job responsibilities. But what if, unbeknownst to Marvel, you were both a freelance writer and a staff editor with two separate identities? That would certainly put you in a favorable position.
Part of the angle is the idea that the policy against editors writing was a mistake, pushed by then-publisher Bill Jemas. Cebulski went pretty far to keep up the illusion, coming up with an elaborate backstory, and seemingly convincing others at Marvel that a Japanese translator was the real Akira Yoshida.
P.J. Gladnick of Newsbusters, a website that focuses on the perceived shortcomings of the liberal media, summed up his views in the headline “Marvel Editor assumed Japanese identity to Advance Career.” That’s not entirely fair since there’s no indication that Cebulski’s career benefited from what he did. This might be because his work didn’t take off in any significant way–it would have helped his reputation if once he had his foot in the door, he was able to write as well as Warren Ellis –although I don’t think he can be accused of using his position as editor to make sure Akira Yoshida worked with Marvel’s best artists.
The people most knowledgeable about the internal politics were the ones to made the decision to promote him to Editor-in-Chief, and they’d be the ones to know the extent to which this strange decision should define his career. What might surprise Marvel is that the the topic that’s blown up now is the question of cultural appropriation, since C.B. Cebulski is a white guy who pretended to be a member of a minority group.
A mitigating factor is that these questions have gained mainstream prominence in the last few years, and weren’t discussed the same way fifteen years ago. There have been some recent excesses, like a brouhaha about a webcomic in 2015 that was cancelled when the white creative team decided it wasn’t worth upsetting the community to publish a series about going to Japan, or the idea that anime turned into American films should consist of Asian characters. There’s no indication that Cebulski made any effort to trick members of the Asian-American fan community into supporting his work. I’d also imagine someone trying to come up with a pseudonym and backstory is going to pick a different background, just to avoid anyone making the connection. However, noting that it was a different time and putting it in a different context is going to be a messy defense.
An underappreciated question is whether the optics of what Cebulski did are going to restrict him as Editor-in-Chief. Sana Amanat—director of content and character development— endorsed his cultural sensitivity.
“I think we have to be very sensitive about cultural appropriation and whitewashing,” Amanat continued. “But I do think, fundamentally, that if there’s an opportunity to create more awareness about a particular type of character, whether it’s an Asian character or a black character, that should be our primary goal – telling as authentic, as honest, as fun, as real a story as possible about that character. Because that’s what’s really going to build more awareness about a particular cultural group. Of course we want cultural authenticity and make sure we’re casting those people behind the scenes, but the primary goal is getting those kinds of characters out there.”
Amanat went on to reference longtime Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis, who co-created the African-American/Latino Miles Morales Spider-Man.
“[Bendis] is as white as they come (but) he happens to have a daughter who’s African American,” she said. “So it meant something to him. We have to stop dismissing people when they want to be able to promote that. Because then we’re actually going to create a deepening dividing line between cultures in a way that is antagonistic. We have to start communicating and not being so angry.”
Liberals, as well as others, are going to worry about whether someone who pretended to be an Asian man understand the needs of minority readers. The Mary Sue had a piece on problematic aspects of his work in the context of an outsider writing about particular cultures. However, there is the possibility of overcompensation. Can someone who was caught pretending to be an Asian man make hard decisions that aren’t Politically Correct? Will he feel additional pressure to keep publishing material with diverse talent/ characters? Will he greenlight books that perhaps he shouldn’t?