Here on What Were They Thinking (the series where we look at the stupidest, most ill-advised things in comics history) we have spoken a lot about the stupidity that goes on during the creation of the comics we love almost as much as we've talked about the stupid stuff that has been published. Take DC for example. We've looked at how the New 52 almost brought the company down and how they once tried to sue Rihanna over the trademarking of the name Robyn (not Robin, Robyn). But we're not talking about DC this week. Neither are we talking about any of Marvel's behind the scenes problems, because if we keep looking at instances of a writer/artist team falling out with their editor on a Spider-Man series it's going to get old quite quickly. No, this week we're looking at the mother of all "backstage" barneys, one that even went as far as getting litigious (which means I have had to consult my legal team of Phoenix Wright and Detective Pikachu again). So, which company do you think would let creative differences get to the point of taking legal action against its own staff? We've ruled out DC and Marvel, so maybe Image? Dark Horse? No, well what about an older, now defunct company like EC Comics or maybe Charlton Comics? Nope, it's none of them. It's this guy.
So, what exactly is/ was such a mess about Archie Comics? Well, Archie Comics has a very interesting editorial structure. The whole thing is basically a family industry, still being run by members of the same family that founded the company. That sounds fine in theory, but it has led to the whole structure being a complete shambles.
Our story starts back in 1939 when the company was founded by three men, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John L. Goldwater, as MLJ Magazines, though it would very quickly change its name to the more familiar Archie Comic Publications after the titular character became their headline attraction. Coyne handled the finances, Silberkleit handled the business and distribution whilst Goldwater was Editor-In-Chief. This arrangement lasted throughout the Golden and Silver Ages of Comics books (it should also be mentioned that Goldwater sat as chair of the Comics Magazine Association of America, the group that presided over the Comics Code Authority, for 25 of those years, so... yeah). However, in 1970, Archie Comics went public and Coyne retired from his position. Now this is where the story starts to get messy, because the public ownership of Archie Comics only lasted around a decade before Goldwater and Silberkleit's sons (Richard Goldwater and Michael Silberkleit) brought out the company and returned it to private ownership. So, within a decade the company went from being privately owned to publicly owned then back to private in the hands of the sons of the people who sold it off in the first place. And the most important part of this is what Rick and Mike did to the company structure. Michael was positioned as Chairman whilst Richard became President, but BOTH made themselves co-publisher. This was fine for those two, they worked pretty well together all things considered, I mean they were both childhood friends and worked their way up the ladder together at Archie Comics whilst it was still under the control of their fathers, plus they had to get together all of the funds to buy out all of the investors together, so you can understand why they put on such a united front. But when they died just a year apart (ironically both from cancer) in 2007 (Goldwater) and 2008 (Silberkleit), their positions were passed on. Michael's role was passed to his half brother Jonathan, whilst Richard's passed to his widow Nancy, making them the co-CEO's of the company. Now, neither were exceptionally qualified, Nancy was a former elementary school art teacher, whilst Jon was the chief executive of AFA Music Group (a talent development and management agency for the music industry), but his involvement in the comic company was limited to, in his own words, "working in the mailroom with 'uncle Louie' during summer vacation" when he was young. It was Jon who was given the lions share of the responsibilities, being in charge of running the companies day to day business and publication (which makes sense given his experience in management), with Nancy only having major control over theatre and "scholastic projects" (whatever that means). Problem is, the two... I think loathed is to passive of a word to describe how much these two went at each others throats. It's actually ridiculous how quickly things went south after they took over. Both had differing ideas about how they wanted to manage the company, with Jon wanting to expand and invite out-side investment, whilst Nancy preferred to keep with company tradition and preserve family ownership. The former was seen as risky and could corrupt the companies core values to the opposing party, whilst the later was viewed by its opposition as stagnation and could lead the company to being uncompetitive against other publications.
Ok, the legal stuff now, and I must be clear that, for legal reasons, the only "facts" I will present here are dates and reasons for litigation and other related events. As of May 2016 most, if not all, of these legal disputes have been resolved, but it's best to be safe rather than sorry. Everything else is personal opinions from employees/ former-employees, second hand information gleaned from other articles and legal documents as well as my own opinions, which are presented as parody and not intended to be libellous in any way shape or form. Hopefully that's all above board and ok, because these people are freaking mad and I don't want them trying to eat my bank account.
Anyway, things all kicked off in 2011 when Goldwater presented the New York State Supreme Court with an injunction against Silberkleit, with Archie Comic Publications as the main plaintiff. The injunction was a restraining order, asking that Ms. Silberkleit not be allowed to work in the company office, attend the San Deigo Comic Con on behalf of the company or contact or communicate with any member of staff other than Goldwater himself. The Court granted a preliminary injunction, but the legal battle wasn't over yet. In January of 2012, Goldwater again filed another lawsuit, claiming that Silberkleit was making bad business decisions and alienating staff, to which she responded by suing him and the company for defamation to the tune of $100 million. In February of that year, Silberkleit was ordered by the court to pay a $500 dollar fine for violating the previous injunction against her entering the company headquarters, where she brought in a former football player to help here with an anti-bullying comic book/ intimidate the staff, depending on whose story you care to believe. Amusingly, Silberkleit was also removed from Comic Con by police in 2014 by police and barred from any future events, but I cannot explicitly make any connection between the two events, so I won't, but I will mention it. Other interesting aspects of these cases that I can't pin down dates for are that both parties have been given court orders to only communicate through intermediaries (which is going to be highly conducive to a successful business, when the two bosses can only speak to each other through what is effectively a legally enforced game of Chinese Whispers. But hey, better than both bosses trying to sue each other) and Ms. Silberkleit was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation.
So, that's the factual part out of the way, now for the opinions based part. Silberkleit claimed that Goldwater was conspiring with employees to steal control of the company, whilst Goldwater has claimed that she "poisoned the workplace by threatening long-term employees with termination and spewing sexual insults". He further claimed that those firings were for reasons as random as employees being "too old, too fat or too buxom", whilst from Silberkleit's side, Goldwater comes across as very petty, with her claiming that he would puncture her car tires and destroy her website. Oh and Goldwater claimed that Silberkleit let her dog roam free in the office and do its business where-ever it pleased, mostly in the art department though (maybe we should send it over to EXTREME!!!!!!!! comics? It might actually improve the art department there). Other members of staff have also been critical of the Co-CEO's. Editor-In-Chief, Vic Gorelick stated that staff were fearful of being insulted or castigated by Silberkleit when ever she was around and that she was against the introduction of the series first gay character, Kevin Keller, a move that gained the company a large amount of critical praise and financial reward. Other members of staff have reported Silberkleit shouting the word "Penis" repeatedly in meetings when referring to male editors. Meanwhile, three female ex-employees (all of whom were intermediaries between Goldwater and Silberkleit) accused the company of having a "male-run and male-dominated workplace that disrespects females" and that apparently executives thought that Silberkleit should just go back shopping and buying shoes, purely because she's female.
I mean... what actually is this? This is like watching two children fighting over a toy, all the name calling and "Naa, she did this", "Uhuh, he said that", "well she said this", "Yeah, but did that". You two are supposed to be responsible, sensible adults running an established and respected company, but you're acting like five year olds. Does Daddy really have to step in and send you both to the naughty step because you can't play nice. It's hard to actually tell who's worse if everything that has been said is to be believed, on one hand we've got a woman who is quite possibly mentally unstable vs. a guy who is disrespectful to his female staff and petty enough to let down someone's tires and hack a website just to get at them. I'm not saying that all or indeed any of these allegations are true of course and I'm sure that both people involved are lovely, well-adjusted people (I can't really say personally, I've never met either of them), but they aren't exactly showing it. You guys are making DC look sensible. Do you know how far you have to go to make "Dunce Comics" look sensible? It's a long way but you've managed to get there. All you need to do now is reboot every series and produce some bad movies.
Marvel are still the worst though.