Tales From Tahiti

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While at Hypericon, I was asked about my experience working at Comicbook.com. Expecting me to brag about my experience, guests and fellow panelists were both shocked and horrified to learn that my tenure was plagued with discrimination, harassment and even wage theft.

Oh come on Comicbook.com, you didn’t think I forgot about you, did you?

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It was approximately a year ago today when I was contacted by Jim Viscardi. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in a position as staff writer. Viscardi was a former public relations rep at Marvel Comics. His spiel was that he worked at the House of Ideas but chose to relocate to Nashville. I already knew he was lying. Nobody leaves Marvel and New York and relocates to “Nashvegas” just for the fun of it. Upon further digging I learned he “left” because of some “personal issues.”

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He continued his sales pitch that what makes Comicbook.com unique from its competitors is because they scan the trades like Hollywood Reporter, Variety, TMZ, and E!Online to find their news stories.

While I was excited about the opportunity, I had my hesitations. Namely because the office is located in Brentwood, the wealthy and immensely racist part of Nashville. That’s saying something because well, Nashville is immensely racist. I attended high school out in that area. In fact my old high school was literally right down the road. While I never sped or broke a law, I routinely got harassed by police for breathing while black. All the same, this was an opportunity and I decided to make the most of it.

My first interview at the office with Publisher Joe Blackmon aka Joe Comicbook was a memorable one. Upon entering the Comicbook.com office, I realized the entire staff was entirely comprised of straight white males.

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Noted.

In addition to conducting an interview like a five year old–what’s your favorite tv show, your favorite movie–perhaps the most memorable question Joe asked was, “Do you actually get paid for your writing?”

Tommy Lee Jones

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I kindly explained to Blackmon that yes, I actually get paid for my work. Having two urban fantasy novels released through a publisher, appearing at cons across the country and having written for other publications, yes people actually pay me quite handsomely for my writing.

Weeks passed. After much hemming and hawing, Jim and Joe finally made me an offer.

The first few weeks were amazing. Each morning I showed up early, wrote some excellent pieces, kicked ass, and took names. Volunteering to man the website on holidays, I wanted to prove I was a committed team player.

Much like Tahiti, work was a magical place. Until slowly Comicbook.com proved itself to be amateur hour. On numerous occasions Viscardi proposed clickbait articles on rumors just for the sake of boosting the site’s numbers. There was also a bit of a power struggle from time to time between Viscardi and Blackmon. Viscardi would remove articles or posts behind Blackmon’s back. As a matter of fact, do a search on my Milestone’s Hardware story and see it not pop up.

Viscardi proved himself to be grossly inept and disorganized. In fact he is the most incompetent editor in chief, I have ever encountered.

Among his highlights of buffoonery, I was nearly at the office alone till 3 a.m. the night the second Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer was released because he couldn’t be bothered to assign and organize the stories beforehand, like an editor is supposed to do.

But it didn’t stop there. When news broke in the trades of a Magnificent 7 remake, I informed Jim of it, who in turn snapped at me and stated that we don’t run those type of stories. Not five minutes later, Joe approached my desk and asked me to write a story on it. Viscardi was fuming.

Despite having covered for Viscardi more times than I could count when he changed our schedules at the last minute, it wasn’t long before he showed his true nature.

I began noticing my stories were being sabotaged. Paragraphs were deleted and articles were changed to earlier drafts on the site. This went beyond the standard typo or missing word. Only three people could access and edit my stories. I’m not going to sabotage my own work and I knew it wasn’t Joe. That left Viscardi who somehow managed to find the “errors” weeks and months later. But he’s the editor.

Viscardi also became prone to outbursts, screaming, and other unprofessional behavior. He went on a tirade feigning outrage one day because I wrote an editorial stating that DC Comics has made some very poor decisions. But remember he worked for Marvel. When Joe didn’t reprimand him for his unprofessional conduct, I knew he was no better.

Whenever I had an idea for a feature about a nonwhite superhero, he would shoot it down and claim they weren’t “mainstream” enough. Viscardi’s harassment continued such as sending me scathing emails demanding a list of characters I planned to profile for a story.

“I want to review that list of characters before you write it,” he warned.

“Jim, I sent you that list weeks ago,” I reminded him. “You already signed off on it.”

Viscardi made it clear he was trying to run me off. In fact on a few occasions, he implied that I would be happier working somewhere else and one day he said flat out that he was going to get rid of me.

It was obvious what was going on. I had seen guys like Viscardi before. The definition of mediocrity, they get a job by some connection and spend their time trying to politic rather than actually doing it. They’re the type to take shortcuts or sabotage others and while it may work for a season, eventually they get sacked or have to resign because of “personal issues.”

It was clear why he was no longer at Marvel. He couldn’t do his job. He also spent most of his time sabotaging everyone else’s work. Most nights and weekends, another writer was scheduled to be on shift with me. Three guesses who was regularly working solo.

Someone was using the same playbook from the film, Disclosure.

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Despite Viscardi’s antics, I simply showed up earlier to work and stayed later, fixing Viscardi’s crap when he sabotaged my articles. He was not happy. This is when he upped the ante.

While writing a piece on Suicide Squad, Viscardi instructed me to use a pic of Jake Gyllenhaal from the film, Southpaw. Viscardi kept commenting on Gyllenhaal’s physique and kept trying to include me in the conversation. It became clear he was trying to out me or get me to out myself. I don’t know if he was expecting me to take the gay bait like this:

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But I simply smiled at him like the homophobic idiot he was and continued working. It was one Saturday however when Viscardi reached a new low. I was doing an article on Alexandra Shipp studying up for the role of Storm.

“Denny, I know you are a big fan of Storm,” Viscardi wrote in an IM. “But I need you to be professional for this news article.”

Oh yes. The black staff writer can’t be objective and professional about a news article about a black superhero or some such nonsense.

Dexter

At this point I decided it was time to check Viscardi.

“Jim,” I wrote. “I’ve been writing news articles a long time. I know the difference between a news article and an editorial. I’ve never put my personal opinion in a news article, and I don’t plan to start now.”

“I just want this article to be really good,” the coward backpedaled.

During our staff meeting on Monday, I brought up the issue again in front of Joe and everyone present.

“Jim, that comment about the Storm article,” I said.”What was that all about?”

Viscardi simply laughed and ignored my question. Not five minutes later, he makes a crack that he’s certain I’m going to have plenty of story ideas the following month (Black History Month). Two days later I was called into Joe’s office. There was a long awkward pause. I guess it was to make me nervous. Instead I just looked bored and checked my watch. Leaning against Blackmon’s desk, Viscardi appeared like he was trying to look convincingly angry or take a bowel movement.

“Denny,” Viscardi said. “We’ve decided to let you go.”

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“Oh really?” I asked. “And what’s the reason?”

They claimed I wasn’t generating enough stories (probably didn’t help that Viscardi kept deleting them behind my back) but they decided they wanted to offer me a severance package. Their severance package? I stay on as a contributor, still write stories and do the same job for half the pay and no benefits.

For the life of me I couldn’t understand what would make them think I would be that desperate to accept such a slap in the face. That’s when I remembered all the times I showed up early, covered Viscardi’s shifts, and went above and beyond. They mistook my dedication as desperation. Interesting. They told me they had a contract for me, a $1,000 severance pay on top of my final check. Both Viscardi and Joe stated that I was an amazing writer, they both liked me and they still wanted to work with me. It was obvious what this was all about. I called Viscardi’s racism out publicly and fearing that they may have a lawsuit on their hands, they wanted to fire me as quickly as possible.

They also claimed I wasn’t completing the news stories in the queue. I also pointed out that Viscardi was purposely putting those stories in five minutes after my shift was ended and it was another writer’s job to do those articles. So why wasn’t he being held accountable? Dead silence.

Living in the South has taught me much and I wasn’t leaving anything to chance. When Southern bigots are willing to lie and play with your livelihood, God knows what else they’re capable of doing. It occurred to me that they were probably counting on me to leave with the company laptop, so they could call the police and have me arrested for “theft.” I wasn’t about to give them the chance.

“HEY JIM, I’M LEAVING THE MACBOOK AIR RIGHT HERE ON THE TABLE,” I said in a very pronounced manner. “THE CABLES ARE AT HOME, DO YOU NEED ME TO BRING THEM BACK?”

My final words upon exiting the building, “Game on bitches.”

I spoke with Chief Financial Officer Andrew Johnson who confirmed what Blackmon and Viscardi stated. They were offering me a severance package and I had one final paycheck. A few days later Johnson sent me the agreement.

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Now I was expecting them to pull a fast one. And in a six page contract, I was expecting some shady fine print to be on page four or five. Oh no, these bastards couldn’t even make it to page two. The severance package was essentially a nondiscloure agreement and for a $1,000, I would sign away my rights to sue them for discrimination, file for unemployment benefits or speak out against the company publicly. The same racist and homophobic company that had just fired me for no cause and was expecting me to work for them for half the rate and no benefits. They were expecting me to sign away my rights, like an idiot.

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I informed Johnson that the contract was nothing like what Blackmon and Viscardi described and given all that transpired, I had no intention of signing. I asked Johnson to send me my final check and we’ll call it a day.

No paycheck ever came and it was radio silence on his end.

Months passed. While on a coffee date with my buddy Jessica, I received an email from Johnson. He wanted to know if I had reconsidered. I guess he thought withholding my paycheck would strong-arm me into signing that agreement. I told him that I had no intentions of signing and to simply send me my final check.

“What part of the agreement don’t you agree to?” he asked.

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I informed Andy that the document was not being signed so he might as well get over that. I also reminded Johnson that regardless, he still owed me one final check as his contract confirmed. It was then that Johnson got a sudden case of amnesia and wasn’t sure what I was talking about.

In addition to reminding him, I informed Johnson that he wouldn’t be coming to me two months after terminating me asking me to sign a form I’m under no obligation to sign just to pay me $1,000 he didn’t owe. Ex-employers don’t do that. Not honest ones anyway.
Johnson fed me some BS line that the contract was to make sure we ended things on a happy note and if I changed my mind, to let him know.

“Wow,” Jessica said after I filled her in. “They have no idea who they’re dealing with.”

“Oh my God, you’re right,” I realized. “They really don’t. I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.”

Months passed and I filed for unemployment. One morning I got a call from a state investigator named Suzie. She informed me Comicbook.com and parent company 247 Media claimed that I was never on staff and I was only a contractor.

“Do you have anything to refute that?” Suzie asked.

“One second,” I replied.

I put my iPhone on mute and LMAO for nearly 5 minutes.

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“I’m sorry Suzie,” I chuckled, wiping the tears from my eyes. “You asked if I had any proof that I was more than a contractor? Let me see what I can find. Will this screenshot suffice?”
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Suzie continued that Comicbook.com claimed they teleconferenced because we had no office. She asked what was my response to that claim.

“I say the devil is a liar,” I replied. “I say the devil is a liar in Jesus’s name. No office? That’s interesting because here are a few pics of me in the office that doesn’t exist.”

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Midnighter

Suzie inquired if I had any additional proof that I was a staff member at Comicbook.com.

“Unfortunately I don’t have any other evidence,” I conceded. “But my good friend Jim Viscardi does.”

Unbeknownst to Viscardi, each time he made with the racist and homophobic microaggressions, I forwarded several emails pertaining to my employment to my personal email account in the off chance they made with the chicanery. He thought he had me dead to rights when in reality I was at least 8 moves ahead of him. One would’ve thought my Midnighter avatar would’ve clued him in to that fact.

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Or the fact that I was a student of Takeda.

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The verdict?

Proof 1

The state’s investigation revealed that the claimant (yours truly) was telling the truth and was in fact an employee and Comicbook.com is required to pay the UI benefits they were trying to cheat both me and the state of paying.

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It’s obvious that Blackmon, Johnson and Viscardi hadn’t thought this through. Because by lying about my employment, they were unable to claim that I was a poor employee. After all how can I be a bad employee if I never worked for them? Though that didn’t stop them from making said claim.

Now I know what a few of you are probably thinking. Mad rantings of a bitter ex employee. This is all a complete work of fiction. And to be fair, I’d probably be wondering the same thing myself, if roles were reversed. But if that’s the case, then why did the state catch Comicbook.com/247 Media in a blatant lie? By the same token why was Johnson so desperate for me to sign that contract that he would withhold my final paycheck in a futile attempt to strong-arm me? Of course if they were honest employers, then the discrimination and harassment wouldn’t have happened in the first place. If a company is willing to lie to avoid paying UI benefits they owe, one can only imagine what else they’re capable of doing.

The harassment, the shady contracts, the discrimination, it’s clear Viscardi, Blackmon and Johnson have pulled this before on others. This time however, they pulled it on the wrong individual and they’re paying for it, on multiple fronts. And possibly keep paying for it, indefinitely. Because now, any employee past, present, or future, who has a grievance with the company need only do a Google search and they can use the information in this piece as a resource. I also took the liberty of forwarding this post to all of Comicbook.com’s top competitors. Even if it’s a conflict of interest for them to run this story, I figure they could use a good laugh at their rival’s expense.

And I’m only getting started. After all, the important thing to remember here is it’s about the ethics of comic book journalism.

We wonder why there’s a lack of diversity in comic books and speculative fiction. It’s because of garbage like this. The people behind Comicbook.com are the reason why initiatives like The Nerds of Color, Geeks Out, Black Girl Nerds, Transgriot, and Feminist Frequency are a dire necessity.

Comicbook.com will also be a cautionary example I will use at every con, diversity workshop, and lecture. Everyone will know what a magical place Tahiti is. And the beautiful part, my former employers are paying me for the opportunity to put them on blast. So in answer to your question Joe, yes, people do pay me for my writing. You’re paying for it now.

But that was cute though.

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And to the owners of 247 Media/Comicbook.com, I know you’re reading this because I forwarded you this post. You might want to get your house in order because it’s costing you money and credibility. If I was able to kick your ass without even trying, what do you think is going to happen the next time when someone lawyers up and does some real damage.

And to Viscardi. While you had jokes about Black History, it’s too bad you didn’t actually learn any. It probably would’ve saved you some embarrassment, and I wouldn’t be having the last laugh. Might I recommend the works of one Langston Hughes. He and I share a birthday:

Negroes 

Sweet and docile,

Meek, humble and kind:

Beware the day

They change their mind.

Not that I really care that much but I am curious. When all is said and done, how did that bigotry pay off for you?

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Oh okay then.

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It’s been real, boys. See you in the funny pages.

See what I did there?

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By Dennis R. Upkins

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