On 31 October this year, Roc Upchurch, the artist and co-creator of Image Comics' Rat Queens, was arrested on charges of domestic violence.
Like many fans of this wonderful comic, I was stunned by the news - but more than that, I felt betrayed. It's irrational, perhaps, but getting emotionally invested in this sort of stuff has always been one of the hallmarks of geek culture, and when the co-creator of a comic that you love turns out to be a wife-beater, it's a pretty crushing blow. It's disheartening for the fans, and it isn't going to do the comic's image any favours either.
In the case of Rat Queens, it's particularly bad. If it turned out that whoever's drawing Superman at the moment was beating his wife, it would be awful news, undeniably - but the creative team would find a new artist, move on, and the name and legacy of Superman would be untouched. And while writer Kurtis Wiebe has announced that Upchurch will no longer be drawing Rat Queens, he remains a co-creator of the series and will presumably receive a share of the profits.
But it's the mission statement of Rat Queens that makes this whole horrible situation particularly galling. The entire point of the series was to create great female characters and appeal directly to a female audience, in an industry and medium which has historically been extremely neglectful in this area. And indeed, the cast of Rat Queens are among the best female characters in comics at the moment - but now it turns out that they were co-created by a wife-beater. Regardless of how good the comic continues to be in future, it's been irrevocably tarnished by this news. Through no fault of Wiebe's, who to his credit has said that the goal of the series remains unchanged and who wants to "prove to the fans that they weren’t wrong in loving it", it's going to be impossible to read it without this knowledge hanging over it in future.
Which brings us to the inevitable question: what do we, as readers, do in this situation? My first instinct was that I didn't want to read Rat Queens any more, as I feared that it would be forever tainted in my eyes and I didn't want any of my money to go to Upchurch. But a comic book is not a novel - in almost every case, a comic is the result of a team, not one person, and is it fair to punish a team because of the actions of one of its members?
If Rat Queens had been created by one person, who had written, drawn, inked and lettered it all by his or her self, there would be no need for this discussion - I would already have cancelled my pre-order of Volume 2. But Wiebe is as saddened by this news as the fans are, his good intentions regarding the series and its future seem sincere, and he's committed to finding a new artist for the series. He's still doing great, important work in this industry, and I want to support him. Upchurch does not deserve my money, but Wiebe still does.
So I turn the discussion over to you, the reader of this article. Where do you stand on this issue? My pre-order remains uncancelled for the moment while I wrestle with my own feelings, and I truly hope that Rat Queens continues, gets the success it deserves and proves itself to be bigger than its creators. I just fear that this news is a blow from which it may not be able to recover.