Border Town artists exit DC/Vertigo comic after sexual assault accusation against writer
In the wake of a public sexual assault allegation against Eric M. Esquivel, the writer of the DC/Vertigo comic Border Town, artists Ramon Villalobos and Tamra Bonvillain announced their intention to stop working on the book.
In a statement provided to EW on Friday evening, Esquivel denied the allegations and said in part, “I heavily encourage, and will fully cooperate in, any forthcoming independent investigation of these claims.” He also expressed dismay over the cancellation of Border Town.
DC Comics did not have an official comment on the matter earlier Friday, but sources told EW that the publisher has sent a cancellation notice of Border Town to retailers. Issues No. 5 and 6 will not be published, and the four previous issues are being made returnable.
On Wednesday, Bonvillain wrote in a tweet, “2 days ago, I was first made aware of the experiences shared by Cynthia Naugle about her relationship with Border Town writer Eric Esquivel. The way he treated her was disgusting and inexcusable, and issue 5 is my last issue working on Border Town.” In a subsequent tweet, she added, “I no longer wish to be associated with Eric in any way.”
In a statement posted to Twitter with the caption “a few thoughts,” Villalobos referred to his work on the comic in the past tense, writing, “Border Town meant a lot to me because it was a confluence of so many of my interests: Elements of horror, comedy, teenage rebellion, Latino culture, etc. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I’ve poured everything I had into this and it is the best work of my relatively young career. It has made my life better having done it. But this is not about me. Whatever this person felt and experienced is what matters most and I want to be clear that dealing with abuse and making the comics industry a safer place is the most important thing to come from this.”
Border Town began earlier this year as the first title in DC Comics’ relaunched Vertigo line, which eschews superheroes in favor of more mature stories, often involving fantasy elements. The comic focused on a group of high school students living in the fictional town of Devil’s Fork, Ariz., as they contend with the dual horrors of ancient Aztec demons and modern immigration police. Border Town was hailed by critics and earned praise in many year-end best-comics lists (including EW’s own). But earlier this week, a woman named Cynthia Naugle published a lengthy entry on her blog detailing her past experiences with a sexually abusive co-worker. Naugle did not name her alleged abuser in the piece, but several details (such as her line that “He also came out with a new book from Vertigo, so that was something that I was surrounded by”) match Esquivel, and she later confirmed his identity to EW.
Naugle’s account said that she met her alleged abuser at the comic shop where they both worked. That comic shop, Heroes & Villains in Tucson, Ariz., confirmed in a statement to EW that Esquivel and Naugle were both former employees, and said that management believed Naugle’s account of events.
“We not only believe her, but we stand firmly behind her in this time of healing,” the statement said. “Heroes & Villains has always had a zero tolerance policy for this predatory and abusive behavior. We also refuse to stock ANY publication or creation from abusers, no matter who they might be. We will never stock abusers’ comics or projects. Cynthia’s courage is a beacon to other victims, and we support their ability to seek a safe forum and healing. Not only do we want to create a safe environment for victims to come forward, but we also want to intervene and protect those victims. To that end, Heroes & Villains, in collaboration with Cynthia, is developing a model employee code for other small comic book shops and the comic book community to adopt.”
In his statement to EW about the allegations, Esquivel said, “I’ve taken a few days to respond, because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t talking over anyone. We’re in the midst of a very important cultural conversation right now. One I wholeheartedly believe in. Never in my life did I expect that I would become one of the accused. I will not speculate as to [his accuser’s] motivation for making these reckless allegations, but I want to make it clear that they are false.”
EW tried reaching out to Villalobos, Bonvillain, and Naugle for comment. Villalobos did not respond, while Bonvillain and Naugle declined to comment further for this story.
This article has been updated with Esquivel’s statement.