Abuse Allegations Against BORDER TOWN’s Eric Esquivel; Vertigo Cancels Title

On December 9th, toy designer Cynthia Naugle posted a very lengthy piece detailing how she was the victim of repeated abuse by a comics industry professional she called “X”. While she never named names in the essay, there were enough clues in her statement to identify the alleged abuser as DC/Vertigo writer Eric M. Esquivel.

NOTE: As of this writing, just over one week after accusations first surfaced, we find no information on whether formal charges have been brought against Esquivel. However, based on the preponderance of anecdotal information, it does seem that there’s at least something to this story, despite the fact that it’s all just a compilation of posts on social media. We have reached out to Esquivel’s representative at 831 Entertainment, Sonia Gambaro, as well as Dan DiDio at DC Comics, but have received no formal comment from either in response to the accusations.

Naugle seemed to confirm Esquivel’s identity when she re-tweeted a post by illustrator Joshua Green on both Facebook (language warning) and Twitter:

Very quickly, the internet blew up with commentary, more accusations, damage control, and questions about both the accusations and the overall culture of the comics industry, including comparisons to DC’s Eddie Berganza, who was finally sacked after repeated accusations of abuse and harassment over a number of years.

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Naugle, who now designs toys under the banner Ten Times a Tiger, also posted what she says are responses to her story, as others come forward about Esquivel:

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It’s problematic that the social media posts are unattributed, as it opens up the possibility that any one of these could be manufactured, or at the very least could be called into question at the surface level. So far, we have been able to identify one post, belonging to a cosplayer, in the comment thread on Facebook.

In response to Naugle’s compliation, on December 17, Twitter user @NebulaRumor posted the following with screenshots of what she says is a conversation between her and Esquivel from 2012:

On December 11, DC Comics did confirm to the web site Cafe con Leche Nerds, that they were looking into the allegations and that they were taking the matter seriously.

Shortly after the accusations appeared online, Border Town artist Ramon Villalobos and colorist Tamara Bonvillain put out their own statements in response:

We note for the record that both Bonvillain and Villalobos have SciFi4Me blocked on Twitter as part of their employment of block bots. The two have left Border Town as of December 12.

On Thursday, December 13, Naugle posted this letter from the Heroes and Villains comics shop in Tuscon, where she worked during the same time Esquivel was a manager at the store.

On December 14, SBI Press confirmed to Graphic Policy that they were severing ties with Esquivel, saying in a statement, “We’ve been understandably distraught over what has happened and what we have learned. In light of what we have learned we are halting publication on Fantasmagoria and are not working with Eric Esquivel on any publications or in any capacity going forward.”

One of the items Naugle included in her description of “X” was the fact that he was going to be attending Tuscon Comic Con this year, and was a writer with Vertigo Comics. Esquivel is the only one to meet those criteria. Jenny Cake Sweigert, guest relations manager for the event, posted on Facebook that the convention staff was unaware of any of the behavior described in the accusations against Esquivel, and that he would not have been invited to attend had the convention organizers been aware of same. (full statement here)

Also on December 14, DC Comics confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that Border Town has been cancelled, effective immediately, and that all orders for the unreleased issues five and six have been cancelled. In addition, DC and Vertigo are making the first four issues returnable, which is not standard policy in comics.

Shortly thereafter, Esquivel finally issued a statement:

I was recently accused of misconduct by a former romantic partner. Not recent misconduct. Misconduct which allegedly happened many years ago. Out of respect for her and our prior relationship, I will not publicly name names.

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 her motivation for making these reckless allegations, but I want to make it clear that they are false. Though our relationship was unconventional, we always treated one another with dignity and respect.

I heavily encourage, and will fully cooperate in, any forthcoming independent investigation of these claims, which I am confident will show that I have been falsely accused.

I have been notified that DC Vertigo has canceled the book I was working on. My heart breaks for the book’s supporters, and my creative collaborators. They don’t deserve to be negatively affected by this unfortunate situation.

 

On December 15, Naugle posted this letter on her Facebook page. It appears to indicate that she has retained counsel, and may be about to pursue legal action, although this has not been confirmed.

We contacted Stephen Portell, and without getting into details, he let us know that as of this time, “We’re not aware of any” criminal charges. Factors in the case revolve around statute of limitations, discovery of other alleged victims, and other mitigating circumstances. A civil case against Esquivel is still possible, but Portell didn’t confirm whether his office would be taking those steps at this time. It’s a decision for Naugle to make, he tells us, so likely there are still ongoing discussions about what course of action to take next.

We will update if we receive any additional information.

Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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