A little more than a week after it was announced that he would be replacing Axel Alonso as Editor-in-Chief, Marvel veteran C.B. Cebulski’s name made headlines once again when he admitted to using the pseudonym “Akira Yoshida” to write multiple comic books series in the mid-2000s, primarily for Marvel. In stark contrast to what we saw from the comic book community just 11 days earlier, fans and industry professionals weren’t showering him with praise or voicing their support. This time, a number of those same people who had just recently wished Cebulski the best of luck in his new role were left feeling understandably bewildered, disappointed, and in many cases, offended.
Admittedly, there are some, such as Marvel's Director, Content & Character Development and Kamala Khan co-creator Sana Amanat, who have gone on the record to defend Cebulski’s actions. Even the new EiC, himself -- despite only having just owned up to the long-rumored façade – attempted to coyly downplay the matter, referring to it as “old news that has been dealt with” in a statement to Bleeding Cool. However, much like we learned from the Eddie Berganza situation over at DC, treating the symptoms without examining the larger problem -- be it sexual misconduct, questionable business ethics or cultural appropriation on a grand scale -- only serves to benefit those that commit these acts and those that are complicit in them.
That being said, it’s also important that we examine this Cebulski/Yoshida issue from the right perspective. At face value, Cebulski using a pen name to write comics may appear to be not that different than a fresh-faced, 19-year-old Stanley Lieber using the name Stan Lee for the first time while writing some text filler for Captain America Comics #3.
Where Akira Yoshida becomes problematic is that this was more than just a pseudonym -- Yoshida was a character unto itself, complete with a fabricated backstory, detailed in press including a 2005 interview at CBR, about how he grew up in Japan reading manga, how he would periodically travel to America with his father, and how he learned English by reading superhero comics. A staggering amount of detail was put into presenting Yoshida as a Japanese writer capable of lending an “authentic” voice to stories featuring Asian characters, themes and locations. Meanwhile, Marvel, among other publishers, proudly and unknowingly boasted a false sense of authenticity and diversity in their titles that only existed as long as the Yoshida masquerade remained intact.
No one is questioning Cebulski’s love and appreciation for Japanese culture. As Amanat put it, this is a man who “has lived in Japan, speaks Japanese,” and who “very much associates with Japanese culture.” And Cebulski wanting to use that love and appreciation to shine a brighter spotlight on the Japanese culture is something that, under the right circumstances, would be commendable. Doing it under false pretenses, though, and operating under an assumed identity while actual Asians remain drastically underrepresented in the comic book industry? Per Bleeding Cool’s sources at Marvel, what made Yoshida such an anomaly is that the publisher struggled in the early 2000s when it came to finding authentic voices from other countries whose writing clicked with American readers. And in this situation, Cebulski clearly had leverage; not just as Yoshida, but as a member of Marvel’s editorial staff, which raises an entirely new set of concerns.
According to the Bleeding Cool report, at the height of Yoshida’s prominence, Marvel had a policy in place against editors writing or drawing comics. Others, such as Newsarama editor Chris Arrant, state that it wasn’t so much a hard and fast rule as it was simply discouraged. In any case, the general consensus is that if and when a salaried Marvel staffer wrote and/or drew comics, they couldn’t be paid an additional sum as this merely fell into the wider gamut of their overall job responsibilities. But what if, unbeknownst to Marvel, you were both a freelance writer and a staff editor with two separate identities? That would certainly put you in a favorable position.
And for more than a year, that appears to be the position Cebulski was in.
To be fair, there’s no evidence that Cebulski was paid for his editorial work in addition to any stories credited to Akira Yoshida. If he was, it would seem to be a violation of Marvel’s policy, unless the company granted him an exception. But if that were the case, it would also mean that Marvel was aware of the fact Cebulski and Yoshida were one in the same, and judging by the Bleeding Cool report -- which suggests that Cebulski was reprimanded in some capacity for his actions after owning up to them internally -- this doesn’t appear to be the case.
Regardless of how you cut it, honesty is something that is sorely missing from this narrative. Readers were lied to, journalistic outlets were lied to, and publishers were presumably lied to as well. In fact, even if some of the higher-ups at Marvel were privy to the Yoshida ruse prior to Cebulski coming clean, there were clearly those working for the publisher who wholeheartedly believed that Yoshida was a legitimate person because, despite his predilection for conducting business strictly via email, a lucky few actually "met" him when he visited the Marvel offices.
One such individual was Marvel editor Mike Marts. CBR’s Brian Cronin attempted to shine some light on the Cebulski/Yoshida rumors back in 2005 in an edition of Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed. However, the rumor that Yoshida was a pseudonym was deemed false because according to Marts, not only had he met Yoshida but he even had lunch with him and got to gush over his Godzilla collection:
You bet–I’ve had lunch with the guy–very nice guy. He’s a very cool guy. When we had lunch he showed me pictures of his immense Godzilla memorabilia collection–I was jealous!
Jealous, indeed. How is it that only Marts and a select few other higher-ups at Marvel, according to Bleeding Cool, claimed that they met Yoshida when we now know with full certainty that he didn’t exist? Well, by that site’s account, the man they actually met wasn’t Akira Yoshida, but rather a Japanese translator who: a.) Visited Marvel’s offices on more than one occasion b.) Had lunch with Mike Marts and c.) Was mistakenly identified as Akira Yoshida.
Whether this is true or it’s simply one lie being used to cover up another is unknown. In any case, one or more people were fully dedicated to perpetuating this nearly endless trail of dishonesty to maintain the false aura of authenticity surrounding the mysterious Akira Yoshida. Cebulski finally owning up to it is certainly a small step in the right direction, but the damaged reputations and the harm done to writers, artists and readers may take years to repair.