The Weird Controversy Surrounding the Creator of Earthworm Jim

May 26, 2020

If you’re a gamer of a certain age, you probably have warm feelings about the Earthworm Jim games. These tongue-in-cheek action platformers perfectly balanced humor and excitement back in the days of SNES and Sega Genesis.

Unfortunately, mentions of those classic games are popping up more on social media lately. Why? Because of various controversies surrounding Doug TenNapel, the creator and voice of Earthworm Jim.

But what’s the deal with these controversies? And is this a new thing, or has TenNapel been a controversial figure all along? We’ve got the full deets.

Peaking early

In all fairness to TenNapel, the first thing you should know about him is that he’s talented. Like, really talented. While he is mostly known for video games thanks to the success of Earthworm Jim, he’s also a successful artist, animator, writer, and media figure.

With all that in mind, none of his other projects ever reached the heights of Earthworm Jim. That game spawned a sequel, a toy line, and even a cartoon. Despite TenNapel creating his own game company, his future games (such as the PC game Armikrog) never resonated with audiences or critics.

That’s why TenNapel inevitably returned to the well of Earthworm Jim. Early in 2020, he launched a massively successful Kickstarter campaign for an Earthworm Jim comic. This brought him in league with some controversial comics figures and also highlighted his previous bigoted comments.

Opposing gay marriage

If you’ve followed TenNapel’s life and career very closely, he’s no stranger to being controversial. However, he shocked many of his fans back in 2011 when he opposed the legalization of gay marriage.

Why would someone oppose gay mariage? In TenNapel’s own words, “The same argument I have against letting a man take a dump in the ladies room. And (sic) office appropriate for one sex isn’t automatically appropriate for another, no matter how much a man loves taking a dump in the ladies room.”

So, not only did he reveal himself as a homophobe nearly a decade ago, but he did it in the grossest possible way.

A side of transphobia

This may come as a shocker, but TenNapel has even thinner skin than Earthworm Jim. In 2017, Kotaku writer Heather Alexandra gave a critical view of the Earthworm Jim franchise. TenNapel then decided to freak out in a way that showed even more of his ass.

Heather Alexandra is a trans woman, and TenNapel wasted no time misgendering her on Twitter and saying that as a trans person, she suffered from “madness.” Again, this was all because an article (which TenNapel called “a passive-aggressive hit piece”) was mildly critical of his game.

Because all of this went down on Twitter, TenNapel received a lot of public criticism. But he also received a lot of support for his conservative political views. In retrospect, this may have been the seed of his modern rebranding. 

His words come back to bite him

In case you’re wondering if TenNapel’s words ever come back to bite him in the ass, the answer is “yes.”

Previously, comic star Sean Gordon Murphy had agreed to draw a variant cover for TenNapel but then backed out. TenNapel responded by lashing out and claiming that comics legend Jim Lee forced Murphy to back out.

TenNapel eventually retracted the Jim Lee accusation after Murphy made it perfectly clear that he backed out due to TenNapel’s previous history of anti-LGBT remarks. The message seemed clear. The world of mainstream comics doesn’t want any association, even tangentially, by TenNapel’s bigotry.

The inevitable slide into Comicsgate

TenNapel is a successful and relatively famous artist who likes to stir the social media pot with his ultra-convervative views. This led him inevitably into the arms of Comicsgate.

If you don’t know, Comicsgate is like the comics version of Gamergate. Proponents of this movement say they are all about promoting individual writers and artists without the limits of a large publisher. Opponents, meanwhile, point out that it’s a movement founded in misogyny. Specifically, sexist comic fans freaking out at the sight of female Marvel employees enjoying milkshakes. Here is the tweet that set the whole thing off. Angry fans claimed the photo represented everything wrong with Marvel.

Still, it’s tough to argue that Comicsgate hasn’t had immense crowdfunding success. The biggest example is Ethan van Sciver, a former DC artist who has achieved massive Indiegogo success in funding his Cyberfrog franchise.

It seems that TenNapel wanted to channel the Comicsgate fanbase into crowdfunding his projects. According to Ethan van Sciver himself, though, TenNapel left Comicsgate “the moment [his Indiegogo project] Bigfoot Bill was funded.”

War with the SJWs

TenNapel may or may not still be part of Comicsgate depending on who you talk to. However, at the height of his involvement, he wasn’t afraid to openly support them. Specifically, he said that anyone who called that movement a “hate group is either ignorant or lying” despite the “bad elements rolling around.”

One reason that TenNapel felt at home in the group was likely his hatred of “Social Justice Warriors.” According to a tweet he wrote, “transphobe” and “homophobe” are each “a made up word used to slander conservative people of faith with a mental condition and is only used by SJWs.”

I’m sure the fact that he gets consistently called out for his transphobic and homophobic comments has nothing to do with his reaction!

When you hate quarantine but love your cigar

Not all of TenNapel’s political statements are weird and gross. Some of them are, in fact, accidentally hilarious. And also gross.

For example, he spoke out about COVID-19 quarantine and the need for social isolation by tweeting a picture from inside a cigar shop. He said he was “ignoring quarantine” and enjoyed being in a place with “no masks in sight, just free men.”

While TenNapel was attempting to make a serious statement about his personal liberties, pretty much everyone on Twitter dunked on him because he slobbered all over his cigar.

All for the money?

At the end of the day, it’s tough to figure out where the real Doug TenNapel ends and the online personality begins. He’s certainly not feigning his conservative views. Previously, he’s offered political commentary in years past through hard-right outlets such as Breitbart.

However, both opponents and proponents of Comicsgate feel like he essentially used their movement to scare up extra funding for his projects. It genuinely seems like TenNapel isn’t above becoming a parody of conservatism in an attempt to stay relevant with a changing political and consumer landscape.

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