Warren Ellis, whose work looms large in the comics world and is also known for his novels and TV writing for Netflix’s Castlevania, has issued a statement following accusations of sexual misconduct.
Earlier this week, as part of an ongoing Twitter conversation about improprieties in comicsland concerning several men, Ellis was accused by writer Katie West of what amounted to sexual coercion. West then deleted her original Tweet thread, explaining, “I don’t want this to ruin my life, and I don’t want it to ruin anyone else’s,” but at that point, to paraphrase others who subsequently shared their experiences with Ellis, the door to the Bloody Chamber had been kicked open. Musician Meredith Yayanos and writer/photographer Jhayne Holmes also spoke up in order to defend West’s claims and confirm that their own relations with Ellis mirrored her allegations.
I’m still not back. My heart’s racing while I write this.
But I need to quickly say something about my dear friend @KatieWest.
She is one of the most ethical and compassionate people I know, and everything she is saying about Warren Ellis today is spot-on.
— mer (@Theremina) June 16, 2020
I met Warren when I was 22 years old. We were very close, for many years.
I severed all ties with him at least 5 years ago.
With good reason.
My former friend is a complicated man. He is lovable. He is capable of immense generosity and kindness.
Also, he’s a fucking Bluebeard.
— mer (@Theremina) June 16, 2020
I stand in solidarity with @katiewest . My #MeToo story of @warrenellis is backed up with an archive of hundreds of emails and photos that spans years. We were prey yet didn’t know it, because we were so, so young. pic.twitter.com/Xhf0AWUcm3
— Jhayne Holmes (@Foxtongue) June 16, 2020
West later clarified her original intent.
I deleted that thread. I don’t want this to ruin my life, and I don’t want it to ruin anyone else’s. This is not about one person. The people who are making it that way are missing the point. This is about a pattern of behaviour and our collective complicity in that behaviour.
— Katie West (@katiewest) June 16, 2020
Yesterday I posted about men abusing their power in the comics industry to groom, emotionally manipulate, have sex with, or serially Bluebeard young women. My intention was to protect young women from being harmed by these types of men in the future.
— Katie West (@katiewest) June 17, 2020
Several more women have since come forward to support their fellows and acknowledge that they had their own stories about Ellis. A private chat that Holmes set up for those with similar experiences is now said to number around fifty people. On Twitter, Denver Primrose wrote, “I have years of emails from Warren Ellis leading me to think we were friends, then leading into sex chat. It was like a clang in my head when I joyously mentioned talking to other creators, and he dropped me.”
The private group now has nearly 50 members. Please, if you know of anyone who might have been targeted by @warrenellis, send them our way. This is so much bigger than you might guess.
— Jhayne Holmes (@Foxtongue) June 18, 2020
Holmes laid out a pattern of behavior by Ellis, going back decades, that she says was common amongst those who have joined her chat.
4. He said I was his world/we were best friends/he was my thrilling secret/he supported my career so I didn’t feel like I could say no.
5. He dropped me. I blamed myself.
— Jhayne Holmes (@Foxtongue) June 17, 2020
Re: Warren’s sexual misconduct. There’s a lot of rampant speculation going on here, but we assure you, the problems are real, even if only very few of them may have broken laws. There is a pattern, it goes back over a decade. It has to stop. https://t.co/9TdrrOhnkU
— Jhayne Holmes (@Foxtongue) June 18, 2020
The fact of the good Ellis has also done in the comics world is not debated, and his boosting of people over the years—some of whom now number amongst those shoring up the stories of misconduct—does not counter the rot here in the greater systems of power imbalance and problematic matters of access.
Some of you are here because of Warren. Because of this, and the fact that I appear in the documentary about him, I’m implored to confirm that, yes, it’s all true. And yes, it happened to me, too. And yes, he has done a lot of good, but the systems? They have to burn.
— Zoetica Ebb (@zoetica) June 18, 2020
Yayanos was unimpressed by the statement that Ellis issued last night after a few days of silence.
This will not age well. https://t.co/KpfjZys8tD
— mer (@Theremina) June 19, 2020
Ellis’ statement reads in full:
I have never considered myself famous or powerful, to the point where I’ve made a lot of bad jokes about it for twenty-odd years. It had never really occurred to me that other people didn’t see it the same way—that I was not engaging as an equal when gifted with attention, but acting from a position of power and privilege. I did not take that into account in a number of my personal interactions and this was a mistake and I own it.
While I’ve made many bad choices in my past, and I’ve said a lot of wrong things, let me be clear, I have never consciously coerced, manipulated, or abused anyone, nor have I ever assaulted anybody. But I was ignorant of where I was operating from at a time I should have been clear and for that I accept 100% responsibility.
I hurt people deeply. I am ashamed for these mistakes and I am profoundly sorry. I will not speak against other people’s personal truths, and I will not expose them to the toxicity of the current discourse. I should have been more aware, more present, and more respectful of people’s feelings and for that I apologise.
I have had friendships and relationships end, sometimes in bitterness, often due to my own failings, and I continue to regret and apologise for the pain I have caused.
I have always tried to aid and support women in their lives and careers, but I have hurt many people that I had no intention of hurting. I am culpable. I take responsibility for my mistakes. I will do better and for that, I apologise.
I apologise to my friends and collaborators for having created this situation, and I hope they will be treated kindly. Mistakes and poor choices in my personal life are not on them, but only on me.
We have a responsibility to one another, every day. And I have, in my past, let too many people down. I hope to one day become worthy of the trust and kindness that was placed in me by colleagues and friends.
I will continue to listen, learn, and strive to be a better human being. I have sought to make amends with people, as I have been made aware of my transgressions, and will continue to do so. I have apologised, I apologise, and will continue to apologise and take total responsibility for my actions without equivocation.
I am going to be quiet now, to listen more than I speak, for other voices matter far more than my own right now.
A deep, incisive, illuminating dive into the situation and many years of context around it comes courtesy of writer Harris O’Malley, who blogs as Dr. NerdLove. In an excellent essay published yesterday, “On Finding Out Your Heroes are Monsters (Or: Detoxifying Comic Culture),” O’Malley recounts his time on Ellis’ free-wheeling online Forum, out of which many relationships were forged and boldface names in current-day comics emerged.
“I believe them,” O’Malley writes of the women coming forward about Ellis. “I know that Ellis was capable of this because I was there. I saw it happen. And I did nothing about it.” While acknowledging the role Ellis has positively played in many lives and in pop culture, O’Malley also paints a picture of a fiefdom where Ellis’ tastes and inclinations were known and went unchallenged, and condemns, as many have, the structure of existing systems that enabled this. I recommend reading the entire essay, which better illustrated much of the history here for me.
It is worth pointing out, as Rich Johnston does at Bleeding Cool, that “some of those voices have stated that they don’t want Ellis to be ‘cancelled’ and still feel warmly towards him; they just don’t want others to be similarly targeted. Ellis has also been defended by female voices who state that these complaints are without merit.” Ellis has not been accused of physical assault, and several of those speaking up have mentioned that they do not wish him to be, to use West’s word, ruined. Their primary concern appears to be a desire for Ellis to acknowledge and cease this sort of conduct, to listen to those who say they were hurt by him, and to grow and change as a result.
But we cannot write off the seriousness of the accusations simply because they do not appear to cross lines into illegality. As O’Malley neatly summarizes:
By even the least charitable interpretation, no laws were broken. Legally speaking, he seems to be in the clear. Even West has said: this wasn’t them being abusive, it was a man abusing his power. But the fact that it was legal doesn’t mean that harm wasn’t done. It doesn’t mean that people weren’t taken advantage of, had their trust abused by someone they respected or — in many cases — idolized and who leveraged their trust against them. The fact that no laws were broken doesn’t remove the abuse of trust, nor does it mitigate the consequences of those action.
While Ellis acknowledges the accusations and professes a willingness to make amends and listen, several replies on Twitter were disappointed in the scope of his statement. To start with dissembling about his own long-established fame also strikes a sour note. Ellis is an intelligent and keen observer of society and the human condition, and it’s difficult to imagine that he’d be lacking in any self-awareness about the role that he occupied in the lives of so many. Especially when he had, apparently, used this very thing so often toward his own ends.
how about you apologize to the women?
Because that statement features no such apology. What it DOES do is centre yourself in a way that defies the laws of physics.
— Matt R (@MattssacreTime) June 19, 2020
You’ve said before that you don’t think of yourself as famous, & in the context of taking a self-deprecating tone toward your work? sure. But not this. You were—especially when we were younger—always larger than life; someone we all wanted to have look favourably upon us, because
— Damien is just so effing exhausted. (@Wolven) June 19, 2020
This whole situation has been difficult to watch unravel and to write about. I’ve been a fan of Ellis’ work for more than a decade, and in our few personal interactions, he was always incredibly kind and generous with his time. Of course, my own experience does not in any way negate his actions where others are concerned. But this was the first time I’ve written about accusations of sexual impropriety against a public figure where I felt—as someone who has often promoted and recommended Ellis’ creative output, and cared deeply about it—that I had some kind of skin in the game.
I’ve followed the developing story closely. I wanted to be the one to write about it precisely because I understand the difficulty as an Ellis fan with processing the weight of this. Of grappling with a sense of disappointment, anger, and frustration. And in the wake of his statement, I knew it had to finally be pieced together. As Ellis himself wrote in Transmetropolitan, his comics opus: “You’re miserable, edgy and tired. You’re in the perfect mood for journalism.”
I was glad to see that he issued a statement at last and that he expresses a willingness to reflect and to listen. But as many have pointed out, the statement was lacking in needed substance. I will be watching to see whether Ellis chooses to engage with this going forward, as he has so boldly engaged on so many topics, or if this will signal a retreat. Whether it will affect his career is as yet unknown.
The friend who introduced me to Transmetropolitan in college and I have been talking about Ellis for days. When the accusations emerged, he reminded me about a blog post that Ellis had written back in 2005, upon the death by suicide of Hunter S. Thompson. Transmet’s acerbic reporter protagonist Spider Jerusalem was inspired by Thompson, and so many were turning to Ellis for his reaction at the time. Ellis mentions in the blog post that while he had opportunities to meet Thompson, he never did, because “I’ve been lucky so far, in meeting my great influences. But they don’t always go well.”
I keep thinking about the words he gave to others on that day—words that he may as well have he been writing about himself, and words that reflect how many of us are left feeling fifteen years later: “Friends of mine have had horrific experiences with their personal heroes, and it often leaves them unable to enjoy the work afterwards. And I wanted to keep the work. So I don’t know what kind of man he was.”
(image: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)
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