In April, following the publication of an essay written by Hannah Strader concerning alleged sexual misconduct by comic book writer Jai Nitz, The Beat reported on Strader’s and another victim’s accusations. In the same weekend, Dark Horse Comics canceled Nitz’s series Astro Hustle and he seemed to retire from social media and public life.
Now, The Kansas City Star has picked up the story, including new accusations leveled against Nitz. He also made KCTV Channel 5 News, with the somewhat sensational headline “Famous comic book writer accused of sexual assault by dozens of women.” These stories center around accusations of sexual assault, including rape, from several local women.
Following the publication of Strader’s piece, several women reached out to her to talk about their own experiences with Nitz. Strader organized a group chat for many of them, which has since acted as a support group. She tells The Beat that at least 30 women have contacted her, and there are 20 or so in the current group chat. Some of the women who came to her, Strader says, were not comfortable being identified or joining the chat.
In the days following our coverage of Strader’s accusations at The Beat, we also heard from victims not included in our initial report.
Now that Kansas City outlets have reported new accusations, the comics industry is once again reckoning with Nitz’s behavior. In April, several people took to social media to discuss how Nitz had made them uncomfortable or been creepy toward them, especially in convention settings. Now, those red flags are being called into question because they could be hiding far more heinous behavior.
Christina “Steenz” Stewart tweeted, “Re: Jai Nitz, If someone is sleazy or creepy or low key sexist, the chance that they’re a rapist or sexual assaulter is pretty high. We can’t let that shit go anymore. Myself included.”
Re: Jai Nitz, If someone is sleazy or creepy or low key sexist, the chance that they're a rapist or sexual assaulter is pretty high. We can't let that shit go anymore. Myself included.
— Vitamin Steenz #BLM (@oheysteenz) August 5, 2019
“I’ve known Jai Nitz nearly as long as I’ve been in comics,” tweeted John Layman. “We were friends. He had this sleazy used-car salesman persona I thought was harmless, goofy shtick. I had no idea this was who he was. This article is stomach churning. I’m sick with disgust.” Layman added, “I try to give comic folks a lot of latitude, because we’re all a bunch of kooks, all a bunch of eccentric artist weirdos with a shared love which is comics. Then you learn one of your own wasn’t just weird, but a monster. Terrible. Hard to process.”
I try to give comic folks a lot of latitude, because we're all a bunch of kooks, all a bunch of eccentric artist weirdos with a shared love which is comics. Then you learn one of your own wasn't just weird, but a monster. Terrible. Hard to process.
— LAYMAN (@themightylayman) August 4, 2019
Nitz is far from the first comic book creator to be accused of sexual misconduct. Brian Wood was accused by fellow creator Tess Fowler of sexual harassment in 2013. Eric Esquivel was accused of extreme physical and emotional abuse in late 2018; his Vertigo series, Border Town, was canceled and released issues were made returnable. These are just two recent examples among dozens, which are often talked about in whisper networks among the most vulnerable within the industry, i.e. non-cishet white men.
As noted above, sexual harassment can often be a red flag for more heinous abuses. The new accusations against Nitz shine a light on how important it is to call out this behavior, especially in an industry where creators frequently get by on networking and word of mouth. Doing so could potentially limit harm.
Note: The following accounts contain explicit details of sexual assault, including rape.
At least three women have accused Nitz of sexual assault, including rape, according to the Star. One, a Kansas City woman who read Strader’s account online and recognized Nitz, then looked him up to be sure, said that they met in person after chatting online. He was an hour late to their date; he didn’t ask for her name.
At one point, she remembered him saying, “I could be a predator and you don’t even know it. You just showed up.”
When she tried to leave, Nitz forced her into his car by grabbing the back of her neck, then drove her to an empty business parking lot in an unfamiliar area, where he forced her into oral, vaginal and anal sex. At one point, she recalled her face being jammed against the steering wheel; she chipped her front tooth from the pressure of Nitz’s hold on the back of her neck.
Another woman recalled abusive behavior from Nitz while they were dating, per the Star. She said he would frequently show up at her place of work and sometimes force her into having sex with him before he would allow her to leave her office. She reported Nitz’s behavior to the police on April 22 of this year.
Strader and three other women, including the one from Kansas City, also went to police this year. As noted in the Star‘s report, it took weeks for the police to contact Nitz. They claimed they had a hard time finding him, as he had recently moved; in response, Strader and the other women tracked down his new address using social media and turned it into the police in June. Still, the police delayed.
On July 2, an investigator from the police department told Strader he knocked on Nitz’s door, but Nitz wasn’t home. Days later, Nitz called the investigator.
The officer told Strader in an email:
“Jai refused to meet with me to discuss the investigation. He pushed for some details and when I told him I would be happy to discuss those details in a meeting, he said he would have his attorney contact me (aka, not going to talk). I told him to please do, but obviously won’t hold my breath for that.”
Patrick Compton, a spokesperson for the Lawrence Police Department, said, “This individual changed residences and their contact information, making it difficult for officers to locate him. Officers did eventually make contact, but the specifics of that interview are not something we can discuss.”
In an email, an officer suggested Strader secretly record a phone call with Nitz.
He might admit he’d sexually battered her, the officer wrote, and it would help affirm a crime was committed. Then, an affidavit could be forwarded to the prosecutor and charges could be filed.
Strader declined to do that.
“To ask me to do that, it just doesn’t feel like my responsibility,” Strader said. “I’ve given as much information as I possibly could.”
Meanwhile, Nitz has been banned from the University of Kansas campus until May 15, 2022. Citing accusations of “a series of predatory sexual behaviors over the last five years in which you have targeted female students after meeting them on campus,” Interim Provost Carl Lejuez wrote a letter to Nitz dated May 15, 2019, informing him that he is not to step foot on the Lawrence campus for three years.
Strader, who met Nitz when he was a guest lecturer in her journalism class in 2017, reported his behavior to the university at that time. He was banned from the journalism school, but still allowed to go anywhere else on campus. In April 2018, KU hosted him for a panel in the student union; that fall, he was once again reported by a female student in a separate department.
Campus police were notified of the campus-wide ban once it was implemented in May. If Nitz steps foot on campus facilities or parking lots and is caught, he’s subject to citation for criminal trespass. However, as Strader and the other women told the Star, this isn’t enough to make them feel safe. They feel let down by the justice system.
At time of writing, Nitz has not been arrested or charged with any crime. The state of Kansas eliminated its criminal statute of limitations for rape in 2013.