Astro Hustle writer Jai Nitz was publicly accused of sexual misconduct and predatory behavior late Friday night, via an essay published by Hannah Strader on the University of Kansas branch of the website Her Campus. In her essay, Strader claims she met Nitz when he was invited to one of her classes to provide a mock press conference experience for students in March 2017. She was 22.

According to Strader’s essay, after his appearance in her class, she and Nitz mutually followed each other on Twitter and began talking. A few weeks later, they went out for drinks. Strader alleges that during a night out with Nitz that March, the 41 year-old comics writer told her she looked nice, bought her drinks and told her stories about Will Smith and Margot Robbie on the set of Suicide Squad. Then, Strader says, Nitz began asking about her and the conversation quickly turned to sex.

She notes that on a nearby TV, KU basketball highlights were playing. According to Strader, Nitz told her, “I graduated in ‘98, during the winning streak. It was nuts. You would have been pretty young.” Strader, who was born in 1995, was three years old in 1998. Strader writes that Nitz “didn’t seem perturbed by this idea” and that he pivoted into telling her about a girl he used to sleep with, noting, “She wasn’t my student.”

At this time, Strader alleges that she and Nitz left the restaurant where they had been drinking, as it was closing for the night, and she agreed to join him for more drinks at a bar nearby. She writes, “Our conversation had taken a wrong turn and I felt it was maybe time to leave, but I was already fairly intoxicated and I felt I ‘owed him one’ after he paid our tab at the restaurant.”

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When they arrived at the bar, Strader says that they ordered more drinks and sat down at a booth, where Nitz put his foot on her calf and asked her about her masturbation habits, then said he’d think of her when he masturbated. According to her essay, Nitz said he would offer Strader help with her writing, but also told her that he wanted to sleep with her. She alleges that he asked multiple times throughout the evening if she would kiss him at the end of the night. He asked her to go out with him again, at least three times, although she writes that she repeatedly said no.

When they left the bar to walk to her car, Strader claims Nitz pulled her into a hug and said, “You can kiss me if you want.” After she pulled away, she claims he asked her to go with him to a strip club, an invitation she turned down. When she got in the driver’s seat of her car, she says Nitz called her name and then forced a kiss on her when she reflexively turned her head.

Strader alleges that the following day, Nitz texted her to say, “Hey, let’s talk about last night…” She did not reply. In the days following, Strader writes that she reported the incident to the co-professor of the class where she met Nitz, then met with a representative from the school’s Title IX office, who told her that the school of journalism would not invite Nitz back to campus.

Sometime after Strader’s accusations went live on Her Campus KU, Nitz deleted his Twitter account. According to comics creator and 2019 Planet Comicon attendee Kara Love, Nitz, who was a guest at the con, left the show sometime on Saturday. A note placed on his table read, “Sorry folks! Jai had a family emergency and will not be back this weekend. Have a great con!” Love told The Beat that she took the following photo at 1:52 p.m. on Saturday.

Jai Nitz left this note at his Planet Comicon 2019 table on Saturday March 30
Photo: Kara Love.

Prior to releasing her full story on Her Campus, Strader posted a series of tweets, wherein she detailed the alleged events of her night with Nitz without actually naming him. Love reached out privately to Strader to ask for Nitz’s name and then spoke with a friend in the Kansas City comics community who is supportive of sexual assault survivors.

That friend agreed to speak with The Beat under condition of anonymity. They say they first heard stories about Nitz’s “creepiness” years ago, from several women, though never to the extent described by Strader. “Mostly I just assumed, stupidly, that he was creepy and odd and touchy-feely. But I did what I could to protect people as often as possible,” they say.

When asked for explanation, they say they are vocal about not trusting Nitz around women: “I didn’t know if he was an abuser but there were pictures of him at cons where it was only with women cosplayers and he seemed very lustful. So I let women and friends know to avoid or be careful and to make me aware if he crossed a line.”

Following the publication of Strader’s piece, comics creator Katie Schenkel tweeted, “Jai Nitz has been accused of being a sexual predator and groomer. My one small interaction with him was at the bar during C2E2 2016. He had several younger women around him and he was telling the same Suicide Squad [anecdotes] mentioned in the article.”

Others have shared their own experiences with him via social media.

“It seems to have been a whisper network-like secret, but nothing could really be done without anyone coming forward. So far, I’ve heard of at least 5 other women,” Love tells The Beat via direct message on Saturday.

“I wasn’t shocked when [Love] came back to me and told me this wasn’t the first time it had happened because Jai had hinted multiple times at it during our encounter,” Strader tells The Beat. “I was surprised, however, that multiple other people had spoken up about it happening to them, but were afraid to go on record. Until someone came forward, there was nothing the community could do to keep him from entering those spaces.” At that moment, she says, she made a snap decision to be the one to come forward about Nitz’s alleged behavior.

After Stradler went public, one of those women, who asked to be referred to only by the initial S. for fear of doxxing or retaliation, also describes alleged sexual misconduct and predatory behavior from Nitz in an e-mail to The Beat. She says she worked at a Lawrence comic shop, Boom Comics, when she met Nitz in November 2016. She was 26 at the time and Nitz was 40. He rented the space upstairs; she reached out to him for writing advice based on his adult graphic novel work, but she says that after exchanging messages to meet up, she eventually made an excuse because of a “bad feeling” about their plans, instilled from his suggestions to go to a strip club and to meet at Cirilla’s, a sex store in Lawrence.

S. provided the following screenshots of her initial conversation with Nitz to The Beat for publication. Some names are blacked out for anonymity.

In her e-mail, S. alleges that on the night of Dec. 23, 2016, nearly a month after she and Nitz had stopped talking and she took great pains to avoid him at Boom, he held his birthday party at the shop. S. claims that she was working during his event, in which he was signing comics, drinking alcohol and having cake with friends. At one point, she says, Nitz approached her and broached the topic of meeting up, which S. deflected. Then, she says he turned the conversation to a former sexual partner.

“I was extremely uncomfortable at this point and just sort of stood there waiting for him to say something else,” S. tells The Beat. “So he says ‘people are really fucked up. Like I could probably go up to anyone and tell them you sucked me off and they’d believe it.’ At this point this registers as a threat. I laughed nervously, not knowing what to say and not wanting to make a scene.”

Following this exchange, Nitz asked if S. would help him carry his boxes out of the store so he could leave. Worried she would be reprimanded by her boss, S. says she agreed, since Nitz’s car was “right out front [where] nothing can happen.” She goes on to describe behavior similar to what Stadler alleges happening to her in March 2017.

“He looks me up and down before saying, ‘I’ve been interested in you for awhile now you know. I’d be interested in having sex with you,'” S. writes. She says she reiterated that she is gay and that Nitz offered to include her partner, then asked if S. had ever touched a penis. “He walks over to me and hugs me. He says ‘I can at least have a hug, right?’ I nod, too afraid at this point to say no. This guy does what he wants and he’s already threatened to spread rumors. He then whispers in my ear, ‘I’m putting my erection on your leg. You feel warm. You feel good. I’ll think about that later.’ He pulls away, a smile on his face and I mumble something before hurrying back inside.”

Per her e-mail, S. had limited contact with Nitz after that, aside from declining an invitation to the club on Dec. 26, 2016. Nearly two years later, in August 2018, she says he messaged her for the e-mail address at the copy shop where she worked, which is information that is publicly available on the shop’s website. The Beat went to the Copy Co website to confirm and found the e-mail on the homepage. When Nitz went into the shop, S. asked male co-workers to help him.

S. says she did not come forward earlier with her story because “I was scared. Lawrence is a small pond and Jai is a big fish. I had heard other stories of things he had done here and there. But then I read [Strader’s] story and I realized I needed to say something. He keeps doing it because no one says anything. It has to stop and I have to stop feeling guilty for not fighting. For not saying no. My body language said no. My lack of a yes said no. The content of what I wanted to discuss was not consent. My want to learn was not consent. I did not consent.”

The Beat attempted to find contact information for Nitz or reach him through his publisher, but at time of publication, has not received a statement from him. As of Monday night, he has reinstated his Twitter account but set his tweets to private.

Reached via e-mail on Monday night, a representative for Dark Horse Comics, the publisher for Astro Hustle, gave the following statement: “Dark Horse takes all allegations seriously. We have cancelled future issues of Astro Hustle. While we were unable to prevent our distributor’s shipping of Astro Hustle #2, we are also suspending our professional ties with Jai Nitz.”

If you are a U.S.-based victim of sexual assault in need of help, contact RAINN at 800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.