warren ellis gage skidmore
Warren Ellis photo: Gage Skidmore

The Warren Ellis shoe has dropped.

Last month saw a shocking and painful outpouring of accounts of sexual misconduct — ranging from harassment to assault — across a spectrum of industries. In comics, we saw past and present abusers called out. One of the most stunning was when multiple woman came out and accused writer Warren Ellis of a pattern of sexual coercion followed by ghosting. It was also announced that accounts were being collected, reports were being investigated, and results would be forthcoming.

Over the last two days we’ve seen the results of solid reporting and women & non-binary people coming together to share stories.

Asher Elbein, whose previous deep dives into C*micsgate and other industry issues were excellent, wrote a long story called Inside the Comic Book Industry’s Sexual Misconduct Crisis—and the Ugly, Exploitative History That Got It Here for The Daily Beast. It’s a lot to read and very upsetting to see how much harassment and abuse were tolerated by the industry for years.

Most importantly, Elbein links the tolerance of sexual harassment with the low economic stakes and systemic underpayment of the industry:

Economic exploitation creates the conditions for sexual exploitation to flourish, and the comics industry as it currently exists cannot address the one without tackling the other. Sexual harassment, in all its various forms, is not simply a social problem; it is theft—of a victim’s time, dignity, of their ability to create work in peace and pursue financial or social opportunities. Moreover, it is theft of a creator’s ability to pursue a livelihood in their chosen field. Harassers don’t simply prey on those made vulnerable by precarity: they actively make the spaces and institutions they inhabit more precarious, and keep workers disorganized and afraid to the company’s financial benefit. Think of it, if you like, as grooming on a grand scale: the cultivation of a workforce that can be trusted to go along with sexual and economic exploitation—to grin through clenched teeth, to say nothing out of fear—and drive out those who can’t.   

This is something that has been much on my mind, and you’ll see more from me on this topic in the days to come. In the meantime, Elbein’s story is a must-read.

But even more of a must-read is So Many of Us, a website documenting accounts from more than 60 women & non-binary people of more than 20 years of grooming and predatory behavior from Ellis. The relationships were mostly online, but occasionally physical, with one trip to a Toronto convention seeing Ellis line up meetings with the women he was dating in a chillingly systematic fashion.

We are a group of over sixty women and non-binary individuals whose utmost concern is the safety and protection of others like us. Our aim is to dismantle the systems that allow people in power to abuse that power for the purpose of serial predatory corralling, emotional manipulation, and grooming. With this goal in mind, we are sharing our stories about a man who abused his power. This statement was written with the involvement of all who have signed it.

Warren Ellis, a New York Times best-selling author, comics writer, public speaker, screenwriter, and producer, has devised and continues to follow a pattern of emotionally abusive behavior documented across more than two decades.

No quotes can do justice to these stories. You just need to read them. 

Among the many, many resources on this site is a chart showing that Warren Ellis was carrying on as many as 20 online affairs at once in a peak period of 2006-2012. That’s the peak we know of. There could be more victims out there, and the site encourages them to step forward. It’s also known that Ellis’s online behavior continued even after he issued a stunningly tone deaf “apology” a few weeks ago.

And now the third act of today’s story: Sam Thielman for The Guardian has written a well-researched story, “Women speak out about Warren Ellis: ‘Full and informed consent was impossible’, that includes responses from Ellis. Implicit in all of this is the power imbalance that Ellis used to his advantage. It’s no different than what you see in industries with greater visibility — music, wrestling, acting — but because of the smaller size of the comics community, it becomes even more personal.

It is part of a broader problem, says a woman who uses the pseudonym Madolan Greene. She had a relationship with Ellis for five years, and served as a moderator on The Engine for two of them. At least five of the women who sent their stories to Holmes say they were moderators on his forums; several industry figures who have spoken out recently say his relationships with the women working on his forums were an open secret among those who used them.

“Ellis’s public harem presented a blueprint for others’ behaviour,” Greene writes in her statement for the website. “‘Get big enough,’ it invited, ‘and you too will deserve your own sparkling audience of sexy young women.’ This behaviour provided a model and smokescreen for destructive patterns built atop the idea of women as currency.” Consent, these women are arguing, must be understood more broadly than the letter of the law – without knowing about each other, Greene says, “full and informed consent was impossible”.

So Many of Us was largely shepherded by writer and photographer Jhayne Holmes, who had an online relationship with Ellis from 2004-2012. I’ve been in contact with Jhayne since this began, and she’s been an incredibly sane and compassionate guide for the women she’s trying to help. I can’t state enough how important her handling of this has been.

I declined to join the server where women shared their stories — as a journalist, I did not want in any way to compromise their privacy. I also did not join because my experiences with Ellis were never sexual in nature. I was briefly his editor, then a professional colleague, hardly someone he would have wanted to groom. (I’m also older than him.) Ellis had a knack for finding confused young women who needed a “confidant” in their lives, and that was not me.

That said, Warren was very supportive of me when I got bounced from DC, a few issues before I would have finished up editing the final issue of Transmetropolitan, something I wanted to have on my resumé. Grooming and abuse often go hand in hand with great insight and powerful creativity – unfortunately they stem from the same knowledge of human nature. I don’t doubt for a minute that Warren’s kind words for me were sincere. Many of his victims also note his great kindnesses. Amazingly, the point of the So Many of Us website is not necessarily to “cancel” Ellis and his body of work, but to warn and witness the enormity and prolific nature of his predatory behavior. To create the dialogue such as this very post. Some people — including victims — have burned his books, and more power to them. Others don’t want to negate the pleasure they got from his writing. That pleasure — also stemming from his dozens of talented collaborators — is real, and Warren’s horrid behavior shouldn’t steal that from readers as well.

If Warren’s serial online relationships were something of an open secret on the Warren Ellis Forum (1998-2002) it got more and more prevalent on his subsequent forums. It was a subtext on The Engine (2005-2007) and practically the text on Whitechapel (2007-2011.) I’d grown increasingly uncomfortable with the open grooming and exhibitionism on The Engine, and I responded as one did then, with a snarky blog post. I forget exactly where or when, but my original “green eye” Twitter avatar was actually part of some post where I and some others mocked the whole “show me your photo” threads on the WEF and beyond, as many young women would line up for praise from “Internet Jesus.” As a sarcastic retort, I deliberately posted some crackly green “Hulk” photos.

old green eye twitter.jpg

Whitechapel seemed even more given over to mostly talking about bondage photography and camgirls…a perfectly legitimate subculture but of no interest to me personally. My participation wasn’t needed or wanted and I rarely visited it. Also, as I got less and less comfortable with the open “online harem,” Warren was less and less interested in my work. I remember seeing him at some junket at SDCC years back where he was friendly enough, but in recent years he rarely answered my emails, and if he linked to a Beat story in his newsletter, the Beat was never mentioned.

Like everyone who was ghosted, I was sad because….Good Warren is amazing. The WEF really was one of the safer places for women on the internet of the time, even if it wasn’t safe for the people Warren was targeting, and even though all the praise of it will forever be tainted, in the words of Han Solo, “all of it. It’s all true.” Without an intense personal or sexual connection to Warren, I could enjoy his writing and still cogent futurism. His newsletter was a highlight in my inbox every week, and knowing now that many of the people he promoted in it were promoted because they had online sex with him doesn’t make them any less talented.

But all that good is wasted now. Wasted by what is clearly a grotesque addiction to manipulating emotionally vulnerable young woman. The harm is real and lasting. The scars are real. The pain is real.

Ellis told Thielman that he’s considering therapy at the recommendation of friends. He also said, incredibly, he doesn’t see the predatory side of what he did…I hope that therapy can help him see that predation is exactly what his actions were. Deep inside, I feel guilty for hoping that he finds some painful awareness of the impact of his actions — it feels too much like the road to some kind of forgiveness, not the punishment he’s earned.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I just finished reading the testimonials on So Many Of Us and I have endless admiration for everyone who shared their stories there. They did an amazing job recounting their experiences, which I know must have been incredibly challenging but I hope can now become a path towards healing and a powerful warning for others. From the very bottom of my heart, f*ck Warren Ellis.

  2. It’s astonishing to see the excuses people, including the author of this piece, are still willing to make for him. Compared to other comics men who’ve been in trouble for sexual behaviour, what he evidently did was far more systematic, calculated, widespread, constant and exploitative than most. I think his relationship with his own daughter must be questionable.

  3. Headlines like this just maintain the idea that Ellis has ever been anything other than a sad, pathetic, creepy pervert. One would expect more from a self-proclaimed “journalist.”

  4. I can’t speak for others, but I can’t muster any desire to ever read anything he’s written ever again. And the relationship between Spider Jerusalem and his assistant that left her carrying his baby suddenly seems that much worse.

  5. The comic book industry was started by sleazy publishers who had ties to organized crime. DC publisher Harry Donenfeld, who began in “spicy” pulps (softcore porn), embodied this. Donenfeld’s favored method of greeting female employees was to grab their breasts. The sleaze continues today.

    I’ve never liked anything written by Ellis, unlike the fans who spent decades drooling over his nihilistic comics. Makes no difference to me whether his comic-book career is over, just like I don’t care if Woody Allen never makes another movie or Louis C.K. never stars in another TV show. Good riddance.

  6. I wish Heidi would drop the word “grooming” if she’s talking about adult women in consensual relationships (or consensual one-night stands). As long as it’s consensual and doesn’t involve minors, adults are free to do as they please in their private lives.

    Jeffrey Epstein and his enablers were grooming underage girls — not grown women, but girls not old enough to vote. Ellis seems to have been a twisted, sleazy jerk, but as far as we know (so far), he wasn’t a criminal like Epstein.

  7. Heidi’s attitude seems to be that adult women bear no responsibility for their bad decisions in the men they choose to sleep with. Nope, these grown women are helpless innocents, manipulated and “groomed” by evil men.

    This attitude reduces adult women to helpless children.

    Here’s a tip, women: if you’re in a bad situation with a guy who’s a jerk, call a cab and go home. Unless he’s a psycho (and most guys aren’t), he’ll let you leave.

  8. I think a number of the responses to this thread are seriously lacking in compassion. I’m commenting before it gets locked. I think Heidi’s responses seem healthy and sincere and authentic.

    What maybe should always have been clear in Ellis’ work is that he relies on a heavy idealisation of female characters, as idealistic and dynamic, alongside a presentation of men who are bastards though under the surface they too have a measure of tenderness. He’s never managed to get beyond that, and his pattern of lying and manipulation indicates the rage at the heart of it. The men may all be bastards, but they can demonstrate, over and over again, that they know secretly how things work. You might not think it, but you need them, with their weariness, their mannered grumbles about their ill health, and their cigarettes.

    Ellis grew up in the same part of Essex as my dad. He seems to have a lot of very compulsive behaviours, at the very least, and despite only the most cursory interactions with him over the years, I have the same feeling of guilty wish that he can recognise the harms which he has committed and can grow from them. I recognise that feeling from elsewhere in my life as a desire to rescue and repair an addict, to separate the good version of them from the bad. I don’t think that works in most cases, though I also don’t think it’s wicked to want it. If Ellis does have an honourable way through this, it probably won’t come in public; it will need him to learn to spot his triggers towards compulsive sexualisation of interactions, which muddles them up, necessitates a pattern of lying, and hurts people very badly.

    One of the remarks which has stayed with me is something Katie West said in passing: that she has recently spoken with Brian Wood, and that he has acknowledged the harm he caused and indicated both a willingness and a capacity to make amends. I don’t know if that’s so; I hope it is. There is no question, to my mind, that if Wood has seriously reflected on his actions he has done so because of the loss of status brought about by publishers’ belated decision to stop working with him. I think that if Ellis has a hope to get beyond the projection of admiration for female idealism and agency, which is based on the cultivation of male impunity, he needs to be removed from his Netflix shows and from future comic work. Even then, it is easy to imagine him falling back into old habits. So if we’re hoping for some kind of forgiveness or way out here, it’s imperative to see how much effort that is likely to require—slow, hard work, done in private, without the reward structure which he has built up for himself over many years, and which he has employed with such unkindness.

  9. “The men may all be bastards, but they can demonstrate, over and over again, that they know secretly how things work. You might not think it, but you need them, with their weariness, their mannered grumbles about their ill health, and their cigarettes.”

    To put it rather less compassionately, they’re Mary Sues. He is in fact a very limited writer: his typical characters talk in infodumps while showing how hard they are.

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