by Tara Ferguson
[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of any organization.]
Right now as I write this it has been 345 days since July 13th 2020. Less time than it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun. Not long enough for there to have been an anniversary of the event. Yet the comics industry is once again caught up in the horror that is Warren Ellis.
I am going to continue here as though you have prior knowledge as to who Warren Ellis is. In brief, for those who don’t, he was one of the most revered and exalted writers of the last 20/30 years. He wrote iconic works that have become industry staples, and he placed himself among his fans and followers in a deity-like position. He was incredibly influential among the creators who came after him and was very much lauded by the industry as a whole.
Last year the industry was thrown into dissension when a number of well-respected creators were called out as sexual predators. In the grand scheme of things we are a small industry, more often referred to as a community, so this took its toll on a lot of people who were either friends, collaborators or fans of these creators. I have a lot of sympathy in these situations, accusations of this nature have a reverberating effect, and everyone is allowed to feel their feelings, regardless of how “involved” they were. There is no positive to be found in these situations.
The most widespread and discussed event (for lack of a better word) that occurred last year was the mass calling out of writer Warren Ellis.
This was momentous. Over 60 people came together and publicly accounted their experiences with Warren over the last 20ish years, with many, many more disclosing them in private. A website was built to house all of the information and to provide a safe space for anyone with similar experiences to find sympathetic ears who have lived through it too. Never before in comics has there been a more clear and comprehensive call out of abuse, but it was necessary. Not only was there SO MUCH to be said, but Warren’s status had to be considered. A load of tweets was not going to cut it this time, his followers are dedicated and passionate, something more concrete and undeniable was needed. Through our actions we gained a lot of sympathy and support throughout the comics industry and further. I say “we” because I am included in the website, my name and account are detailed on its digital pages. I am not an observer, I am a participant. The website link is below, it is harrowing and dark, but so important to read. If you find it difficult, imagine living it, and push through.
The website went live on July 13th, 2020.
It is now June 23rd 2021. In the time since everything went public, we have all lived through a pandemic, a Brexit, and the inauguration of a new US president. The world has continued to spin. We lived. Warren went dark. There had been no sign of him for almost a year, and then suddenly earlier this week he decided now was the time to creep back out of whatever dark hole he had scuttled away to.
It has now been documented that Warren is returning to comics. He and his former collaborator Ben Templesmith have revealed that they will be continuing their title Fell, published by Image Comics, which has not seen the light of the new comics shelves in over 15 years. There is A LOT to dissect when it comes to this sudden return. I am going to do my best to lay it all out here.
It all begins with an announcement. This was a fly-by reveal, there was no press release, no balloons and banners on Twitter. This was calculated and quiet. It was an Instagram post from Templesmith, that linked to a Patreon post, detailing that the book was returning, Warren was writing it and Image Comics are publishing it. It was also the same day that the other Warren Ellis, the musician, released a new album with Nick Cave, so when searching names on Twitter, the discussion surrounding the album drowns out the book. There has yet to be anything “officially” said on Twitter, which is the main discussion site for comics. This may have changed however, as Templesmith has since blocked me.
The “announcement” was horrific. It detailed how people shouldn’t be surprised that Warren has returned, as he is such an important writer, and deserves to write comics because he is good at it. This is a massive slap in the face to all of those who suffered trauma and distress at his hands. It implies that his career and his name is more important than the lives and health of the 100+ people that he abused. That comics are more important than people.
Beyond the disgusting language used in the announcement, the most alarming information in it for me personally was the fact that Image Comics have agreed to publish it. I have worked in comics for years, I know the top brass at Image personally, this hit hard. There has been a bit of backlash towards this decision, and it has sparked discussion across Twitter, so here is what this means for those not in the know:
• Image Comics have no REQUIREMENT to publish this book. The creators own the work outright, they could take it to another publisher or crowdfund it without any contractual difficulty. Image have made the free-will decision to do this.
• It is not for the money. Despite what people may assume, Image Comics do not make an awful lot of profit from publishing. I would argue that it’s actually very little. They make back the printing costs and then a little off the top. No big bucks, so this was not a financial decision.
• Image support abusers. This is tough for me to even type. Image have published some of my all-time favourite works, but facts are facts. In giving a platform to Warren Ellis they are awarding him a free pass on all the horrific things he has done. They are broadcasting to the world that they care very little about victims of abuse.
This sets a terrifying precedent. This shows that you can commit the most heinous of actions and the comics industry will open their arms to you so long as you keep your head down for a while.
The question of deserving to return to the industry after accusations of a sexual or abusive nature are laid against you is a very messy one. A person must be given the opportunity to grow and learn from their actions, to apologize and atone. This is the bare minimum of what must happen before arms are opened to you. Warren Ellis has not made any attempt to do any of this.
When putting together the website to document the experiences of abuse, the decision was made to include a guideline for this. If Warren wanted to resurface, this is the route to take. This is what was outlined:
A final thing that some of us are open to is the possibility of a mediated transformative justice action with Warren Ellis. There is still a chance for him to be of help on a larger scale. If Warren wants to get in touch with us to start this process, we are interested in cultivating healing, accountability, resilience, and safety for all involved. Specifically, we would like to see Warren:
- Acknowledge his actions in their entirety
- Acknowledge his pattern of harmful behavior
- Acknowledge that he has callously hurt people
- Contribute to transformative work to dismantle the systems which allowed this to go on
We carved out the path of progression and moving forward for Warren. Some could argue this is more than he deserved, but continuous anger breeds nothing. We opened up for him to work with us, to help fix the broken systems in the industry that allow this behaviour to manifest. To create something good and redemptive from all of this horror and devastation.
He ignored this opportunity. To our knowledge he has taken no action to apologise or even acknowledge the situation beyond his one hollow statement that was released prior to the website going live. We provided the olive branch, we made it so very easy, and still nothing.
From this we can gather that he does not care and views himself as bulletproof, and sadly the industry, namely Image Comics and those that still defend him, are actively dressing him in the Kevlar vest.
From all of this, a very grim picture is being painted. As a woman who works in the comics industry, I am suddenly feeling very unsafe. I can guarantee I am not the only one. If Warren Ellis is allowed to walk back into this industry as though nothing has happened, welcomed by one of the biggest and most respected publishers, then the state of this industry is far far worse than we all ever imagined. If the cis het white man who commits travesties is given a free pass, that completely changes the playing field for those of us who admittedly already didn’t feel completely safe at the best of times.
I will end with a question, directed to Image Comics and any person who feels that Warren deserves a place in comics, and it is this:
All of the women, those who are trans, those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, all of the POC, all those who love this medium as much as you do, all of whom create such wonderful, beautiful work and deserve to feel welcome and to belong in this industry, where do we go? Because we can’t stay here.
The website has been recently updated to acknowledge the events of the week.
I was made aware today of the So Many Of Us collective’s offer of a mediated dialogue, and have today asked their permission to enter that dialogue. Where that will take us, I’m not sure, but I know I want to make certain that I’m doing all I can to no longer be part of the problem or in any way still perpetuating the past. I hope these conversations will be ongoing and productive for all.
[Tara Ferguson is a freelance comics marketing consultant.]