It’s been exactly a year since a series of #MeToo accusations rocked the comics industry, as Cameron Stewart, Jason LaTour, Charles Brownstein and Warren Ellis were all accused of various abusive practices — some in searing first-hand accounts from victims.
Of these by far the most prominent was Ellis, one of the most influential writers of his generation and at one time a mentor to dozens of creators and aspiring creators. Like the others, Ellis has been silent since last summer, a single tweet advertising a return of his newsletter his only communication. His last season of the Castlevania anime came out, his name played down, and projects at DC were canceled.
To my knowledge, the revamped newsletter has never hit any inboxes (or maybe subscribers have fight club rules) but I’d been hearing rumors of a return for Ellis over the last few months. And then his one-time collaborator Ben Templesmith confirmed it in an Instagram post, and a subscriber-only Patreon post stated that he would at long last be finishing Fell, a project he and Ellis first collaborated on nearly 20 years ago.
Fell was published by Image Comics from 2005 to 2008, with nine issues appearing. One of Templesmith’s earlier works just as he was becoming a hugely popular superstar artist, it was a dark detective tale that many loved — and it was also one of many abandoned Ellis projects of the period.
So what would make Templesmith revive this after a (checks notes) 13-year hiatus?
For better or worse, this is unfinished business to me. We really left it hanging. Obviously, so much has changed since those days. Yes, I know, *so much*. Not for me to speak for Warren, but I agreed to do the book and I’m glad he’s going to be doing some comics again. I don’t think anyone thought he’d bugger off and work in a shoe factory or anything. He is after all, one of the most important comics writers of the past few decades. It means a lot to me to finish this thing, finally, so I couldn’t say no. I guess we’ll let the market speak as to how things go.
Needless to say, Ellis’s return after barely a year did not go over well with many people — including some of his victims. Twitter was filled with disappointment and anger at Image Comics for continuing to work with Ellis, including call-out tweets from many industry professionals.
And about those victims: more than 100 women have written about how Ellis forged online (sometimes IRL) relationships with them, as many as 20 of them at a time, and built intense, often emotionally abusive relationships with them before ghosting them as he moved on.
The accounts can be found on a site called So Many of Us. The testimony is stark and painful. I was re-reading some of them last night; they have become even more powerful over the last year.
So, someone brought up the questionable nature of this new collaboration on Templesmith’s Patreon and he responded:
I just can’t subscribe to a permanent social and economic living death for anyone, outside of criminal matters. What’s between you all & him is your personal business & I wish you all well in those dealings. Everyone will be free to not buy the book, ignore his further works, ( & mine ) deride them & pass judgment economically. I know some people will never be happy, or healed. I’ve dealt with abuse & manipulation myself, so I empathize with those affected. I also believe in redemption & that he’s capable of making amends, growing from his actions & hopefully becoming an example of change in a community that desperately warrants it.
And you know what? There is some sense to this: economic boycotts work and maybe there should be a path to redemption for non-criminal matters. Forgiveness and healing are two of humanity’s most positive attributes.
But there is one problem with all that.
The makers of So Many of Us created one of the most compassionate and thoughtful websites I have ever read. It acknowledged and expanded on the many issues that Templesmith alluded to. It even laid out the path to something called “transformative justice,” a system that takes the needs of victims into account but creates a framework for closure.
And they even laid out exactly how this was possible. It’s right on the front page.
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
To be clear, our aim is not to see Warren Ellis punished, we are here to look forward. We believe it is important to amplify awareness of a pattern to change the culture of complicity. Emotional abuse, despite not being criminalized in many places, should be recognized as a real and lasting violation. We tell these stories so that anyone can recognize the dangerous nature of this type of behavior and protect themselves and others.
Like many others who know Warren Ellis the person (for me, as his one-time editor and online correspondent), I believe there is some good buried there, and I would love to see that good person confront their actions and the harm they have caused. In AA it’s called the Fifth Step. But it involves acknowledgment of harm, self-awareness and a true desire to atone.
And unfortunately, it does not seem that this has happened at all.
Today the So Many of Us site updated with a statement:
Update June 23, 2021: When we published SoManyOfUs.com on July 13, 2020, we expressly did not want to “cancel” author Warren Ellis. Rather, we shared constructive ways to address the all-too-common issue of powerful men’s abusive behavior. We challenged people to rethink past actions and to consider how—and why—they may have facilitated harmful behaviors and environments. We called for openness, accountability, and growth, extending an offer of working with Ellis on some form of transformative justice.
Since his public statement a year ago, to the knowledge of these authors, Ellis has still not taken direct responsibility for his destructive behavior nor attempted to tackle the circumstances that allow such behavior to go on unchecked both on and offline.
During the past year, we were comforted by an outpouring of encouragement while also heartbroken to be contacted by more targets of Ellis and of other men using similar patterns to abuse power. Today, as Ellis returns to comics without making amends to anyone involved in SoManyOfUs.com or accepting the ramifications of his actions, the renewal of ardent public support alongside calls for accountability is reassuring.
We reaffirm our call for Warren Ellis to earn the opportunity to become the man so many people believed him to be.
It is possible that Ellis has taken behind-the-scenes actions to examine his behavior and make amends. It is possible that in the world of social media there can never be forgiveness, so why even try. Maybe there are things we don’t know and never will.
But just as an observer, I’ll say it: This is a lousy second act. Ellis actually used to berate other abusers on his various forums. I think if he were looking at his own behavior here, he’d give a derisive snort and a profanity-laced putdown. Ellis’s victims gave him a way forward and he seems to have ignored it, hoping for a soft launch and a stealth return. I’m not sure how we create transformative justice in this polarized world, but this is not the way.
UPDATE: ON June 24th, the So Many of Us website was updated to say that Ellis had reached out to them to attempt to begin some kind of mediated dialogue, and he released a statement via his newsletter:
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.
The complete statement is much longer, and Ellis says that he has been undergoing therapy for the last year and that Image was not aware of the Fell announcement.
The rest of the statement:
In it, I did my best to respond to the many accounts of my past behavior, the harm I’d caused, and the negative effects of my poor judgments. As I have come to realize, that damage has persisted and left lasting scars for many.
In the past, I have been careless and unthinking in my personal relationships, and I again apologise without reservation. In the last year, I’ve entered therapy and taken other measures to change my behavior, and am continuing to process the help and advice I’ve received. I’ve had a lot of long, hard conversations with people who are or have been close to me, and I need to have a lot more. I’m working on change. I’ve been silent because I had a lot of work to do and still do, and have repairs still to make, and wish to proceed mindfully without causing further harm.
I have, of course, been silent and isolated for too long, and should have addressed things sooner and proceeded with more speed. I apologise.
All of this should especially have been addressed before word of a new project came out via my collaborator. That was my mistake and the book was prematurely announced without Image’s input or knowledge. I should have brought up to him beforehand that I still had work to do to address my past. I should have worked with Image to make sure they were ready and comfortable to commit publicly to the project when I still had work to do to address my past. This is another example of my lousy judgment. I now add both him, and Image, to the list of apologies I owe.
Naturally, trying to mend my errors now makes it look like the only reason I’m speaking at the moment is to serve that project. It’s not, but that’s irrelevant: this is about me trying to make things right—regardless of how it looks for me or how good or bad the timing is . So here are my thoughts:
I have had nearly a year to reflect on everything I’ve learned about how my behavior has hurt others and I am sorry. Repeating that over and over doesn’t make anything better for anybody, but, now I’ve had my time to listen and process and advance my understanding, there are a few further things I need to say.
I acknowledge that I have done wrong. Neither my intent at the time, nor my perception of it then, erases that fact. Nor does it at all obscure that the result of that behavior has clearly affected individuals for years, and may even have inspired others to perform negative behaviour.
If you are a reader who supported me, then thank you, but please don’t defend me anymore. Change doesn’t happen overnight — I’m at the start of a long road, and it’s not a road with a defined end – and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If you want to support me, then support efforts towards transformation of communities, industries and workplaces.
I’ve been in therapy now for almost a year and will remain committed to that part of the process.
I will continue to work on new projects with only the collaborators who have expressed their comfort in doing so with me. I ceased all public appearances, and I think I have a long way to go before such activities would be appropriate again. I am grateful to all my collaborators for continuing to associate with me, and for the difficult but instructive conversations we had to get to that point.
I’ve always kept my charitable donations private, but, in looking for ways to contribute to change without privileging my own voice, I’ve expanded my donations into the space of women’s support groups. Most recently, my last royalty cheque was split between funding therapy for young women and supporting women in the workplace. I hope to do more and will welcome suggestions of charities that I can build lasting support for.
I do not yet know the fate of this newsletter. I miss talking with you, but I committed to speaking less, listening more and becoming better. There are still 23,000 of you, and it would be nice to use this platform as a tool for doing some good. I’m going to keep thinking about it, take advice from friends and take regular inventory.
As I said before — I’m sorry I let you down, and I’m sorry I have failed the trust placed in me. I hope that, over time, I can earn back a little of that.
A start. Let the work begin.