The current (and ongoing) unpleasantness.

§ June 25th, 2021 § Filed under ellis § 15 Comments

I generally liked Warren Ellis’s work. Okay, Ruins from Marvel I despised, and put me off reading his material for a while, but once I started picking up his work I found I enjoyed it. I mean, it was occasionally a little same-y, with many characters identically speaking in what I presume to be Ellis’s sardonic voice, but otherwise the stories were clever and well-constructed.

Do I think Ellis has more good comics writing in him? Well, sure. Would I like to see that work? Under normal circumstances, absolutely.

But.

About a year ago it came out that Ellis had been using his position as An Exalted Comic Creator to commit sexual coercion, emotional abuse, and grooming on young, vulnerable women, particularly fans and those who were in the industry. An alarming number of stories began to come out, and the website SoManyofUs.com was created to gather together testimonials on Ellis’s behavior. It’s harrowing and unpleasant reading, certainly revealing patterns of manipulation.

The creators of the website offered to Ellis a way…well, not “out,” but “through,” I guess, asking him to work with them to acknowledge his actions and find ways to improve himself and help to correct the cultural and industrial circumstances that allowed it. Which admittedly is a tall order, and who knows how much could actually be done, but doing something is better than doing nothing.

“Nothing,” however, is what’s been done, as far as anyone can tell. Maybe Ellis spent the year in private contemplation, working to better himself and identify ways he could work at preventing this behavior from perpetuating…you know, after sending a few more inappropriate messages to his victims after the news broke and he posted an apology (now gone from his official websites). According to SoManyofUs, he did send out a handful of personal apologies, that were apparently unconvincing.

The reason this is all coming up again is that an artist revealed he was working with Ellis on a revival of an old, abandoned comic project of theirs. And said artist got somewhat defensive about it, which you can see here.

It looked like the plan was to just kinda sneak back into the comics business, without so much as a “hey, how y’doin'” and hope enough people didn’t remember or care about the whole hoohar from last year to make the book profitable. Which, you know, kinda pissed everybody off, since Ellis’s half-baked apology at the time didn’t exactly strike anyone as useful (particularly taken to task was Ellis’s assertion that he was “unaware” of the position and power he held). And it’s been essentially radio silence since. Even Image, the publisher of this forthcoming Ellis book, basically responded to a direct question about the situation with “more details on that comic soon!”

However, the silence was just broken today, as Ellis finally, a year after the offer of opening dialogue was made, contacted the SoManyofUs.com site to see how he could work with them. I mean, that’s good an’ all, and maybe he needed that year to build up the courage or develop himself to the point of being receptive to change…or he saw the shitstorm his new comic announcement stirred up and rethought his career strategy.

Whatever the reason, this is at least some kind of step forward. I don’t know what will happen next, and I don’t know what kind of amends he can make…some testimonials emphasize the permanence of the emotional tolls and how forgiveness seems nearly impossible. But the opening is there, so we’ll see if any positive motion can happen in this whole ugly, disappointing, and disheartening situation.

This is not a fun thing to write about. I’m sure this is not a fun thing to live through, for all the people directly impacted by Ellis. I don’t know, when all is said and done, if any of us will be able to read Ellis comics with a clear conscience again. Maybe we can, if enough redemptive work is done, but honestly, “getting to read comics” is the least important thing about all this.

What is important is that this never happens again. That those not in power are not threatened or forced by those with power. …Again, like I said before, a tall order. But maybe we can get just a little closer to that ideal.

EDIT: Image Comics has released a statement.

EDIT 2: Warren Ellis has issued a statement addressing some of the concerns in my post. I mean, not directly in response to me, but you know what I mean.

P.S. If you’re thinking about being a drive-by dumbass in my comments, don’t bother…I’ll just delete whatever you expel.

15 Responses to “The current (and ongoing) unpleasantness.”

  • Juan Escondido says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve never been an Ellis fan, but even if I loved his work, everything you say here about what our priorities ought to be is spot-on.

  • philfromgermany says:

    If anyone reading this thinks he’d miss having no more Ellis penned books in their lives, just read Crooked Little Vein. Or better yet listen to the Audio book.
    Seriously the worst book I have ever read! Mostly it is just an annoying sidekick character named Trix explaining in an overly annoying tone exactly the same weird stuff Ellis had posted on his website in the late oughts. So many explanations followed by more explanations.
    After I forced myself to finish the book I never bought anything from him ever again.
    I just picture in my minds eye the waft of Red Bull stench, relentless dog kicking and the smell of thousand cigarettes and anything else I read can feel like a Warren Ellis book.
    Also letting go of the cyniscism and hate of super hero comics feels great once you tried it.
    When those allegations came out I was not really surprised, sad to say.

  • Jim F says:

    I don’t think I’ve read any of Ellis’ work (that I am aware of, anyway), so I was not familiar with this situation. Its so disappointing that this kind of behavior seems to be prevalent everywhere, so it reinforces the need for it to be excised out and dealt with publicly.
    I agree that its a step forward, but the cynic in me (which is the greatest part) feels like this is just checking a box in order to return to the public.
    The real measure will be if the people affected by his actions have some amount of real closure AND that it never happen again.

  • WizarDru says:

    Thanks, Mike. Well reasoned and honest.

    The Ellis thing is such a disappointment. I wholely agree with your assessment of Ruins, which seemed to designed to be ‘hah, I’m so EDGY’ reaction to Marvels (something Marvel encouraged with the format directly aping the former, iconic work). I’ve never read Transmetropolitan, but it was hugely popular and well recieved (how does it read today? Not sure). Planetary, his Stormwatch run, the first 12 issues of the Authority and his Moon Knight run were all excellent stuff…aware of the heritage of comics while either deconstructing them, recognizing their heritage or trying something new. There is talent there.

    So the discovery that he was…what we now know he is…falls under the same category as Bill Cosby. His old work is now tainted with the knowledge of what he’s done and the hypocrisy of it. Can he make amends? I hope so. Should he be allowed to work in the industry again? I mean, he should be allowed to, sure…but I can’t imagine wanting to read whatever he wants to do. I want to believe that people can be redeemed from this sort of thing but….how? And who gets to decide when? And even if they do, will I be able to move past it? I don’t know.

    But I know that we need to call this out when it happens and address it. Or it won’t change.

  • Robert in New Orleans says:

    What’s really surprising is that Image comics has been so tone-deaf by agreeing to publish the upcoming project and then again in the initial response to concerned folks reminding them that it was problematic. I expected better from them.

  • Jack says:

    I’m always going to have trouble reading Ellis work from now on (or even watching it, given his involvement with the Netflix Castlevania series) simply because of a realization I had when I read about everything that happened last year. One of the aspects of it was that someone described Ellis’ type that he would go after, and after a moment I realized that the description fit Kitty Pryde to a tee.

    Which made him sexying her up and putting her in a relationship with his self-insert in Excalibur a hundred times creepier than it was back then.

    I hope things turn out the best for his victims. I’m not going to speak on whether or not he can be redeemed, and I’m not going to go into whether or not he should be allowed to make a living at comics again. I can only speak for myself, and my visceral disgust at the realization I had about his work on Excalibur tells me that I just can’t read his work anymore. Because right there, laid out on the pages of a comic book, was the first evidence of what he really was, and we all missed it because, eh, fanfic writers do it, who cares if Ellis did?

    Hindsight is, admittedly, 2020, but the guy got away with so much for so long, I guess reading his work feels like it’s abetting him now.

  • Excellent post, Mike. Ellis was long a favorite creator of mine, but both his appalling, toxic actions and his utter shitshow in recognition of same mean I have no interest in any of his work, past, present or future. I’d love to see him make genuine reparations for the damage he did, but we’ve had a year of very strong indicators that that will never happen.

  • Andrew says:

    I would hope, if these things are true that the time he’s spend has been productive on himself as a person. Let the market, the consumers speak to if there is forgiveness. Reading Ben Templesmith’s opinion I agree with it, it’s between just the parties directly involved. There is also the issue of, we as a current society not allowing someone to change, at least not to certain standards, (and it can be difficult to gauge it) but, and by that standard, noone can be reformed and good anymore.

  • Chris Gumprich says:

    Very well said, Mike.

  • Thom H. says:

    I like much of Ellis’ comics work, and I feel disappointed that it’s all but disappeared. I don’t know him or any of his victims personally, but his behavior was clearly reprehensible. In the end, nothing I feel or think makes much difference because the matter is almost entirely out of my hands.

    One thing I do want to say is: why did it have to get to this point? As far as I know, Ellis’ creepy, abusive behavior was an “open secret” in the comics community, so why didn’t anyone stop him years/decades ago? It would have been so much more humane for everyone involved.

    I see a lot of outrage on social media directed at Ellis, at fans and collaborators who continue to support him, at publishers who continue to work with him. But almost nothing about an entire creative culture that turns a blind eye to bad behavior (at best) or just outright condones it (at worst).

    I’m not sure exactly what can be done systemically to stop the abuse of young creatives, but I do know that someone more powerful than Ellis could have taken him aside and told him to cut it out long ago. That’s what I’m most angry about at the moment.

    Thank you, Mike, for giving us a sane place to vent some feelings about this situation. I honestly can’t think of another place on the internet that can be this civil on a regular basis.

  • Mikester says:

    Robert in New Orleans – Image has shown itself on occasion to be…not discerning when it comes to problematic creators and content.

    philfromgermany – One of the testimonials I’d read was from a woman who said specific interactions she’s had with Ellis were directly used in that book. And that even the character’s name was taken from another woman.

    Andrew – I don’t agree, but thank you for your civility.

  • Chris G says:

    Ellis’ sudden reaching out to SMoU really reeks of, “darn, sneaking back in didn’t work, time for Plan B where I pretend to be contrite.”

  • William Burns says:

    I do not plan to purchase any more of Ellis’s work, but I have to admit that completing Fell is about the only thing he could do that would tempt me.

  • @misterjayem says:

    “Let the market, the consumers speak to if there is forgiveness.”

    It is not the place of “consumers” to forgive someone for the harms that he has inflicted upon others. One might as well suggest that consumers forgive any financial debts that Mr. Ellis owes to others.

    Of course, consumers are well within their rights to say, “I know he did the things that he’s admitted to and know that he’s accused of doing those other things, but I’ll still buy his stuff because it isn’t a big deal to me and I enjoy his work.”

    Perfectly valid consumer behavior.

    But only those victimized by him can choose to forgive him.

    Or not.

    “we as a current society not allowing someone to change, at least not to certain standards, (and it can be difficult to gauge it) but, and by that standard, noone can be reformed and good anymore.”

    Even if there were compelling evidence that this were true — and I don’t believe that there is — it doesn’t apply to Mr. Ellis unless and until he demonstrates that he has changed.

    And if Mr. Ellis doesn’t change, it won’t be because “society” doesn’t allow anyone to change; it will be because Mr. Ellis has chosen not to change.

    Mr. Ellis’s victims will determine if he is forgiven.

    Mr. Ellis will determine if he is to be reformed.

    And consumers?

    Consumers will only determine if they buy stuff.

    — MrJM

  • LouReedRichards says:

    @MrJM:

    100% Amen!

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