Warren Ellis makes a controversial return with Fell

Comic News

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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 Castelvania anime came out, his name played down, and projects at DC were cancelled.

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 and 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:

  1. Acknowledge his actions in their entirety
  2. Acknowledge his pattern of harmful behavior
  3. Acknowledge that he has callously hurt people
  4. 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 acknowledgement 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.

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