Comic-book writer Warren Ellis, who has created some high-profile original comic book series such as Red and Transmetropolitan, as well as working for the likes of Marvel and DC on stories for classic characters such as Iron-Man, X-Men and Batman. Over the past few weeks, numerous women have come forward, accusing Ellis of sexual coercion and predatory abuse, which involved Ellis using his status and power as leverage over his large number of partners.
As The Guardian reports, more than 60 women have come together on a website called So Many of Us, to tell their stories and to encourage others to come forward. Their stories almost all involve Ellis talking to female fans online, downplaying or denying he was already in a long-term relationship, and then meeting him for sexual encounters, sometimes within hours of one another. The relationships allegedly go back as far as the early 00’s and none of the women claim they were aware of how many other women Ellis was involved with.
A server was originally set up for women to talk to each other by writer and photographer Jayne Holmes, who had a relationship with Ellis for eight years. She states that more than 100 women have come forward, with 33 of them providing written statements that are substantiated by emails and texts which The Guardian claims to have seen. They say Ellis was sending many of the women the same texts and photographs, sometimes at the same time. He often described them as ‘bewitching’ or ‘hypnotising’, sometimes offering himself as a mentor, offering advice for the women to help boost their careers. Many of them say he would go on to ask for sexual photos of them, and that his friendship and help would end if they refused.
Many of the women claim to have been in their late teens or early 20’s when they began their relationship with Ellis. Some report they contacted him, while others say he made the first move. Some of the relationships were purely online, while others became physical. Many of the women worked in careers that could be bolstered by Ellis’ fame and connections. Some of the women were comic-book artists and writers, while others were photographers or models. They state that Ellis would use his newsletters, blogs and forums to advertise their work to his readers.
On 19 June, Ellis acknowledged the accusations on Twitter, saying refuting the idea he had “ever consciously coerced, manipulated or abused anyone, nor have I assaulted anybody”. He added: “I have always tried to support women in their lives and careers, but I have hurt many people that I had no intention of hurting. I apologise.”
Speaking via email to The Guardian, Ellis says that he does not deny his relationships with many of the women, and admits he didn’t tell them about each other, saying: “What I have always tried to do is make sure other people feel protected. I have been asked for discretion, and I have asked for it. Some of the personal work I have to do now is about bad or limited communication in my life.” He also denies that he kept his long term partner a secret from the women, saying he’s always been open about the fact he has a long-term, open, relationship.
It should be noted that the women coming forward do not accuse Ellis of any illegal behavior, but are instead wanting to highlight the magnitude of his relationships with women. They report that they felt heartbroken and/or angry when his numerous relationships came to light or he cut contact with them. They want to start a discussion about how men in power can abuse their status with impunity. They point out its not just Hollywood celebrities that are capable of it.
A woman who goes by the pseudonym Madolan Greene, who served as a moderator on Ellis’ popular forum The Engine, and had a five-year relationship with him, says it’s part of a broader problem. Several other women who were part of the forum were in a relationship with him, and it is said that industry insiders saw it as an open secret.
“Ellis’s public harem presented a blueprint for other’s 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”.
The fact that Ellis primarily made female users on the forums moderators mean’t there was a certain feeling of safety to them.“If you weren’t targeted by Warren, you were pretty safe there in ways that you weren’t elsewhere online,” says Holmes.
The women who have come forward want to tackle more than just one man, they want to break down the structures that allowed him to behave they way he is accused of. One of Ellis’ previous collaborators, comic writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, who has previously worked with Ellis over the years and got a foothold in the industry via Ellis’s forum. She states that she believes the women’s accounts, saying: “I did nothing but benefit from my friendship with Warren Ellis for years. I paid no price. And that incurs a debt. I don’t know if we can make sure this never happens again, but I can think we make it not as easy.”
When it comes to Ellis’ work, there is some debate as to whether it can be separated from the artist. “We are all at very different points in our response to the artist v art debate,” says Greene. “Some of us want to burn all the stories and some don’t. Transmetropolitan was a formative part of my life and I don’t give him that. I don’t let him take that from me. Collectively, we’ve acknowledged that the burners should find room to respect the keepers and vice versa, as we are all processing our relationship to Ellis’s work in different and very personal ways.”
Another, anonymous woman who worked in comics and has accused Ellis said: “I have extremely strong feelings about [his books], It is not fair to cancel them. It is not just him. He had letterers, he had artists, he had inkers, he had promotional people. So many people’s hard work goes into these books. You can do what you want, but please remember that other people worked on these things. And Warren’s work is still very good. I think for me, whereas I certainly will not ever support or buy anything ever from him again, I don’t want other people to stop. I don’t want people to burn books! I just want people to know who he is.”
In his emails with The Guardian, Ellis said: “[t]here is a differing of perception here, and I’ve been listening to it”. He added that, on the advice of his friends, he was going to see a therapist.
“When someone flirted with me or engaged with me intimately I was genuinely flattered, and proceeded time and again to make an emotional mess of things,” he wrote. “I will own that, and I will not do that again. I have to do the work on that and many other things now.”