THE COMICS JOURNAL ASKS:
When I was writing about the Warren Ellis Forum (the WEF), I kept imagining someone yelling: “Okay, everybody already knows you’re just an asshole with a chip on your shoulder, my dude-- what if you talked to someone who was there, and on the WEF? If you could talk to anyone about the WEF, in this moment in time, who would it be?”
I could (seriously) only think of one name: Laurenn McCubbin.
Laurenn is a part of Comics in just about every meaningful way. She is the Chair of Illustration & Comics for the Columbus College of Art & Design; designed comics; edited comics; art directed comics; created her own comics; worked on conventions; probably more. That’s all in addition to her work in other areas of the visual arts. One thing I especially remember is an artistic project she did through Kickstarter in 2010-- before Kickstarter was even a thing, really-- about the sex industry in Las Vegas.
That last bit was a major reason I wanted to talk to Laurenn. At some point, I just got the impression of Laurenn McCubbin as being someone who was “ahead of the curve.”
In my life, I have probably given Laurenn McCubbin 1,000 reasons not to agree to speak with me. It is a statistical certainty, if nothing else, that I have been very unpleasant when writing about people she has worked with, respects, cares for, etc.-- worse, we continue to have friends in common, who I fully intend to be unpleasant to in the future, using a mixture of Crane Style, the Wing Chun style, Drunken Boxing, and worst of all, my personality.
The fact she’s willing to answer some of my terrible questions for you readers, I think speaks a lot about… (a) how she just seems kinda rad, and (b) how this moment has sort of thrown everyone completely out of loop; dogs and cats are living together; it’s “All Hands on Deck.”
Photo Credit: Ty Wright/CCAD.
Hi, Laurenn thanks for speaking with us. It’s wild! So, can you describe what your relationship with the WEF was? My recollection that the WEF had women moderators who were called the “filthy assistants.” (It was a comic book reference that perhaps lands differently now). Were you one of the “filthy assistants?” How far did you go beneath the surface of how things operated on the WEF, back in the day?
Laurenn McCubbin: I was never an FA, but I was friends with a couple of FA’s - I became closer friends with some of them right after the recent Ellis news came out. I didn’t really know much about the workings of the WEF, or any of the satellite forums.
Do you remember what your feelings were like at the time, when it came to the WEF and how younger women were being treated there? I’m asking because there was recently a sharply-written twitter thread that people noticed from G. Willow Wilson, which begins: “I don’t know how anybody who hung around any of the late 90’s-mid 00’s Ellis forums can profess to be surprised. It wasn’t even a secret.”
I hated the WEF. I hated the vibe. I barely ever went over there. The constant forum threads of men encouraging women to post photos of themselves flicking off the cameras were pretty creepy, there was a lot of little things that creeped me out, but more than anything, I just despised how they talked about comics. I always got this impression that everyone on that forum felt like comics history hadn’t happened yet-- comics had just been waiting for *them* to show up. The idea of comics being this great, weird thing that existed before us and will exist after us… it felt to me like that forum had no conception of that. And so, the way that exact attitude of “this is all for me; this is mine!” is now revealed to have this ugly sexual component…!
To me, the normality was that the WEF was “familiar” - I have never been a part of any kind of scene that didn’t have weirdo power dynamics and posturing, along with all of the good stuff that brought you into that scene.
I mean, seriously - from 6th grade mean girl clubs to being in the punk scene to doing stand up comedy to being a gallery artist - all of these groups of people have the same dynamics, just with different clothes on and different stakes. It gets fucked up when those stakes become about who gets work, but it’s all very, very similar.
The WEF was great for me - I met people who are still my best and closest friends, my career got a jumpstart, there were funny, fun times. The WEF sucked for me sometimes, too - I fought with shitty dudes (as I have in every scene ever), I was treated abusively by someone I thought loved me, I ignored bad behavior because I was suffering from the consequences of my own bad behavior…
It was special, and yet nothing new. It was a place and a time.
I went to comic book conventions between roughly 2000-ish and 2009. And I feel like I picked up on an energy that there were already women back then who were exhausted having to deal with how Warren Ellis was treating the women around him.
Though I should say: I misheard a lot of things; I misunderstood things; I’m in my own head a lot; a lot of things that you hear at comic conventions are total nonsense. So I can't know what to trust of what I heard.
Plus, I had a extra-weird situation back then, because there were occasionally these people who thought I was just skipping through life super-excited to hear about their disgruntlement with comics. There was a type of Comics Person who would love to tell me how they (secretly) thought a Warren Ellis or a Whoever was super-overrated, like I couldn’t wait to hear that! And I’d always just be sitting there, feeling like, “You know what I think the greatest is? This macaroni and cheese.” Or “I live inside my own heart, Matt Damon.”
I fucking love Macaroni and Cheese.
The women who knew about Ellis were already talking to each other, but no one knew the astonishing scope. It was understood that he was “digitally promiscuous” which never sat right with me, but I never said anything about it because who was I to say, really?
I thought that it was shitty that he cheated on his partner (and I call utter bullshit on him saying they had an open relationship), but I didn’t do anything about it. I comforted the women I knew who got used by him, but I didn’t go around waving a torch and demanding his head.
I admire the hell out of the women & NB people who have put the work in to out him as an abuser, and they have my complete support. I mean, even the way they have framed what they wanted out of this whole thing is amazing - not cancellation, but recognition.
But for me having heard those rumors, more than 10 years ago… it reminds me of the feeling I had after Super Tuesday. After Super Tuesday, I just felt like this crushing feeling that “there’s just no hope of any of this getting better” that I still haven’t wriggled out from under, that’s still like this weight I wake up to every morning, like a winter-blanket that covers everything. And with comics, I’ve just felt this variation: “Okay, I know we’re all powerless and can’t fix climate change, police brutality, the rise of fascism, or the Bon Appetit workplace. But are you telling me America is so broken it can’t even fix the *comic book industry*?”
The only thing i'd like you to consider is, this isn't just a "comics" thing. This is... a thing. In the whole world. All areas of capitalism have power issues and dynamics that can play out with the people in power being allowed to abuse people with impunity, and other people being willfully blind because it might affect their own standing or power or understanding of the human condition that they can't make work with their own prejudices.
Abusers aren't 24-7 monsters, and they have friends and families that they don't always show that side of themselves to. People who support abusers aren't automatically monsters, they are humans, with human reactions to relationships and they may lack empathy for experiences that aren't their own. Victims of abuse aren't 100% perfect angels, and their past behaviors will always be used to prove that they were lying, or complicit, or 'mercenary in their affections". That doesn't excuse anyone from listening to them, because no one is perfect. No one's hands are clean. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Everything is fucked up, so try and be as kind as you can.
I don't hate Ellis. I think he is sad, and it must feel terrible to be exposed to the world as having such a pathetic inner life. I hope he finds it in himself to rectify the harms he has done and to get the help he so obviously needs. As a friend of mine in the program says "I hope he finds the enlightened path."
Anyways. Shit be complex.
The worst thing to me was that Ellis’ abuse was thought of as a joke - mostly about him and his creepiness, but many times about the women, as well. That was gross then, and gross now. There’s a reason he preyed on women who could be thought of as disposable - things like mental health issues, sex work, and substance abuse are among some common denominators among his victims, and many of them can easily be classified as “unreliable narrators”. But hey, they were slutty goth girls with naked pics on the internet, so fuck them, right? They don’t deserve our understanding. Let’s tell another joke at bar con.
I met you, one time, in 2009. It was only for 3 minutes. Hopefully you don’t remember me because my hair didn’t look good that day; I was using hotel conditioners; I’m sorry and the Sheraton goddamn better be sorry.
But I immediately clocked you as someone who was very kind (I remember someone just saying “what a sweetheart” to themselves when you left) and very tough, not like in a “you were mean” way but like… tough in the way a person wishes they were tough, especially if they love watching movies about crews doing heists. “Chips are down; gotta rally” tough. Rodeo tough. It was nothing you said or did; that was just my snap judgment when I glanced over at you, while worrying about my hair.
But I imagine other people have clocked you that way too. And so I imagine that other people have come to you over the years and told you things, and unburdened themselves on you-- because someone who’s suffering would want to unburden themselves to someone they think is a tough, kind person. And maybe I’m wrong but I imagine that’s been a weight you’ve had to carry. And I imagine maybe that’s a weight many women in comics out there have had to carry. And the part I don’t understand, the part I can’t get my head around is…
You’re still here. You’re still in it.
How do you keep moving through space if there’s a blanket on top of you??
Man, that’s a good question. I have been that person my whole life. You want someone to defend you against injustice? I am super down to yell at jerks. I was the girl who threw bottles at cops at shows back in the day (god, what a fucking dick I was), the girl who got you into a barfight because FUCK THAT GUY THAT FUCKED WITH YOU.
I was also a drunk looking for ways to deal with my own dysfunction. Once I got sober, I wasn’t magically cured of this dysfunction, and I used the high of being angry at unjust behavior to replace actually getting high. I’ve learned how to replace being angry with being kind, and how to replace getting high with being of service to others. It’s an ongoing lesson, to be sure. I am perfectly imperfect, and a work in process.
I think that’s why I wanted to teach. “Please my children, do not make the mistakes I made! I will draw you a roadmap! Here there be dragons and shit!”
I do not feel like being present for others is a blanket smothering me. I think… it’s my job. If I can relate to someone else’s pain and struggle in some way to give them comfort… then yeah, that’s my job.
I don’t know if that’s the answer you were looking for? But it’s what I’ve got.