The Hauntology of the WEF

Forums, especially successful ones, often build up a mythology. ILX, for example, has been going for almost twenty years and has plenty of myths and legends, including a hilarious real-time thread cataloging the desecration of a couch (the incident is still celebrated today as the icon of the ILX app), the ‘so not going to happen’ photo thread, and a sadder, drawn-out catfishing, as well as the usual forum drama of long-banned members.

The Warren Ellis Forum only lasted for a short time back at the start of the century, but there has been a lot of hagiography about it over the past few years. And why not? Many careers and friendships were launched during its existence, and the comics world of today has many people in commanding positions that can trace their success right back to that forum.

And yet.

I’ve never quite managed to sort out whether this was a SOTCAA Savile transcript affair or something that actually happened. But there was a post. Maybe I saw it on the night shift when I was working at Oxford Brookes University after graduation, or maybe it was in the early morning. Anyway, it was a post containing a transcript of a webcam session. Between a woman and Ellis. And it was posted by the woman’s boyfriend. Nobody saved the post. At least nobody who’d admit to it, and if any denizens of The V-Forum had saved a copy, it would have been regularly posted in the years following1, so I don’t think a copy really does exist any more. Or even whether it was true at all, although in light of recent revelations, it’s probably right to assume the benefit of the doubt.

The ‘official’ Oral History of The WEF makes a big play of how it was a comics forum that didn’t hate women.

As far as comic spaces circa 2000 went, the WEF was an accepting and welcoming place for women, and that speaks for people who were there, the creators who came out of there, and the work we do.

And Kieron is not wrong at all. But it’s fair to say that ‘circa 2000’ is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Aside from the ‘Filthy Assistants’, the moniker given to the all-women mod staff, and Ellis’ overuse of ‘daddy’, women that didn’t quite fit2 into the WEF would often find themselves on the receiving end of this image macro:

McQueen / McGraw

But it was all ironic, you see. And it was okay! Because the forum was a welcoming forum that celebrated diversity in the comics world! Both from readers and creators! So much better than everything else around at the time! 3

I’m reminded that Larry Young, the publisher that gave Matt Fraction his start in the comics world, once referred to Jeremy Love as ‘boy’ and did not back down from it one bit when called out.

So the recent revelations of Ellis’ predatory behaviour are not a total surprise. Disappointing and enraging, but not a surprise. And, judging from a quick Twitter-stalking of names I remember from that era (aside from the obvious ones), that seems to be the consensus from almost everybody. People who weren’t on the WEF seem to be a lot more shocked.

I don’t have a lot else to say other than I believe Katie West.

  1. The V-Forum was a satellite forum of the main WEF, where all the cynical British people (and some token Americans) hung out to laugh at everybody in the WEF itself. I was mostly a lurker on the WEF and V. [return]
  2. As viewed by others, anyhow. I remember a user called Lorna who would take so much hassle from Larry Young. He, Brian Wood, and Fraction formed a very hyper-masculine sect of the WEF. Which the V-Forum laughed at, but let’s not kid ourselves, we thought they were cool as well. [return]
  3. Of course, when your competition is the Newsarama forums of 2000, it’s a very low bar indeed. [return]