We all know at this point that there is a pervasive sexual harassment problem in comics. This isn’t just about one or two people who behave badly, but about an industry-wide problem where harassers and abusers are protected by their employers — the very institutions that are supposed to operate within human resource rules and harassment policies. Dark Horse Comics has allegedly harbored a boundary-crossing, biting problem for 20 years — a problem named Scott Allie. And at San Diego Comic-Con this year, Allie apparently managed to assault a comics creator who is not willing to remain silent.
Allie, who was the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Horse Comics until September 11th, assaulted two people at a party during the convention. We’ll get to the SDCC incident in a moment, but before that, we should discuss the fact that Allie’s behavior there is not a one-time thing. Certainly there are people who make mistakes while drunk and do not deserve to be penalized for a momentary—and singular—lapse in judgment. Allie, however, has allegedly made such a habit of this behavior that there have been jokes about it internally at Dark Horse for years, although no whisper of it traveled much further than that. He was particularly known for two things: out of control behavior while drunk and biting.
The biggest reasons why Allie’s behavior didn’t travel further are pretty complicated. In the comics industry, there’s a very us-against-them attitude amongst many of the publishers. When you’re part of the team, you are expected to put that team first – even to the point of ignoring bad behavior. If you stop ignoring that behavior and make the mistake of speaking up, well, you’re not part of the team anymore. You’re a problem. You might remain on staff, but you’ll be frozen out while the person you reported continues on their merry way, eventually making the environment completely unbearable for you and for others. This sends the message over and over again that people who are one of the gang, no matter how badly they behave, are valued above people who refuse to ignore harassment and assault.
This excluding of people—particularly women—who speak up about harassment or assault doesn’t stop at actual staff members. Freelancers who speak up also run the risk of being shunned. And it doesn’t end at with the company who employs the problematic person, because other publishers, retailers, journalists, readers, etc. may turn against you. It’s hard to know who you can trust and who will think you have broken an unspoken code in comics. There is a culture of fear in comics where speaking up is the unpardonable sin – but harassing and assaulting people is ignored. That’s why I’m so very impressed by the bravery of comics writer Joe Harris, who has chosen to speak out about what he experienced at the hands of Scott Allie.
During the BOOM! Studios SDCC party at the Hilton on Thursday, July 9th, Allie became extremely intoxicated. A few anonymous sources reported that he licked at least one person and wept openly at someone. The worst of it came when he was face to face with Harris. Harris said:
After the convention let out on Thursday night, July 9th, I went to dinner in town before returning to the Hilton Bayfront hotel where I was staying for the show. There had been a party in the hotel bar that was pretty well attended by a lot of comics professionals, company folks and other people. Upon walking in, I noticed Scott Allie at the bar and thought to go say hi. I walked up to him and I extended my hand expecting to shake his… when, instead, he reached down and grabbed my crotch. Just went for it and squeezed. I was stunned, I guess? Not what I was expecting, obviously. Not what’s ever happened to me at this or any other convention over many years. So I try to back away a little, still shocked, when he leans in and bites my right ear. Just really floored by what was going on—I’ve never had any interaction with him like this before whatsoever—I froze there for a second, when he says to me, drunkenly, “You’re doing a great job on your books…” before stumbling away.
A witness who spoke anonymously corroborated Harris’ story and had witnessed the incident. I personally saw Harris and Allie at the bar that evening, and although I did not witness the incident, I can verify both were in the Hilton bar and Allie seemed quite drunk. Other witnesses also corroborated that Allie was indeed very intoxicated. One source (who spoke to us on condition of anonymity) witnessed Allie also licking former Dark Horse employee Tim Wiesch. Wiesch tweeted around 2am on July 10th (so the same evening as the BOOM! party) “Hey! Maybe you just shouldn’t lick someone’s face at comic con. Just saying.” Wiesch declined to comment when we reached out to him.
This isn’t the first time that Allie has behaved in this way, although many sources we contacted were unwilling to speak on the record about the full extent of what has occurred in the past. A former Dark Horse employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity told us:
…his misbehavior goes back decades. This is a pattern of behavior. For a long time he was called Bitey the Clown because he would get black out drunk and bite people. He’s punched coworkers. He’s been inappropriate. He stopped drinking in recent years because he realized he was an alcoholic. He has started drinking again and his behavior has become more and more erratic. Most recent conventions have a drunk Scott Allie story attached to them.
Dark Horse even seemingly ran a joke about the biting on their website in 2006, leading an interview with this line: “’Daring.’ ‘Visionary.’ ‘Nervous.’ ‘Watch out, he bites.’ These are just a few of the terms that have been used to describe Scott Allie, the editor of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Serenity, Conan, oh heck, you get the idea.”
Multiple current Dark Horse employees, who also spoke to us on condition of anonymity in a shared statement, alleged a pattern not only of Allie’s behavior, but of Dark Horse’s refusal to act:
Scott’s conduct at conventions and in other professional settings is widely known within Dark Horse, and many have witnessed it directly. Several staff members have gone through internal channels to stem the behavior and have been met with assurances that the problem is being properly investigated and taken care of, but no further action has been spoken of, and greater emphasis is routinely placed on the need for employees’ silence. The lack of visible reprimand leads us to fear Scott will continue to hurt people.
A former Dark Horse employee who also spoke on condition of anonymity went into even more detail about Allie’s behavior:
In general Scott’s behavior can be unpredictable and drinking certainly exacerbates that aspect of working with him. Working at a convention can really heighten your emotional connection with coworkers, and adding drinking after hours to that equation complicates things. In my time working with Scott, I saw this range from him being friendly and sometimes over-friendly with coworkers (including with me), and that could go as far as groping and even biting. I can’t say to what degree this was okay or not with the various people it happened with, but it seemed best to just go along with it, since it usually felt like he was just trying to be friendly and blow off a little steam. Often Scott’s demeanor with coworkers (and even to creators and other people who engage him on the floor at a con) can be harsh or even rude, so when he seemed to be in a good mood and having a good time hanging out at a convention, it was tempting to want to take that at face value. However, when he drinks to excess, everyone hanging out and having a good time can turn pretty quickly into something more uncomfortable. Sometimes he would become aggressive—mostly verbally—and say terrible things about people (artists, especially, or other coworkers) who he thought had wronged him or Dark Horse at some point, threatening to ruin their careers or something to that effect. Other times he would become flirtatious and put his hands on women’s legs. After a while I did my best to avoid being in situations where Scott was out late and drinking, because it always seemed like everything could turn weird in a matter of minutes.
These sources’ statements are just a small drop in the bucket to what I ultimately heard when we started contacting folks about Allie. There are a lot of reasons why we cannot share the full scope of what we were told, not the least of which is the concerns of victims. And while Allie’s drinking was definitely a through-line in many of the stories, there were also stories about Allie acting inappropriately while sober.
Like so many others, Allie has made a career with a company that ignores his behavior because he’s one of the team. Turning a blind eye happens more than people think, and as long as bosses aren’t confronted with the behavior by employees, they may not feel compelled to do anything. Legally, they can pretend they didn’t know. In fact, some bosses may laugh it off as unimportant. Meanwhile, employees who are treated poorly by a coworker and see their bosses doing nothing will often prefer to leave rather than try to repair what’s gone wrong.
While Dark Horse announced Allie’s new title is “Executive Senior Editor,” there’s no indication that this is in response to the assaults or Allie’s ongoing behavior. There have been multiple employee departures from Dark Horse since San Diego, including editors Brendan Wright, Jim Gibbons, and Everett Patterson. While Dark Horse’s new Editor-in-Chief Dave Marshall is apparently well-respected and well-liked, it cannot be good for employee morale to continue working with Allie and know that even assaulting a comics creator and a former employee won’t get you more than a slap on the wrist. When Dark Horse was asked about the situation, they responded:
Dark Horse is committed to ensuring and maintaining a positive, safe, and respectful environment for its employees, creators, and fans and we expect all who represent our company to behave in a professional manner. Disciplinary actions are handled internally at the company and we do not comment on them publicly.
It’s hard to know what exactly was done internally to address the concerns of Harris and the Dark Horse employees we spoke with. Legally, a company’s human resource department is required to take specific action to address complaints of this sort, although the exact rules may vary by state. We spoke with Casey Gilly, who in addition to working as a comics journalist is also an HR professional, about the situation (without identifying details) and what her course of action would be:
Let’s say John Doe gropes a freelancer at a conference. Let’s also say, for sake of argument, that John Doe is a salaried, exempt manager, meaning that he’s always pretty much “on the clock.”
John is responsible for upholding company policies and standards at any work event. And if he groped a customer at a conference, depending on his history, I would likely recommend a final written warning or termination.
A freelancer is still for all purposes an employee.
Their status wouldn’t change the severity of the act. Employers are required to remedy ANY instances of validated harassment, discrimination, etc. and it would be very difficult to call anything less than those actions a remedy.
Gilly also explained that freelancers who are sexually harassed by a staff member of a company should reach out to the company’s HR department, preferably in writing. While HR will still be obligated to investigate, however, they may not be able to explain to the victim what course of action they took. Thus, depending on how Dark Horse’s HR department handled the situation, they are not obligated to explain to Harris what action they took, if any. However, if Harris decided to sue Allie and Dark Horse, the company would need to prove they investigated thoroughly and took some sort of action.
One area in which it could be argued Dark Horse has been negligent is in this text regarding Oregon’s recommendation for how to prevent sexual harassment:
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Guidelines recommend that employers discuss sexual harassment with employees and express strong disapproval. The employer should develop appropriate sanctions, inform employees of the right to raise complaints and how to raise them, and develop methods to sensitize all concerned.
The employer should emphasize the importance of its sexual harassment policy through communication and training. Training for staff is essential. Employers should have departmental or unit meetings to explain policies and grievance procedures, so that all employees understand what is prohibited conduct and how to complain about it.
Joking about “Bitey the Clown” internally, however, does not seem to follow these guidelines. A company culture where someone’s ongoing misbehavior and sexual harassment habits becomes a joke is not one where employers have made the seriousness of harassment obvious, despite their statement.
While Marvel and DC have been pointed to for years and years as the center of many of the problems in comics, it should be obvious after this story that comics’ problems with sexual harassment go far deeper than just the Big Two. In fact, smaller companies like Dark Horse are often difficult in these situations because they are still owned by one or two people and not held to larger corporate standards. Mike Richardson, the founder and head of Dark Horse to this day, may not feel the weight of corporate responsibility the way that higher ups at, say, Disney might, not to mention the fact that the more embedded in comics culture someone is, the more this behavior might just seem normal. After all, it doesn’t seem surprising to anyone anymore that sexual harassment is a way of life in comics. It’s only surprising that there aren’t more names on the list everyone whispers to one another, and that those names don’t go back through the entirety of comics.
The truth is that Allie is a symptom of the problems in our industry. He is not alone in his inappropriate behavior nor is Dark Horse alone in being a publisher that opts to turn a blind eye towards problematic behavior by its employees. If Allie had made a one-time mistake this year at SDCC, it would be easy to feel bad for him. Routine behavior like this, however, is not acceptable. It exists in our industry because for too long we’ve treated these harassers and boundary-crossers as missing stairs — warning other people in whispers. If there’s only one lesson that comics pros learn from this situation, hopefully it is that our industry cannot continue to ignore it when people act this way.
We cannot continue this way and pretend that we are a community. We’re not a community, not like this. We’re a cult that’s been told being in line is better than being treated like people, and so we sit silently and wait for someone else to be the one to step forward. Dozens, maybe hundreds of comics professionals sit silent in comics and whisper the names of harassers behind our hands. Dozens more sit frozen out of something even more sinister — PTSD from assault, fear of someone who has harassed them, or fear of losing a job. We’re telling those people that they don’t matter — that their stories should remain in whispers — because it’s easier than confronting the massive problems in how so many companies in comics operate. That needs to end, right now. Scott Allie assaulted more than one person this year, and it wasn’t even his first time doing so. Yet it seems that he and Dark Horse are going to continue on as if nothing happened. Allie doesn’t get a blind eye anymore, and neither does the rest of the comics community.
Update: Dark Horse Founder Mike Richardson issued an extended statement which can be read below:
I applaud Ms. Asselin’s Intentions in dealing with sexual harassment in the comics industry.
I also want to make one thing very clear: Dark Horse as a company, and myself as an individual, take the kinds of inexcusable incidents reported by Ms. Asselin very seriously—doubly so when it involves one of our employees. In cases such as these, we have been proactive in our response, with a variety of professional services involved, all with the goal of changing behavior. Additionally, a number of internal responses are acted upon, including termination if such behavior continues. Under no circumstance is any individual “harbored.” In this particular case, action was taken immediately, though we did not, and cannot, perform a public flogging, as some might wish.
Secondly, there is no “us-against-them” attitude here. I have an open door policy and every employee, no matter where she/he sits in the company, is invited to come in to my office with any complaint or observation, at any time. I restate this policy constantly. I won’t go into the assumptions made here that are just untrue, because my intent is not to undermine the purpose of her piece, but no one here has ever turned a “blind eye” to these behaviors, not in this case, not in any case. With regard to sexual harassment, it is simply not tolerated. Dark Horse agrees 100% with the EEOC Guidelines.
Ms. Asselin turns her eye toward me. I have never met or talked with Ms. Asselin. If she knew me, she would learn that I am extremely sensitive on this subject, being the father of three daughters and having experienced first hand the effects of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. I have fought against that harassment, not just in a social environment, but also within our own publishing schedule. I have also fought for gender equality in our school system and championed social and racial diversity both in and out of Dark Horse, activities I am still involved with. Her assumption that my longevity somehow “embeds” within me an attitude of inappropriate permissiveness is not only wrong, it is insulting.
I agree that harassment of any kind, routine or not, is unacceptable. It always has been. We at Dark Horse will renew our efforts to make sure that our company is never again mentioned with regard to this type of occurrence. As quoted in the article, our goal has always been to provide a positive, safe, and respectful environment for its employees, creators, and fans.
– Mike Richardson
Update: Scott Allie has also issued a statement.
I’m deeply sorry about my behavior at San Diego Comic Con 2015 and I apologize to everyone I’ve hurt. I’m completely embarrassed by my actions and how my behavior reflects on Dark Horse Comics, my friends and family. My personal approach and decisions for managing stress were bad. Dark Horse and I have taken the matter very seriously and since this incident, we have taken steps to correct and to avoid any behavior like this in the future. Although apologies can’t undo what has happened, I’ve tried to apologize to everyone impacted by my behavior. To my family, friends, co-workers, and to the industry — please know that I am truly, truly sorry.