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powers for good

It would be easy – altogether far too easy – not to post this. The events I’m talking about are a week old and, with the world on fire, a week may as well be a thousand years in internet time. But not posting something like this is what helps it to keep happening, so here it is…

For longer than I’ve been a published writer, Mike Mignola has been the biggest influence there was on my work. His own work on Hellboy changed the way I thought about horror, folklore, weird fiction, and what I could accomplish with all of the above. If it weren’t for Mignola, I would have a very different career, to say the least.

What’s more, over the years, I was lucky enough to get to know him a little, and we became, if not friends, then at least friendly. He commented on my Facebook, we chatted at conventions and sometimes talked via Messenger. He has always been nice to me, and has always seemed like a genuinely decent person.

All of which makes what is going on right now so much more difficult. Last week, Shawna Gore came forward with a brave testimony about Scott Allie’s mistreatment, harassment, and sexual assault of her while they were both editors at Dark Horse.

For those who don’t follow the Mignolaverse doings as closely as I do, Scott Allie was Mike’s editor on pretty much everything he did for nearly a quarter of a century, and continued to work on Mignolaverse titles after he was no longer acting as an editor at Dark Horse.

Everyone, including Mike, immediately did the thing you do when something like this happens, which is, unfortunately, all too frequent nowadays: They posted that they believed Shawna, that they had no idea how bad things were, that they were severing all ties with Allie going forward, the whole nine yards.

You can read Mike’s post about the matter on his website at the moment, and the official response from Dark Horse on their Twitter. As almost always happens when this happens, though, Shawna’s testimony wasn’t the end of the story. Instead, it opened the floodgates.

That’s the thing about these situations. There are always floodgates. The hand-wringers and the whatabouters will fret endlessly about a false accusation (which are vanishingly rare anyway) destroying the career of a “good man.” But when these things come to light, it almost always exposes, not a single instance of poor judgement or misconduct, but a known pattern of behavior stretching back years.

John Arcudi and Guy Davis both came forward, publicly stating that Mike and Dark Horse knew about Allie’s behavior and chose to do nothing. Those aren’t just random names. They’re both folks who had worked closely with Mike and, by extension, Allie for years. Guy Davis even says that he quit comics over it, and his timeline certainly adds up.

What’s more, this isn’t the first time that Allie has gotten into trouble about this. Back in 2015, he sexually assaulted comic writer Joe Harris – who readers of this site may know as the guy who wrote the 2003 movie Darkness Falls – while drunk at a convention.

When that story broke, Allie’s history of misbehavior and harassment burst out of the whisper network and became public knowledge. Allie blamed alcoholism and went into rehab, or so the story goes, and everyone seems to have been all-too-willing to accept that explanation, and assume that Allie had done enough to make amends. Until, of course, it all came out again.

When confronted with these things, Mike has unfortunately either remained silent thus far or dug down behind his website statement. There are people saying that Mike absolutely knew more than he’s letting on, and other people saying that he was intentionally kept from the truth by Allie and others. For every person saying, “you knew, I told you,” there is someone else saying, “I kept it from you because you and he were friends.”

Even if we believe – as I am inclined to do, because of my own biases and blind spots – that Mike didn’t realize the extent of the problem because he couldn’t see it due to his biases and blind spots, as he claims in his website statement, we are still faced with a serious problem.

This sort of situation is exactly what allows these crimes to continue year after year, claiming victim after victim. The good ol’ boy network that makes it too easy to turn a blind eye when the rumors are about someone with whom you are on friendly terms, or who has always treated you well. It’s a set of biases and blind spots that we all have to work harder to interrogate and avoid.

I’ve also seen a number of people who worked with Allie saying that he was – as so many predators and abusers are – good at hiding and manipulating. “And he was so, SO good at using us against each other. And at cultivating relationships he could use as shields,” Jay Edidin posted on Twitter. “If you worked with him and didn’t see this: that’s not your fault.”

Creator Michael Avon Oeming shared a lengthy thread about being manipulated and lied to by Allie, about his regret over not realizing how bad things were sooner. Colorist Dave Stewart – who is nearly as synonymous with the Hellboy books as Mike himself – posted that he had to “dig around” to learn about Allie’s transgressions.

So, maybe Mike genuinely didn’t have any idea. I want to believe that he didn’t, so badly. But even if that’s true, we’re still left with this: cutting ties with Allie now just isn’t enough.

“Comics need to do better,” Mike writes in his website statement. “We all need to be more accountable.” That starts here and now, not the next time.

As one of the most successful independent creators in the business, Mike had – and still has – the power and position to help make a real difference in this toxic culture of enabling predation that exists throughout comics. He chose not to act earlier. He needs to take drastic action to help now.

What’s more, however culpable Mike may or may not have been, Dark Horse is much more so. If Mike probably knew – or turned a blind eye without knowing what he was turning it to – then Dark Horse had to know, and willingly covered for Allie, continuing to employ him for years after his behavior was already public knowledge in 2015.

As part of their public statement, Dark Horse said that they were going to have a “zero tolerance” policy going forward, to which someone on Twitter immediately pointed out the name of another known harasser who works for them and said, “So they’re fired now, right?”

Here’s the thing about adopting a “zero tolerance” policy: it implies that you previously had a “tolerance” policy, which, in this instance, was obviously the case. A zero tolerance policy, like firing Scott Allie and not working with him again, is the bare minimum here. Both Dark Horse and Mike need to do more than the minimum.

We want to believe the very best about those companies and people who create the stuff that we love, the stuff that means the most to us. But we need to base those beliefs on who they actually are and what they actually do, not any affection we have for them. They need to be worthy of our admiration.

The last line of Mike’s website statement says, “As a creator I need to do better, I need to set a better example, both in the stories I tell and the people I choose to tell them with.” He’s right. Let’s hope that starts now.

I recently got super into 5e D&D. Because, if I’m going to get really into a socially-focused role playing game, I’m going to pick the middle of a pandemic, when I can’t be around other people, to do it. (And no, I haven’t yet tried Roll20 or its ilk, though I’m sure it’s on the horizon at this point.)

I have played, to some greater or lesser extent, every version of D&D since at least 2nd edition, but that doesn’t mean I liked most of them. I think 3.5 is probably the one I played the most, and I hated it, which is why I never got into Pathfinder, in spite of all the fun art by Wayne Reynolds that graces their covers, which have always had the energy that I feel like a D&D encounter needs.

(Please note, I don’t mean to diss 3.5 or Pathfinder. I know a lot of people love them. 3.5 was just very much not my particular cup of tea.)

In some ways, I picked a good time. I’m here just in time for Wizards of the Coast (the folks who make D&D) to finally catch up with how I (and every other GM I’ve ever played with) have always run games since forever, by getting rid of “evil” races, among other changes.

Here’s the thing that plenty of people who have thought and read and written way more about this topic than me have already talked about at great length: D&D has some problems that are baked into it from its very core.

Those of us who play the game and aren’t horrid bigots tend to ignore them or create homebrew workarounds or just not play the game that way, but the core ideas of D&D are based in colonialism and the “othering” of different peoples, and it’s hard to unring that bell. But it’s good that they’re trying.

Something I’ve seen Pathfinder doing in recent editions is to refer to player character options as “ancestries” rather than “races,” which I like. The word “race” is so fraught, and it’s so easy for things to fall into gross stereotypes in games like this anyway, that the way “race” has been deployed in D&D to, say, give bonuses or penalties to certain traits like Intelligence, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And that’s not even getting into the idea of having whole races that are “evil.”

Word is that D&D is looking to make some changes to how they do ability score increases at character creation, which is probably not the worst idea. But it’s really a band-aid on the bigger problem of how ideas of “race” are often used in this kind of fantasy world-building, and have been since Tolkien, at least.

I’m not predominantly a fantasy writer, and though I’ve worked in tabletop gaming a bit, I’m far from an expert in the field. As I said before, lots of people much smarter than me have written extensively about this, and I recommend that you go read some of them, if you’re interested.

None of this is meant to denigrate D&D, a game that I’ve been trying to love for most of my life, and finally managed with 5e, its best incarnation yet. The way I ultimately got into 5e is actually kind of a funny story…

I was approached about doing some work for a possible product that would use 5e’s system (via the Open Gaming License), but I had, at that time, basically never played 5e. So I started doing some research, and found that I really enjoyed the new system.

(Whether that side project will ever come to pass or not it’s too early days to tell, and COVID-19 has disrupted, y’know, everything.)

As I was digging into the system and setting, the protests around the murder of George Floyd were happening all over the country, and so it felt like high time that the makers of D&D finally stepped up to try to address some of the colonialism and baked-in racism of the game.

None of this is really going anywhere. I’m just writing to say that, hey, I finally found a version of D&D I like, and that I’m glad to see probably the world’s biggest tabletop gaming platform at least trying to address some problems that have needed addressing for a long time now.

I’ve said it before and elsewhere, but mine is not the voice that you should be listening to right now. Seek out black voices, and the voices of those directly affected by police brutality. Seek out those who have studied the problem and its solutions.

If you want to know why I’ve been quiet of late, both here and on social media, that’s why, at least in part. With all that’s going on in the world, I needed space to let it be going on, and I didn’t feel the need to add my own noise to the signal.

There’s a different between being quiet and being silent, however, and in case it needs to be said: Black lives matter. I stand with protests and protesters. “Strip all oppressors of the weapons of war and hold them accountable for their brutality.”

The police, as they currently exist, are clearly not there to “protect and serve,” and they are far from the whole of the problem. Our entire “criminal justice” system is rotten. Its foundations are rotten. And until it is stripped down to those rotten foundations, and they are torn up, we will never have true peace.

As a friend said on Facebook, “Eat the rich, burn down the oppressive, racist system we have, and build something new and beautiful from the ashes.” A better world is possible. The protests are showing us that.

The police, as they currently exist, need to be replaced with things that actually protect and serve the public – all of the public. Social services that can give people the help they need and address the injustices and inequities that result in crime. And that is just the beginning.

Change like this takes time, but it’s also been a long time coming. I’m looking forward to it. If you’re not, well, in the words of Games Workshop’s “Warhammer is for everyone” message, “you will not be missed.”