My uncle drank himself to death.
Like a lot of alcoholics, it took him years to do so, and there were plenty of warning signs along the way. I remember one major stay at the hospital, which also involved ramifications from the constant stream of Marlboro Reds he smoked. The first thing he did when he was released from the hospital was to light up, so it should not have been surprising that he never got help for his drinking.
My family never discussed my uncle’s alcoholism until after he’d died. We’re Midwesterners, it’s how we do things.
Given my family’s history, it was hard to read this impressive piece of comics journal by Janelle Asselin at Graphic Policy and not notice a through-line other than the shocking stories of harassment and cover-ups.
One of Asselin’s unnamed sources goes so far as to state it directly: “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.”
Asselin herself mentions it (using the same terminology): “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.”
Asselin doesn’t mention any of those stories in detail; perhaps because talking about it beyond that single line would open a can of worms that would derail her very important main point. But I think the issue of Allie’s sobriety is worth discussing.
At this point it may seem like I’m about to defend both Allie and Dark Horse because Allie’s substance abuse problem, one which he said he’ll be getting help for. But I’m not. Allie is responsible for his actions, be they sober or drunk, and Dark Horse is responsible for protecting him. Yes, they have no obligation to divulge HR practices to the public, but exactly how far do things have to go until someone is fired? That’s a key component here. No one is saying that Dark Horse, in their own way, didn’t do something about the situation. What we’re saying is that they continued to put Allie in situations where his behavior would continue. That is a problem.
Dark Horse was an enabler. No, it is not the responsibility of a company to get their employees treatment for addiction, but that problem was clearly a driving force in what was happening. If they were attempting to prevent these episodes from happening and yet were unwilling to fire Allie, the most obvious solution was to get him the help he needed. It appears that never happened.
What’s worse, hiding the issue from the public actually allowed it to continue. There were no negative repercussions from his actions, at least none that were strong enough to stop him from repeating them. The millions of quotes involving having to hit rock bottom before you can pick yourself back up exist because it’s often true, and that was never going to happen for Allie, at least as far as his job was concerned. As far as we know, he was never sued. We know he never lost his job.
As is often the case with alcoholics, the damage isn’t limited to themselves; my uncle left behind an 11 year old daughter who had lost her mother just six months earlier. Dark Horse put Allie in positions where he could harass people. Why was he even at conventions after the first incident? Why wasn’t he in rehab, again, if need be?
I worked with a guy who took a medical leave of absence for six weeks. No one knew where he was or what was wrong with him. No one but me, that is. Because I had worked closely with him every day and I knew he came into work drunk. I knew he had a problem. This was three years ago. He’s been sober ever since and I still work next to him every day. No one tried to cover up his behavior. His job was waiting for him when he got back.
Allie is an adult and his actions are his own. But Dark Horse wasn’t just allowing him to hurt others, they were allowing him to continue hurting himself, and that speaks to a systemic failure.
I hope Allie gets the help he needs. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve wonder what might have happened had I said something to my uncle, something harsh and inspiring, something truthful that would have changed the course of his life. Maybe I wouldn’t be writing this.
I hope Allie’s alleged victims are able to heal and move on. I hope that Asselin’s piece starts a chain reaction of people speaking out, of names being named, of companies stepping forward and doing the right thing.
I hope that Dark Horse revisited their harassment policies, as it’s hard to imagine such behavior being acceptable at most businesses, let alone allowed to happen over and over again.
And I hope they revisit their substance abuse policies, too. Comics are art and artists don’t have the best track record when it comes to drugs and alcohol. There should be a system in place to get people the help they need rather than letting them destroy both themselves and others.
I saw my uncle every few months. The people at Dark Horse saw Allie five days a week.
We need to start helping each other.
It’s the only way we’re ever going to truly succeed.