Ellison Sues Fantagraphics

Someone get Ellison checked for senility, ok? His latest boo-boo (after groping Connie Willis during an award presentation) is suing Fantagraphics, Gary Groth, and Kim Thompson.

The full text of the complaint starts off with self-aggrandizing praise:

“[Ellison] is known publicly as the writer of some of the best loved original Star Trek and Outer Limits episodes. In addition to his lifelong devotion to literary craft, Ellison is a well-known fearless champion of artist’s rights who, at great cost to himself, has pursued several intellectual property and related matters through the Courts in an effort to elevate his profession and safeguard other artists.”

before descending into what appears to my untrained eye to be near-libel:

“Groth revealed himself to be a scheming pathological liar and little more than an obsessively vindictive and petty man trying to be a mover and shaker…. Fantagraphics is a tiny but hostile publishing outfit…”

What any of this has to do with the complaint I’m not sure. Based on my reading, Ellison alleges that the upcoming Fantagraphics history book Comics as Art: We Told You So defames him, and that Fantagraphics violated his “right of publicity” with The Comics Journal Library: The Writers (a collection of interviews of which his is one). Apparently, simply including Ellison’s name on the cover without his permission (along with all the others included) “wantonly trades” on it. (The description attached to his, “famous comics dilettante”, didn’t help; he calls it an insult and he’s probably right about that intention.)

If you’ve ever been curious about why and how Groth and Ellison had their famous falling-out, this complaint is a good way to hear one side of the story. During the lawsuit 20 years ago in which Michael Fleisher sued Ellison and the Journal, Ellison alleges that Groth lied to him, stole from him, and has been harassing him ever since. He complains that Groth “used money Ellison paid for legal services to fund a secret tropical vacation for himself and his partner Thompson.” (I think that has the potential to be a new catchphrase: “secret tropical vacation”.)

Additionally, Groth calling Ellison a “wheedler” is, according to Ellison, an attempt to strike at “the heart of Ellison’s professional reputation” relating to his efforts to champion artist’s rights. (I keep thinking that should be “artists’ “, but who am I to question a high-priced California lawyer?)

But wait, it gets better! Ellison has included in his lawsuit 20 unnamed “Does” who will be included once their true names are known. These 20 people are those who published these “false and defamatory Statements… to numerous third parties, including publishing and disseminating … through the Fantagraphics website on the worldwide internet.” It’s always that darn internet for Ellison!

Ellison wants general damages, punitive damages, prohibition of the Comics as Art book’s publication, destruction of existing copies, destruction of any remaining copies of The Comics Journal Library: The Writers, and attoney fees.

Strange that such a vehement defender of creative rights resembles so closely a censor, isn’t it?

24 Responses to “Ellison Sues Fantagraphics”

  1. david brothers Says:

    Has Ellison always had a rep of being a jerk? The only real knowledge of him I have (I am a bad nerd, I know) is from when he got into a kerfluffle with the guys from Penny Arcade. Pertinent link here.

  2. Johanna Says:

    He’s always been known as an iconoclast — whether or not you thought he was a jerk seemed to depend on whether or not you agreed with him when he was ranting.

  3. RogerF Says:

    I’ve always felt that John Byrne and Harlan Ellison were cut from the same cloth… Though talented, they are quick to anger and generally nasty when they are confronted with criticism or believe they have been wronged. I haven’t paid attention to anything either has done in years…

  4. Johanna Says:

    It’s not uncommon for some writers to act that way … it takes a good deal of ego and willingness to believe strongly in yourself to be one, after all, and sometimes those qualities go toxic.

  5. Joshua Macy Says:

    Actually, I don’t think there’s anything particularly strange about it. Defending creative rights pretty much requires censorship of one form or another, or there’s no recourse against someone violating those rights. Without knowing anything about the particular merits of the case, my general impression is that Ellison and Groth deserve eachother.

  6. Johanna Says:

    I don’t agree, Joshua. An artist could defend her creative rights, for instance, by suing a publisher for fair payment (as with the Tasini electronic republication case) without demanding that a product be kept from the market.

  7. Lyle Says:

    Since I became aware of Ellison, he’s always been highly opinionated with a distinct perspective. I’ve been more inclined to liken him to Warren Ellis in the past, but Ellison’s recent actions make me rethink that comparison since I still like Ellis.

    Tangent: Ellison did design on of the best graphic adventure games in adapting “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”.

  8. Joshua Macy Says:

    If all the artist could ever get from the publisher–no matter what the publisher has done with the artist’s work or to the artist’s reputation–is some form of payment, and only after winning a court battle, the artist has quite limited rights. For better or worse, our legal systems tend to award the artists much more than just the bare right to get paid something.

  9. Jim Says:

    He pretty much has to be self-aggrandizing to claim that his wonderful reputation has been besmirched. Of course, that doesn’t really require defaming the other party in the filing.

    I’d say the suit is him trying to bully people into settling, but he’s been so vocal about loving to sue people in the past that it seems a little unlikely.

  10. Alan Coil Says:

    Here is a link to an old article that tells a lot about the feud between Ellison and Groth. I thought it presented both sides of the situation, and it chides both of them for letting this go on. It is rather lengthy. When I read it, I copied it to Word so I could read it offline.

  11. Alan Coil Says:

    and don’t forget the ‘.txt’ at the end.

  12. Paul O'Brien Says:

    That writ does seem rather over the top even by American standards. (If I drafted something like that here in Scotland, I’d be laughed out of court.) My personal favourite line: “Recently, however, Groth has gone too far in his obsession and, EVEN THOUGH ELLISON HAS BETTER THINGS TO DO, he elects by this action finally to prosecute Groth’s defamation…” I’d love to know why somebody thought it was a good idea to include that line.

    Having said that, I’m confused by the second passage Ellison complains about. Groth appears to be alleging that Ellison was nearly arrested for non-payment of an award of judicial expenses. This sounds awfully unlikely to me. We abolished imprisonment for civil debts about a century ago. Does this sort of thing REALLY still happen in America? I suppose it’s possible, but my alarm bells are ringing.

  13. Dan Says:

    “We abolished imprisonment for civil debts about a century ago. Does this sort of thing REALLY still happen in America?”

    No, this type of thing really doesn’t happen in America. As someone who is a fan of both Ellison and Fantagraphics, (the work, not the behaviour) I’ve been following this whole Hatfields vs. McCoys thing between them since the beginning. It’s distracting and annoying, yet strangely entertaining, in a Jerry Springer sort of way. There’s a lot of exaggeration and fabrication on both sides of this whole thing.

    Here’s what strikes me as odd. It’s probably the wanna be spin doctor in me (ever since Wag The Dog) but, several points about this are bugging me.

    1. Ellison just publicly embarassed himself with an incident that got even his staunchest supporters to recognize that he was way out of line. While he has publicly apologized for it, and Ms. Willis has been waaaaay too gracious about it, the damage to his percieved reputation has been done.

    2. Ellison knows that his ongoing feud with Groth and Fantagraphics is fairly sensational, even though it’s been pretty much a cold war for a while, everybody just loves to write about it. If he ramps it up a notch by filing a very public lawsuit, he might just distract everybody long enough that they forget the whole Connie Willis incident.

    3. Maybe I’m just being paranoid here, but you have to wonder about the timing. After all, Fantagraphics published “The Book on the Edge of Forever” by Christopher Priest, which is far more defamatory towards Ellison’s work ethic and reputation than anything I’ve seen from “Comics As Art”. He never bothered with legal action there.

    4. Of course, this tactic didn’t work for President Clinton, but you never know.

  14. Jim Kosmicki Says:

    The missing link could well be that Fantagraphics, for probably the first time in its publishing history, actually has cash — their Peanuts reprints (and possibly the Dennis the Menace) are a hit. Fantagraphics has always been a shoestring outfit — there was no money to get from them. Now that there at least appears to be money, Ellison is bringing back his defamation claims in a new suit.

    add this to the “no, look over here” nature of trying to distract fandom from the Willis incident, plus his notorious hair-trigger temper and grudge-bearing nature, and while it may be simplistic, it’s the explanation that makes the most sense to me.

    Having said that, I’d have to go back to my old TCJ copies, but when Ellison grants interviews, etc., there’s usually a claim that the interview is copyright and/or run with permission of Ellison’s corporation. If there is such a claim on that original interview, and Fantagraphics didn’t get his permission to reprint, there’s a legitimate claim here. Given the history and Ellison’s known litigious nature, I can’t imagine Fantagraphics would make that mistake. But then again, Groth has held on to this grudge just as long and just as viciously.

  15. Augie De Blieck Jr. Says:

    I think that complaint is the best writing I’ve ever seen Ellison do. It’s a crazy lawsuit — from my IANAL POV — but it’s well worth the time to read it for sheer entertainment.

  16. Ray Cornwall Says:

    I wrote a small article on the lawsuit. Part of the lawsuit involves the charge that Fanta “gratuitously insulted” Ellison by calling him a “Famous Comics Dilettante”. Since when is that an insult?


  17. Kelson Says:

    Here’s my take on the difference between Ellison and Ellis:

    Ellis would shout at the gol-durn kids to get off his lawn, chase them off if necessary, then blog about it.

    Ellison would not only chase them off, he’d pursue them until he reached the city limits, then file for a restraining order to prevent them from coming within two blocks of his lawn ever again. He would then periodically bring up the restraining order at conventions for the next 10 years.

  18. Paul O'Brien Says:

    “I think that complaint is the best writing I’ve ever seen Ellison do.”

    In fairness to Ellison, I’d assume it was written by his lawyer, who’s named on the first page.

  19. Captain Spaulding Says:

    Groth appears to be alleging that Ellison was nearly arrested for non-payment of an award of judicial expenses. This sounds awfully unlikely to me. We abolished imprisonment for civil debts about a century ago. Does this sort of thing REALLY still happen in America? I suppose it’s possible, but my alarm bells are ringing.

    I am not a lawyer but if the court orders you to pay something and you refuse to pay, you can be arrested for contempt of court. If you can’t afford to pay, that’s a defense but that wasn’t the issue (according to Groth, obviously).

  20. Johanna Says:

    The book page available here says that Ellison was about to be arrested for “failing to obey a court order”, so yeah, that was the issue.

  21. Mike Chary Says:

    The only people who go to jail for not paying money in the US are people who owe child support.

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