- Posted by Johanna on February 15, 2007 at 12:04 pm
- Category: Comic News
On the Comics Journal message board, Gary Groth (Fantagraphics co-owner) reveals that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has turned down their request for assistance. Fantagraphics has been sued by Harlan Ellison over their book The Comics Journal Library: The Writers.
Here’s Groth’s post (typos corrected):
The CBLDF will not help us. Their reason: What Ellison is suing over is not technically a comic.
In other words, even though it’s a book published by a comics publisher, the book itself is about comics, the book contains comics, and the book will be widely sold in comics specialty stories next to graphic novels — the CBLDF will not help us because what Ellison is suing over is prose.
If I had drawn myself in a succession of panels with word balloons in place with the same exact text, they would have defended us. Or so they have lead me to believe.
How this decision helps 1st Amendment rights within the comics industry is beyond me.
The thread continues with a discussion of the organization’s stated mission, other cases they’ve been involved in that widen the scope of their mission, and possible thoughts of a boycott. Groth announces that there will be a Fantagraphics defense fund, details to come. (via Journalista)
Tom Spurgeon has an email response from the CBLDF justifying their decision. Here’s an excerpt:
We were unable to offer monetary support for Fantagraphics’ case but did offer varieties of non-monetary support. Our board of directors determined that the case did not meet the threshold for us to offer monetary support, in accordance with our Bylaws. The Fund reserves its limited monetary resources for the defense of cases that impose an unjust restraint upon the First Amendment rights pertaining to content within the comics medium. Generally the Fund’s monetary resources are applied to criminal cases involving First Amendment issues directly pertaining to comics, and that have severe precedent bearing upon the sale or creation of works within the comics medium. In the rare instances where we have become monetarily involved in a civil case, those cases involved restraints upon the First Amendment rights relating to comics content and bore severe precedent implications on the Free Speech rights of others using the medium. The legal matters at issue in this case have more direct bearing upon journalistic prose than they do upon the comics medium that we are explicitly chartered to defend.
I have to say, I don’t find it compelling. Certainly, when a retailer faces criminal charges because of government prosecution, it’s a lot easier to rally the troops and gain widespread support. Here, Ellison isn’t easy to cast as a bogeyman (although I think what he’s doing is wrong, the relic of long-held bad blood on both sides), and he has friends in the industry, some of whom have been quite active for the CBLDF. Just at a guess, those relationships may not have been judged worth risking.
This is clearly a First Amendment case, however, and the argument that “it’s not REALLY comics” seems semantic at best. Thank goodness Fantagraphics is run by those stubborn enough to stand on and fight for principle regardless of cost. I look forward to hearing more about the defense fund; I think my usual CBLDF contribution may go there instead this year.
Update: Ellison has responded in his typical piss’n'vinegar way with insults, strawmen, and other signs of possible senility. I’m sorry, apparently it’s catching. Ahem.