Do You Have a Vision for Women in Comics? Friends of Lulu Needs Help

Over the last three years, Friends of Lulu, the non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and increasing the visibility of women in comics, has been mentioned at this site in three contexts:

Friends of Lulu logo

1. Their Awards program, which is geared to “bring attention to the best, most women-friendly and reader- friendly work in comics and to recognize the work of women comics creators of the past” (which, given how many awards still ignore women, is needed). In 2007, they opened voting to the public, allowing everyone to have their say. The last Awards were given out in 2008.

2. The Empowerment Fund fiasco in early 2007 in which a loose cannon board member announced a money-raising effort that ended in refunds, didn’t accomplish its goals, and made everyone look bad. The situation led to me questioning the need for the group in February 2007 and starting a discussion on how to solve volunteer group problems.

3. The tax-exemption question, which blew up when current Friends of Lulu president Valerie D’Orazio (who took the role in October 2007 and has held it ever since) attacked me for asking a question about the organization. (To be fair, I’ve been tough on her before, so she felt we had history.)

Aside from the awards, the only time I heard anyone talking about the group was in connection to some problem. That brings us to today, where I read at Valerie’s personal blog (link no longer available) that she wants to move on and is seeking someone to take the organization over.

If by September 2010 nobody steps forward and shows interest in helping run this organization, I will start taking steps to officially dissolve it as a non-profit. Then I will donate the leftover money (if any) between the other major comics charities, return the donated artwork, and ship the historical records and sketchbooks to a University or MoCCA.

There’s a lot more to this decision, of course, and to the post, which touches on a lot of the problems one is challenged by as the public face of a well-meaning organization.

I find Valerie’s comment, “In this and other initiatives to update Friends of Lulu, I often felt as if I was fighting a constant uphill battle against portions of the organization/membership who did not want change” enlightening. That’s likely true, and I think it encapsulates the two big problems that prevent Friends of Lulu, in its original format, from being truly successful:

1. The women who created the organization in the early 90s were older, and several of them were from an era where activism was possible and had the potential to achieve results. In contrast, today’s younger female creators don’t see the problems FoL was created in response to (in part due to FoL’s actions) and thus don’t see much of a need for the group. These creators have more avenues available to them — webcomics, book publisher graphic novel contracts, online organization and support — and a formal group may seem old-fashioned.

2. In comics, there have never been many successful group actions. Raising the question of a creative union in the 60s got those involved thrown out of work. The only exceptions I can think of were single-creator-oriented and played into the traditional comic fan right/wrong, us/them dichotomies that fuels their thinking: Kirby vs. Marvel and Superman’s creators (lead by Neal Adams) vs. DC in 1978.

That leads to the single biggest problem Friends of Lulu has faced throughout its existence: What can and will they accomplish? They can’t protest or make negative statements, because that will get them attacked by those missing the point and potentially adversely affect their members. On the positive side, they’ve published several anthologies, but that’s an expensive way to achieve what a good website does. (One of Valerie’s main priorities, she mentions, was getting the FoL website updated and running, which was a major, necessary achievement.)

I hope someone with energy and optimism does step forward and take on this heavy mantle. I would like to see Friends of Lulu continue to exist, if only as a recognition-granting body (similar to something like the Inkwell Awards). Reducing the organization’s scope would require fewer people, less effort, and minimal budget.

Alternately, Valerie lists ideas from 2008 that sound wonderful: a magazine, getting back to establishing chapters for local mentoring, and so on. Unfortunately, all of this was put on hold due to the loss of the organization’s financial records, which required halting donations and memberships. And once something’s put on hold, it’s hard to get it running again.

She’s right that this should be a full-time job, not a volunteer situation, dependent on what time and energy someone can give it. But the mess she describes has to be cleaned up first. Are you the person to do it, as a potential new Board member? Or should Lulu as it is end, to be replaced by something else, such as a professional trade organization?

Update: Ok, after seeing how Heidi MacDonald and Laura Hudson both chose to title their articles on this subject, announcing that FoL would “end” or “shut down” in September, I no longer want to hear anything about my headline writing or my supposed agenda against the group. I took the positive tack, y’all. I’m glad to see Heidi and I both agree on the need to maintain the awards, though. And I still believe that there’s someone (or multiple someones) out there who will find this just the right opportunity.


13 Responses to “Do You Have a Vision for Women in Comics? Friends of Lulu Needs Help”

  1. Maddy Says:

    I don’t know much about Friends of Lulu, but I do agree that an organization focused on women in comics would be a good thing. I don’t believe it’s inherently an outdated concept, and I do think if it had a large online presence that invited participation somehow, it would draw in younger women too.

    What about Girl-Wonder.org? Perhaps it’s something different, but they host webcomics by women, review and recommend comics by and about women, they have a Female-Friendly Comic Book Store Map, and the Convention Anti-Harassment Project. And while some may debate its results, there’s no doubt that Project Girl Wonder made an impact.

    If Friends of Lulu continues, or if it doesn’t and something else replaces it, I think it should definitely be modelled in such a way that those running it can make it their full-time job. Unless a person doesn’t have to worry about money, that kind of unpaid work is a major drain and often not sustainable.

  2. Johanna Says:

    The problem is how they get from here — potential tax-exempt status problems, all the financial (and possibly legal) problems Valerie mentions, no memberships or donations taken in for two years — to there — full-time salaried staff of at least one. It requires rebuilding a lot of ground work and trust.

    Girl-Wonder.org is a very interesting comparison, yes, because they come across as more willing to pick a fight if necessary.

  3. ernie jones Says:

    Wow, great analysis on the old style vs. new style activism thing. I totally didn’t think of that but I believe that is the real issue here. The Girl-Wonder team don’t have the same concerns but yet can fight the same battles. They’re distributed enough that no one person has to mind the shop and take on major hardship. Maybe we can put this whole thing down to a paradigm shift?

  4. ernie jones Says:

    I wasn’t totally clear, I just realized. I mean they don’t have the same tax status concerns or other things like that, not that they aren’t concerned with the struggle for equality in comics.

  5. Johanna Says:

    It made sense to me. If we’re going to take something positive from all this, I think we need to look at what worked when and why and how and what needs to be transformed for new generations.

  6. ernie jones Says:

    i totally agree. i was half certain this thread was going to turn into personal attacks and recriminations. i think it’s important to take stock and move on. these are tumultuous times in so many ways and it’s important that we critique activism as much as we critique that which is being acted against.

  7. Hooper Triplett Says:

    I’ve been around a fair number of non-profits that closed their doors, and I don’t recall the president or CEO typically having the sole autonomy over the decision. Aren’t there Directors or Trustees per IRS regulations?

  8. Johanna Says:

    The Board of Directors all quit or drifted away, Valerie said in her piece. But then, I don’t think anything about this situation is typical.

  9. mercury Says:

    Valerie definitely knows how to spin a story. In my mind the headline reads, “Valerie D’Orazio Drives Board Away, Runs Lulu into the Ground”.

  10. Joshua Macy Says:

    At this point I suspect that if anybody has a compelling vision for Women in Comics, they’d probably be better off going their own way instead of trying to resuscitate FoL.

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