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:
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.