Friends of Lulu Future Uncertain as President Resigns Publicly
Following up on yesterday’s news that voting was open for the Friends of Lulu Awards, the current organization President, Valerie D’Orazio, has announced on her blog (link no longer available) that she’s leaving the group at the end of the year.
This is not much of a surprise — her fatigue has been obvious since the end of July, when she first began talking publicly about her tenure as the group’s leader over the past three years and the problems the group has struggled with. (They include, from my perspective, disappearing for much of that time, closing memberships, unprofessional behavior addressing the press, and of course, the tax problems with the government I’ve reported on.) Her attempts to direct people instead to her own comic promotional organization, titled Comics Are For Everyone, are similarly unsurprising, given that she was running official Friends of Lulu postings there for a while. (A tactic I found tasteless — if you have an official site for the group that hasn’t been updated since November 2009, you should run material there, not on your personal blog or on a site where you hope to draw more attention and hits.)
Her new group will also be running awards, which was the Friends of Lulu element most people wanted to retain. The only statement about the future of FoL was this:
I urge those [former members] to take up the cause of Friends of Lulu and restore it to whatever version of it was working for them. I am happy to assist those persons in the transition, and they will be personally contacted by me and given a chance to take up the cause before I leave.
Strangely, no mention was made of the new Board members that volunteered to assist her get the group righted. I have emailed one of them some questions about who will be taking over as President, whether they’ll be holding elections, how they plan to address the loss of their tax-exempt status, and the group’s goals for the future. I will report back if/when I receive a response.
Now for the personal commentary: Managing volunteers for a well-meaning group like Friends of Lulu is always difficult. It takes a lot of time and energy, and many who are willing to make those commitments understandably want to feel they’re being rewarded sufficiently. That reward may come in different forms for different people: attention, networking, or simply the feeling that you’re doing the right thing or working for an important cause. However, the risk is that people (and I’m not talking here about the current situation, but things I’d observed back in the 90s, when I was an active member of the organization) may put their own needs above those of the group, perhaps using the connections they make or the name of the group for their own attempted self-advancement. It takes a firm leadership to prevent such things and keep the group focused, and so long as the position is uncompensated, that leadership isn’t insulated from the same risk.
I think Friends of Lulu still has a role to play in advancing the cause of women in comics. Perhaps, if the group survives, it will achieve new clarity and strength in promoting those goals (and not be so hamstrung, as earlier incarnations were, by not wanting to tick off those companies and people who deserve to be called out). However, I’m not optimistic. The group’s ability to agitate for change has been diminished through this last leader’s tenure and the corresponding loss of visibility, and simply recouping the lost ground, let alone forging a new future, may be too much for a loose volunteer coalition. It depends on finding the right leadership, and so the first thing (I think) is for the group to clarify that question going forward.