What Went Wrong With Friends of Lulu? A Postmortem Interview
Once I was told that Friends of Lulu was dead, I was curious to know more about what happened. Kynn Bartlett, one of the interim Board of Directors members who attempted to resuscitate the group after the then-president’s abrupt public departure, agreed to answer my questions. I want to get this published, not to dance on the group’s grave or wallow in a very sad turn of events, but to capture publicly what happened for historical and educational purpose.
Q: So what happened, Kynn?
Last year, Valerie D’Orazio (now Gallaher) announced Friends of Lulu would close down. Several of us who cared about the organization’s continuing existence were alarmed and volunteered to try to help save it. We became the “interim board”: Gemma Adel, David Doub, Richard Caldwell, and me.
Then Valerie stopped working on Friends of Lulu earlier than we expected, bailed from a convention that she was supposed to attend as a Friends of Lulu representative, and announced her new project about inclusion in comics.
Q: Are there any plans to continue Friends of Lulu as an organization?
I don’t have any, and nobody on the interim board has any. We’ve discussed it, and we don’t know how we could even continue if we wanted to, or why that would be a good thing to do.
Q: What will happen to the group’s records? Where are they now?
I have no idea where the group’s records are. The interim board never got access to those, nor to the Friends of Lulu website, nor to the finances. You’d have to ask Valerie D’Orazio, I suppose. She was president when everything went missing and when the organization failed to maintain our non-profit status with the IRS.
I have a stack of books that were part of the Friends of Lulu convention table kit. No banners though. I have no idea what happened to the originals of the books Friends of Lulu published over the years, nor how we could have republished any of them in the future if we were so inclined. I also have a box of lucite awards for last year’s Friends of Lulu awards that were ordered with the wrong year on them.
Q: What do you think could have been done differently?
I don’t know.
By the time any of us on the interim board had volunteered to help, the organization was in shambles. I’ve been a member of Friends of Lulu for a very long time myself, and I’ve seen transitions from one president to another, from one board to another — from a member’s perspective, of course. The organization, like any non-profit, was designed to be self-perpetuating, but also assumed that things would be handed off and there would be a tidy succession process. Somewhere along the way, that went wrong.
Q: Is there still a need for a “women in comics” organization?
There is definitely a need to focus on women in comics. Just look at how few of the creators on the upcoming DC line-wide reboot are female.
The good thing is that there are many new and exciting projects underway to increase the visibility and participation of women and girls in comics as readers and as creators. There are numerous websites and tumblr feeds which say that comics are for girls, too. The first Geek Girl Con will be held this fall in Seattle.
The women comics creators and fans who founded Friends of Lulu in 1994 were pioneers in raising awareness, and today’s increased involvement of women in comics at all levels is a result of their hard work. Sadly, there is still more to be done, and regrettably the Friends of Lulu organization will not be there to help do it. But the spirit of Friends of Lulu will never die!
Johanna again — given history, I will not be able to follow up with Valerie Gallaher to ask about the status of the records, but since I think they need to go to an appropriate archival venue, I will be happy to help fund that transfer if someone else can reach out for the arrangements.
Friends of Lulu is a volunteer organization that was plagued with scandal and bad vibes way before Valerie D’Orazio took over. The Taki Soma fund is just one example, of the bad will the organization generated under other leadership. This ‘article’ really doesn’t convey the full picture. It was a shambles when she got there. There was never a ‘tidy succession process.’ There wasn’t when Tasha Lowe was president.
That said, the position is not a staff job – nobody gets paid to file the taxes, run the conventions, collect money or what have you.
As I understand it, Valerie ran the organization well for the first year with the help of Heidi MacDonald, Marion Vitus, and Nicole Boose. I attended the Lulu Awards the first year she was president and outside of the lack of AC, the event was fantastic.
I was on the mailing list when Valerie stepped down — you’d think one of the other board members would step up to the plate. Charles Boatner, Trina Robbins, or whomever.
Laura, I can only speak to what happened after I and the others volunteered to help. And that’s what I did.
It will be up to someone else to write the definitive history of Friends of Lulu in the future. I’m just a bit player in the drama.
For those following at home, Val responded here:
I’ll have my own thoughts over the weekend perhaps.
There have been talks this year among the interim board members, hoping to find a way to keep the group alive. However, due to massive quantities of baggage Lulu is most assuredly dead and buried. David and I especially were the most eager in continuing the group, despite the backlash we’d received just for being male board members (and this from many female creators and FoL members who themselves were completely unwilling to do anything for Lulu but cast stones).
Comics need diversity to survive, not the petty melodrama and backstabbing.
I do applaud Renae De Liz for her efforts regarding Womanthology, which will, in a fashion, fill a bit of the void left behind by FoL.
Now, let’s all move on, shall we?
Richard, if you would like me to include your comments in this piece as well, I would be happy to (or any other board member). Kynn was the only interim board member I had full name and contact information for at the time.
Heidi, I saw that — I’m thinking of taking her up on the appointment, assuming that it’s valid for her to just declare me President. If only to get the awards and archives to a suitable location.
Go right ahead, Johanna. And feel free to email should you require any follow ups.
But as FoL has been closed since the start of the year, I don’t see a body of members who could elect new leadership. If anybody wants to continue it would really be more of a matter of picking up the mantle themselves. Except for the former Treasurer, nobody, from Val on down to my fellow eleventh hour pinch hitters, has any desire to bar any information whatsoever. Understand it would be far far more sensible to just start fresh with something entirely new and free of the hang-ups, in-fighting, and lethargy of the past membership body. Val did send out the SOS earlier last year, and aside from the interim board of directors responses have been limited to rock throwing.
Thanks for the info, Johanna. If I could, I’d like to add a “thank you” to the post mortem. Back in the day, when I and Friends of Lulu were young and eager, I – a male comics creator – submitted my comic (The Adventures of Monkey) to the Friends, seeking their endorsement…and I got it! I had always tried to make a comic that appealed to readers of all ages and both sexes, but that nod from FoL refocused my attempts to include, depict, and entertain women and girls with “active positivity.” For me, Friends of Lulu was not just about women comics creators. It was also, in an era of unrealistic superbabes and grimacing musclemen, an advocate for the few comics that a wider female audience might appreciate. I know nothing of how or why it has all now ended, but I will always consider it an honor to have once been a Friend of Lulu.
Laura Kim is exactly right.
Val has mentioned Randi having the financial records repeatedly. So I find it more than a little telling that Kynn fails to mention that. And I also find it very telling that Johanna failed to ask Kynn about it. Kynn not being able to answer any of Johanna’s questions without scapegoating Val would be comical if it wasn’t so disgraceful.
I think this interview is ludicrous.
It’s hard to know what Val has mentioned in the past, Cindy, since Valerie removed the blog where so much was discussed from public view. Makes it difficult to do research. Personally, the first time I recall seeing Randi Mason’s name in full regarding the financial records was in a response to this interview on Kynn’s Google+ page. Regardless, if there are other questions that should have been asked — probably, there are, and I hope Valerie goes on the record about her perspective on the events someday. Ideally, in a format she can’t later erase when she changes her mind.
Valerie was the ONLY thing that kept the group alive last year. The other persons who were SUPPOSED to be on the board all drifted away from any communication, which prompted the SOS. If any party is to be blamed for the dissolution of FoL, it was the M.I.A. board members. Not Val.
But I think it is evident there were problems beyond anyone’s control running further back in time, a malaise that only grew and grew, and that had she not been prez the group would have disappeared much much much earlier.
If anything, this has been a sad testament to the short-lived nature of Passion itself.
I don’t know what happened to the previous board members either. If there’s a story to tell there, it’s Val’s to tell, not mine. I can only report what I witnessed.
And I seem to be the only one willing to talk on the record to anyone about Friends of Lulu.
Note: Richard was contacted for a follow-up interview but declined to answer any questions.