harlan_ellison.jpgIt seems like everyone in the comics blogosphere by now knows about Fantagraphics’ new Defence Fund, launched to help them through the bullshit lawsuit they are facing from cranky has-been SF writer Harlan Ellison (pictured). However, I still gotta plug it here, just because. Concerning the merits of Ellison’s case, I’m sure Kim and Gary have not exactly been diplomatic in their dealings with him over the years (nor has he in his with them, I’m equally sure). In fact, they have probably been quite the pain in the ass, even probably unnecessarily so. However, this lawsuit is clearly crap, and potentially a threat to the 1st Amendment rights of publishers.

I won’t go into details, merely refer you to this news story on the Comics Journal website, from which several of the pertinent documents can be downloaded, this thread discussing the matter on their board, this thread on the Harlan Ellison board (where the man himself, amongst other things, compares Kim and Gary to “serial child molesters” – nice chap), and this repository of documents from his end.

Anyway, I urge everyone to support Fanta, if not by giving them money, then by buying their books (my own broke-ass strategy in this case). This is their appeal for help:

Help Defend Fantagraphics & The 1st Amendment

It’s that time again — the Fantagraphics Defense Fund is open for business!

As you have probably heard by now, Harlan Ellison sued us in October, 20006. The details of the lawsuit can be found in court documents posted here.

He is (basically) suing us over two issues:

First, in the history-of-Fantagraphics book WE TOLD YOU SO: COMICS AS ART that we serialized on the Comics Journal blog last year, Gary told two brief anecdotes about Ellison’s conduct during the infamous Michael Fleisher trial. We are defending ourselves by arguing the content of these anecdotes are a) opinion and b) true (and for that matter have been circulated for over a decade unchallenged including on Ellison’s own website in the context of the notoriously one-sided Gauntlet article), Ellison has now elected to allege that they were libelous. When we were apprised by Ellison’s attorney initially that Ellison was unhappy with these comments, we offered him space in our book to rebut these comments or offer his own counter-narrative, but he rejected these options and chose to file suit instead.

Second, we reprinted the Ellison interview that caused the Fleisher suit in our COMICS JOURNAL LIBRARY collection THE WRITERS. Ellison is not suing over this :in fact, he’s admitted in public that we own the interview and have the right to reprint it—but is claiming instead that it is illegal to use his name on the cover (along with the names of the other writers we interviewed).

We have argued to the court that both claims are absurd and the suit frivolous and meritless. In our opinion, it is merely designed to harass us, bully us, hurt us financially, and chill public criticism of Ellison generally. Notwithstanding Ellison’s own denials (embedded in the text of his rambling lawsuit), we consider this suit to be a petty and malicious effort to trample our 1st Amendment rights to truthfully relate the history of our company, and to cost us money and time.

The book in question, WE TOLD YOU SO: COMICS AS ART, is an oral history of Fantagraphics Books, warts and all. It is not one of those lame, self-aggrandizing, whitewash jobs that you’ve seen from other publishers. There are quotes from a vast variety of artists, writers, employees, colleagues. Everyone from Robert Crumb, Jules Feiffer, and Kim Deitch to the Hernandez Brothers, Dan Clowes, Jim Woodring, and Jason Lutes pitches in with recollections, reminiscences, and reproaches — and, no, we are not spared the honest and sometimes scathing opinions of others, and, yes, we are occasionally raked over the coals.

We want to emphasize that at the core of this dispute is freedom of expression. Depending upon how much time you have to look at and scrutinize the facts, you can click on the url above and then click on Update 2 to look through the court documents that support the two anecdotes over which Ellison is suing.

We have engaged in the first legal skirmish between October ’06 and February ’07, and our first motion to dismiss the suit has been denied by the court on technical grounds, without reaching the merits, so we are in it for the long haul. We have no doubt that when it goes to a jury trial, we will prevail; Ellison’s lawsuit against us is even more absurd than the original lawsuit Michael Fleischer filed against us and Ellison in 1980. Already, however, the suit has cost us in the mid-five figures, and a quality defense will require considerably more money than that.

Many of you reading this know who we are and what we stand for. You probably know that we have been vigorously defending 1st Amendment principles many years before there was a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund — which we also supported since its inception (and which now, ironically, has rejected our request for financial aid. The second, perhaps more telling, irony is that Harlan Ellison won the Fund’s 1998 Defender of Liberty Award!). You also know the artists we have published over the last 30 years and our commitment to those artists and to the art form. Without additional financial assistance, we will have to reconsider many of our commercially marginal books (approximately half of them); the money that would make those books possible will instead be spent on legal fees. We hope you are willing to help us.

Here’s how you can help:

1. BUY OUR BOOKS. Yes, we know you’re probably already doing this, but surely this is a good time to give all your friends and relatives gifts. Seriously, we have a web site full of beautiful books and the sale of our books helps pay our lawyers.

2. GIVE US DOUGH. You can donate money to the Fantagraphics Defense Fund if you’re so inclined. This money will be deposited in a separate account and used exclusively to pay our lawyers. We know that there are hundreds of good causes to contribute to; we know that most of our readers are on a budget; we know you have your own problems; we know your life does not revolve around helping Fantagraphics; and we appreciate that you have probably bought our books in the past and will probably continue to buy those books that interest you. No pressure. But, if you have the money and want to support us, we will be deeply and sincerely appreciative of anything you would be willing to donate — from five bucks to, well, the sky’s the limit. A handful of big donations from the well-off would help us immensely. Small contributions, even letters of support, will boost our morale.

End of pitch.

(If you’d like your name listed on our FOF page on our website —Friends of Fantagraphics— as public supporters of Fantagraphics against Ellison’s lawsuit, we would be happy to include it. If you buy any of our books and would like to be added to this page, please let us know and we’ll add you.)

1. GUERILLA FUNDRAISING IDEAS WELCOME. If you have any fund-raising ideas, no matter how outré, weird, funny, or outlandish, drop us a line (groth@fantagraphics.com). If you’re willing to do something yourself —sing, dance, juggle, draw— to raise money for us, please let us know. We are happy to consider any guerilla fund-raising ideas. Send ’em!

2. We will be arranging some auctions to raise money for our legal defense. There will be great stuff, crazy stuff, you name it. If you have something of value that you’d like to contribute for an auction, let us know. We need to raise money, but we don’t mind having fun doing it. Keep in mind that we have a store location and our clientele likes interesting, arcane material and that we can display and sell anything you may wish to donate in the store in a special Fantagraphics Defense Fund section.

How You Can Help Us:

If you would like to buy our books, visit our website at Fantagraphics.com; or call our 800 number (1-800-657-1100) and request a paper catalogue. You may also place orders by calling our 800 number. If you would like to donate money, you can:

1. Call our 800 number and give us a donation via credit card;
2. Pay by PayPal at fantagraphics@gmail.com;
3. Send us a check at our address: 7563 Lake City Way, Seattle, WA 98115

Please make sure we have your name so that we can list you as one of our supporters if you so choose. Please help us prevent Harlan Ellison from crippling an independent publisher.

Thank you.

Gary Groth
Kim Thompson