Category Archives: Free Speech

Ellison Versus Fantagraphics Update

An update on the last post. According to the comics gossip column Lying in the Gutters, Fantagraphics and Ellison are going into mediation, so with a little luck this case won’t drag on much longer. From here:

“I understand that both Fantagraphics and Harlan Ellison were asked if they would participate in mediation over their current legal confrontation and that both have, at this time, gladly agreed. This will occur on May 29th at the Federal District Court Of Appeals in California. It will be attended by Ellison, Groth and their respective legal representatives.”

The CBLDF and the Ellison Vs. Fantagraphics Lawsuit

I’m sending this letter off to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund tomorrow along with the final funds from the Lutefisk Sushi Volume B show from last year, and I wanted you all to be aware of it’s contents.

It addresses what I see as serious problems with the CBLDF’s current stance on the Harlan Ellison vs. Fantagraphics lawsuit. If you have an opinion you want to share on this subject, please let me know what you think in the comments below, or contact me directly.

You can get more information about Fantagraphics dilemma here, and find out more about how you can help them to win their case (note that they are taking art donations for ebay auction).

Hi there,

Enclosed please find checks totaling $350 made out to the Comic Book Legal Defense fund. These are a second round of proceeds from the Lutefisk Sushi Volume B show of minicomics by Minnesota cartoonists that the Minneapolis Cell of the International Cartoonist Conspiracy put on last year (we sent $876 last year for the first round).

As with Lutefisk Sushi volume A (where the Conspiracy donated over $1000) all of our profits are going to the CBLDF. With Volume B, instead of a direct donation, we have been splitting it up into memberships for some of the cartoonists who participated in the event (we had just over 50 cartoonists participating in the show this time).

Enclosed you’ll also find a list of the relevant information for the 7 remaining participating cartoonists who have requested memberships (we got 35 memberships with the first round). The remaining funds after that are just a straight donation.

For more information about last year’s Lutefisk Sushi show, please direct your web browser to

I also wanted to take this opportunity to express my deep disappointment that you are not assisting Fantagraphics with their legal defense in their lawsuit with Harlan Ellison. This is clearly a first amendment issue, and it is being fought by the what is arguably the finest publisher of comics in the world. If they lose, they face potential bankruptcy, which I believe would be disastrous for the artform. To me, it seems unbelievable that you have not risen to their defense.

Mr. Brownstein’s defense of this inaction, as seen in a recent posting on Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat blog ( is ultimately unsatisfying. Mr. Brownstein claims that it is not appropriate for the CBLDF to support Fantagraphics in this case because the lawsuit is not over a piece of comic art, but journalistic prose. Mr. Brownstein points out in the comments:

“Likewise, we wouldn’t spend (our supporters) money defending a retailer who was fined for selling a copy of a violent video game derived from a comics property, or a video store who was sued for renting a copy of the Crumb movie, or a cartoonist who was arrested for a work of performance art with no comics in it whatsoever.”

This seems like a reasonable statement. However, this defense seems inconsistent with the CBLDF’s actions in some previous cases, notably the Stu Helm (King VelVeeda) vs. Kraft Foods case, as Dirk Deppey pointed out in his Journalista! blog (

I should note that I have respected Mr. Ellison and his strong stands on free speech issues in the past, and I have enjoyed some comics he was involved with (I read most of his Dream Corridor series). Thus I am very dismayed and puzzled by his recent litigation, which is so blatantly a direct attack on the first amendment. It is sad that he puts less value on maintaining his reputation as a voice for free speech than he puts on his misguided attempt at legal revenge.

Mr. Ellison is suing Fantagraphics partially over them using his name on the cover of a book an interview with him appears that he admits Fantagraphics owns the rights to. What kind of precedent does that set if he wins the lawsuit? Could you have a more cut and dried first amendment case?

I assume if the CBLDF took part in an amicus brief, as mentioned in the Beat post, it would be on Fantagraphics’ behalf? I wonder if Ellison supporters reading the Beat post assume that you would do so on Ellison’s behalf?

I think the CBLDF should take a public stand on this case regardless of whether or not they intend to participate in the legal proceedings. Those who support Mr. Ellison based on his previous reputation as a free speech advocate and CBLDF supporter may not be aware they are on the wrong side of a first amendment battle. If the CBLDF publicly sided with Fantagraphics, the bad publicity for Mr. Ellison could go a long way towards making him decide it was prudent to try and resolve this unfortunate lawsuit quickly.

I assume the CBLDF is within its mandate to publicly condemn any attacks on the first amendment regardless of the media involved in the attack, since this presumably costs nothing?

I would also hope that the CBLDF would consider actively using its relationships with both parties to offer to formally or informally help attempt to mediate a resolution to this conflict before it gets to another courtroom. Perhaps this has already been pursued?

As a result of the CBLDF’s inaction on this issue, I will be encouraging the Cartoonist Conspiracy to help fund Fantagraphics’ legal defense rather than the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in any future fund raising efforts we may pursue until Fantagraphics’ legal issues are resolved.

It should be noted that the donation of funds by the Cartoonist Conspiracy on a particular project is not my decision alone, but the decision of the participating membership in whatever project is being pursued, so it is possible donations will still go your way in this time period. I could certainly be outvoted.

I sincerely hope the CBLDF will reconsider its current stance on this divisive issue.

Thanks much for listening, and for your continued efforts in protecting our first amendment rights.

Best wishes,

Steven Stwalley
Webmaster, The International Cartoonist Conspiracy