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Some Good News In A Bad Situation

So one of the terrible things going on in comics is a little less terrible today. If you’re not up on the Cody Pickrodt situation, it involves a dozen or so well-respected indie comickers being sued for defamation in what I would characterize as a totally bullshit move¹. Since word got out, the respondents have been scrambling to meet court deadlines to make their arguments (or lose by default), and the thing about court cases? They can be ruinously expensive even if you completely and utterly win.

To get started with a process that will consume your life, potentially for years, it requires you to have five figures of American Cash Money on hand. If you know any indie comickers with that kind of cash, congratulate them for me.

From the beginning, there was a great deal of activity on the sosh meeds, asking, suggesting, and in some cases demanding that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund do something to assist; they’re in comics, they need legal defense, QED. But the CBLDF’s charter — and full disclosure here, in my past I’ve spent a lot of time working their booth at shows, and was once offered a staff position — deals purely with issues of censorship. Strategic lawsuits meant to harass and silence critics aren’t government (or large corporate) action, and therefore outside the limit of their charter.

And here’s something I can tell you from my time in volunteer EMS — changing a non-profit’s charter is a non-trivial task. Like, carefully worded legal documents and court filings and reviews of your non-profit’s tax status degrees of non-trivial. I mention this because some of the people wanting the CBLDF to Do Something weren’t interested in these details. That’s fine; it’s been a rough couple of weeks for everybody on the receiving end of the lawsuit and everybody who wants the best outcome for them² and patience can be stretched in times of stress.

There were indications that things were happening — principals in the case making remarks that they were consulting with the CBLDF, the CBLDF saying that they couldn’t make public announcements yet. Which, when you’re on the receiving end of a defamation suit, turns out to be the best thing you can do: keep quiet, huddle with your lawyer, don’t try to fight by getting things riled up.

Turns out, they can talk about it now:

Small Press Expo announced today that it will immediately make available $20,000 and also launch a legal aid fundraising vehicle to support members of the SPX community who are currently facing a defamation lawsuit. The fundraising vehicle, administered by SPX, and created in consultation with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, will be established for the purposes of defraying the cost of legal representation for the eleven members of the independent comics community named as defendants in the ongoing lawsuit.

SPX is seeding the immediately needed monies with a $10,000 donation. Additionally, SPX will forego its annual $10,000 donation it had planned to give to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for 2018, instead redirecting those resources — with the full encouragement of the CBLDF Board of Directors — to serve the legal defense of our community members in their moment of need. SPX has already made this initial $20,000 available to the defendants, to ensure their access to appropriate legal counsel as quickly as possible.

In the next few weeks, SPX will establish the ongoing legal aid fundraising vehicle for the public to help cover the costs of the defendants in this case. The CBLDF will continue to provide legal and fundraising consulting to the defendants in this case, as they have since becoming aware of the lawsuit.

The group of 11 defendants has put together a statement for this announcement:

“As artists, writers, art educators, comics critics, and small independent publishers, many of whom rely on freelance work to pay our bills, a lawsuit like this is going to put an enormous financial strain on all of us. Simply put, we can’t afford to fight this without help. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our community, and are especially grateful for the generosity of SPX to provide us with financial assistance. We also appreciate efforts by the CBLDF and other institutions and individuals who have provided additional fundraising support and legal advice.”

Make no mistake, the fact that this went out today, just before everybody knocks off for the long weekend, is a message. It reads We’ve got 20 large right now and if you make us, there will be donation boxes around SPX in two weeks. We can answer your suit and we can fight for as long as you want to keep this shit up. The (frankly ridiculous) US$2.5 million that Pickrodt was demanding was a bluff — a terrifying one to be on the receiving end of, to be clear — designed to force the defendants to settle (and, probably, abase themselves in public).

His lawyer has to be considering the costs of continuing forward, given that it’s now going to be a fight instead of a hostage situation. It could have been a quick set of scary letters and a ruinous (but less than 2-point-five mil) payment leading to an easy contingency fee, but now it’s going to be procedures and hearings and depositions and a trial and no guarantee of a win at all, much less one that offsets time and expense. The chances that the suit gets withdrawn just went way the fuck up.

And either way — Pickrodt goes away or he chooses to press on — there’s going to be a fund, and a fundraising structure, that exists when this is all done. This is exactly how the CBLDF was formed, out of the impromptu fund that was created to defend Friendly Frank’s, which made permanent to deal with similar situations in the future. The specificity of the CBLDF’s charter may have prevented them from directly acting in this case, but I’ll bet you a dollar that some of their consultation is on how a more permanent structure can be built.

It’s a baptism of fire for the CBLDF’s new Board President, Christina Merkler, who was literally announced today earlier today. It’s also damn welcome news at a time when things could have turned out very badly for eleven people. And if (when?) that comic book civil defense fund gets established, don’t forget to give.

Spam of the day:

Tim Horton wrote:Hey Jonathan,

Not Jonathan, but I love your Timbits.

I’m the advertising partnerships manager at JvPartnersNow. We would like to advertise some of our Family & Lifestyle related clients on your blog.


¹ This is an expression of my opinion. Come at me, SLAPPy.

² Which is basically everybody except Pickrodt and some brigading sockpuppets.

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