Grim Business

Alec Berry has written a thorough report on the defamation suit recently filed by small-press publisher and cartoonist Cody Pickrodt against several women who accused him of various charges including rape and sexual harassment, as well as against other members of the comics community who posted about the allegations online.

Cody Pickrodt, a small-press comics publisher and cartoonist — who has been accused of rape, sexual harassment, anti-Semitic remarks, and withholding payment of royalties to artists whose work he’s printed — has filed a defamation lawsuit against 11 individuals who either made those allegations or denounced Pickrodt while commenting on them.

The defendants include the cartoonists Whit Taylor, Laura Knetzger, Emma Louthan, Emi Gennis, Ben Passmore, Hazel Newlevant, Tom Kaczynski, Jordan Shiveley, and Morgan Pielli, as well as writer, editor, and publisher Josh O’Neill, and comics critic Rob Clough. The complaint also lists Kaczynski’s business, Uncivilized Books.

“These are false claims,” says Pickrodt's attorney, Joe Carbonaro of Carbonaro Law in New York City. “He’s really suffered as a result of this. He’s lost clients. He can’t really network within the comic book community, as you can see.”

Pickrodt demands damages be reimbursed at an amount of no less than $2.5 million for cause of emotional and mental distress. The defendants have under a month to mount a legal response or they forfeit.

Two additional aspects of this story should be noted. First, the defendants are in the process of setting up a group crowdfunding effort, which we will report on when it is ready. Second, many people have asked if this is a case the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund should be involved in. After we published this story yesterday afternoon, the CBLDF has released the following statement:

We're aware of the concerns regarding this case, have been and continue to be in contact with the affected parties, and are providing assistance to the extent that our charter permits. We're unable to provide further detail, in accordance with our policies.

We will keep you informed of any updates on this story as they arrive.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. The New York Review of Books has published an essay by Ryan Holmberg about Katsumata Susumu's Fukushima Devil Fish, out from Breakdown Press.

Art changed in Japan after the tsunami and nuclear meltdowns of March 2011. So did art history—or at least it should have.

As the black waters of the tsunami receded from communities along the Pacific Ocean coast in northern Japan, and the fallout settled upon the nuclear boomtowns and farming villages of eastern Fukushima, social engagement flourished across the arts, both in fields where one would expect it (like documentary filmmaking) and in those traditionally allergic to sensitive issues (like contemporary art).

That the disasters ushered in a new era in Japanese culture is widely recognized. That they also inspired a reappraisal of what had been made in the past is only partially so. Within weeks, scholars, publishers, and activists began to offer an array of previous responses to industrialized fission in Japan. Inevitably, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were on people’s lips. While protesters cried, “No More Hiroshimas! No More Fukushimas!” pundits repeatedly asked, “How could the only country to suffer nuclear attack become one of the greatest supporters of atomic energy?” Classics of disaster fiction, like Sakyo Komatsu’s Japan Sinks (1973), about the archipelago breaking in half from a massive earthquake, and Katsuhiro Otomo’s sci-fi dystopia Akira (1982-1990), about psychokinetic superkids in a post-atomic holocaust Tokyo, were praised anew as prophetic.

Yet much of this retrospection ignored a basic fact: very few of Japan’s many disaster-fantasy masterpieces have anything to do with nuclear power plants, nor with the dangers of building a dense, highly industrialized society along the seismically hyperactive Pacific Rim.

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Alex Miller reviews Hillary Chute's recent collection, Why Comics?

In a style reminiscent of Raymond Williams’s The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence, Chute’s monograph seeks to celebrate “what comics does best” by establishing a critical genealogy of the medium’s development. Chute’s history, however, is not the history that begins with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation of Superman and concludes with Disney’s 2009 acquisition of Marvel and the subsequent “superhero-ification” of all things marketable. Instead, Why Comics? focuses on the evolving capacity of independent comics to represent experiences that have historically been relegated to the margins of popular culture. In pursuit of this goal, Chute deploys a thematic approach to the lives and works of a variety of now-canonical cartoonists who began their careers on the margins of both society and the industry.

For Vice Sports, Corbin Smith writes about a fifty-year-old sequence of baseball-themed Peanuts strips.

The story begins with our hero, Charlie Brown, standing on the baseball mound, the site of so many of his most profound failures. For those not familiar, in his ill-defined neighborhood team’s structure, Charlie is, seemingly because he is the only person who wants it, his team’s manager and pitcher. He is not very good at either task, getting lit up in strip after strip, for year after year, occasionally suffering the pure indignity of a line drive hitting him and knocking all of his clothes off, while the rest of his teammates—including his dog, the consensus best player—just kind of don't give a shit. There's a very simple reason for this grim outlook: you don't make the finest work of comic art of the latter half of the 20th century by writing a comic where the main character gets what he wants, you do it by distilling your tremendous depression into a daily comic strip aimed, presumably, at children.

Robert Boyd writes about Yvan Alagbé's Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures.

It's taken more than 20 years for the USA to catch up with this masterpiece, with New York Review Comics publishing Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures in English with a new story as an afterward. These stories of migrants from third world countries seem more urgent than ever, although for Americans the situation is a little different. We didn't have, as France did, a vast African empire. Alagbé was born in Paris in 1971 of Beninese parents, and lived for three years as a child with his family in Benin. His stories are often about undocumented workers from Africa who end up in France. However, the stories don't exist to make a political point, even if such points are inherent in the stories. Alagbé is not a polemicist. His work is too subtle and inflected with modernism to be propaganda.

—Interviews. For Africa is a Country, Lily Saint talks with UCLA historian William Worger about his archive of comics sponsored by South Africa's Apartheid government.

The production process, as you explain on the UCLA Library website, tells an interesting story of collaboration between the Apartheid government, the CIA, American-based DC-Comics artists and writers, and anthropological focus groups run in South Africa.

Yes, I want to go back and learn more about how these were created. Eschel Rhoodie, the Secretary of the Department of Information, describes how anthropologist Bettie van Zyl Alberts ran focus groups in South Africa before they were made, ostensibly to assess how these comics might best appeal to readers in rural and urban areas. The American DC-Comics artists (most notably the illustrator Joe Orlando) made the drawings for the comics. Oddly, under the injunctions of the South African government, they were tasked with drawing black South Africans to look different, somehow, from American comics’ depictions of black Americans. This of course begs the question: How do you make people look more African than African-American? Is there a memo somewhere that says if you change the image in a certain way you can make characters look more African than African-American?

Finally, at the Beat, Heidi MacDonald speaks to artist JG Jones about his his break from comics, spurred by his struggle with blood cancer.

This is kind of a weird disease and I was undiagnosed for a while. In the initial stages your bone marrow is hyper proliferative. It makes too many blood products, red, white, platelets. Way back when I was doing Final Crisis, I remember times where I was almost passing out at my drawing table. I would go to sleep and just sleep for hours and hours. It was really wrecking my deadlines. But I thought it was over work and I didn’t think much of it. Then I found out [I was sick] just in a routine physical. I had a blood test and it was so thick that it took 15 minutes to get a vial of blood out of me.

[...] So it’s a really rare disease but I think a lot of people go undiagnosed. The outcome of having blood like that is usually a stroke or heart attack, which happens a lot when it’s not diagnosed. So I just got a lucky break that it was caught.