FOL Response & Dave's Response from Cerebus #206
I’m not sure I’m taxing the readers’ patience with this stuff but I’m certainly taxing my own. This issue wraps up the “Dear Friends of Lulu’ and next issue wraps up “Why an Aardvark?” All apologies are duty rendered for the Don Quixote tilting-at- windmills digressions. I hope to be back to normal by 208:
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January 23, 1996
Friends of Lulu
4657 Cajon Way
San Diego, CA 92115
Your letter to Friends of Lulu (FoL) made us realize that some people have misconceptions about our organization. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to clarify who we are and what we’re all about.
As indicated in the enclosed brochure (which, by the way, was given out by exhibitors at several of the Spirits of Independence stops), Friends of Lulu is open to both women and men, professionals and nonprofessionals. The only requirements for membership are a commitment to our goal of getting more women and girls involved in comics and payment of the nominal membership dues. Friends of Lulu was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in early 1995 and now has over 250 members, a third of whom are men. We have active chapters in both New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, and regional chapters are springing up in other areas as well.
We think that getting more women and girls to read comics is vital to the future of the comics medium. Increasing the number of female readers has been an area of concern for decades, even during periods when the industry was seeing increases in sales. Back in the hey day of comics, in the late l940s and the early 1950s, females made up half the comics audience, and numerous genres. (but primarily teen and romance comics) were aimed at them. By narrowing its focus to primarily teen-age boys over the last two decades, the industry has turned its back on the segment of the population that by far does the most reading and buys the most books.
FoL’s efforts to increase the readership of comics are aimed at all levels of the industry. We encourage publishers to produce comics of a wide variety of genres to appeal to a broader readership. We also challenge them to continue to improve the quality of their comics, with well-written stories, interesting characters, and appealing art. We encourage retailers to carry a wide variety of titles and to make suggestions to customers of titles they might try. We also encourage retailers to make their stores more inviting to customers, which is just good basic business sense.
One of the things we’re doing to back up our suggestions to publishers and retailers is conducting surveys of readers (both male and female) to determine what sorts of existing comics me most often read by women and girls, and what females say they would like to see both in new comics and in the retailer environment. The bookmark you saw (one. of four versions) listed some comics titles that were gleaned from the initial use of that reader survey at comics shows earlier in 1995, including the Alternative Press Expo that you attended in San Jose. The bookmarks list titles that received multiple mentions by the females surveyed. The publishers of a number of the books listed were contacted to help defray the costs of printing the bookmarks. Those publishers that responded are featured prominently on the bookmarks and turned out to be all self- publishers and small publishers. (By the way, these bookmarks were a project of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of FoL.) We are in the process of tabulating the surveys from additional conventions where FoL had booths throughout the year, and the results will be sent to comics publishers and the comics press sometime this spring.
FoL also conducted a survey of retailers, asking them what sorts of comics have the highest female readership and what sorts of promotions have been successful in bringing more females into their stores. Those survey results are also being tabulated and will be supplied to publishers, retailers, and the comics press this spring.
FoL has many other projects in the works, all of them related to the overall goals our members have set for themselves. Those of us on the Board of Directors love comics, and we want to see the medium continue. Advocating censorship of any kind would not only be against our firm belief in freedom of expression but is diametrically opposed to our goal of expanding the comics market.
We on the FoL board have nothing but admiration for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and think it is a vital element in the comics industry. Many of us have made contributions to CBLDF and have supported various of its fund-raising efforts. Furthermore, many prominent people in the comics industry are both FoL members and active supporters of the CBLDF. We think comics need both these organizations, each with their separate but complementary goals, if the medium is to survive.
Friends of Lulu Board of Directors:
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Box 1674, Station C
Kitchener, Ontario N2G 4R2
24 January ‘96
Dear Friends of Lulu:
Well, as someone once said, you’ve answered everything except my question.
I believe there is a great potential for the Friends of Lulu and the CBLDF to be separate organizations with “complementary goals.” That was the point of my letter and the core of my question.
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by the fact that your answer arrived over seven names(the Board of Directors is my assumption). I shouldn’t have been, but I was. I was making what I thought was a seriously intended proposal and made clear (I thought) that — leaving aside the possibility that the Friends of Lulu in tote might endorse such a proposal there might exist a faction within the group of some number of female professionals willing to participate in a document which made clear that they view the First Amendment to the Constitution as taking precedence over individual tastes and preferences in literature.
“Advocating censorship of any kind would not only be against our firm belief in freedom of expression but is diametrically opposed to our goal of expanding the comics market.” I guess I just find this confusing. Maybe it’s just me. Although there have been rumblings of censorship and advocacy of censorship from people I have talked to about FoL, I lake you at your word. You don’t advocate censorship. It was not n y intention to accuse you of advocating censorship. What I was doing was sketching the parameters of a simple program which might assist in the fight against censorship. I am alarmed by the Planet Comics bust in Oklahoma. In examining what I can do to assist the retailers and their customers to defend their First Amendment rights, the answer I came up with was “not much.” I can continue to donate royalties and payments for various “outside Cerebus” projects to the CBLDF. But in terms of directly affecting the situation in Oklahoma City, the answer, alas, was “not much.” I did an interview with a student newspaper in Oklahoma in which I tried to state the case for freedom of expression. But, beyond that, addressing letters to the local daily newspaper or alternative paper or what-have- you would be an exercise in futility. No one has heard of me or Cerebus in that context. My words would carry no weight — most likely I would just be viewed as another “smut peddle?’ jumping to the defense of other “smut peddlers.”
Because Friends of Lulu has a roster of female professionals as active members, because censorship h been linked historically with. . . if there was a valid synonym for “feminist,” I would use it here.. . feminist movements, because we are very short of resources in the comic-book field which have a snowball’s chance in bell of swaying mainstream public opinion to the cause of creative freedom in the comic-hook field. . . I took a stab in the dark. As an outsider examining the situation board a non-American, non-CBLDF board member, anon-Friends of Lulu member.
Having put my case as eloquently as I could, I find it very disappointing that the reaction amounts to little more than the regurgitation of platitudes capped by a rhetorical cul-de-sac that amounts to little more, in my view, than “We’re going to sit this one out, Dave.”
The fact that no effort is (evidently) going to be expended even to determine if there is a level of interest within the ranks of the 160 or so female members of your organization to assist in ending censorship and that your seven-member board views the offhand enunciation of a “firm belief in freedom of expression” to be sufficient when two retailers are apt to be imprisoned possibly for a total of eighty years (to me) belies your expressions of support for the retail community.
I mean, come on!
P.S. This letter will be printed with your reply in stature issue of Cerebus — along with any further comment you would care to provide.
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A Fax from Friends of Lulu
This fax is for: Dave Sim
Number of pages besides this one: 2
Here is the refaxing of the letter that you requested. I also put a copy in the mail to you yesterday via snail mail.
What sort of deadline are we looking at for our “reply to your reply”?
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I’ll have to paraphrase my reply. So certain was 1 that 1 was asking for the merest crumb of consideration that I didn’t hang onto the original letter I basically offered four pages in the back of Cerebus, for a Friends of Lulu membership drive, in trade for a mention in their newsletter of a proposal for interested female professionals to compose and sign petition or statement expressing their support for the First Amendment as preeminent over their-personal dislike of comic books that could be seen to exploit or degrade women. 1 also pointed out the deadline for each issue of Cerebus and expressed a willingness to debate the -issue month after month with the FoL executive until some compromise could be achieved. I did advise that phrasing along the lines of “anyone interested in this stupid proposal by that misogynist pig Dave Sim can write to would be unacceptable so far as the newsletter mention was concerned. Some weeks later the following fax arrived:
A Fax from Friends of Lulu
This fax is for: Dave
Number of pages besides this one: 0
Thanks for your offer of four pages. We are grateful, but we would prefer not to accept. We will not be continuing this correspondence.
Friends of Lulu Board of Directors
So that’s that. I’d like to thank the female comics reader who wrote to me expressing her support for the First Amendment as taking precedence over her personal likes and dislikes. And...well,.. that’s that.