Small Press Expo Establishes Legal Aid Fund for Cartoonists

Small Press Expo announced today that it will launch a legal aid fundraising vehicle to support members of the SPX community who are currently facing a defamation lawsuit. SPX is kickstarting the fund with an immediate $20,000 donation it hopes will allow the defendants to seek legal counsel.

The fundraising vehicle, administered by SPX, and created in consultation with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, hopes to defray the cost of legal representation for the eleven members of the independent comics community named as defendants in the ongoing lawsuit.

The defendants include cartoonists Whit Taylor, Laura Knetzger, Emma Louthan, Emi Gennis, Ben Passmore, Hazel Newlevant, Jordan Shiveley, Morgan Pielli and Tom Kaczynski (whose publishing house, Uncivilized Books, is also named in the suit) as well as publisher Josh O'Neill and critic Rob Clough. The plaintiff, small-press cartoonist and publisher Cody Pickrodt, has filed a suit for over $2 million in emotional distress after being accused of sexual harassment, rape, anti-Semitic remarks, and withholding royalties from creators whose work he has published.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund had drawn criticism over their failure to become involved in the suit earlier, after The Comics Journal revealed details of the case. The move is the first major decision made under the supervision of newly-named CBLDF president Christina Merkler.

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 encouragement of the CBLDF Board of Directors -- to support the legal fund. 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," said the SPX's statement.

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."

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"For many years, SPX has quietly extended financial support to cartoonists in need, but there is no being quiet about this case," said Warren Bernard, Executive Director of the Small Press Expo. "Our community must come together in support of its members who are facing unprecedented challenges—and to defend the kind of community we wish to be. From the very beginning, our two organizations agreed that we must do whatever we can to help."

"We came together on a solution that makes the best use of the strengths of each of our organizations to support the members of our community in fighting this lawsuit. The SPX special fund will help by providing immediate cash, a structure for raising more money if required, and continuing access to experts that will help those in need," said Merkler.