(Illustration by Dan Clowes, courtesy Fantagraphics.)
As we reported back in March, local publisher Fantagraphics has been embroiled in a lawsuit with California sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison. He sued for defamation last September, the latest chapter in a conflict now some 27 years old. Fanta co-founder Gary Groth (pictured above) took a hard-line First Amendment position in response, arguing that in a forthcoming oral history of the company, he and others should be able to express their opinions--about Ellison and others--freely. As Groth told me this spring, "There was no reason to refrain from speaking truthfully; that's what the First Amendment is there for. My commitment as a publisher and a journalist is to speak truthfully and not assuage Harlan Ellison's ego."
Well, there's no shortage of ego (and bad blood) on both sides, but apparently their common sense (or lawyers, or shrinking bank accounts) prevailed. The warring camps entered mediation, and a settlement was announced last week. Both parties are keeping mum about the terms, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to guess an exchange of funds was part of the deal. Both parties are also naturally claiming victory on their respective Web sites (see Ellison's for one view, and The Comics Journal for the other).
Back in March, Groth told me there was no way he'd alter the text of the yet-to-be-published Comics as Art: We Told You So. Indeed, Fanta's Web site still has posted the offending passages in galley form. (See the PDF of Chapter 3, pages 112-119, in which Groth characterizes Ellison as being a guy trying to cheat his way out of paying the legal bills in a libel suit in which these two parties were, ironically, co-defendants.) So removing that language was probably not part of the settlement, and you could thus argue Groth was the victor. You could also probably surmise that victory came with a price tag attached.
What remains to be seen is whether the book actually sells any copies, and if the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity holds true or not. One thing's almost certain: As in the past, Ellison shouldn't expect a free review copy of the book from Groth.