Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

September 21, 2007

Updates on Eightball #22 Story: Latest News Links, Eric Reynolds Statement

Although there were very few additional elements to the news story about the resignation of Connecticut teacher Nate Fisher because he gave a 14-year-old student a copy of Eightball #22 as an outside reading assignment, there has been as much on-line discussion as one might expect from a story whose details, if ever released, could admittedly cause a drastic swing in how it's seen. Perhaps most notable is an editorial at New York's web site. Heidi MacDonald's posting on the story yields the widest range of opinions on the matter in its comment section.

Fantagraphics spokesperson Eric Reynolds provided the following statement to the New Haven Advocate yesterday. Fantagraphics was the work's publisher when it was in comic book form.
Without knowing more about the exact circumstances, I'm reluctant to comment on the specific incident, but I can say that I am highly disturbed that someone lost his job over this particular comic, especially in light of some of the more incendiary rhetoric being thrown around in regard to it, notably the "borderline pornography" quote.

"Pornography" as a term has no particular legal significance and is to some degree in the eye of the beholder, but the notion that there is anything pornographic about Eightball #22 is fairly absurd. The more legally relevant term is of course "obscene," and there is no doubt that Eightball #22 is not obscene by any legal definition of the word. This is a comic, after all, that the highly reputable School Library Journal recommended as suitable for "Grade 10-up", which would hardly seem a demographic for any kind of pornography or obscenity, borderline or not.

imageI find it hard to believe that the average person, applying contemporary community standards in Guilford, CT, would find that Eightball #22, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest. This is a work of literary satire, a story which won virtually every industry award it was eligible for in 2002 (including the Eisner and Harvey for "Best Single Issue," Eisner for "Best Writer/Artist," Harvey for "Best Cartoonist," and Ignatz Award for "Outstanding Comic"). It doesn't depict any sexual conduct or and it's literary and artistic merit has been articulated by many more reputable critics than myself in magazines and newspapers across the country. None of the standards for obscenity could even remotely be met in this case and therefore the pornography comment is misleading and provocative in a way that has little relevance to what happened here.

I'd like to believe this is one giant misunderstanding that could be resolved without ruining the career and/or reputation of anyone involved.
I appreciate Mr. Reynolds releasing the statement to CR as well to the Advocate.

This is a tough story, because what's being argued is a pretty subtle point. Very few folks in comics are educators, and not all of us are parents, and we all realize that there could be any number of details that once released could transform the story wildly. I don't think there's any of us that care all that much about local educational policy, even, although some of us have opinions on whether or not this should have led to a resignation or whether this is the kind of thing that could have been hashed out by more reasonable people and policies. The main point that many of us simply want to put out there is that this is a work of merit and isn't pornographic or obscene the way that people think about such things except in the knee-jerk way that comics broaching mature subjects are frequently seen in that light. So barring additional detail, let's at least have a discussion keeping in mind what was actually trading hands here, not the label that can be stuck on it.

Also, as this is the kind of thing that used to interest my dad, I note that Guilford is almost exactly one hour from publisher Fantagraphics' one-time location in Stamford, Connecticut.
posted 3:06 am PST | Permalink

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