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November 28, 2012

Karl Stevens Claims Alt-Weekly Strip Discontinued Due To Advertiser Worries; Editor Strongly Denies


In an e-mail received by this site and by several other comics-industry journalists yesterday, the cartoonist Karl Stevens claimed that his strip Failure in the alt-weekly Boston Phoenix was canceled because the content of an attached strip, due to appear this week, insulted Budweiser, an advertiser in the publication.

Stevens reiterated this claim in e-mails to CR and in articles published by The Beat (where it was claimed on his behalf) and Publishers Weekly (where it was claimed by Stevens in a telephone interview). He told CR via e-mail that he was informed of the decision by his art director Kristen Goodfriend during lunch yesterday. He further told CR that he had not spoken to his editor directly, and that his impression of the editor's response came from the lunchtime conversation. "She said the editor Carly [Carioli] was sick of worrying about the strip being offensive. Apparently this was the last straw."

imageStevens told PW, "Apparently I offended Bud Light, and cannot be trusted."

Phoenix Editor-In-Chief Carly Carioli was asked about the allegations made by Stevens and responded to CR in an e-mail this morning.

"In answer to your questions, it is categorically false that Karl was 'fired' due to any outside objections. I'm the Phoenix's editor in chief, and it was my sole decision to discontinue Failure. Karl's final Failure strip runs in tomorrow's issue (dated 11/30). There were no sponsor objections -- zero -- to this strip or any other that I’m aware of. It is also untrue that I was worried about the strip being offensive: quite the opposite. Over Karl's tenure at the Phoenix, he has been given more creative freedom than any other writer, photographer, or illustrator we've published. In one instance, over a year ago, we asked him to re-draw a panel that included a penis in a state of sexual penetration -- which he agreed to re-draw with the penis blocked out in print, and I believe we ran the original panel online."

Stevens told CR that he had experienced "free reign" for the life of the strip, but that the publication had worried about Failure due to nudity and vulgarity.

Carioli suggested that the reason that Failure was let go was because of format changes at the publication, and told CR this had been communicated to Stevens.

"The Phoenix recently (in September) relaunched as a weekly magazine, after 46 years as a weekly newspaper. During the transition, I had frank and forthright conversations with Karl in which both of us questioned whether Failure was a fit for the new publication. I've continued to make numerous changes in the magazine as we go forward, and the end of Failure is one of several changes we're making in the new year."

"However, it is inaccurate that Karl has been 'let go.' While he is not now nor has he ever been on staff, at the time that we discontinued Failure we offered him a continuing role as an illustrator -- he has been illustrating features in the magazine outside of Failure, and in fact he illustrates a major feature appearing in tomorrow's issue."

Asked about the discrepancy between saying that a decision had be made to discontinue the strip next year but then actually ending it before this year is out, Carioli said that the strip that appears tomorrow is the last one commissioned by the publication. "There are three issues left at the end of the year and they're all format-busters, so the strip would likely not have run in those issues."

Contacted by CR and asked if he wanted to respond to Carioli's comments, Stevens replied by e-mail. "Nope."

The strip in question does not appear to be on the Phoenix site at the time of this filing.

Failure was a slice-of-life strip featuring Stevens and I believe various real-life acquaintances, combining Stevens' skill at shaping overheard dialogue with an accomplished and dramatic visual style. Failure started running in 2009; his previous strips for the paper were Succe$$ (2008, with Gustavo Turner) and Whatever (2005-2009). Stevens' print efforts include the Xeric- and Ignatz-winning Guilty (2005), a collection of Whatever (Alternative Comics, 2008) and 2010's The Lodger, which used as its foundation several strips from Failure. Failure won the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies award for Best Cartoon in 2010. He was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize that same year, for The Lodger. Stevens most recently exhibited at the Brooklyn Comics And Graphics Festival.

In a Facebook comment on a post about the strip's cancellation, Stevens expressed a desire to focus on longer works in the future.
posted 9:30 am PST | Permalink

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