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Don’t Let Cancellation Become Banal

Something terrible happens when art can’t reach audiences.

· 4 min read
Don’t Let Cancellation Become Banal
The author, photographed in 2006 by Gordon Fitch.

This past winter, I made my first comic book in 30 years, titled Agents of H.A.G. I crowdfunded it on Indiegogo, raised 150 percent of its modest $1,000 goal, and ordered a few hundred copies to be printed. But before I could access the funds to pay the printer, Indiegogo retroactively canceled the campaign and refunded all the backers. There was no explanation provided, no appeal process, and no recourse. As a form of protest, I made Compliance Comix: the same panels and voice balloons scrubbed of characters and words, essentially an empty comic book that complies 100 percent with Indiegogo’s terms of service.

I’ve been making art professionally since I was a teenager. I have drawn two internationally syndicated comic strips, a self-syndicated weekly strip, and multiple published comic books. In 1998, I started making animated short films, which screened at countless film festivals, including Sundance. In 2006, I was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship while working on my first animated feature film, Sita Sings the Blues, which went on to win several dozen awards internationally and a “100% Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I taught animation at Parsons School of Design, and became a popular guest lecturer at universities worldwide, where I spoke to students of art, religious studies, and law alike. (My art frequently deals with religious themes; and over time, I became an outspoken critic of restrictive copyrights laws.) My work appears in many scholarly books about animation and was taught regularly in art schools.

In the process, I’ve periodically become the focus of controversy. Sita Sings the Blues was attacked by religious nationalists in India, who campaigned to ban the film because I’d adapted its plot from the Ramayana, a Hindu epic. My “Copyleftadvocacy earned vocal, often personal, condemnation from some artists and animators, even as I was heralded as an innovator by others. But nothing prepared me for the “cancellation” campaign that targeted me in 2017.

It began on Facebook, when I re-shared Connie Bryson’s lyric, “If a person has a penis, he’s a man.” When I was called out for it, instead of retracting, I asserted that women don’t have penises.

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