By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The exploding cocks, suppurating eyeballs, and rotting Christs in Mike Diana's drawings can be hard to look at, but an online auction opened last week in hopes his fans will pay for the pleasure of owning them. Diana, whose drawings in Boiled Angel got him prosecuted on two obscenity charges in Florida, is still the only artist in U.S. history to be convicted of obscenity. He has donated 50 works, including original b&w prints, paintings, and single comic panels, to the public sale, organized by a friend and fellow zine publisher Jeff Gottesfeld (Testicle Pressure) at his site testicle.com.
The monthlong auction is intended to help rescue Diana from financial straits, says Gottesfeld. Diana's 1994 conviction brought a battery of burdens: a $3000 fine, 1300 hours of community service, mandatory psychiatric evaluation, a journalistic ethics class (that he had to pay for), and a ban on contact with minors. Most important, he was ordered not to draw for a three-year probation period (which is still going on).Now living in Brooklyn, Diana devotes much of his time to his service obligations, working at God's Love We Deliver and a community garden.
Asking prices at the auction vary, from $20 for signed editions of Boiled Angel #7 and #ATE (the two that caused the legal ruckus) to $350 for the Piss Piss Yeah print to $1200 for six original comic pages. Unlike heirlooms and furniture (sold at online auction houses like ebay.com, Diana's signature shock comes across just fine over the Web. The auction itself is fairly low-fi, and putting it together cost "nothing whatsoever but time," says Gottesfeld. Interested parties e-mail Gottesfeld with their bids, and if he receives a better bid before August 8, he'll notify them. Though there's some question as to whether the two B.A. issues can be sold without violating Diana's probation, Gottesfeld promises that "Florida is the only state that cares and I won't be selling to anybody from Florida."
Gottesfeld hopes to pull in two grand, which should cover the outstanding amount of Diana's fine. There's evidence that he should have no trouble. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which spent an estimated $80,000 on Diana's case, recently held its own auction to boffo returns.Last week, a single panel by comic book artist Frank Miller ("Sin City" and "Dark Knight Returns") netted $2,650 after a fierce bidding war that went to midnight on the closing day. (It was initially priced at $500.) The proceeds went directly into the CBLDF's coffers, says assistant director Chris Bleistein. "Vigilance is the price of freedom," says Bleistein, echoing the ACLU motto, "and fundraising is the price of vigilance."
The Bodiless Politic
From the looks of it, Alex Sheshunoff could be the first Alley entrepreneur to use software to launch a political career. Last Saturday, the polished, 24-year-old president of Studio Now (studionow.com) debuted an impressive grassroots activism project called E-The People (e-thepeople.com), where users can electronically sign and mail petitions and complaints to a database of over 140,000 local, state, and government officials. Twenty-five newspapers--including The Oregonian, The Newark Star Ledger, and The Times Picayune--have already signed up to let their readers use the free service.
"Before, people would wait to speak for three minutes at a poorly attended City Council meeting. Now they're three clicks away from participating," says Sheshunoff. You provide your home address, and the site spits out a list of your mayor, senators, and members of Congress. Letters and petitions are e-mailed or automatically faxed (if the rep isn't online yet). Sheshunoff's pitch for the product toes the familiar Xer line. "People feel that the representatives don't represent them," Sheshunoff says. "I want to make people feel more connected to government."
He's designed his site so that you don't need a clue about politics to get involved. Users can search for their pet peeves--"noise, potholes, broken swings," he says--and add their signatures to petitions addressing the issues. He's encouraging nonprofits and community groups to use the site as a center for mobilization. It's an open market for participation, and one assumes Greenpeace and the NRA will find it equally effective.
Though "The Alex Sheshunoff Initiative" is plastered all over the site and press materials, Sheshunoff denies any political ambitions. But that doesn't mean he can't use the company to raise his personal profile. In August, Sheshunoff will begin popularizing the project with a nationwide bus tour called the "Grassroots Express." A documentary filmmaker will accompany him. "I just want to make every American city better," he says.
Signal and Noise$$$ Free Money Now!: A few weeks back, subscribers to Ad Age magazine's online edition received an e-mail notice that--as a wonderful favor--they had been made automatic members of The Globe (theglobe.com), a free online "community" of homepage-builders. A typical spam--except that the mail included each person's private password to the Ad Age site. Since the missive came from theglobe.com, it was clear that the magazine and online company had been sharing information about their respective subscribers. Last Wednesday, in an act of well-staged public contrition, The Globe organized an online conference about the politics of spam with the King of Junk E-mail himself, Sanford Wallace (formerly of Cyber Promotions), UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, and Ray Everett-Church from the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail. Transcripts of the dialogue are available at the site--but you have to become a member first...