Ted Rall’s Revenge, Part II

Written by Andrey Slivka on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


 


As I wrote
last week (“Ted Rall’s Bawls,” 8/18), Rall had initiated litigation
against Hellman in the wake of the e-mail prank that Hellman, a well-known jokester,
played on him after his controversial Village Voice article attacking
comics-world powerbroker Art Spiegelman. Rall claimed that the prank–which
involved a satirically self-aggrandizing letter entitled “Ted Rall’s
Balls” that Hellman, a critic of the Voice article, fabricated and
signed with Rall’s name–reached editors and art directors in a position
to damage his career. Rall demanded $20,000 from Hellman for damages.


On Thursday,
however, Rall escalated his demands. He’s now seeking $1.5 million from
Hellman for invasion of privacy, libel and intentional infliction of emotional
distress.


What accounts
for the sudden 7400 percent increase in the settlement

figure?


“The
court will decide the amount of damages, if any,” Rall explained by e-mail.
“Ask any lawyer: They’ll tell you that the amount you specify on your
request for damages–$500,000 for compensatory and $1,000,000 for punitive
damages–is meaningless. We are suing for libel per se, which recognizes
that the damages are intrinsic to the act. In other words, I don’t have
to wait 30 years and see how much work I lost from this to sue for damages–the
act itself is sufficient because it’s so extreme.”


Rall insists
that he has no intention of keeping whatever money he wins, if any.


“Any
monies I recover from Danny Hellman over and above my legal expenses will be
donated, probably to a First Amendment freedom group,” he says. “This
is because Danny Hellman’s action was designed to intimidate me in the
aftermath of expressing my Constitutionally-protected opinion in print.”


Meanwhile,
the case is attracting the bemused attention of others in the artists’
community, who seem to agree on two points. First, that “Dirty” Danny’s
pranks can be irritating. Second, that Rall is overreacting, and that the matter
has spun out of control.


“Rall’s
$1.5 million lawsuit is outrageous, but I find it very hard to feel sorry for
Hellman,” says Hate author Peter Bagge. “Ted Rall and Danny
Hellman deserve each other.”


“I
was instantly aware of the nature of the Ted Rall’s Balls announcement,”
says Rick Altergott, who was a victim of a Hellman e-mail prank and who was
one of the fake letter’s original recipients. Altergott says he found it
obvious “that it was one of Danny’s pranks.” He adds that he
would be “surprised to learn of even one of [the recipients] who could
have possibly thought differently,” and calls Rall’s suit “frivolous
and groundless.”


As for Rall’s
contention that he’s suffering professionally as a result of Hellman’s
hoax, Altergott’s skeptical. “I think it’s far more likely that
fallout from his lopsided feature on Art Spiegelman is the real explanation”
for whatever professional problems Rall might be having.


“I
really think he’s been courting this kind of danger for a while now,”
says Queen Itchie, art director at Fantagraphics Books in Seattle, of Hellman.
“Going to such lengths–bothering to set up fake e-mail accounts and
such–just to get a laugh at some idiot’s expense is a tad deranged.”


But Itchie
adds: “More often than not, I just immediately delete any funny-looking
messages in my inbox. That’s what I did with the TedRallsBalls stuff as
soon as I got it.”


“How
the hell does Hellman have so much free time?” asks artist Mark Poutenis,
another past victim of a Hellman e-mail prank. “I can’t find time
to feed my cats and he’s opening fake accounts to bust someone’s cajones.
That being said, I think even Johnnie Cochran would be hard-pressed to make
the smallest pile of shit out of the bland parody that that thing was. The whole
lawsuit would be a pathetic joke if it wasn’t so scary.”


The lawsuit
is producing some funny moments. Papers filed by Rall’s lawyers in State
Supreme Court refer to Rall as “a well-known, internationally syndicated,
cartoonist, humorist and author” before listing the various publications
in which Rall’s work has appeared and his other accomplishments, such as
his radio call-in show, his calendars and books and that, in 1995, he “received
the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Outstanding Coverage of the Problems
of the Disadvantaged.” Other awards and distinctions are also listed.


Hellman,
on the other hand, is referred to as a “relatively minor New York based
illustrator whose illustrations appear in such publications as Screw
and Brill’s Content.”


Even Rall’s
Aug. 21 syndicated comic strip addressed the controversy. In it, one character
spends four panels abusing another: smacking him in the face, squirting him
with water and calling him things like “nimrod,” “twit,”
“turd” and “fag.” The last three panels find the abused
fellow turning on his persecutor to stab and shoot him to death. “You have
no sense of humor!” protests the original bully. “No, that’s
not it–” the other answers. “It’s that you’re not funny.”


The way
matters are progressing, look for Hellman to file a countersuit against Rall
for threatening him.


“Maybe
this is just a practical joke–yeah–he’s kidding, right?”
jokes artist Fly. “Just stickin’ it back to Danny. Trying to create
a little ‘emotional

distress.’”


“I
hope this doesn’t reach legal defense fund proportions, but if it does
I guess I’ll have to throw my light weight behind that mischievous street
urchin, Dirty Danny, before he gets dragged to the poorhouse,” says artist
Russell Christian.


Hellman
declined to comment for this piece. What Art Spiegelman thinks of it all is
unknown, since we were unable to reach him by press time.


For what
it’s worth, all of the people quoted above, except Groth and including
Rall, have received paychecks from NYPress.


..