Dirty Danny Hellman

Danny Hellman is in a bit of a rut right now. In addition to
being doomed in the highly unrecognized field of comics, he is
facing a $1.5 million lawsuit. Well, we’re four years into
this mess, and since the fall of 2001, I’ve had a wonderful
lawyer named Erik Jacobs handling my case pro bono, says
Hellman. For me, as a struggling artist, the most
emotionally devastating aspect of the lawsuit was the expense,
and thanks to Erik, these last two years of the lawsuit have
been a lot less stressful for my wife and I than the first

The lawsuit is
over an e-mail prank Hellman circulated and a cartoon he drew
of fellow comic book author Ted Rall. Rall had written an
article for the Village Voice boldly criticizing Art
Spiegelman, the well-respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
of Maus. Hellman says the cartoon that he circulated
came out a day or two before the prank.

cartoon consists of Rall drawn as a small dog in a park,
peeing on a statue of Spiegelman. The prank came after Rall
and Hellman exchanged several private e-mails about Rall’s
Village Voice
article. Hellman says he found Rall’s
e-mails to be snide and decided to write an e-mail mocking
Rall’s article.
The e-mail, which is entitled “Ted Rall’s Balls,” featured a
faux Rall bragging about his “testicular fortitude”, which he
earned by criticizing Spiegelman, the chain-smoking Napoleon
of comics. The e-mail welcomed it’s recipients to join a
list serve where the topic of discussion would be Ted Rall’s
balls. Hellman says he sent the email to approximately thirty
people, most of whom were already “well-acquainted” with his
“juvenile jokes.” Rall was also included on the list.

That e-mail was followed by a series of faux disgruntled
responses from well-known voices in the publishing
industry. They were actually written by Hellman himself.
“Within a couple of days of the ‘Ted Rall’s Balls’ e-mail, I
was receiving cease & desist letters from Rall’s attorneys,
threatening legal action, and demanding an apology, as well as
a five figure sum of money,” he explains. “I provided an
apology immediately, but declined to offer any cash, (as I
felt none was deserved).” Within a few weeks, Rall’s
attorneys filed a $1.5 million dollar libel suit against
Hellman. In Hellman’s opinion the whole prank was completely

Regarding Rall’s article about Spiegelman, Hellman says, “The
Main thesis of the piece, (as I remember it) was a dark
portrait Rall struggled to paint of Art Spiegelman as a petty,
power-mad tyrant of the New York cartooning scene, without
whose consent no aspiring cartoonist could ever hope to
advance professionally.” Hellman says Rall even attacked
Spiegelman’s smoking habits.

Danny Hellman isn’t a millionaire who can easily pay a
settlement to Ted Rall. So he has put out a benefit book
called Legal Action Comics Volume 1. The second volume
of his anthology is also available. “I’d wanted to do a
comics anthology for years. And had tried a few times to get
such projects off the ground, with little success,” says
Hellman. “I had done a mini comic in the early 1990s called
Legal Action Comics, which reprinted two strips I’d
done for Screw magazine parodying Superman and the
Simpsons. So in a sense, there were precedents that led to
2001’s Legal Action Comics Volume 1, but I’d certainly
had no plans to print such a book prior to the lawsuit.” The
anthology contains work from some very well-known people in
the world of comics such as Robert Crumb, Sam Henderson, and
Art Spiegelman. The second volume contains some returning
contributors from Legal Action Comics Volume 1 and some
new talents as well.

Hellman also has gotten some help from M. Doughty, former
front man of the band Soul Coughing, whom he calls a
very “gifted writer (as one can tell from his lyrics).”
Hellman says he got acquainted with Doughty a few years ago at
the New York Press offices, and at the newspaper’s
“legendary lavish parties.” Doughty had been a writer and an
illustrator for the paper for several years. Hellman says
that Doughty was possibly the funniest writer the New York
ever had.

“When I got into legal hot water, Doughty and his band
Soul Coughing
were generous enough to headline a benefit
concert the New York Press had organized on my
behalf. (Soul Coughing disbanded shortly after that
December 1999 concert, and I’d like to think that the sight of
me in clown makeup had nothing to do with that breakup).”

Danny Hellman doesn’t have any specific plans for the future.
He says he has made a living as an editorial illustrator and
hopes to have continued success in that field. “I enjoy doing
comics, and hope to do more of that, in spite of the meager
financial rewards and limited audience.” Perhaps he’ll
continue to get by with a little help from his friends.

Ben Durgin

Posted on December 28, 2004, in Interviews. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Dirty Danny Hellman.

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