Thursday, July 19, 2007

The War on Our Doorstep

As the regular Myrant readers know, and those who read the comments occasionally see, my views of the ongoing corruption of my home country are pretty clear. This isn't the America I grew up in; this isn't the America that we say we are. The blithe indifference too many fellow citizens continue to demonstrate in light of the current Bush Administration's continuing abuses is absolutely reprehensible, to my mind.

The presumption, it seems, is that only the guilty suffer the abuses, and that illusion somehow justifies any such action. Those abuses, from suspending habeas corpus to Kafkaesque imprisonment without legal process or recourse, from "extraordinary rendition" (read: kidnapping) to torture (mind you, imprisonment for any duration sans charges or any legal process or recourse constitutes psychological torture; stretched over the six-plus years many in Guantanamo have already served, it's definitely torture), are rendered in the cause of national security and in our name, but nothing changes the fact we have become a rogue militaristic police state in the eyes of the world -- and that they are right.

There's an adage that emerged after WW2 about ignoring such crimes of state until they come for your neighbor... then they come for you.

We're there, my friends.

The gestapo-like tactics of the Bush Administration's policies have now impacted the life of at least one cartoonist whose work we know and love, and no one seems to be paying much attention to it. It's not in the news, it's not even in the comics news (a joke, that -- there is no comics journalism, as anyone paying any attention knows and has known for years).

Jay Stephens is among North America's most productive and popular cartoonists, nurturing his career from the fringes of alternative comics to the Eisner and Harvey Award nominee comic The Land of Nod to animated cartoons, Jet Cat and, most recently, the Daytime Emmy Award-winning series Tutenstein. Jet Cat is Jay's baby, and his career of late has required Jay travel from his Guelph, Ontario home to the United States of America on business, tending to the production of animated cartoons based on his creations -- in business terms, Jay is now a well-paid creator in television, and his flying into the US last month to attend production and development meetings and accept his latest Daytime Emmy Award (the second, mind you) should be seen for what it is: a successful Canadian businessman tending to his business.

It's no different than, say, a Sony executive flying to and from Los Angeles for production meetings on their latest production, or an American filmmaker flying to and from Prague for his or her current project (Neil Gaiman and his daughter recently flew to and from Europe for similar purposes, visiting the set of Hellboy), or an industrialist checking his factories or attending meetings in Mexico or China; Jay is a succcessful creative businessman seeing to business. He has done so for a few years now, without incident.

Imagine, then, the duress suffered by this modest fellow -- who, on his own website's capsule bio, half-jokingly refers to his suffering "from depression, panic attacks, and crippling self-doubt" -- when he was prevented from attending said meetings and missing his Emmy Award win.

Imagine his anxiety when, on his own Canadian soil, he was detained -- without being permitted to call his wife, agent, lawyer or producers or anyone -- by the American Department of Homeland Security, "harrassed, fingerprinted, and photographed at the border and a 'flag' was put on my passport preventing me from 'trying to enter the States illegally in the future.'"

Jay's ordeal, however brief, is chilling; the Homeland Security Department's justification for this abuse was "because they felt [Jay] needed a work visa," though he -- like countless Canadian cartoonists, creators, animators and filmmakers -- has been working with American publishers, producers, printers, conventions, etc. without harassment for years, decades, generations prior to this.

As Jay's agent Jean-Marc L'officier notes, "Jay carried his contract with him, which he showed the DHS officers: he has no obligation to perform any services, is paid in royalties, which are sent to his bank in Canada, where he lives, owns a home, etc. He is being invited to LA to check that his show is done well."

No work visa was previously required, and I'm sure it would have hit the news big time if some Sony or Warner Bros. or Fox executive had been similarly treated jetting to and from LA.

Jay was detained for hours, and I can only imagine how this fucked him up emotionally -- and continues to. He'd been traveling to and from the US for years, of late to and from Los Angeles for his latest project with Porchlight; worse yet, as Jean-Marc notes, Jay was in fact "held incommunicado for several hours, couldn't call his wife, his agent, a lawyer, had his Canadian passport confiscated, all the while on Canadian soil, and is now on a list, which might cripple his ability to conduct his business for years to come, without any appeal, redress, etc."

How will this impact on Jay, now and in the future?

I'm worried; after all, Jay now has plenty of reason to fear any form of travel to or from (should he reach us) America, land of the free, home of the brave.

For the immediate short-term, the Porchlight "producers have now taken steps to try to get an O-1 (famous people) visa (no news yet), but that in any event is linked/limited to the current production. Frankly, we have no idea what to do thereafter if entry is routinely refused," Jay's agent Jean-Marc reports.

Jay has a two-time Emmy Award-winning cartoon series under his belt and still in production, but how can he keep this career momentum going if he now has reason to avoid working with any American production company?

How does any freelancer build on such success in the hard reality of TV and animation production if a work visa is required when one is pitching a concept and there isn't as yet any 'work' that fits within the narrow parameters of the new bureaucracy? Even mega-successful filmmakers are dependent on the vagaries of the market and the need to freely move for meetings, pitches, etc.; prescribed movement, particularly that requiring visas and permissions month in advance, is a career-killer, even if one doesn't suffer from "depression, panic attacks, and crippling self-doubt," and I dread what this kind of mindfuck can do to someone who does.

But that, of course, is the purpose of Homeland Security's detainment. They were bullies, scaring the shit out of a man because they could, they can and do every day, savoring the fear they can and do put into anyone they choose to target. "Innocent until proven guilty" is no longer the law of the land, and the horrible irony of that American flag stigmatizing Jay's Canadian passport is the ultimate imaginable desecration of the American flag. Our flag is now a stigma -- the fruit of our current President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and their policies.

I am outraged, as a fellow cartoonist, as an American citizen, as one who has enjoyed ongoing relations with friends in Canada and access to that beloved country all my adult life; I am infuriated that as marvelous a creative soul as Jay suffered this humiliation and abuse and is now stigmatized at the current height of his career and creative powers.

Jay has understandably understated the impact in his own venue,
  • noting his anger but concluding with a 'sigh' in his own brief blog entry on this event.
  • Jean-Marc L'officier has posted on the Daily Kos this morning about Jay's encounter, and an even more chilling Homeland Security case in which, like Jay's, "there seems to be no appeal, no recourse, no redress, and that the victims' lives will be impacted likely forever, without any issue in sight."

  • As an American citizen, I am moved to push this to another level.

    As a cartoonist, I'm sick and tired of cartoonists remaining the easy target for bullies and corrupt agents of the law.

    For those of you prudish enough to still think the obscenity charges against Mike Diana were in any way justified --
  • -- much less his standing now as the only artist in American history to be found guilty of obscenity, as a teenager yet! --
  • -- consider the fact that Jay wasn't even involved in subversive media. He wasn't working on a Boiled Angel or a "Piss Christ" -- Jay was accepting a major industry award for Tutenstein, a popular Discovery/NBC network cartoon, and seeing to production meetings on Cartoon Networks's Secret Saturdays!

    There is no possible justification for the treatment Jay suffered, or the repercussions upon his life, family, creative life and career.

  • We need to remember, too, lessons learned: the comics community couldn't stand up to the petty corrupt legal forces at work in Oklahoma City in 1995-1997;
  • when the same obscene merger of church and police state, empowered by their Planet Comics success, went after video copies of The Tin Drum,
  • they had their asses handed to them.
  • (For more on The Tin Drum case history and those involved, check this link for access to a three-part essay on "The Tin Drum Fiasco," recommended reading.)

  • The lessons were clear: pick on comics, no one cares in the US.

    Pick on movies, and the sky can fall on your head.

    The VSDA (Video Software Dealer's Association) and DGA (Directors Guild of America) brought all they could muster against the same corrupt church and police coalition that had crushed Planet Comics, despite the CDLDF's (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) best efforts.

    In Jay's case, we need to spread this beyond the confines of the comics community, and rally larger industries.

    Jay's treatment should be a rallying point for the larger creative community -- filmmakers, animators, producers, the American media at large so dependent on US/Canadian cooperation and coproductions -- to bring some real muscle to bear on such abuses against creative individuals like Jay.

    Moreover, this should serve as notice for those of you who are cartoonists and still think the Bush Regime is doing OK by you and us and America.

    They've now come for your neighbor...

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