Monday, October 28, 2019

Comics lawyer Mitch Berger in hospice (UPDATED)

Mitch at Awesome Con 2014. Photo by Bruce Guthrie
by Mike Rhode

Local comics and cartoon lawyer, editor and collector Mitchell Berger posted on Facebook last night that he's in the final stages of hospice care, after suffering from "a rare cancer called neuroendocrine tumor, or NET" for years. Mitch was a lawyer who graduated from Antioch School of Law in the District, but he has also attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He merged his career and his hobby for decades.

From October 2010 - April 2014, Mitch edited NPR's Double Take feature showing 2 political cartoons. As far as I can tell, he did it anonymously (to the public at least. I'm sure the cartoonists knew). Mitch would frequently weigh in on legal issues in comics, including this comment from 1995 about fair use of political cartoons: "As a lawyer and as the consulting editor on NPR's Double Take Toons, while I disagree with Chip Bok's view of Net Neutrality, but I do support him on his understanding of fair use. His statement "come up with something on your own," is what resonates with me the most. Chip has the right to have the words he speaks and the images he draws to be presented as he intended them. In fact, he has an internationally recognized legal and moral right to protect the integrity of his work. Replacing his words with someone else's isn't just criticism, it supplants and therefore silences his speech. And because of the way the internet works, it is quite possible that some might mistake the parody of his work, as his work." Another of his legal comments can be seen here.

He was also cited by Tom Spurgeon as an editor of cartoons on Kaiser Health News website.

One of Mitch's long-time roles was as "Supernatural Law’s legal consultant Mitch Berger" for Batton Lash's comic book about lawyers with monsters for clients. Lash, who also had attended SVA, passed away earlier this year.

Mitch, Jackie Estrada and Batton Lash at Awesome Con 2014. Photo by Bruce Guthrie
An interview with Will Eisner that Mitch co-conducted with Mike Barson and Falls Church's Ted White, was published in Heavy Metal's November 1983 issue, of all places. He was a founding board member (1991) and vice president for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Eric Reynolds of the Comics Journal recalled that he resigned under pressure in 1994 after the failure in defending Mike Diana. He also provided other cartoonists with legal services. At some point, according to Mary Fleener, he worked for DC Comics and helped her get rights to a story back. He also posthumously assisted Dori Seda to ensure her literary rights went to the person she had wanted them to go to.

Crumb drawing donated to Columbia's library
In 2015, Mitch donated his sketchbook to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum and allowed us to reproduce his Facebook post about it. In 2017, Mitch contributed money in the name of his first wife, Peggy Girsham*, to increase the print run of Resist! #2. His most recent donation was a drawing by Robert Crumb to Columbia University's Library this year. Librarian Karen Green confirmed this for me, noting it was "A very, very kind and generous donation."

I never got to know Mitch particularly well. We would run into each other infrequently at political cartoon events such as the RFK Awards, but by the time I met him he'd already been a long-time part of the comics scene and certainly didn't need me to introduce him to anyone in the field. As seen here, Bruce Guthrie has pictures of him locally at Awesome Con and the Herblock Awards.

On his Facebook post, Mitch writes,dictated to his brother, "I am not at the end yet, but I am getting weaker and losing strength. I can't say enough about how supportive hospice care has been. A hospice nurse makes sure that I have no pain or suffering. A very professional and caring hospice worker comes three times a week to give me a bed bath and change the bedsheets, so I am always clean, pain-free, and comfortable."

Mitch and Mark Fiore at Fiore's Herblock Award, 2016. Photo by Bruce Guthrie
A cross-section of the comics world have responded to his post including Rick Veitch, Mary Fleener, Keith Knight, Jim Wheelock, Shannon Wheeler, Mark Fleck, Jackie Estrada, Wayno, Rick McKee, Ted Rall, Robert Greenberger, Sean Howe, Keith Brown, Clay Jones, Karen Green, Michael Cavna, Paul Levitz, Bob Staake, Barbara Dale, Paul Mavrides, Brian Bassett, Michael T. Gilbert, Stephen Bissette, Nina Paley along with simple 'likes' from Bob Smith, Mark Wheatley, Teresa Roberts Logan, Caitlin McGurk, Carol Tilley, Jimmy Margulies, Ron Evry, Tom Heintjes, Mark Newgarden, Heidi MacDonald, Noah Van Sciver, RL Crabb, Mark Stokes, Tom Orzechowski,  Greg Wallace, John Branch, Doug Ready, Barbara Randall Kesel, Randy Bish, Jim Valentino, Ray Alma, James Owen, Matthew Hansel, Denys Cowan, Maggie Thompson, Michael Fry, Darrin Bell, Diana Schutz, Robert Gregory, Mark Zingarelli, Pete Maresca, Greg Koudoulian, Christine Tripp, and probably others. Additonal comments have been made by Glenn McCoy and Jen Sorenson, with likes from Frank Cammuso, Jeff Trexler and Mike Lester.

This post will be updated as new information or comments come in, with new pieces in italics. 

*Oct 30: Ms. Girsham's name was previously misspelled as Grisham. Thank you to Eva Zelig for the correction.

1 comment:

Rick Marschall said...

Sad news. I am a fan and admirer of Mitch. I pray for his comfort and strength.