He Said/She Said Comics #5: The OJ Simpson/Nicole Simpson Story, First Amendment Publishing
writer: Arthur Meehan
artists: Mike Scorzelli, Roberto Andujar, Mike Apice, Bruce Scultz
I’m a staunch believer in synchronicity – the convergence of seemingly unrelated events. That said, could my reading The OJ Simpson Story on the same night Prison Break made its mid-season debut really be a coincidence? I’d intended this review as the second part of my Black History Month series, but with news surrounding Simpson’s recent undistributed book about how he would have committed the infamous murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman, and subsequently “leaked” chapter published in Newsweek, “history” is hardly the category for this material. Despite recent headlines, as The OJ Simpson/Nicole Simpson Story was published shortly after the initial controversy, presumably while Simpson’s criminal trial was in progress, this issue is an interesting trip back in time – a reminder of how public, poignant, and shocking those original events were. In this context, even if Simpson’s book was hypothetical conjecture, was reminding us of those torrid events really worth the fresh copy?
In a similar vein, was a comic book adaptation so soon after the murders really in good taste? The publishing company’s moniker, First Amendment Press, boldly and preemptively answers that question, implying the proclamation, “We have the right to tell this story!” To their credit, this flipbook, one side dedicated to the prosecution, the other to the defense, merely recreates already established perspectives, a harmless effort if the intention is education. However, the packaging is what presents the real controversy, the true moral dilemma to me as the reader. On Nicole’s cover, her tear-streaked face stares at us helplessly, while a brow-furrowed OJ hovers over her shoulder with the eeriness of an old Universal monster movie poster. On the OJ side, the Juice’s visage dominates the cover, with Nicole but one of three smaller images (alongside Shapiro and Goldman) in the background. Aside from the accusations of murder, as if that weren’t enough, the most critical criticisms OJ has faced throughout this case is his asserted perception that he is the victim – victim of the media, of Nicole’s adultery, of his own personal demons. Her minimal exposure on one end and the exploitation of her pain on the other is indicative of the tragedy permeating this whole tragedy.
The same phenomenon exists inside the issue, although a tad more subtly. First of all, in my opinion, the OJ side of the issue is better illustrated. Just my opinion, could be my own perception, but now noted nevertheless. Further, following the infamous Bronco chase scene in each segment, the text leads us to a climatic, painted splash page of its respective subject. Tell me if you detect a bias. On OJ’s side, the captions express, “Instead of a grand jury indictment of O.J., (necessary for a trial), the judge now orders a pre-trial hearing to begin a week later. And in the meantime . . . OJ sits waiting in his cell, with nothing but his memories,” followed by another image of a domineering OJ with Nicole a subtext alongside silhouettes of football players and his old high school photo. On Nicole’s side, the captions lead, “After his surrender, OJ is officially taken into custody and charged with 2 counts of murder. And as the media mourns a fallen hero . . . The true victims await justice.” I ask, was the word hero necessary in a description of Simpson from Nicole’s perspective? At least her story could have been illustrated decently.
The supplemental material is the true betrayer of this issue. A haphazard glossary of legal terms and “the cast” of characters is pseudo-educational enough, but the satiric list of “celebrity reactions” is truly distasteful. A quote attributed to Richard Simmons has the flamboyant fitness guru asking, “What a shame about that sweet Ronnie Goldman. Uh, has anyone claimed the body yet?” No joke. I’m an avid supporter of crude and risqué humor, and even over a decade later, that quip sends shivers up my spine.
So how would this issue contribute to the context of Black History Month? I am by no means qualified to analyze this phenomenon any further than its role in the comic book medium, but considering Simpson’s recent headline renaissance, I have to wonder how a civilly convicted murderer has earned our affection again. Did the African-America community express any outrage over Simpson’s attempt to exploit those murders for his own gain, in book form? Even if the guy is innocent of the crime, he’s become guilty of tastelessness. Still, perhaps in a move that embodies the success of definitively black pop culture, OJ combined the victim and criminal stereotypes into a synthesis that the common man could not resist discussing over the water cooler, that a journalistic juggernaut like Newsweek could not resist running in their pages. My only real question is, with all of the talented, outstanding people in their culture, is OJ Simpson really the one black people want making their history?
The ‘60s had the moon landing. The ‘70s had Watergate. The ‘80s had the collapse of the Berlin Wall. And, we, the generation of the grungy ‘90s, have OJ and his Bronco chase. We all remember where we were during that pivotal chase, and years later during the anticlimactic trial. For all of the airtime OJ Simpson hijacked, are we a better country for it? Did our criminal justice system refine itself in those well-publicized fires? Is the comic book medium better for having an issue among its multitudes dedicated to this crime, or the other He Said/She Said crimes advertised in this issue? I know this – Prison Break may have premiered after a month hiatus tonight, but Heroes did, too. And, maintaining a semblance of synchronicity in the face of this issue, I think we all still need one.