The Venice Chamber of Commerce has banned a new community poster because of its vivid cartoon depictions of a gang fight, an armed robbery, a police chase, a house burglary, a car-towing, a garbage scavenger and dogs in heat.
The poster, by Venice artist and businessman Jeffrey Stanton, appeared last month. President Phil Bubar said the chamber ordered 150 copies and sold nearly a third of them before deciding that the colorful wall-sized drawing could not be sanctioned by the chamber because it projected a "negative" image of the community.
"Initially, I wasn't bothered by it," said Bubar, who obtained a refund from Stanton for the remaining maps. "But after analyzing it I determined that it really wasn't conducive to the promotion of the area. It might be true that there (are problems), but the community is trying to do something about it. This is like a slap in the face."
The poster, officially known as the "Venice California Map," has been taken off the shelves of several stores. Bubar said merchants and community leaders objected most strenuously to the violent incidents portrayed in the economically depressed Oakwood area.
That criticism was echoed in a recent editorial in a local newspaper, the Free Venice Beachhead. Writing for the paper, community activist Moe Stavnezer said the poster represented a "racial slur" by a "white entrepreneur." Stavnezer said advertisers who paid $50 each to appear on the poster should demand a refund unless it is revised.
Humorous Representation Intended
The storm of opposition has stunned the poster's creator. Stanton, a wiry man in his 40s who lives in a Pacific Avenue apartment crammed with computers, books, magazines and a huge projection television, said he intended to create a humorous representation of Venice by touching on all of its odd characteristics. In retrospect, Stanton said he may have suffered a "lapse in judgment," but he offered no apologies.
"The most vocal complaints are about the gang fight in the ghetto," Stanton said. "I'm accused of being racist, but the gangs are white. It was a tongue-in-cheek thing for us. . . . The mistake we made is that we should have had movie cameras and lights as if the thing was being filmed."
The poster, which can still be seen in a few store windows, looks like a street map come to life. Familiar images from the diverse community include swimmers and sailboats in the surf, roller skaters, weight lifters and hustlers along Ocean Front Walk and boaters paddling through neighborhood canals.
The poster also depicts dozens of historic landmarks, churches and businesses in crayon-like colors. Critics say the map is crammed full of so many images that most people don't spot the controversial depictions until after they've bought it. "We got complaints from people who had purchased it," said chamber president Bubar. "They asked why all these funny things were going on."
The "funny things" are mostly found in the upper left-hand corner of the poster. The gang fight, at the corner of 4th Street and Broadway, shows a standoff between rival groups armed with knives and baseball bats. The armed robbery, at the corner of San Juan and 6th Street, depicts a masked man holding a revolver on his victim. The Oakwood section of the map also shows a burning trash can, a house burglary and a police chase.
Other controversial scenes, such as the depictions of a prostitute, the towing of an illegally parked car, a garbage scavenger and two dogs who appear to be involved in mating, occur nearer the beach.
Vera Davis, a community organizer in Oakwood, said several neighbors had complained that the poster would frighten people away from the Oakwood community. And Arnold Springer, a member of the Venice Town Council, echoed the criticism. "I don't think it's appropriate," Springer said. "I don't think that's the way to advise people about Venice."
Stanton said the controversy has strained his relations within the community. A resident of Venice since 1972, Stanton is trained as a mechanical engineer and has co-authored several books on computer software. He started the Venice Postcard Co. in 1979 as an offshoot of his interest in photography. Since then he has become a common site on the Ocean Front Walk, where he peddles his wares from a tricycle.
Stanton created his first Venice map six years ago. The cartoon poster, which was much less detailed than the current one, sold about 6,000 copies and was generally well received, Stanton said. When people suggested that he update the poster, Stanton said he decided to incorporate more of the "flavor" of the community.
"We decided to update it completely," said Stanton, "to have all of the new characters on the beach like Skateboard Mama, the flame throwers and the guy who carries the big cross."
Working with artist Mia McCroskey, Stanton completed the map in late May. It hit the stores in June with a $2 price tag, but was quickly pulled from several locations because of complaints. Stanton estimated that 15 stores still sell the map and said a lot of merchants think it's funny. At one location, the Venice Supply Depot, a store employee who refused to give his name said map sales are brisk.
Stanton said he does not know how many posters have been sold, but he estimated between 300 and 400. "It's hard to say how much business we're losing," Stanton said. "We may gain from the controversy. But so far the response to this map has not been very good."
Bubar said the Chamber of Commerce may try to salvage the posters. Some businessmen have suggested that Stanton place stickers over the objectionable areas, but Bubar said that may not be practical. Before a final decision is made, Bubar said the chamber will consult merchants and business leaders.
Stanton, however, doesn't seem very interested in their decision. The artist said he would consider changing his poster, but added that he was eager to get out of the map-making business.
"I don't think I'll ever do another Venice map," Stanton said. "I don't think the community will let me."