In October, comic book readers will have their chance to support a noble cause with "Liberty Comics" #2, a special 48-page one-shot published by Image Comics in conjunction with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). Following the success of last year's "Liberty Comics" #1, Image and the CBLDF have partnered again to create another issue filled with an all-star lineup of writers and artists – and just like last year, all of the book's proceeds go towards the CBLDF's ongoing efforts to protect the First Amendment rights of comic book professionals. CBR News spoke with "Liberty Comics" #2 editor Jamie S. Rich, writer Jimmy Palmiotti and CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein about the project.
As was the case with the first issue, "Liberty Comics" #2 boasts work from a plethora of well-established comic book writers and artists, including the likes of Neil Gaiman, Gail Simone, Jim Lee, Paul Pope, Mike Allred, Dave Gibbons and many more. "The pitch was basically that [creators] would have the opportunity to work on a no-limits comic that would have as much karmic reward as it would a creative reward," Rich told CBR News. "Do whatever you want and at the same time contribute to a worthy cause."
The cause, of course, is an important one to those in the industry: the CBLDF's ongoing efforts to defend the freedom of speech for comic book professionals everywhere. "Every issue purchased directly supports the work of the CBLDF and helps us protect the medium's rights whenever they are threatened," said CBLDF Executive Director Brownstein. "I think the success of a project like 'Liberty Comics' is that it's a wonderful convergence of the different groups that make the CBLDF vital. The creators bring their A-game to support a group they believe in, retailers get behind the project to support the work we do on the industry's behalf and readers get to support the organization while getting to see work by some of the field's finest talents in a fashion that they don't normally get to. It's a win-win-win."
For comic book creators, it certainly makes sense to support a cause that benefits their own creative freedom. "The obvious reason to support this book and the CBLDF is because all their money comes from people like us who believe in freedom of speech and the rights included with that freedom," said Jimmy Palmiotti, who contributed a new "Painkiller Jane" story to the issue. "Books like 'The Pro' and 'Back to Brooklyn' push some boundaries here and there with their content, and it's important that when creating this form of adult entertainment, we feel we have some protection on our side in order to continue to freely express ourselves in our work."
But a further perk for Palmiotti and the other "Liberty Comics" creators is that the issue itself is essentially boundary free. "I think it's the CBLDF that is the main draw," said Rich. "That said, I am sure the open policy also has its appeal. When your theme is free speech, you know there are no restrictions, and sometimes it's fun to cut loose."
One example that Rich provided was a story scripted by Jason Aaron and illustrated by Moritat titled "The First Censor." "[It's] about the guy who tells the cavemen what they can and cannot say, and it's very funny and it has an excellent point to it, and it will probably surprise a lot of people," Rich described. "I don't think you'd see Jason doing that anywhere else."
Perhaps the most anticipated story in "Liberty Comics" #2 is written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Jim Lee. "Neil wrote a short piece called '100 Words,' and it was originally intended to be a two-page spread, the centerpiece of the book," said Rich. "Jim got inspired, however, and he took it to six pages, last I heard. Jim is taking this short poem Neil wrote and running wild. It's going to be something lots of people are going to be talking about once it's out."
Brownstein agreed with Rich's assessment. "I can guarantee you, the collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Jim Lee is like nothing you'd expect from either of them and that alone will be worth the price of admission."
For Palmiotti's part, "Liberty Comics" sees the return of his and Joe Quesada’s creation Painkiller Jane in explosive fashion. "We try to shock the reader into a gasp and a smile," he described of the Jim Rugg-illustrated segment. "[It's] an action story that shows off the extreme nature of the character to make a point. It's a short story, but we managed to pack a ton of action in and at the same time keep it fun. It's got explosions, gunplay and kissing girls – which is always fun."
Then, of course, there's Jamie S. Rich's own installment – a "Mr. Gum" adventure with "Madman" creator Mike Allred. "Mike once told me, so I assume it's true, that Mr. Gum was secretly based on me, so I thought it would be kind of cool for me to write him for once," Rich recalled. "Then the idea hit me: one day, an ad exec comes to Mr. Gum and asks him to be the pitchman for Mister Gum, the Only Gum Exclusively for Men. Our boy refuses, and then he's told he can't use the name anymore, copyright infringement. It's pretty whacky. I tried to channel Mike's stream-of-consciousness storytelling and give him neat stuff to draw."
In addition to the stories inside of "Liberty Comics" #2, the issue also boasts covers from John Romita, Jr. and Time Sale. "With Tim, we decided to do something with a hardboiled, pulpy feel, and he also played up on old propaganda posters. Dave Stewart colored it, and they came up with a piece that is dark and moody, a little sexy and a little dangerous," Rich described. "On the other side, John drew an exclusive 'Kick-Ass' image that is, just like everyone on that book, explosive and cool. John and Mark Millar have made 'Kick-Ass' like the patron saint of the CBLDF for 2009. Guy Major colored that cover and he really complemented John well."
"Liberty Comics" #2 is priced at $4.99, a fee that some might consider hefty in the current economic environment, but Brownstein thinks the cost is worth it. "The increased page count raises the costs, but we think that will be more than made up for by the outstanding quality of the stories in the book," he said.
Palmiotti added another layer to Brownstein's point, saying, "The cool thing about buying this book is you get instant gratification knowing you contributed to the fund, as well as seeing a handful of awesome creators cut loose on the printed page. It's win-win for everyone."
For Rich, "Liberty Comics" and the CBLDF are worthy causes for a simple but important reason. "Artists and writers are supposed to reflect society, and that is sometimes by showing us what we may not want to see," he said. "It's an old saw, but it's one that still holds true, that we must protect all rights to free speech and free artistic expression if we are going to protect any."
"Liberty Comics" #2 hits stores on October 14, 2009 from Image Comics and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.