Putting your money where your mouth is has never been more literal than in "Liberty Comics," the series of one-shots from Image Comics and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund where all proceeds go toward the CBLDF's continued fight for free speech in the comic book industry. October sees the release of the second issue of "Liberty Comics," which features original stories from the likes of Jason Aaron ("Scalped"), Michael Allred ("Madman"), Ben McCool ("Choker") and Jimmy Palmiotti ("Painkiller Jane").
All four creators spoke with CBR News about their particular contributions to "Liberty Comics" and the reasons why the CBLDF and the issue of freedom of speech are so important for comic book readers, retailers and creators alike.
CBR News: "Liberty Comics" is a book with a cause—all proceeds go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's continued fight for freedom of free speech. In your opinion, what makes this book different than other benefit comics?
Ben McCool: Well, for starters, its lack of content restrictions — creators have been left to concoct whatever our deviant minds can assemble! In all seriousness, I believe this was an important decision, and one that could project benefit comics into a whole new stratosphere. The book's predecessor focused on the theme of censorship and/or free speech throughout, and though it was a tremendous title in its own right, "Liberty Comics" #2 offers a wealth of variety, style and theme with each individual segment completely unique. Readers won't know what hit 'em.
Jimmy Palmiotti: I have no idea really, except it's got a great crew of creators doing what they do best. I love a lot of those other benefit books and think they are great, so I like to look at it as continuing a great tradition.
Jason Aaron: It boasts an amazing list of talent—and me too—and it's for a great cause, so what more do you need to know?
Michael Allred: It's all out! No slackin' allowed!
CBR News: Let's talk about your specific work on the title—what stories are you guys bringing to "Liberty Comics" #2?
Jimmy Palmiotti: My story features Painkiller Jane, a character that Joe Quesada and I created. It has her in the middle of an action adventure and makes a point I'd rather the story explain rather than me ruining it here.
Ben McCool: Mine is a six-page, self-contained prelude to "Choker," a new series I'm working on with Ben Templesmith. It won't be seen anywhere else, either; it's completely exclusive to "Liberty" #2. We introduce two of the main characters, plus set up the series' tone and backdrop, all in the most exquisitely unpleasant of fashions.
Michael Allred: My long-time bud and frequent editor, Jamie S. Rich, came up with the story regarding Mr. Gum having the use of his own name and addressing copyright issues, but in a punchy-fun way. Master artist Dave Johnson jumped on to make my humble pencil scribbles sing with his super groovy inks. Of course, I forced the best colorist in comics, Laura Allred, to bring it all to life, and lettering genius, Nate Piekos, wrapped it up with his nifty fonts.
Jason Aaron: It's a caveman story about the very first censor, a guy who likes to go around and tell the other cavemen and women what they're not allowed to do or so. It's a silly little story, but there's a real message behind it, too.
CBR News: The most obvious appeal of "Liberty Comics" is the cause it represents, but was there something about that very premise—composing a story where content knows no bounds—that made working on this book particularly alluring to you?
Michael Allred: No, I've never felt "bound"—and I want to keep it that way.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Not with the Jane character, because we write her that way each and every time. I was not trying to shock and awe here, but to tell a little quick "idea" and have fun with the concept and theme.
Jason Aaron: Well, I write for both Vertigo and Marvel's MAX imprint, so I'm already used to having few restrictions content-wise. That's one of the things that make me interested in the CBLDF—lord knows I might need them some day!
Ben McCool: I'm a huge supporter of the CBLDF, and welcome any opportunity to contribute. To be able to do so in a no-holds-barred creative sense is even better: a restraint-free story, completely left to my own discretion, that helps support a cause I strongly believe in? Now that's a good deal.
CBR News: Thinking back on your careers to date, what stands out as a moment where having freedom of speech was particularly important?
Ben McCool: In all honesty, my career is still in its infancy, at least so far as writing comics is concerned. "Choker" is my first creator-owned work, as well as my first mini-series, so I'm thinking of it as my grand inauguration. But it's a feisty fable, touching on some very delicate subject matters. Organizations like the CBLDF allow such material to exist with diminished fear of repercussions; they're protecting the interests of both creators and the retailers. This to me is of the utmost importance, and I am truly grateful for their efforts.
Jimmy Palmiotti: With what I write, it's been important across the board—from "Jane" to "The Pro," all the way to "Back to Brooklyn." A lot of my work is edgier than most and without that freedom... well, honestly, these books would never have existed.
CBR News: Are there any things that you've said or done in your creative careers that you maybe, sorta, kinda wish you hadn't said or done?
Jason Aaron: If so, I'm not going to repeat them now!
Jimmy Palmiotti: Sure, but that's for me to know! All I can really say is that I have grown up and evolved and watch what I say. I stay positive and have empathy for another's situation and how they might feel. It's too easy to be a dick and speak your mind.
Ben McCool: As I mentioned earlier, I'm still something of a rookie comic book creator, and I've enjoyed a smooth ride thus far. But I don't want to tempt fate too much — I get the feeling that "Choker" might upset at least a few people before we're done with it.
CBR News: What does freedom of speech mean to you specifically and what makes it so important as a creator?
Jimmy Palmiotti: It means I have the freedom to create something the way I see it, and not worry about boundaries or others rules of what is acceptable.
Ben McCool: Freedom of speech is, and should remain to be, one of the most elementary rights an individual can enjoy. I don't want to get too deep or preachy about it here — I'll save you that particular onslaught! — but it's something I believe in strongly, something that to me represents the fundamentals of human dignity.
As a creator, it allows for uncompromised expression, the independence of output. I have many stories I wish to tell, and my own exclusive manner of telling them. Freedom of speech permits this to remain the standard; any concession of this and the outlook becomes very grave indeed.
Michael Allred: I used to work in TV news, and it was always stunning to me how many ways we can get shut up, or the truth be skewed or distorted. Strangely, comics seem to be a powerful way to express truth and liberty, though not near having reached its potential as a medium. I'm all about progression and fairness, and if the comic book medium ever becomes popular enough to threaten those that want to stop progression and fairness, I want there to be awareness among the faithful, and the CBLDF is our best chance to ensure that when the "bad guys" come a-whinin'.
CBR News: Can you explain why a creator's freedom of speech is particularly important to your readers?
Ben McCool: Readers are crucial to the creative process: for a start, I'd be short of a job without them! And as this is a job that means so much to me, I'm fully appreciative of their importance. Readers deserve my absolute best, as often as I'm able to offer it. The last thing I'd want to present is a suppressed, bowdlerized representation of my work; if somebody is kind enough to give a book of mine a chance, they deserve to see its truest and most candid guise.
Michael Allred: A reader needs to know that any art has been created exactly the way the artist intended it, even if it involves dudes in capes. Then the reader can be inspired or entertained by it in the purest way possible, or reject it entirely on its own merits.
Jimmy Palmiotti: Without it, well, everything would be at the same level. Comics, especially superheroes, would - storytelling-wise - stay at the level of "Super Friends," in a way.
CBR News: Aside from purchasing "Liberty Comics," what are some ways you can think of that fans — and even other creators — can help the cause of freedom of speech?
Ben McCool: To point out the obvious, contribute to the CBLDF! And that doesn't just mean monetary donations, either: the Fund is always on the lookout for volunteers, especially at conventions. Anybody who believes in the cause can help in some way. There are several ways that creators can help the CBLDF, including donations of artwork, signed books, whatever; these all help raise much-appreciated funds. The Fund is always welcome to creator signings at conventions, too, helping generate awareness amongst attending fans.
Jason Aaron: Don't be content to just gripe about things online. Get involved in your community. Make your voice heard.
Michael Allred: Stand up for anyone anywhere to have their say on any subject, even if you disagree. Then you can strongly disagree or support expecting the same courtesy without fear of hypocrisy.
CBR News: And in the spirit of free speech, is there anything – anything at all – that you'd like to add?
Jason Aaron: Buy this fucking book.
"Liberty Comics" #2 hits comic shops on October 14, 2009 courtesy of Image Comics and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.