Freedom of speech: It's one of the more contentious rights laid out in the First Amendment. Where does one person's right to speak their mind end and another's begin? That's a question for the ages, but what we do know is that comic creators, dealers and readers sometimes need a little help in the legal department. That's where the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund comes in. Are you being held in Canada for possessing comics with "questionable" content, or is the government coming down on your underground parody comic? Enter the CBLDF!
A charitable organization that takes so many risks doesn't survive on its own accord, though. They need help. While auctions and donations are held on a regular basis, you can also contribute by purchasing the "CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011," overseen by Legendary Comics Editor-in-Chief Bob Schreck. The book will be out in October from Image Comics and features the talents of Mark Waid, Frank Quitely, J.H. Williams III, J. Michael Straczynski, Steve Niles, Judd Winick, Jeff Lemire, Carla Speed McNeil, Matt Wagner, A.J. Lieberman, Riley Rossmo, Richard Starkings, Shaky Kane and Craig Thompson doing his first color comics work! That's not even counting the pinups by Dustin Nguyen, Ivan Reis, Greg Land and Greg Horn, and covers by Wagner, John Cassaday and Quitely. Comic Book Resources spoke with Schreck about this 48-page giant, the talent involved and how get involved with such a worthy cause.
"I've always been a supporter of the fund in my own small way," Schreck said. "Charles Brownstein, executive director of the CBLDF, had asked me years ago, but I just wasn't able to jump on board at the time. Though I assured him that as soon as I could, I'd be happy to take on the task. He called again this past winter, and after I got Thomas Tull's -- Legendary Comics CEO -- approval to help, I took on the task."
Schreck pointed to his past experience editing anthologies such as "Dark Horse Presents" and "Oni Double Feature" as being of great help when it came to organizing the "Liberty Annual."
"I love the mix-and-match elements of an anthology, kind of like doing a music mix for your friends," Schreck said. "Plus, I had a great deal of support from my assistant, Greg Tumbarello, to help make sense of everything."
When it came to making sense of things, Schreck wanted to tell good stories but also keep to the theme of the issue and the organization.
"Because it's for the CBLDF, the themes obviously touch upon different aspects of defending our First Amendment rights, mostly our right to free speech," Schreck said. "We include freedom of artistic expression, freedom of religion and freedom of sexuality, just to name a few. But the real trick here was to present interesting and compelling stories that touch upon those themes without getting too preachy. I'm proud to say that I feel we were able to strike that careful balance, and we often drew upon our creators' real-life experiences."
Part of the process also included bringing together some of the biggest names in comics to work together for the first time, including Mark Waid writing a story for Jeff Lemire to draw.
"Having worked with Jeff Lemire at Vertigo and knowing that he would love to lend a helping hand to the cause, he was easy to approach," Schreck said. "Meanwhile, I've also known Mark Waid for years, and while we never had the opportunity to work together, I've been a big fan of him and his work, and from our previous conversations was certain that he'd be inclined to help the fund. Just as Mark let me know he was up to the task, Jeff's writing partner had to bail due to an over abundance of deadlines. So I mentioned to Jeff that Mark was contributing to the book and asked if he would like to work with him. Jeff's also a huge fan of Mark's work, so we had a new team."
Schreck found himself talking to all kinds of folks he used to work with, including Frank Quitely, who he had previously edited at DC Comics.
"Having the pleasure of working with Frank on 'All-Star Superman,' it was a no-brainer that I could lean on him for support," Schreck said. "Plus, he had already done some art for the Fund. I emailed him, and he was at the ready. I told him that we were going to incorporate some different themes this time around, and that we were taking a page from Dan Savage's 'It Gets Better' campaign. He thought on it and came back with a wonderful, simple and very sad portrait of Alan Turing with the bitter irony of including only two words: 'Google Him.'"
While the sad story of British mathematician, cryptologist and prosecuted homosexual Turing inspired Quitely, J.H. Williams III also created a piece that supports tolerance and fairness.
"Having exchanged only a few brief convention-floor hellos, I never had the honor of working with J.H. before," Schreck said. "My good friend Shannon T. Stewart had met and connected with J.H. and suggested that I give him a call. Again, after explaining what various themes we were going to explore, J.H. went off for a few days to ponder his direction, and the result is a beautiful double-page spread that inspires us to be more tolerant of our differences; better yet, to embrace them as that will only make us a stronger society."
Like Williams, some of the other creators carefully considered how to incorporate their style into the themes of the book. Matt Wagner, who wound up doing a brand new Grendel piece for the annual after Schreck pitched it to him, fell into that category, as well.
"At first, he didn't think he could touch on the book's themes with that particular character, but I was sure he'd find an angle," Schreck said. "He always does. If you know the incredible history that Grendel has, you'd see why I was so certain. I think he knocked it out of the park with this one!"
Another writer/artist who wound up turning in killer work was Craig Thompson of "Blankets" fame who did his first long form full color strip ever based on the life of a friend.
"Again, [on] a call to Craig who is an old friend, I ran the themes by him and he knew exactly what he wanted to do right then and there," Schreck said. "Together with Kazim Ali, who's his consultant on his new book, 'Habibi,' they collaborated on a tale based upon Kazim's life, growing up Muslim and being a gay man. As this was a color book, I asked Craig for his first choice of colorists, and Dave Stewart was it. Dave also colored Matt Wagner's Grendel tale and John Cassaday's cover. He was, of course, Matt and John's first choice, as well. Tough being as popular as Dave is, but having known Dave since we both worked at Dark Horse Comics back in the '90s, he was doomed and had no chance of escape!"
Some readers might be wondering how bad things really are for creators and other comic book people these days, especially with the Internet essentially allowing anyone to say whatever they want at any time with little repercussion. Schreck sees comics as being unfairly targeted by people due to their physical permanence.
"I think it's because the Internet is much like a motion picture in some ways," Schreck said. "Over the years, I have heard several fairly liberal-minded parents, who also happened to be comics-savvy, complain about certain language used in comic books being inappropriate for their younger children. However, almost all admitted that those same children have seen the movie 'Predator,' which has worse language and far worse human carnage than the books they cited. The difference is that the images pass on screen, be it a reel of film at the movies or an image clicked through on the Internet, so it's not there continually staring the parent in the face as a comic book image does. The Internet and motion pictures are more ephemeral, more transitory in nature. A comic book is there forever."
That's not to say that people haven't become more open-minded about what a comic book can be, though. Schreck sees things as changing in the past few years.
"As the years have progressed, the medium has been growing in popularity amongst pop culture fans and, as a result, has exposed more people to a wider variety of subject matter that we long-time fans know comics have been tackling for years," Schreck said. "Take Craig Thompson's 'Blankets' and 'Habibi,' for example. Or 'Walking Dead,' 'Bone,' 'R. Crumb's Book of Genesis,' 'Watchmen,' 'Scott Pilgrim' and 'A History of Violence.' A roster that's as wide an array of subject matter as any other medium, and all getting much better exposure these days through the mass media."
Hopefully someday we'll live in a world tolerant of everyone, their art and their right to present it, but until then you can help out the CBLDF by picking up the "Liberty Annual 2011" in October!