A good cause can bring out the best in people: take for example, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF)’s annual comic anthology. Since 2008, Image has published the CBLDF Liberty Annual with a variety of guest creators and editors bringing out some of the most inventive and unprecedented stories in comics with all funds raised going back to the CBLDF. This year, for the CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013, long-time Dark Horse Editor-In-Chief Scott Allie has recruited an A-List roster of creators including the likes of Richard Corben, Gabriel Ba, Tim Seeley, and more.
“The comic book industry needs to support organizations that look out for their own,” says longtime CBLDF supporter Gabriel Hardman, who is writing a story for this October anthology. “The only way to ensure free speech is through vigilance and education.”
Hardman’s story for CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 is a “de-facto Western” set in the primordial days of cinema concerning one of the earliest attempts at censorship, involving none other than Thomas Edison. The cartoonist explains that he’s using this anthology as an opportunity to tell a story “about creative freedom from corporate control but dress it up as a fun, action packed adventure instead of giving a lecture.”
Hardman’s story joins an enviable list of talent that Allie has accumulated for this volunteer effort, and while it’s stockpiled with stars Allie says he wasn’t just recruiting based on name alone.
“I spent a little time trying to figure out what I wanted to say,” Allie tells Newsarama. “Normally I don't think art should make a statement, so to speak, it shouldn't pass judgment, shouldn't deliver a message. Some people believe the exact opposite, which is great. I speak for myself. But with this book, we sort of are doing propaganda. Propaganda for free speech!”
“So I wanted to explore a certain theme about artistic freedom, but I wanted to explore it from multiple points of view, some differing points of view, so there'd be some complexity to the message,” says the writer/editor. “And so I reached out to people who I thought would come at it from some different angles, and as it proceeded, and I got in some pitches, then I started seeking out subsequent pitches that would juxtapose well with what I was already getting.”
Arguably the most iconic of this year’s creators is illustrator Richard Corben. Corben, who is best known for his work in Heavy Metal and recent Hellboy stories, comes to the CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 and returns to a character he hasn’t written in over 15 years: Den, his comic character seen in the Heavy Metal movie animation. When asked how it came about, Corben said it was personal.
“Sometimes these things come up with no warning and not much time to do them. But this is a case that I definitely wanted to contribute to,” explained Corben. “My idea was to show that the censors pretty much have everything their own way and that any defense against them might even have to be supernatural.”
Den and the world of Neverwhere was last seen in a two-part comic Corben did for Penthouse Comix in 1996, and although he’s been approached about revisiting the character since he’s held off until now – and because it involves censorship, something Corben experienced with the character back in the 1970s.
“The reference to my own character DEN did come at Scott Allie's suggestion. Perhaps because several of the early Den books did get into some trouble,” Corben said, recounting events before CBLDF was established in 1986. “So there is a rather abstract reference to Den, actually Dun in the story. Abstract in the sense that, Dun is a story within a story. There is a fictional cartoonist who draws the comic book, Dun’s Return, and gets in the way of an over zealous district attorney.”
Speaking of zealous, Captain Midnight writer Joshua Williamson and artist Ron Chan contributed a story which takes a look – and takes the side – of one of comics biggest foes, Frederic Wertham, in “What if Wertham Was Right?”
“This story is about a world in which comics were outlawed and hidden away ages ago. Three young kids discover a few comics out in the woods, they are shocked by what they see, since y’know, they’ve never see a comic book before,” Williamson says, who has another story in this anthology with Dennis Culver about Captain Midnight. “They have no idea how dangerous comics are! How they can corrupt a young person’s tender mind! They find themselves fascinated and drawn in by the awesome super hero comics books… which leads to disastrous and brutal results.”
The story posits a world where Wertham won in his battle to have governments censor any and all depictions of violence, sex or adult situations in comics – including superhero comics. At first editor Scott Allie was apprehensive about doing the story, but came around once Williamson laid out the story.
“What I loved about it was embracing the absurdity of that asshole's premise, but going all the way – it's not just crime comics, horror comics, but superhero comics are going to turn out kids into homicidal maniacs,” says Allie. “Censoring comics wouldn't be enough. We need a gestapo type outfit to make sure comics didn't even get into kids' hands. I loved Josh's idea to treat comics like the porn that so many of us used to find in the woods or abandoned houses or empty lots—why the hell were those guys leaving these there? Why were we there? There were one or two beats in the story where I asked him to pull back, where I thought it got too over the top, and I'm really happy what he and Ron did.”
Williamson, Corben, Hardman, Allie and everyone involved with the CBLDF Liberty Annual 2013 are doing the work for no compensation, with all of the proceeds going to support the CBLDF organization. When asked about the proceeds for this and previous anthologies, CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein lays out just where the money goes.
“The CBLDF Liberty Annual provides an excellent opportunity for the creators and readers of comics to engage with the CBLDF's important program work,” Brownstein tells Newsarama. “The anthology series is a key aspect of our annual fundraising, and helps us pay for the work we do to protect the freedom to read comics. It also allows us to work with some of the greatest editorial and creative members of the field who can freely explore what free expression means for them and our work.”
According to Brownstein, CBLDF has already shut down three “unjust censorship actions” against artists in the comics industry. In addition, they are continuing to pay down the legal costs that Ryan Matheson incurred after successfully fighting off criminal charges in Canada related to digital comics he had on his computer that the Canadian government alleged to be illegal. Those efforts, along with its ongoing “Kids Right To Read” program, Library support, and outreach at conferences, conventions and schools.
For Corben, the freedom of speech that the CBLDF fights for is “vital” to him as an artist.
“The threat of censorship is still there, and will never really be defeated. So we have to be diligent and never give up to it,” states Corben. “Some countries are oppressive in dealing with artists and their populations in general. Alberto Breccia, the famous Argentinian cartoonist tried to do social commentary under a military dictatorship. He only survived because he had heavily disguised the stories. Some of his collaborators did disappear. Thank god, our situation is nothing like the conditions he bore.”
This year’s CBLDF Liberty Annual editor Scott Allie says that although he hasn’t had need of the CBLDF first-hand, he knows full well what it means to have them here preventing what could happen.
“The oppressions we face in the first world is nothing compared to what you have out there in the rest of the world, but they're just as worth fighting against,” Allie states. “Don't let the stormtroopers get a toehold.”