Give Me Liberty… and Give Me Comics.
This October, Liberty Comics returns with a star-studded second issue all to benefit the CBLDF’s efforts to defend the First Amendment for comics. 2008’s first issue sold out in many stores, and this issue’s due for a repeat performance thanks in no small part to a special story by writer Neil Gaiman and artist Jim Lee. Gaiman and Lee join star creators Jimmy Palmiotti, Brian Wood, Dave Gibbons, Paul Pope and others.
OF course the first part to enlisting all this talent is enlisting the editor to spearhead the project. Jamie S. Rich, who left editing to become a full-time writer, knew the challenge.
“I was talking to Eric Stephenson at Image about other things, and I guess they were trying to figure out how to keep this going now that Scott had gone to IDW and was editing their Hero Initiative benefit book,” said Rich. “I love the CBLDF and really liked the first Liberty Comics, so in a moment of weakness, I said yes. Five minutes later, I thought, "Oh, God, what have I done?" But it was too late then! Haw Haw!”
With the editor secured, now it was his job to get the talent: following up Liberty Comics #1 wasn’t going to be easy.
A page from "The First Censor"“[CBLDF’s] really an awesome organization, and having it backing me up was a pretty good way into various corners of the industry that might have never considered working in Dark Horse Presents or one of our Oni anthologies,” said Rich. “Even the people who weren't able to contribute due to whatever constraints, they were sorry not to be a part of it, they wanted to be a part of it. It's a cause most people in the comics industry are willing to get behind, and it's a chance to do something that will really matter, while at the same time having no restrictions on what you do. It's a rare opportunity.”
With a cause in-hand, an expert editor in tow, and the success of Liberty Comics #1, they begin their call.
“We didn't do an open call or anything, it was a very quiet gathering of contributors,” explained Rich. “When I signed on board, Eric Stephenson and Charles Brownstein, who is the executive director of the Fund, presented me with an ambitious wish list that they had already gathered. I added some of my own names to the list, and then went about contacting who I could. Some I knew would be easy "gets," like Mike Allred, that guy is totally at my mercy, and others were just a case of crossing my fingers and going for it. I think Jimmy Palmiotti was maybe my first person to say yes, and Paul Pope, the Immonens, and Dave Gibbons shortly after. And out of those, I think only Kathryn and Stuart were not on the initial list, and I got kudos from the boys for thinking of them.”
Rich explained that there was no set criteria – just getting “really good people”.
“As I worked my way through the list, I just tried to contact different people at different times. For instance, if I contacted one big name superhero writer, I didn't contact another until I had heard back from the first. I wanted to work on getting a variety in there. Everyone brought in different people, too.”
A Page from "The First Censor"“Eric suggested Moritat for the Jason Aaron story, "The First Censor," and he also hooked me up with the Paul Grist short, a very clever new Jack Staff adventure,” Rich explained. “Charles scored us Ben McCool and Ben Templesmith, who offered us a twisted teaser for their new Choker series, and actually changed their plans for what to do with it to give it to us. Charles also scored the Neil Gaiman and Jim Lee collaboration, "100 Words." Neil gave Jim a hundred-word poem to adapt, and Jim has gone nuts with it. It was going to be a two-page spread, and now it's six!”
The unprecedented Gaiman and Lee collaboration is the centerpiece of the book, and one that took no small effort.
“Again, Charles Brownstein deserves credit for bringing that in,” said Rich, giving credit where credit is due. “Both Neil and Jim have an incredible history with the Fund, they have donated more than their fair share over the years, and that they were willing to step up to the plate again and do such a knock-out, original story really says a lot. I've known Neil and worked tangentially on some of his projects over the years, and he's always a class act. This is my first time interacting with Jim, and it's been a real thrill. I kind of have to take a deep breath when I write him to remind him about deadlines. It's like stepping in the ring with a champ, you know?
“Same with talking with John Romita Jr. about his cover. Man, was my fanboy sense tingling!” Rich gushed. “His work on Uncanny X-Men when Rachel Summers was Phoenix and the early days of Rogue, I loved all that stuff. He and Mark Millar are letting Kick-Ass basically be a mascot for the CBLDF this year, and I know his cover is going to bring a lot of attention to Liberty Comics.”
A Page from Painkiller JaneWell-known comics writer & inker Jimmy Palmiotti comes into Liberty Comics #2 with a new Painkiller Jane story, illustrated by rising star Jim Rugg of Street Angel fame.
“It’s a simple action story where Jane is caught up in a boatload of madness that pretty much will offend everyone and makes a statement without beating you on the head...too hard,” Palmiotti laughs. “It’s more visual than anything...and not a story in the classic sense of storytelling...it’s just a slice of her life piece.”
Another story by writer Jason Aaron (Scalped, Wolverine: Weapon X) and artist Moritat (Elephantmen) appears, entitled “The First Censor”.
“A caveman who goes around telling other cavemen what they can and can not say or do. It's probably the silliest thing I've ever written, but hopefully people pick up on a real message in there too,” said Aaron.
The idea of censorship is one of the key reasons why CBLDF was created in the first place. The Fund began in 1986 as a means to pay for the defense of comic shop manager Michael Correa, who was arrested on charges of distributing obscenity. The comic books deemed “obscene” were Omaha The Cat Dancer, The Bodyssey, Weirdo and Bizarre Sex. Industry professionals chipped into an art portfolio assembled by Denis Kitchen, whose proceeds went to finance Correa’s defense. The case was finally overturned in 1990, and became the first case in CBLDF’s long history.
But that wasn’t the first time First Amendment issues were raised in the comics medium. In the 1950s, American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published a book entitled Seduction of the Innocent, which caused a firestorm that reached the halls of Congress with accusations that comics led to juvenile delinquency.
A page from Painkiller Jane“I think in the 1950s we saw that comics could be the little guy,” said Rich. “We were an easy, garish target, and diabolical forces used us as a scapegoat. I think in a lot of cases that the CBLDF has defended over the years, at least from my perception, that has been the case as well. A police officer or a D.A. or some other official with a need for a good bust that sounds like a positive--you know, for kids!--goes into a comic book store and stirs up a ruckus. It's easy to take a comic out of context, say its corrupting children, and completely ignore its true intended audience or artistic merit. And let's face it, if we're the little guy, who is going to go out of their way to stick up for us?”
In many ways, the superhero genre of comic books is all about protecting the little guy – or a little guy being given the powers to protect himself. That, in a way, is what the CBLDF is. “I also just think free expression of all kinds should be supported, be it in my field or someone else's. Right now in our country, I see freedom of speech used recklessly and taken for granted, and it seems like whatever side is in power wants the other side to shut up. But it's important that we keep the dialogue open, and that all voices be heard, and the CBLDF is devoted to making sure my own particular arena remains safe for whatever I want to say.”
For writer Jason Aaron, he sees the CBLDF’s role in the industry as indispensible.
“I wish we lived in a world where we didn't need an organization like the CBLDF, but I don't see that happening anytime soon,” Aaron said. “So as it stands now, the group is indispensable, and whatever they need me to help out with, I'm on board.”
Aaron and the entire creative team are all donating their skills and time to make these stories, and they’re not the only ones. Comicraft is assembling the material for free, Image is publishing it gratis and Diamond Distributors is waiving their fees to get this book out there and raise as much money as possible.
“Nobody is making a profit off of this,” said Rich,”to make sure that everyone in the comics community can.”