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Why Joining the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Matters.

This year marks the 25th year of the CBLDF, and the 13th year of its active membership
program.

That means the comic book community, including fans, stores, creators, and publishers have collectively decided to fight for free speech for a quarter of a century. It means that for more than a decade, those who support this fight for free speech have gotten a card to prove it. And that card comes with a world of importance.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded when a store was targeted by local authorities for carrying adult material and selling it to adults. An influential and well-loved publisher circled the proverbial wagons and raised the funds to overturn a conviction. In 1986, comics were still facing the same bias and inequitable scrutiny they faced in 1948 , when groups decrying indecency in comics held public book burnings.


Since 1986 comics have faced library challenges, bannings, self-censorship, and media vilification. Even as recently as January 2012, local news reports banged the drum that dangerous and obscene illustrated fiction could fall into our children’s hands and warp their minds forever. We are still dealing with the same ludicrous trends and accusations that started in the 1940s and peaked in the 1950s, when Senate hearings almost destroyed the comics industry after a best-selling book of pop psychology laid a nations’ fears of juvenile delinquency out, putting comics entirely at fault. It’s easy to assume that things will never be that bad again, but as of this writing, a fan is awaiting trial to see whether or not he will go to prison for the comics he owned. In many ways, things are worse than ever. The biases and the witch hunts still remain, but the penalties can be far, far worse.

The fact is that in 2012 we are still fighting for Free Speech in comics. The consequences for obscenity charges range from fines to public outrage and character assassination to jail time here in the U.S. and even in a foreign country. This is terrifying. This should not be a problem that anyone has to face just because they buy, sell, own, create, or distribute comics. This art form does not enjoy the same freedoms of expression as film, music, or prose, and this should infuriate everyone who loves comics.

Look at your collection right now. Do you have copies of SANDMAN, or BONE? Then you own books that have been contested in libraries nationwide. Does your local comics shop carry anything with explicit adult content? Keep in mind that the adult content label is vague and ranges from LOST GIRLS to BONDAGE FAIRIES and from BLANKETS to R. CRUMB’S BOOK OF GENESIS. All of those books have suffered the scrutiny of censorship or self-censorship. The variety of comics that could bring an outraged local authority down on a retailer (and has, in some cases) is alarmingly wide.

This is not an abstract hypothetical, and it is not a slippery slope. These attacks happen regularly, and the consequences are real. For 25 years, the fight to keep comics free and uncensored has been constant and difficult. And as a fan, or a creator, or even just a passing reader with an interest in our Constitutional rights, the best way to be part of this struggle is by becoming a member of  the CBLDF.

When you join the CBLDF, you become part of the fight. You have put your money down and made a stand. You join creators from all parts of the industry and fans from all over the world. You join some of the greatest stores in the world and some of the most vital comics publishers. You are telling the world, “I may not want to read this comic, but no one should go to jail for making, selling, or owning it.”

In 2011 alone, CBLDF members saw their donations at work in an incredibly diverse assortment of ways:

We were quoted in a Supreme Court opinion knocking out an unconstitutional censorship law. In BROWN v. EMA, an amicus brief filed by the CBLDF and written by General Counsel Robert Corn-Revere was quoted in the majority opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia. Comparing government mandated videogame labels to the Comics Scare of the 1950s, the history of censorship in comics was referenced as a mistake — a mistake that should not be repeated in other areas of pop culture.

We sponsored Banned Books Week. Aside from membership in the Media Coalition, the CBLDF expanded its active presence in the wider Free Expression community. We sponsored Banned Books Week, spoke about comics censorship at several library events, and exhibited at the American Library Association meeting, taking our mission to librarians, both educational and public.

We contributed the first installment of the $150,000 in legal fees needed to defend Brandon X. This terrifying case involves an American citizen who faces a minimum sentence of one year in Canadian prison and registration as a sex offender because Canada Customs alleges that the Japanese horror and fantasy comics on his laptop are child pornography. This case is vital because it raises precedent questions about the artistic merit of comics and the rights of readers and artists traveling with comics on their electronic devices. It challenges how child pornography is defined, particularly in relation to Japanese manga and the inherent xenophobia of judging the artistic merits of another culture’s pop entertainment from afar.

We saw a banner year for Retail Memberships. Working with Diamond Comic Distributors, our Retail Membership program saw the highest numbers since its inception. This means that there are more stores than ever participating in the protection of the medium, all of them part of a coalition that defends the rights of fans and creators. As the retail community grows tighter and more cohesive, with initiatives like Free Comic Book Day and growing membership in ComicsPRO, we are also seeing greater bonds with our retail partners.

Aside from these accomplishments, we attended more than 20 conventions and conferences throughout the United States, raising awareness of our important work. We also began expanding our reach onto college campuses and into libraries. We hosted educational events and started work on two separate resource guides for librarians and booksellers. All this and much, much more happened due to the generosity of our donors and our Members. The work of the CBLDF is vital, and it can’t continue without you.

Throughout the week, Comics Should Be Good will be spotlighting the various levels of CBLDF membership (you can see them now here). Please check these daily updates to see what level works for you, and please consider joining the fight.

Free Speech is worth fighting for.

Alex Cox is the Deputy Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and a co-founder of CSBG.

17 Comments

Yeah, the CBLDF is the best; I intend to join, or at least donate, when I get some money saved up.

I should be joining because I live in a country, Canada, where our Customs officials become art critics instead of the tax collectors they ought to be.

[…] took a moment to explain why people should join the CBLDF on today’s CSBG blog. Head over to CBR to get the low down on CBLDF, comic book censorship, and how CBLDF protects your right to make, […]

You talked me into joining. I wish I could have gone to a higher level but I guess it’s better than nothing.

On another disturbing political subject, did anyone notice that one day after Rupert Murdoch wrote his defense of SOPA the Fox report took footage of Starfire from a fan’s Youtube posting instead of official Cartoon Network material?

I already sent in my money last week, but good piece, nonetheless.

Alex, for what it’s worth, I did a two part response to the news piece on DC Comics that aired a few weeks ago; the station is my local one here in the DC area.

Part I:
http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2012/01/new-seduction-of-innocent-part_23.html

Part II:
http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2012/01/new-seduction-of-innocent-part-iinot.html

Also,one quick note: the local Fox Affiliate that did the DC story is NOT FOX NEWS. People think that, but it’s a different animal and actually has a huge LEFT following in the DC Area because it’s much more balanced than its parent station and does well in the area despite it being a Blue region (Montgomery County, DC, Prince Georges, etc, all of which are as Blue as Texas is Red). In the first link I just posted, there’s actually a link within of an interview I personally gave on their morning news–I’m a very staunch political independent and author of a book on being such, An American at the Crossroads (published by Amira Rock Publishing in 2010) and have dealt with the station among others several times. I just wanted to clear that up because people have been equating one with the other as if they’re the same.

I’ve never understood why they don’t offer more limited edition prints like the excellent Frank Miller band-aid print years ago ? I’d buy multiples of that.

Charles J. Baserap, thanks for explaining that. I wondered how the timing could have happened that way.

Mark, no worries. My first comment is still being approved because it has a link to the rebuttal I wrote to that piece. But like I said, I was actually interviewed by their morning news the day after bin Laden died because of my expertise in Middle Eastern terrorism and politics (I’m former US Secret Service and currently consult at the Pentagon), so I’ve had positive and pretty non-partisan dealings with them. I was really shocked at what a hit piece it was!

Thad, Mark, Mike- Thanks!

Hondobrode- http://cbldf.myshopify.com/collections/prints

Alex,

I’ve got a couple of these and love them, but, I’d still love that Frank Miller band-aid print you guys put out back in the day.

I suppose if I ask this I’ll have to contribute now ;) but do you know where that comic book burning picture is from? I mean the location of the people doing the burning. I’ll follow up my comment if you know (and figure out what I can contribute, too.)

Travis-

According to David Hajdu’s terrific book, THE TEN CENT PLAGUE, that picture was taken in 1949 at St. Patrick’s Academy in Binghamton, New York. The story of that event in particular is fascinating, and I recommend checking out Mr. Hajdu’s book, if anyone hasn’t already.

I suspected it was that event — which is my hometown area! Yay?! I actually am not sure where St Patrick’s is, but I’m currently within probably 10 miles.

What’s also fascinating is that Binghamton is where Rod Serling grew up. (And moved away from…) So we aren’t all comics burning neanderthals! (There are also 3 decent comic shops around here, and we’re not an economically booming area.)

I actually only first read about it in Bradford Wright’s Comic Book Nation. I have not yet read Hajdu’s book, but I certainly would like to.

Here’s perhaps a perverse idea: I thought that someone was reprinting Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent in the last few years, but I’m not sure if it happened. If it didn’t, would it be worth pursuing a reprint as a CBLDF benefit book of some sort? You guys got the rights to the Comics Code, right? It’d be an interesting way to raise funds…

[…] at any level you can afford, because it’s important to fight back against attacks on comics. Here’s a piece I wrote for Comics Should Be Good about why I think joining the Fund is […]

[…] explains: Since 1986 comics have faced library challenges, bannings, self-censorship, and media […]

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