Meet the CBLDF, the people who make sure you aren't arrested for reading comic books

For years, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has been defending the First Amendment rights of comic readers, creators, and retailers. We spoke with the organization and saw exclusive new CBLDF promotional art from award-winning 100% creator Paul Pope.

io9 spoke with CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein about the group's origin and mission. Here's what we learned:

What's the history of the CBLDF?

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund protects the First Amendment rights of the comic book art form. We fight unconstitutional laws that would affect the ability for people to read, make or sell comics, and we defend cases in court where individuals are being prosecuted because of the content of their comics.

The CBLDF was started in 1986 to raise money for an appeal of a case in Lansing, Illinois where a retailer was convicted of distributing obscene material for selling adult comics to an undercover police officer. By contemporary standards, the underground and alternative comics that were targeted in that case weren't much different from what you'd see in any mature readers section today, but at the time comics were regarded as a kids medium, and comics that strayed from that perception were targets for prosecution. We won the appeal and went on to fight a generation of cases that ensured that comics could continue to grow and address a wider range of subjects for a wider range of audiences.

What are some major initiatives the CBLDF has worked on in the past?

The case files section at www.cbldf.org outlines the history of the Fund's casework. Among our most iconic cases are Georgia v. Gordon Lee, where over the course of 3 years we fought and won a case involving small town authorities trying to put a retailer out of business because they alleged he distributed a comic book about Picasso with incidental nudity, and Florida v. Michael Diana, wherein an artist was convicted of creating obscene material and denied the ability to draw in his own home.

What's the CBLDF working on now?

In the courtroom, CBLDF is currently challenging unconstitutional laws in Alaska and Massachusetts that would censor content online, including comics. Outside the courtroom we're creating a fan's guide to customs. More and more people are being harrassed, arrested, and intimidated by customs offices around the globe because of the comics on their electronic devices, so we're putting together some best practices that will help people travel more safely. We're also working on a new library resource we hope to be able to release more data about in a few weeks.

How can folks get involved with the CBLDF?

The CBLDF is a grassroots organization that exists because of the donations of our supporters and the sweat of our volunteers. To donate, please visit www.cbldf.org and check out our many incentives for membership, like this great Paul Pope print. And to volunteer please email me, charles.brownstein@cbldf.org. We have need of folks to do writing, art and office work. Every bit of support helps us continue to keep comics safe!

Additionally, the CBLDF gave io9 an exclusive first look at a print Eisner Award-winning writer and artist Paul Pope (Batman: Year 100, Heavy Liquid) produced for the CBLDF's membership initative. Here's what Pope told us about his involvement with the CBLDF and the print:

People often think of charitable donations in terms of responding to humanitarian disasters, the need for help is vividly displayed right before you eyes through media outlets. CBLDF represents a more abstract, more intellectual sort of need—defending First Amendment rights for comics. If you are a cartoonist, a publisher, a storeowner, an editor, anybody working in relation to comic books...CBLDF is a vital, silent defender of your creative and intellectual freedoms.

Meet the CBLDF, the people who make sure you aren't arrested for reading comic books

In the spirit of honoring a trade where value is offered for value given, I wanted to create a special incentive that helps raise money and awareness for the Fund and also gives something tangible in return. Making an exclusive fine art screenprint seemed like a logical and fun idea.

The Liberty Tree was published in Liberty Comics #2 as a 2 page spread, but the drawing itself is quite a bit larger. The theme is loosely based on Jefferson's quotation about the "tree of liberty". I wanted to chose a subject which was uniquely American, yet different from the sort of text book imagery you'd see about the American Revolution and the Revolutionaries. Larry Marder suggested I do a piece based on a series of quotes he offered, all of which related to some statement about free speech and individual liberty. I like the tree image and the complexities of a native American (in this case, a Huron) as subject, and went with that. The piece is also quietly a tribute to Hugo Pratt, whose books Indian Summer, Fort Wheeling, and Jesuit Joe all inform my own work in comics.

You can learn more about the CBLDF here. Photo and video by Shahriar Shadab. Special thanks to Jeff Newelt.