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December 29, 2011

CR Holiday Interview #10—Charles Brownstein And Larry Marder



This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the organization devoted to fighting for the free speech and First Amendment rights of cartoonists and others in the comics industries. Charles Brownstein is the current executive director; Larry Marder is the current president of its board. Both are comics industry veterans, albeit from different generations. Brownstein first came to the attention of the comics community as a journalist specializing in news and features on the art form. Marder was a independent comics artist of great renown (Tales Of The Beanworld) and hundreds of connections within the comic book industry; he later worked for Image (during its early '90s heyday) and eventually the various companies owned by Todd McFarlane. He has since returned full-time to his drawing board.

The Fund remains a vital force by continuing to fight its battles with ferocity while at the same time reaching out to different elements under the big tent of comic books, both in active fashion and more quietly, sometimes in ways that takes years to bear fruit. It is my great honor to devote an interview in this series to this important institution. I urge you to bookmark the Fund's site and consider a late-in-the-year, tax-deductible donation. -- Tom Spurgeon


TOM SPURGEON: Can each of you recall when you first heard about the Fund, and what your initial reaction to it was?

LARRY MARDER: I'm pretty sure I heard about it directly from Frank Managaracina, either face to face or over the phone. I was talking to Frank a lot at that time because I was doing freelance advertising work for him creating trade ads for his comics distribution business. It was a small account and I got paid in comics. I remember him saying "Denis Kitchen is putting together a portfolio to raise money to help out with the legal bills." It seemed like a heroic and responsible thing to do. But my personal interaction with the Fund didn't come until much later.

CHARLES BROWNSTEIN: For me it would have been in the back pages of Cerebus, circa 1992, 1993 that I first heard of it. I was aware that the Fund protected the First Amendment rights of edgier comics, and as a precocious teenager with an interest in those comics, Lenny Bruce, and heavy metal, the cause was one I felt an abstract affinity for.

imageBut I didn't really understand the Fund until 1995 or so when I was minding Larry's Beanworld Press table and selling copies of Feature, the interview magazine I published back then. It was at a San Diego, and someone must have been flogging a CBLDF party or something, and being a wise-ass teenager I think I asked Larry, "What the hell do those guys do that they always need so much money?" And in that extremely patient, no-bullshit manner that he has, he took me to school. He told me about how Mike Correa and Frank Mangiaracina were violently jerked around by the legal system, and how retailers all over the country were being horrifically intimidated by these awful, backwoods prosecutors who were targeting them because they were small time marks selling art that the community didn't understand. And basically that targeting these guys was a way for electioneering prosecutors to rack up easy wins. His explanation made a big impression on me, because I immediately got the injustice that so many were facing by selling comics. It kept the Fund on my radar as a really important institution.

SPURGEON: What factor or factors led each of you to become more actively involved? Charles, since this is your full-time job, I'm particularly interested in your answer: you took on the directorship at a point when you seemed to be the kind of guy that might become ensconced at one company or another.

BROWNSTEIN: I'd already been involved with CBLDF projects for a couple of years by doing the interviews for their SPX anthology series, and doing a little bit of volunteering at tables in my local area. At the time I was extremely interested in the changing mechanics of the business of comics. I was writing business news for Rick Veitch's SPLASH page, and Calvin Reid's quarterly PW Comics section, along with doing a part-time publishing gig at Last Gasp, and anything else I could hustle.

In the Fall of 2001, Denis Kitchen called me out of the blue and asked me if I'd be interested in going out to Northampton to interview for the job. I'd previously worked with Denis & Bob Chapman in trying to set up a marketing trade association that was designed to combat the cultural stigma against comics that folks felt was holding us back circa 2000 or so. That never got off the ground, but I did a lot of foundational business writing that I suppose made an impression on Denis, and gave him the idea that I'd be capable of doing some good for CBLDF. That, and he correctly surmised that I'd be willing to work for just about nothing if the work was interesting enough.

For me it ultimately came down to: do I want to report on the art and commerce of comics, or do I want to take advantage of this opportunity to help affect positive change for that art and commerce? I already believed in the Fund, a
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