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News: Kitchen Out, Staros In at CBLDF
posted August 6, 2004

August 6 -- The CBLDF made official the results of its eventful San Diego meeting, where Denis Kitchen stepped down from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund board after eighteen years of service. Top Shelf Publisher Chris Staros replaced Kitchen as the board's president. Milton Griepp of was elected treasurer to replace retailer Frank Mangiaracina, who remained on the board. Board members Peter David, John Davis, Neil Gaiman, Greg Ketter and Louise Nemschoff were re-elected to another term of service on the board, joining Mangiaracina.

"I literally could no longer devote the proper time to the CBLDF," Kitchen told the Journal of his decision to resign, made earlier this year. Kitchen said that personal interests and the array of professional endeavors he's taken on since the collapse of Kitchen Sink Press, including gallery owner and literary agent, had left him little time to devote to the Fund. "The CBLDF requires considerable time, particularly since the current headquarters are in nearby Northampton. I simply concluded that, after founding the organization and being actively engaged as the President for 18 years, it was simply enough. I was concerned that I could no longer give the fund the full attention it deserved." Kitchen also resigned as Chairman of the Harvey Awards in 2003.

Kitchen says that Executive Director Charles Brownstein "didn't even believe me when I told him" and that the surprise was also evident at the February board meeting where he made his intentions known. "In a weird way, that confirmed that I had made the right decision," he says. "No one's presence should be automatic or permanent in an industry-wide non-profit like the CBLDF." Also easing his departure in a way was the fact that the medium may be less prone to stigmatization in 2004 than in the mid-1980s, and the Fund's continue existence might change the minds of "legal bullies" who might refuse to recognize the medium's range and artistic value. "In many cases, they were astonished to learn that there was even such a thing as a 'Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.' That itself caused some to think twice about leaning on a store owner."

Kitchen's terms as President of the Fund's board encompasses the organization's entire history, from intense periods such as the prosecution of Mike Diana to months of relatively placid inactivity. Asked for specific memories of important moments in the organization's history, Kitchen settles in on the Fund's financial bottom line. "The times when the fund's 'war chest' was dangerously low would have to be the most crucial in my memory. But we always managed to keep our heads above water. Sometimes it was a financial angel, like Dave Sim, who personally donated over $80,000, when he doesn't even have a First Amendment where he lives. Neil Gaiman's Guardian Angel tours were a tremendous boost." In an ironic sense, the high-profile cases intensified support of the Fund. "The cases you cite [Mike Diana, Planet Comics in Oklahoma City] were particularly draining. But those cases also raised the CBLDF's profile, inspired greater donations and allowed respective executive directors to educate our industry on the variety of threats we all face." He calls the Planet Comics case a "pernicious prosecution that destroyed the retailers' business and deeply affected their personal lives" and the decision in Florida whereby Mike Diana was found guilty of obscenity and charged with not drawing certain things even in his own home, "draconian" and a "terribly dangerous precedent on the books."

Kitchen notes that another important case during his tenure, the Fund's win in Paul Mavrides vs. the California Board of Equalization, also affected the way the board was perceived because it didn't involve pornography, an issue sometimes hard for creators and industry members to rally behind.

With its wins and losses part of the public record, Kitchen leaves an organization that is in many ways older and more mature. "The CBLDF needs to be run in most respects like any business, despite its non-profit corporation status," says Kitchen, who expects that under Staros and Griepp structural improvements will be the order of the day. "I think Chris, with Milton Griepp and others, will review and improve accounting, inventory systems, personnel policies and other things that worked well when the CBLDF was younger but which are in need of upgrading."

Griepp told the Journal of his move to treasurer, "In taking over that role I hope to continue to improve the financial reporting, and help use the improved reporting to make the Fund even more efficient at fundraising and program activities. There are also things I can do as treasurer to open up new fundraising opportunities for the Fund, particularly foundation grants." In addition to his years in comics as a distributor, publisher and retailer, Griepp has picked up non-profit organization experience in recent years, serving on the board of the California non-profit Wheels for Humanity.

Chris Staros told the Journal he unable to respond to this article due to his busy convention schedule, but in his first public statement as board president he called for more $25 memberships to increase the Fund's pool of 13000, stating his belief that this was from a pool of approximately 3000 retailers, 5000 professionals, and at least a quarter million fans. Says Griepp, "As I've gotten to know Chris better during my time on the Fund board, I've become very impressed with his management skills as well as his devotion to the cause of freedom of speech and the energy he brings to it. I think he'll be an excellent President." Brownstein who will work closely with the Staros, feels positive about the move, "Chris is already proving to be a worthy successor to Denis," he says. "He shows a strong commitment to our mission, volunteering a full day each week to help us grow stronger as an organization."

The symbolic change of a member of the underground comix generation giving way to a post-alternative publisher wasn't lost on Brownstein. "These changes in the board show the Fund on firm footing as its founder steps back and a new generation steps forward to assume stewardship of its mission."