We may have had to close down the epic thread about you-know-what, but so may opinions were flying fast and furious, that CBLDF head Charles Brownstein felt compelled to issue the following clarifying statement:

There seems to be some confusion about the CBLDF’s position on the Ellison/Groth dispute. The CBLDF’s charter mandates that our funds are to be spent defending cases directly involving works of comics, as we are doing in the case of Georgia v. Gordon Lee, and as we have done in every case we have directly funded. While it is indisputable that Fantagraphics publishes some of the best comics in the field, the material at issue in the suit is not comics, but journalistic prose. The Board of Directors determined that, in adherence with our charter, offering monetary support from our limited resources to defend this case would be inappropriate.

This decision was not arrived at casually, as the questions involved are central to our charter and the expectations of our supporters. We solicit money from our contributors with the understanding that the money they contribute is for the defense of comics, and the Board does not feel at liberty to use our funds for other purposes. This isn’t the first time that we have turned down a case for these reasons, and it is unlikely to be the last, but you won’t hear about it, because the Fund is not in the business of publicizing the cases that we turn down.

It’s been pointed out that the Fund has participated in Right of Publicity matters in the past by taking part in amicus briefs. These “Friend of the Court ” documents are an avenue of non-monetary support that the Fund has used in cases where an outcome could create a harmful precedent for the comics field. Amicus briefs are typically drafted at a case’s appeal stage. Should such a document become necessary at a later stage of this case, the Fund would certainly consider participating.

We’re saddened that this case is causing so much tension in the comics community. Both Gary and Harlan have performed valuable work for the CBLDF, and for free expression at large, and that work is something that we hold in the highest esteem. It is our sincere hope that they are able to arrive at a satisfactory resolution of this dispute without further litigation.


  1. Brownstein wrote: “While it is indisputable that Fantagraphics publishes some of the best comics in the field, the material at issue in the suit is not comics, but journalistic prose.”

    Well, up until the Ellison/Groth dispute, the CBLDF exuded, and practiced, a far more liberal defense platform than the one they are now saying they support. In effect, they went from a shotgun-style defense organization to a rifle-style one in a matter of days.

    From my perspective, one of my biggest criticisms of the CBLDF in the past was that they had expanded their involvement in legal issues far beyond the comics realm. For example, as I recall, they were partnering with the ACLU on a couple of fronts that had no direct comics ties — a big mistake, I thought, for an organization that doesn’t have deep pockets.

    In the past, I had some heated discussions with a number of CBLDF supporters who staunchly defended the CBLDF’s “diversity,” so I’m sure they were just as surprised as I was when the CBLDF defensive scope suddenly “imploded.”

    Even today, comics Web sites like Mark Evanier’s sport a word balloon that states that the site is defended by the CBLDF, when, according to the CBLDF’s recently stated policy clarification, it is clearly NOT.

    Ironically, under the CBLDF’s new (in my opinion) policy platform, I may actually throw my full support behind them, as they are no longer acting as a shill for the ACLU.

  2. Actually, no, this is not a variation from the ACLU cases. As it is said in the article, the CBLDF would consider filing an amicus brief in this case. This is similar to what they’ve done in other cases which are not directly about comics but where the results may have impact on comics — including those partnering-with-the-ACLU cases you refer to. These don’t involve such a serious expenditure of funds… in some cases, it’s likely nothing more than adding the organization signature to a document.

  3. I’m not going to be involved in any point/counterpoint kind of exchanges on this thread, but I do need to clarify a point of misunderstanding displayed in the R. Maheras post above.

    The Fund offers two kinds of legal support, and always has — monetary and non-monetary.

    Our monetary support is where we find and pay for legal counsel to defend a case. Like we did with Gordon Lee, Mike Diana, Jesus Castillo, Paul Mavrides, etc. Monetary support is hands-on for us. We participate in strategy, we assist on gathering witnesses, researching legal points, etc. And we pay all the bills. Every case to which we have offered our monetary support has directly involved works of comics. That is what our charter says we are to do, and that is what we solicit money from our supporters to do.

    Our non-monetary support is where we get involved in advocacy cases — either signing onto an amicus brief or joining a challenge to an unconstitutional law that has implications for comics. These cases do not represent specific expendatures, and are one of the benefits of our membership in Media Coalition.

    These are cases like the epic challenge to the Child Online Protection Act (just defeated it again); the challenges to the MI & AR harmful to minors display laws; and the amicus briefs in Lyle v. Time Warner and in re: George T. As members of Media Coalition, a trade association representing the First Amendment interests of creative businesses, our participation in these cases comes as one of the benefits of our membership in that group. Our board chooses to join our Media Coalition peers on those cases when a legal reading of the matter suggests precedent implications for the comics field. We do not pay anything to participate in these cases beyond the flat dues for Media Coalition.

    Our membership in Media Coalition also gives us the resources we need to fulfill our education mandate, because their legislative tracking services keep us on top of changes in the law that affect how comics retailers do business. We are then able to keep retailers up to date on what those changes mean to them.

    The Fund has always taken a narrow posture on how we spend our contributors money on active casework requiring significant monetary support. We have taken a broad view in participating in advocacy cases that do not in and of themselves require a specific expendature, and that could prevent an active case involving comics in the future.

    The reason I asked Heidi to post the above is because there were some misimpressions circulating as to why the Fund turned down Fantagraphics’ request to pay for their defense in their current dispute. While some of those misimpressions make for sexier copy, the truth is much less provocative. We didn’t feel it would be appropriate to spend our donors’ money on an active case to defend a work of journalistic prose. Likewise, we wouldn’t spend their money defending a retailer who was fined for selling a copy of a violent video game derived from a comics property, or a video store who was sued for renting a copy of the Crumb movie, or a cartoonist who was arrested for a work of performance art with no comics in it whatsoever. In those fictitious cases, as in this real one, however, we would consider getting involved in an amicus brief if the precedent issues would have an effect on comics, and would offer whatever help we could to refer the defendant to legal counsel.

  4. Thank you for clearing this up, Charles. I admit I felt a twinge of skepticism as I read your initial statement — on the face of it, it seems overly literal to declare that a magazine about comics produced by a comics publisher falls outside the realm of comics — but the last paragraph of your response made it click for me. I can easily understand why an organization with limited funding would be very reluctant to open the floodgates in such a way — which, with that precedent established, is exactly what I’m sure would happen.

  5. It seems quite clear to me that the CBLDF have taken the right position. This case has nothing to do with comics, other than the coincidence that Gary Groth also publishes them. What else would the Fund have to bankroll, by that test? Would it fund Jeph Loeb in a dispute over his TV scripts, for example?

    Or are we just applying a test of “The Fund should bankroll this because it’s a Good Cause”? In which case, when can we expect the Fund to give money to starving children and open a donkey sanctuary?

    You have to draw the line somewhere – and the stated purpose of the organisation, being the purpose for which people donated money in the first place, seems an eminently good place to draw it.

    I can see an argument for the Fund filing relatively inexpensive amicus briefs in cases raising, say, wider issues of copyright or free speech, since those involve principles that directly affect the comics industry as such. But there doesn’t seem to be any point of principle at stake in the Ellison/Fantagraphics dispute, which is a straightforward factual dispute. It’s not going to set a precedent, any more than a thousand other libel cases.