Speaking of last week’s ComicsPRO meeting, CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein was generous enough to make the text of his presentation available to us. In a meeting themed “Full Steam Ahead,” Brownstein discusses the importance of the direct market in the comics renaissance and announced that Jeff Smith would be doing his only store signing of 2008 for the ComicsPro member who best supports the CBLDF in an auction.

Full Steam Ahead.

When I saw that as the theme of this year’s conference I gave one of those knowing nods. Because if anything portrays the state of comics right now, it’s those three words.

Full Steam Ahead.

Today, comics are everywhere. After 50 years of skulking in the poorly lit corners of popular culture, comics are now front and center. We have captured the imaginations of audiences worldwide. Our finest creators and creations are reinvigorating screens big & small. Our news stories are being broken in the most popular and influential media outlets. Our authors are cultural luminaries achieving the sort of notice that practitioners of other media aspire to and rarely achieve. Our history is being explored by some of the country’s most respected thinkers.

We have overcome the biases and stigmas that made us a subculture. Now we are the culture.

After decades of being looked down upon as an unworthy art we are now looked up to as the standard bearers of adventurous and compelling free expression.

This is the Golden Age that we’ve all been working for.

The Golden Age of graphic novels.

The Golden Age of comics media.

The Golden Age of broad expression

The Golden Age of unfettered creativity

And we couldn’t have achieved it without the efforts of every one of you sitting in this room.

Were it not for Direct Market comics retailers, comics may well have joined vaudeville and radio drama as once great but wholly abandoned art forms. Because of your smarts, your risks and your passion we have achieved this Golden Age.

Were it not for your belief in comics, belief so strong that you bet your livelihoods on it, we would not be experiencing the richness of format and content diversity the world is enamored of today.

You believed in comics when very few did. You gave us the platform, the opportunity, the challenge, and the encouragement to evolve comics into what it is today.

Every practitioner and professional in this field owes you a debt of gratitude for that.

And whether they know it or not so do the thousands and thousands of people reading a comic right now as I say these words.

I support ComicsPro because you are the best in the business. You recognize that while we have achieved new heights, we must now conquer more serious challenges. Head on. And full steam ahead.

As comics become more popular, they also become more vulnerable. Every year the number of graphic novels challenged in libraries rises. This is healthy. It means that people are hungry for our stories and coming to grips with what they are. But it also shows that increased exposure often yields increased scrutiny. It’s nothing to fear, but it is something to be prepared for.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is your partner in preparing to meet those challenges. You already know that when one of our own is prosecuted on free expression grounds, that we rise to defend them. Or when a law is passed that will impair your right to do business, that we will fight it.

But we can’t do this work without your support.

Fortunately, many of you have heard the call. I’d like to see a show of hands — How many of your stores are retailer members?

And how many joined in our recent Previews campaign?

Thank you.

Thanks to you, thanks to the professional and hard working team at Diamond, and the generosity of the partner companies and creators who supported that campaign, we signed up over 200 stores and raised over $29,000.

You have contributed to the baseline of support we need to fight our current battles, and to help grow the preventative education tools we aim to create to better protect comics as they continue to grow.

All who signed up will receive one of those tools — our Retailer Resource Guide. A book full of practical information for you and your staff designed to protect your store from legal threats.

With your continued support, we aim to create even more tools to protect comics as they charge further and further into the forefront of the culture.

As comics continue to grow, we need a strong CBLDF to defend the field from the threats we are certain to encounter.

It’s a team effort.

It needs every person who believes in comics to play their part.

I’d like to recognize one of the people stepping up to do his. To thank you for your support of the industry and the CBLDF, Jeff Smith will be doing his only store signing of 2008 for the ComicsPro member who best supports the CBLDF in an auction open exclusively to your membership.

Jeff, Thank you.

And thank you, everyone, for standing up for your store, our industry, and our artform by standing behind the Fund.

It’s that sort of teamwork, passion, and commitment that pulled comics out of the shadows and into the spotlight. It will also see comics continue to shine even brighter as we move deeper and deeper into this Golden Age. This is our moment.

Let’s seize it.

Let’s go.

Full Steam Ahead.