In the "CBLDF Liberty Annual 2014" anthology, most of the pieces touch upon the themes of censorship or creativity in some way, but the best ones take the theme and go further with it, or go off in another direction entirely.
"Dramatic Reading" by Meryl Jaffe, Janet K. Lee and Dylan Todd is a one-page linking the words of Dr. Frankenstein to the hubris of authoritarian thought control. It sums up the dangers of banning books well, but it works better as an ad than a comic.
"Little Star" by Tom Fowler, Jeff Parker, Jordie Bellaire and Kelly Tindall quickly establishes a great setting -- an open market on a city in another star system. There is no real arc, but it succeeds in creating a moment of spiritual reflection.
"The Idea Factory" by Mariah Huehner, Rob Reger, Cat Ferris and Nate Piekos is an "Emily and the Strangers" story. The visuals are fun but the story is boring because it sticks too closely to the anti-censorship message to have a plot.
"Black and White" is an almost silent short story by Chris Eliopoulos, beginning with a beautiful lunar landscape with an unexpected treasure and ending with a scene about resilience and creativity. It works as a whole, but the "don't let 'em stop ya" didacticism of the last page is outshone by the beauty of the opening page.
"Damsel in Recess" by Joe Quinones and Maris Wicks is another oblique take on censorship, this time about identity and peer pressure. The two main characters come together in a very predictable way but Quinones and Wick's page design, great colors and facial expressions save it from being just the stale message.
"Tabbie Gets a Lesson in Censorship" by Amy Chu, Shannon Wheeler and Giulia Brusco has a fun setup where a Grandpa Book is instructing a young Tablet, with a comparison between contemporary digital activism vs. old-style book banning.
"Karatebot!" by Luke Dunlavey and Ryan Dunlavey has a playground setting. The art is peppy but part the moral of the story seems to be the weird message that if you hit a bully enough, they'll come around.
In "Pinks and Blues" by Jeremy Lambert, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles, Bellaire's muted colors set the mood and Shalvey keeps the suspense going with great facial expressions and elegant lines. The dystopian setting of the new school is an immediate hook. The panel composition on the last page maximizes the emotional effect of the plot twist. This is one the standouts of the anthology, with the highlight being Shalvey's artwork.
"Gagged" by Stan Sakai and Tom Luth is a story about Sasuke, the Demon Queller. The story has a delightfully grim twist. Sakai's storytelling is up to his usual excellent standard. The story is memorable, one of the best in the anthology. It's only four pages but feels satisfying due to the deft, economical storytelling.
"Won't Somebody Think of the Children?" by Al Ewing, Rich Elson, Matt Milla and Clayton Cowles is an Orwellian dystopia with a twisted punch line. Elson's anatomy has bad proportions for the young girl's hand and leg length, and his facial expressions are stiff. Unfortunately the story doesn't have the depth or effectiveness to carry off the horror of a police state, but the opening speech from the minister is believable in its rhetorical strategy and euphemisms.
"They Say..." by Jonathan Hickman is a great but bizarre short piece. The near-monologue by the main character flows well and the art has strong design and color. It has no obvious connection to themes of censorship, but its whimsy and imagination are refreshing.
"Why One Should Never Cheat at Cards with the Faerie King" by Robin Furth, Emma Vieceli, Lee Loughridge and Kristyn Ferretti is another story without any moral, but it has some fun jokes. It ends neatly but the buildup peters out with a whimper instead of a bang. Vieceli's art is strong, though, as are Loughridge's color palette shifts as the story intensifies and diminishes.
"The 1st Amendmeow" by Joey Weiser is a cute joke piece fueled by the earnestness of the main character Mermin.
"Girl Band: In Space" by Brian Wood, Audrey Wood, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Clayton Cowles is more of a teaser than a story. The bit about the importance of the preservation of knowledge feels like an afterthought. The premise and the art are strong, though.
"If I Were a Superhero!" by Tara Butters, Marc Guggenheim, Matthew Holm, Chris Sotomayor, Dave Sharpe is a quick piece encouraging kids to dream up characters and powers, the highlight being two actual art pieces from kids who drew themselves as superheroes.
The back cover also has a "Lumberjanes" pin-up by Kate Leth.
Like any anthology, some stories were stronger than others in "CBLDF Liberty Annual 2014." When a piece fell flat, it was usually because it was too preachy. However, the art was very strong on average, with a great variety of styles that worked, and there are enough hits that's it's an anthology worth picking up, especially since the proceeds go to a great cause.