Defend "Liberty" With Conan And Martha Washington

"Freedom isn't free."

There's some truth to that old idiom when it comes to "Liberty Annual 2010," the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's third benefit comic book devoted to the continued support of First Amendment rights. Indeed, the book costs $4.99, but the overall worth is, as MasterCard representatives would most assuredly tell you, priceless.

"Liberty Annual 2010" is the CBLDF's latest one-shot anthology published through Image Comics, with proceeds benefiting the fund's ongoing defense of free speech within the comic book community. It features a wealth of the industry's top talents, including Geoff Johns, Frank Miller, Garth Ennis, Jeff Smith, Gail Simone and more, and the issue, edited by "Beanworld" creator and President of the CBLDF board of directors Larry Marder, contains multiple stories filled with tongue-in-cheek humor, chilling commentary on the state of politics and outright eye-popping art.

There's a lot going on in this latest round of "Liberty" comics, to say the least, and that's exactly how Marder likes it.

"It's funny. When the previous 'Liberty' one-shot came out last year, I admired it quite a bit and set my sights on trying to finagle my own slot in the next one," the editor told CBR News. "I had no idea I'd be asked to edit it. But that's certainly one way to get oneself included in a prestige book like 'Liberty Annual!'"

As the book's editor, Marder was responsible for arranging and coordinating the content that wound up in "Liberty Annual," affording him the opportunity to work with a diverse lineup of creators, including artists Dave Gibbons ("Watchmen") and Darick Robertson ("The Boys").

"I'm a passionate supporter of free speech," Robertson told CBR of his reasons for joining the "Liberty Annual" team. "The communication and sharing of ideas is the key to a better political future for the world. I firmly believe when ideas are shared through art, the audience can choose to hear the message or not. If there's a tank rolling down your street or a weapon in your face, conversation is over. If art can speak about large concepts, radical notions, there's a context and method of communication that can entertain as well as express. And the sharing of ideas is how we progress as a people. Limiting the freedom of what we say limits thinking. If ideas are expressed through art, no one gets hurt. Art can educate; fiction is simply that."

Gibbons said of his own views on free speech: "I can't imagine that any society could call itself truly civilized unless there is freedom of speech. I think it's important, personally, for people to be able to express the way that they feel without fear. And on a professional level, I think as an artist, the whole world is your canvas. To be restricted from putting your attention on any part of it the way that you see fit actually makes it so you won't be such a good artist and our culture itself would ultimately suffer. You only have to look at the kind of art and literature and music that totalitarian regimes produced to see what a drab landscape it would be if lawmakers decided what was safe to see. I think it's incumbent on everybody, particularly those in the arts, to protect the freedom of speech."

Asked what drew him to "Liberty Annual," Gibbons said that the opportunity to support a cause like the CBLDF was simply too great to pass up. "Larry Marder just sent me an e-mail and asked if I was up for doing something in it," said Gibbons. "I've been a little bit here and there this year and it hit me at a time when I was going on vacation. I had a couple of other things lined up that I had to get on with, but I thought I would be able to get at least one page in."

Gibbons provided "Liberty Annual 2010" with a "Martha Washington" variant cover, describing the character he co-created with Frank Miller as a perfect icon to use in support of free speech. "Martha is quintessentially about personal freedom against bureaucracy and the madness of the world, so on every level, she's a really good character. I kind of like to think of her as one of the CBLDF's pinup girls," he laughed. "Really, Martha is a character who lends herself to iconic covers, and I just tried to come up with something that was iconic and relevant to the theme. Also, it's a tip of the hat to the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. It's a classic image of overcoming adversity."

Robertson, meanwhile, illustrated a story and a variant cover featuring Conan. "Robert E. Howard described Conan as having 'great mirth,' but most stories focus on his melancholies," said the artist, whose Conan story showcases the character's sense of humor. "Conan encounters a Shaman taking advantage of a superstitious tribe, and while the Shaman benefits from the tribe not having all the facts and uses fear to control the tribe, Conan is no coward and doesn't suffer fools lightly."

"The CBLDF wanted some art to auction, so I offered to create a pin-up. When they said they didn't have any more room in the page count, they offered me a variant cover instead," Robertson continued. "I created the Conan raising the sword cover as a symbol of triumph and victory, the essence of liberty. No one would tell Conan what he couldn't say."

In addition to editing "Liberty Annual," Marder also contributed his very own story to the issue. "One of the things I learned in several decades of being in the advertising business is to never lose sight of the product you are selling," he said. "In my story I created a simple, snappy, and hopefully amusing piece that explains what the First Amendment is and how the CBLDF goes about protecting it. I intended for it to be four pages, but more people turned in stories and art than I thought would actually come through. That's a good problem to have! So I condensed my story to fit. I think at some point I'll fill it out and make it into a mini-comic or something similar."

Filled with iconic imagery and stories intended to provoke laughter, tears, anger and joy, "Liberty Annual 2010" is certainly a book that celebrates free speech in all its various forms. "I think there's always a degree of passion when it comes to the issue of free speech, so I very much look forward to sitting down with a cup of coffee or the beverage of my adult choice and having a good read," Gibbons said of the issue. "It's a subject about which creators feel passionately about and are happy to provide work for free and without restriction; there's a sense of having a party or a concert in aid of something you truly believe in, and I think there's that sort of belief and passion here."

"Some people with power use it to silence others; they aren't interested in debate or finding equitable solutions," said Robertson on the importance of "Liberty" and the CBLDF. "They're bullies who react to things as if their point of view is the only point of view, and persecute retailers and creators because they decide what the morality should be for all. Luckily, the CBLDF is out there to protect those who may not have a voice."

"Freedom of speech is a constitutionally guaranteed right. It's not a privilege," said Marder. "Privileges are something the state grants and can take away, like a driver's license. Not so with freedom of speech. No one can take that right away from us."

"Liberty Annual 2010" is currently on sale. All proceeds from the book go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's continued support of First Amendment rights.

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