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Baker's Dozen
Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.

Current Installment >> Installment Archives | General Forum

BAKER'S DOZEN for 12/31/2003
The Good Fight

Charles Brownstein on the CBLDF

At the risk of hyperbole, I'd like to start by stating that the day Charles Brownstein set aside his Press badge was a good day for comics, and perhaps a red-letter day in the ongoing struggle to maintain the efficacy of every Americans' First Amendment rights. In his still relatively short tenure as the Director of the Fund he's spearheaded efforts to restore or circumvent the diminishment of all artists' right to free expression, pioneered new cooperative efforts with other like-minded groups and organizations, and worked tirelessly to raise the Fund's profile in a positive manner. He's done all that, and more, and lived to tell the tale ... with his senses of both humor and perspective still intact.

And if that doesn't qualify him as superhuman -- or at least a little heroic -- I don't know what would.

CBLDF

Bill Baker: What's your conception of the Fund, including its purpose and practical aspects, and how might it differ from the way others have defined it in the past?

Charles Brownstein: The Fund provides comics' first and strongest line of defense and advocacy for First Amendment legal matters. We're here to provide free legal advise and free legal counsel to retailers and creative professionals when their First Amendment rights are being challenged. I think this has always been the Fund's principal role. If it's changed any under my tenure, its that we've become much more active in areas of advocacy by joining a number of amicus (Friend of the Court) briefs on First Amendment matters and have become more active in joining coalitions to strike down bad laws before they start.

After seeing some of the human costs associated with a case, I'm of the view that it's better to prevent a case than to defend a case. With that ideal in mind, the Fund is doing more work than ever to fight dangerous new laws and to educate our community about how to deal with changes in the law. We've also become more active in the broader First Amendment community, where we are sharing contacts and information to the mutual benefit of our respective organizations and memberships.

BB: Does that mean that you see the Fund as essentially a proactive organization, or is it still largely a reactive organization?

Busted! CB: Well, there's a bit of both. Naturally our first job is to react quickly and decisively in the defense of a First Amendment case. That hasn't changed. I do think that we are becoming increasingly proactive by joining a greater number of fights that seek to cut laws off at the pass before they can cut a retailer off at the knees. And we're doing more than ever to fulfill the education portion of our mission by beefing up Busted! in such a fashion that it provides our members with a global view of how the First Amendment is faring on an ongoing basis.

BB: What are your major goals, short term and long term, as the Fund's director?

CB: I want the Fund to become stronger than it ever has been and to stand as an equal with the nation's other important First Amendment associations. And I think we've been making great strides towards this goal. Every month another invitation for us to sign onto an amicus brief crosses my desk. Some of these briefs are right for us, some aren't, but what's important is that we're part of the conversation.

The Fund also needs to get to a place where we've got enough money in the bank to hire the best attorneys without worrying about where the cash is gonna come from. We've been lucky to manage one case at a time for the last couple of years, but the law is under no obligation to attack that way. We need to have enough money in the war chest to manage multiple cases if need be and to have the most aggressive counsel working on those cases. We've still got a ways to go towards that goal, but we'll get there if we continue to see membership increase and if the community continues to support the Fund's efforts.

Finally, I want the Fund to continue working with the widest possible range of individuals within the field. The truth is that comics is a big umbrella that has content ranging from the blockbuster work of artists like Jim Lee to the decidedly underground appeal of artists like James Kochalka. I want the Fund to be able to continue to work with everyone within that umbrella. The fights the Fund wages are of concern to everyone in comics and I find that by working with such a range of individuals within the field that we are better able to communicate with the field and to speak to the broadest range of their concerns.

BB: How would you describe your job's duties?

CB: Broadly speaking, I have three major areas of responsibility: 1) management of the Fund's day-to-day operations; 2) managing the Fund's mission work, which includes being the liaison between clients and counsel, researching and presenting casework to the board, interacting with the First Amendment community; communicating legal information to the comics community, writing and editing Busted!; and 3) development and management of the CBLDF's fundraising activities, including representing the group at conventions, organizing fundraisers such as auctions and events, organizing merchandise, and soliciting donations. There's a lot more to it than that, but those are the broad strokes.

BB: What's the best thing about the job? Conversely, what might be the worst?

CB: The best thing about working for the Fund is that we get to work with such a dynamic range of professionals, from the franchise superstars to the literary iconoclasts to the business folks who keep the whole works running behind the scenes. The Fund is a team effort that just about everyone in the industry gets behind and it's great to work with such a strong team.

Busted! My favorite part of the job is writing and editing Busted! Before I ran the Fund I was a writer by trade and so doing the magazine keeps those muscles in shape and keeps the Fund and its members on top of what's happening in the First Amendment culture.

The worst thing about the job is that there's never enough hours in the week to get everything I want to do done. We're a small crew. Besides me there's Deputy Director R. Grover who keeps the auctions and premiums running and who keeps our business paperwork in order; there's Office Manager K. Fenlason who handles all the member relations and shipping/receiving; and there's Design Director John Lind who keeps Busted! and all our premiums looking good. They all work part-time and I work full time, so there's a lot of stuff to keep track of and while everyone does a great job, it can get overwhelming sometimes.

Oh, and jet lag can be a real bear.

BB: What's a typical day in the life of the Director of the CBLDF ... and how different is it during con season from the "off" season?

CB: There are no typical days, Bill. Numerically, I probably spend a quarter of the year out of the office at conventions, meetings, and the like. But it's not like there's one season, it's spread out through the entire year, which means that most of the year I'm spending the middle of the week in the office catching up and the weekends at a con. I'm not complaining; I love the travel and I like the interaction with the community at shows, but it makes it a challenge to keep on top of everything.

My days in the office tend to start around 8:30 or 9:30 in the morning (depending on con fatigue) where I'll spend the first half hour reading e-mail, trade and legal news, drinking coffee, and stepping out for cigarettes. Then I start answering e-mail, which sometimes takes ten minutes, sometimes takes an hour. Then it's on to the fires of the moment. Packing and shipping shows; reading legal briefs and distilling them into articles; spending a lot of time on the phone preparing fundraisers, gathering case information; soliciting donations, that kind of thing. In the morning Kay or Grover are in the office and so we'll touch base about how their end of the ship is faring, then get back to it. I'll usually break for lunch around 1 and then late afternoon John Lind will come in and we'll work on some design stuff. I usually leave the office around 6 or 7 at night.

Then I shoot pool.

BB: Do you foresee a day when the Fund can safely be retired?

CB: Nope. Not in my lifetime, unless the constitution is abolished, in which case we've got a bigger problem to deal with.

BB: What do you get from this work?

CB: I can't imagine having a better job. I get to work with the First Amendment on behalf of a field I am deeply interested in. I get to work with dozens and dozens of fascinating, creative people. I get to travel and meet our members around the country. I get to write. I get to initiate fundraisers for a cause I believe in. It's very gratifying work.

BB: What do you hope other folks get from your efforts?

CB: I hope that the field is better informed about the state of the First Amendment in this country and of their own First Amendment rights and how changes in the law can affect them. I further hope that when there is a legal crisis they know they can come to the Fund and that we're prepared to take on a First Amendment case with both barrels blazing.

And I hope they have fun with the fundraising that we do. Obviously the mission work is the most important thing, but I want people to have fun when they're helping us obtain the money we need to perform that mission. I like it when people show up at a CBLDF party and have a blast. I like going to a convention and seeing people walk around wearing one of our tee shirts. I like hearing people respond with elation when they win an auction on a piece of art from their favorite artist. The Fund affords a connection between the different facets of this field and I like seeing how people connect through the Fund.

BB: Now I'm not trying to rush you out or anything, but what do you hope your legacy at the Fund will be?

CB: I hate legacy questions because they require stepping back from the task at hand and making egocentric proclamations. So be it: I hope that when I step away from the Fund that we're a much more well-funded, well connected organization that stands as an equal with the nation's other important First Amendment organizations. I hope that we continue to work with a wider and wider spread of the comics field, so that we accurately and adequately represent the entire range of concerns within the comics field.

In short, I want to leave the Fund bigger, stronger, smarter, and more high-profile than it ever has been.

BB: Anything else you'd like to add?

CB: The usual stuff. If your First Amendment rights are threatened your first call should be to 800 99 CBLDF. If you want more information about the Fund visit www.cbldf.org.

Become a member of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund!

*****

Once again, we urge our readers to support the good fight that Charles and his fellows wage against the foes of free expression by heading over to www.cbldf.org and donating to this worthy cause.

And if you haven't already, take a look at last week's Baker's Dozen where Neil Gaiman talks about the importance and necessity of supporting the CBLDF.

Finally, show your support and get something in return. Take a look at the CBLDF auctions.

<< 12/24/2003 | 12/31/2003 | 01/07/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum.
Read my weekly blog, Speculative Friction, on my website BloodintheGutters.com.


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