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J. Michael Straczynski’s CBLDF Liberty Annual Comic: ‘Separation of Church and State’ [Exclusive]

The 2011 edition of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Liberty Annual hits stores this October from Image Comics, with proceeds from the 48-page comics anthology to benefit the CBLDF, a non-profit organization that defends the First Amendment rights of comics creators. Contributors to the issue include Frank Quitely, J.H. Williams III, Steve Niles, J. Michael Straczynski, Judd Winick, Mark Waid, Jeff Lemire, Carla Speed McNeil, Matt Wagner, Craig Thompson, Dustin Nguyen, and more.

We’ve got an exclusive first look at the J. Michael Straczynski story from the annual, “The Separation of Church and State,” about the relationship between religion and government in American history, and why he thinks the separation of the two is a boon to both individual and religious liberty. The editor of this year’s Liberty Comics, Bob Schreck, also spoke to us briefly about why he supports the CBLDF and why the very nature of comics is the greatest threat to the free speech of creators.ComicsAlliance: For people who aren’t familiar, what is the Liberty Annual?

Bob Schreck: The Liberty Annual is something that Image Comics and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund team up to create each year. It’s designed to raise awareness and funds for the CBLDF’s important work. It started when Scott Dunbier volunteered to put together a benefit book for the Fund, and grew to recruit a different editor each year to bring their sensibility to making a book of stories about Free Speech.

CA: Why do you support the CBLDF and its mission?

BS: Because we need to stay vigilant at keeping our rights as a viable artistic form of expression, as viable as any other, free from any governmental/societal controls. Freedom of expression is our most valued asset and it seems there’s always someone out there gunning to take it away from us. The Fund is there to keep a watchful eye on any early rumblings that may be lurking just around the corner and does it’s level best to squash these efforts before they get too far along.

CA: What do you think is the biggest threat to free speech in comics today?

BS: Comics. Their very nature is their weakness. It’s my opinion that comics can’t get away with as much as film, television, novels or the internet can. A comics page stays right where it is – for all to see. For a parent to see and wonder… how long is their child is staring at whatever image that they might deem “harmful.” Whereas a motion picture makes its offense and [then] the image or word is gone from view or earshot in mere seconds and swept away. A film is a more communal experience that a parent can guide a child through. A book is just words on paper and it takes a lot of hard work to stay on top of the medium, and the internet is easily controlled (or so they’re told), and access can be limited…

I can’t begin to tell you how many young kids I know that have been allowed to see R-rated films by the most protective parents, but having realized that they may have made a “mistake” in judgment, the parents don’t go charging off to the garage looking for their pitchfork to storm the movie studios. Besides, the studios have a lot more cash to fight and win any lawsuits that may come their way. Despite all the acceptance of modern pop culture, in many areas of society, comics unfairly still have the stink of the 1950s on them and are regarded to some degree as entertainment for simpletons. It’s a stigma that still shows up in a lot of the work the CBLDF has to fight.

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