The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the comic industry’s primary voice for free speech advocacy, on Thursday announced its new president, elected by unanimous vote of its board of directors. Christina Merkler, co-founder of retailer Discount Comic Book Service, will assume the role immediately. In addition, the organization has also announced its involvement in a legal aid fund for an ongoing defamation lawsuit facing a number of independent creators.
Merkler co-founded Discount Comic Book Service with her husband Cameron in 1999. The company has since expanded to include the online retail portals In Stock Trades, concentrating on print collections, and My Digital Comics; it also handles direct sales for Image Comics and Boom! Studios.
“There’s never been a more important time to protect the First Amendment rights of the comic book community,” Merkler said in a statement. “As president, I look forward to working closely with the CBLDF board and the staff to continue the organization’s important work in supporting comic book retailers, creators, educators and librarians whose First Amendment rights are being challenged.”
Merkler replaces longtime CBLDF president Larry Marder, who retired from the position at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, alongside outgoing vp Milton Griepp and board member Jeff Smith. Joining the board alongside Merkler are vp retailer services at Diamond Comics Distributors Chris Powell, who will serve as the new vp of the organization; IDW founder Ted Adams, who will serve as treasurer; and secretary Dale Cendali.
One of the first moves by the new leadership of the CBLDF is its involvement in a new legal aid fund established by the Small Press Expo to support members of its creative community involved in a defamation lawsuit. The fund, administered by SPX and created in consultation with the CBLDF, will be seeded with a $10,000 donation from SPX, with an additional $10,000 being repurposed from the annual SPX donation to the CBLDF, with the full encouragement of the CBLDF board of directors. This initial $20,000 amount has already been made available to the defendants.
The defendants — publisher Josh O’Neill, critic Rob Clough and cartoonists Whit Taylor, Laura Knetzger, Emma Louthan, Emi Gennis, Ben Passmore, Hazel Newlevant, Jordan Shiveley, Morgan Pielli and Tom Kaczynski — are named in a defamation suit brought by small-press cartoonist and publisher Cody Pickrodt, who has been accused of sexual harassment, rape, anti-Semitic remarks and withholding royalties from creators whose work he has published. Kaczynski’s publishing house, Uncivilized Books, is also named in the suit. As reported by The Comics Journal, Pickrodt is seeking an amount no smaller than $2.5 million for emotional and mental distress.
In a statement accompanying the announcement of the fund, Small Press Expo executive director Warren Bernard said, “For many years, SPX has quietly extended financial support to cartoonists in need, but there is no being quiet about this case. Our community must come together in support of its members who are facing unprecedented challenges — and to defend the kind of community we wish to be. From the very beginning, our two organizations agreed that we must do whatever we can to help.”
Added Merkler, “We came together on a solution that makes the best use of the strengths of each of our organizations to support the members of our community in fighting this lawsuit. The SPX special fund will help by providing immediate cash, a structure for raising more money if required, and continuing access to experts that will help those in need.”
In addition to consultation on the creation of the fund, the CBLDF will provide legal and fundraising consultation to SPX in relation to both the case and the fund moving forward. More information about the fund will be released in coming weeks.