Editor Bob Schreck Talks The CBLDF's Liberty Annual + Exclusive Matt Wagner Art!

To a new comic book reader, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund might sound like the sort of organization Daredevil’s alter-ego Matt Murdock might belong to, but it’s actually a real, incredibly important organization. When a school bans a comic? The Legal Defense Fund is there. When a creator is arrested for their art? The CBLDF is there, too. But like any fund, constantly protecting the rights of comic book artists, writers, and editors takes time, talent, and money.

That’s where projects like The Liberty Annual come in. The Annual – to be released by Image Comics on October 12th – has an all-star line-up including J. Michael Straczynski (Superman: Earth One), Frank Quitely (All-Star Superman), J.H. Williams III (Batwoman), Steve Niles (30 days of Night), Judd Winick (Catwoman), Mark Waid (Daredevil) and Jeff Lemire (Sweet Tooth), and Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), and many more.

To find out more about the project, we chatted with Editor Bob Schreck about how it came together, what he’s looking forward to, and also, show off a few exclusive pages from an all-new Matt Wagner Grendel story:

MTV Geek: Tell us about the Liberty Annual… How’d you come on board? How did you get involved with the CBLDF in general?

Bob Schreck: I have been a supporter of the Fund for as long as I can remember. I've known Charles Brownstein since he was still a teenager and always had great respect for his big brain. I had to turn down his first request a few years back due to bad timing in terms of my schedule. But when he called again with regard to this year's Annual and I saw that my schedule could accommodate the Fund, I didn't hesitate. I immediately made sure that Thomas Tull at Legendary was OK with me lending my services to the cause and, with his approval, we were off and running.

Geek: Have you ever had experiences where your free speech has been challenged (I would imagine)?

BS: Yes, over the years, but mostly due to corporate constraints. But we're addressing the societal suppression of being who your head and heart and biology tells you who you are. The "Don't Ask – Don't Tell" game that has been plaguing the LGBT community forever. As a young man growing up in the late 60s/early 70s, I feared my own bi-sexuality becoming common knowledge and ruining my relationships with friends and family. Until I finally couldn't hide who I was any longer. That coming out did cost me some friends and strained some family ties. But it was all worth it. That's why we're taking a page from Dan Savage's IT GETS BETTER campaign and addressing this form of censorship in the Liberty Annual. Because all these years later, young people are still in such fear of being outed, that they would rather die than face this society scorn. It's got to stop.

Geek: What’s the idea behind the Liberty Annual itself – it’s mission statement, if you will?

BS: The Liberty Annual is designed to help raise money and awareness every year by bringing great creators together to tell stories about freedom of speech. Scott Dunbier started the series in 2008, my friend Jamie Rich helmed the second edition in 2009, and Larry Marder edited the third book in 2010. Every year Eric Stephenson and the good folks at Image Comics volunteer their efforts to publish the book and Richard Starkings and JG Roshell at Comicraft do the production. It's a great team effort.

Geek: There’s some pretty spectacular contributors here, what are you eager for people to check out?

BS: Thank you! All of them, actually. It's a very wide spectrum of tales, from the absolutely funny, crass and foul, to the serious, straight-forward dealing with issues, to the very warm-hearted, insightful, and very personal reflections.

Geek: Talk about the two covers for the book… How’d those come together?

BS: I've always wanted to work with John Cassaday and we've known each other for years now. Actually, years after he made the big time, he pulled me aside to tell me that I was one of the first editors to give him a portfolio review when he was still in high school. Which always freaks me out when I hear that. Cripes, am I old!

Matt Wagner was the opposite, as I've known him since the late 70s and worked with him since 1985, and eventually became brothers-in-law, and always best buds, it was less than a heartbeat between taking on the reigns of the book and putting in the call to Matt. Getting him to commit … Well…

Geek: What can you tell us about the Grendel story?

BS: Matt had some trouble getting his head around a story that would involve this totally evil dude and master of crime to somehow be a defender of free speech. But I knew he'd find a way. He always has. Look back at the incredible incarnations and changes this character has gone through. A comics icon that is now nearly 30 years old. I marvel at how Matt's always managed to find an angle to make Grendel exciting and relevant to the times. A week or two later I received an email from Matt that started out with, "I think I've got it!"

Geek: How about Craig Thompson’s story… That’s a pretty big deal, I think.

BS: Very happy to have Craig and Kazim Ali on board. And with colors by the great Dave Stewart, no less! It's a wonderful tale that brings us inside Kazim's journey balancing the religious beliefs he had been raised with as a child. The reader gets to witness this very personal struggle of coming to terms with those beliefs that are in such great conflict what his heart and biology was telling him. I've known Craig for many years through our mutual best-buddy and all-round smart guy, Shannon T. Stewart, whom we share as our spiritual guide and consiglieri. So, it was easy to give him a holler and ask his support… Even though he was just winding up his newest graphic novel effort, Habibi, which is hitting the shelves this September.

Geek: You’ve got more incredible artists and writers on this… How did you, as the Editor, approach pairing everyone up?

BS: It's a bit of old fashioned alchemy, really. Having been at this for a while, you tend to know who does what well and who will be best partner together to bring out the finest in each other's work. You also have to take risks, because that's the most fun, but usually the end result is, at worst, interesting, and at best, amazing. I'd say my assistant, Greg Tumbarello, and I got lucky and couldn't have wished for a better result.

Geek: Clearly it’s a good cause, but what’s it like trying to get all these different creators and companies in “one room,” so to speak?

BS: Everyone was so eager and generous with their time and energy (and dealing with our pesky, nagging emails and phone calls filled with slathering praise covering up the annoying edits and dreaded deadlines), including all the folks behind the scenes at the various companies that contributed.

Geek: Anthologies seem to be a hard sell in the comic book market these days… What’s going to convince the casual fan this is a must buy?

BS: This is an excellent cause that deserves everyone's attention and support. This type of cause lends itself perfectly to the anthology format, as we can address the various issues that the Fund has to deal with on a yearly basis. What should convince the casual fan to drop some of their dollars on this book is that fact that we have a wide variety of stories created by a wide variety of some of the finest comics storytellers (new and seasoned talents) working in the field today. If that's not enough… Well… I give up!

Geek: Anything else you want to plug while we have you?

BS: Nope! Just, PLEASE pick up this book. I think you'll be glad you did!

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