It was 1986, and Friendly Frank’s was in deep trouble.
Michael Correa, manager of the Lansing, Ill., comics shop, had just been arrested for, well, selling comics. The charge? Display of obscene materials.
That hardly seemed fair—so publishers, authors and other comics enthusiasts rallied to raise money to defend Correa. They got Correa’s conviction overturned and started a fund devoted to comics protection.
Today, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (cbdlf.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the First Amendment rights of comics and the community that reads them. True to its original mission, it provides legal assistance and education to that community, with leadership that includes big names like Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Jennifer Holm and Gene Luen Yang.
Two and a half years ago, the organization relocated from New York to downtown Portland. Part of the reason for the move, says deputy director Alex Cox, was increasingly overwhelming overhead associated with keeping a space in midtown Manhattan. But Cox adds the fund was drawn to the city’s thriving comics artist community. Being in Portland is “kind of like being in New York in the ’90s,” he says, “when there was a much smaller, very engaged independent comics scene. So we’re getting back to our roots.”
Since the Friendly Frank’s case, the group has fought compulsory internet filters in public libraries, challenged state bills trying to regulate graphic novels about LGBTQ+ rights and sexual health, and co-authored a student resource guide with the National Coalition Against Censorship. Cox has a 5-year-old of his own, so he says the idea of barring kids her age from seeing certain content simply because it makes adults uncomfortable is “a real bummer.”
Often, comics with “sensitive” subject matter are quietly removed from schools and libraries without discussion. The group is doing its best to challenge that.
“It’s a constant struggle,” Cox says, “to get books on the shelf when they need to be on the shelf.”