CBLDF: Defending Your Right to Sell Comics

by Charles Brownstein


Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is dedicated to protecting the rights of comic book retailers. Since our very first case in 1986, CBLDF has helped dozens of comic stores with free legal representation, advice, and advocacy in cases affecting their First Amendment right to sell comics. We still do that work today, with some of the country’s best legal experts on staff to guarantee we’re ready to help stores weather any First Amendment emergency that arises. 

Thanks in large part to the Fund’s work, the number of legal cases brought against comic book stores is very low today. In our first decades, prosecutions happened several times each year in jurisdictions all over the country. Back then, comic stores were often targeted by local prosecutors on charges of selling obscenity or harmful to minors materials for content that is today comparable to stories coming out from every major publisher. Thankfully, few legal incidents affect comic book stores today, and CBLDF has been able to defuse most of those that do with a couple of phone calls from our lawyers, often before the matter goes to court.

Just because the number and frequency of cases against comic book stores has dwindled, legal actions and censorship targeting comic books continue to happen all the time. Today, CBLDF regularly defends cases involving attempts to ban graphic novels in schools and libraries. The kind of work we’re defending is largely mainstream content. In most cases, the titles we defend are some of the bestselling graphic novels in the country, including titles by authors like Brian K. Vaughan, Raina Telgemeier, Neil Gaiman, and Alison Bechdel. We also continue to see a simmering legal threat to manga, with law enforcement targeting readers for importing explicit content. These cases show that there are still law enforcement officials and cultural watchdogs who object to comics.

Just because comic store cases are largely dormant, that doesn’t mean they’re extinct. CBLDF takes a proactive approach to defending the comic book industry’s rights; our efforts include:

  • Maintaining expert legal counsel on staff, ensuring that we can defend any First Amendment emergency a retailer faces quickly, aggressively, and decisively. These experts are available to all retailers when threats emerge. 
  • Litigation challenging unconstitutional laws that limit the First Amendment rights of retailers. In recent years, we’ve knocked out unconstitutional laws affecting the sale, display, and online dissemination of comics. 
  • Legislative monitoring and letters of opposition to ensure new laws that would impede First Amendment rights aren’t passed. In recent years, our coalition efforts have successfully prevented dangerous laws from passing in California, Florida, New Jersey, Virginia, and more. 
  • Proactive resources, including publications, workshops, and webinars, to promote best practices, as well as an understanding of your rights and how to protect them. 

Please see the following guides for more information about your rights as a retailer and how to manage high-risk situations:

Know Your Rights: A Retailer Resource

Managing High-Risk Situations: A Retailer Resource

Thanks to your support, CBLDF is doing more than ever to protect the comics medium and the community of retailers, educators, librarians, professionals, and readers who use it. The kinds of cases we’re asked to handle and the kinds of content that is challenged have changed since we began our important work more than 30 years ago. What will never change is our unwavering commitment to protecting the rights that retailers depend upon to make a living selling comics.

You can help us continue this work by sharing this book with your staff, becoming a member both as a store and as an individual, offering our benefit and information publications to your customers, and hosting fundraisers benefiting the Fund. Your vocal membership in CBLDF ensures that we stand together to protect the freedom to read comics!

If you want to assist the Fund or want to find out more about our resources and how we support retailers — or you encounter a First Amendment emergency — contact CBLDF at info@cbldf.org