In the wake of a defamation lawsuit filed against a group of 11 cartoonists and small press publishers, the Small Press Expo in collaboration with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund will immediately contribute $20,000 to support the legal expenses of the 11 defendants in the suit. In addition, in consultation with CBLDF, SPX will launch and administer an ongoing fundraising vehicle that will raise additional funds to support the 11 defendants.

Warren Bernard, executive director of the Small Press Expo, an annual festival of small press and self-published comics and graphic novels, told PW that SPX will immediately donate $10,000 and, with the support of the CBLDF executive board, will redirect its annual $10,000 CBLDF donation to the legal defense fund for the 11 defendants.

“We’ve already paid the retainer and the defendants will be well represented,” Bernard said.

The SPX and CBLDF fundraising action comes after the news of the defamation suit was published on The Comics Journal website on August 21. According to the TCJ story, Cody Pickcrodt, a small press comics artist and publisher, filed suit against the cartoonists claiming he has been falsely accused of rape, sexual assault, making anti-semitic remarks, and not paying artist royalties.

The defendants are some of the most highly regarded artists and publishers in indie comics and include cartoonists Whit Taylor, Laura Knetzger, Emma Louthan, Emi Gennis, Ben Passmore, Hazel Newlevant, Tom Kaczynski (an artist and publisher of Uncivilized Books), Jordan Shiveley (an artist and associate publisher of Uncivilized Books), Morgan Pielli, Josh O’Neill (writer, editor and publisher of Beehive Books), and comics critic Rob Clough.

News of the defamation suit prompted an outcry in the independent comics community and has generated a wave of support on social media for the 11 defendants. Supporters of the defendants claim that Pickrodt is using the lawsuit to silence the defendants and suppress allegations about his alleged behavior and business practices.

“For many years, SPX has quietly extended financial support to cartoonists in need, but there is no being quiet about this case,” Bernard said.

CBLDF president Christina Merkler said the fundraising effort, “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.”

The lawsuit also spurred a wave of criticism toward both the CBLDF, a nonprofit focused on defending First Amendment and freedom to read issues, and SPX, a partner and major donor to the CBLDF. Critics claimed the organizations were not responding to an immediate crisis threatening the comics community.

Bernard told PW that both SPX and CBLDF were in contact immediately after the news of the suit was published. “We’ve been in constant contact and in internal discussions since last week and our boards approved the plans over the weekend,” he said.

Indeed, in a group statement released today the 11 defendants said, “as artists, writers, art educators, comics critics, and small independent publishers, many of whom rely on freelance work to pay our bills, a lawsuit like this is going to put an enormous financial strain on all of us.”

The statement continued: “Simply put, we can’t afford to fight this without help. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our community, and are especially grateful for the generosity of SPX to provide us with financial assistance. We also appreciate efforts by the CBLDF and other institutions and individuals who have provided additional fundraising support and legal advice.”