The Comics Journal: Are the allegations coming as a complete surprise?
Christina Merkler: The current board of directors was not aware of the extent of the allegations against Charles. We are looking into new allegations, and reaching out to the parties involved.
What kind of options do you see going forward?
We are listening to all allegations and responding to criticism with positive action. This will begin with a restructuring of our organization from the top down with the help of unbiased outside consultants, so that we can continue the important work that the Fund was established to do.
Given the current bad publicity, is CBLDF no longer a viable proposition?
The current Board thinks it is. Governance needs to change. The approach to the mission needs to modernize. We’re working to bring in outside expertise to help ensure that the CBLDF’s important work is done and is done in a more transparent fashion. Right now, the CBLDF is actively providing legal and financial support for a group of cartoonists in Chicago at risk of having their work altered, confiscated, or suppressed in a copyright battle. We’re monitoring and combatting unconstitutional legislation and recently aided Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist Nick Anderson in his fight to restore his political cartoon to online merchant Redbubble after a takedown. We’ll also continue to fight identity censorship. This work is important and the Board does not foresee that changing in the near future.
Is it possible the board will simply give up the ghost and leave the comics field to hope for some other organization to take its place?
We will not give up on protecting the First Amendment and the right to create, publish, sell, purchase, and read. We must find a way forward over time that rebuilds trust. We want to continue with the Fund’s work disseminating helpful legal information to our community, including the recent COVID-19 relief information we compiled for comic book retailers and providing intellectual property information to creators. This work needs to be done, and we have the resources in place to do it.
Is there a way for CBLDF to rebuild itself from the ashes of its current disgrace? If so, what do you think that rebirth might look like?
We think that it’s a top-to-bottom rebuilding of Fund management, which includes modernizing our Board governance and communicating in a transparent style more representative of the people working for the Fund. We must better understand and explain why the Fund did or did not support previous causes important to our members, update our choices of imagery used in our publications and add deeper pre-hire background checks for prospective employees of the Fund. Finally, there will be a new infusion of Board members that reflects all that comics have to offer, with more representatives of our constituents, particularly creators and retailers.
Was the Board aware of at least one arrest on Charles’ record prior to the incident with Taki Soma in 2006?
The current Board has read the available Minutes and reports. There is nothing reflecting Board knowledge of Charles Brownstein having a previous arrest record.
Were you aware of this at the time, Chris, and do you know if or how it was addressed by the Board?
Until recently, the current members of the Board were not aware of the issues raised by Cheyenne Allot, including the Agreement that she signed. Chris Powell states he has no memory of the agreement. We released Cheyenne from her NDA because she should be free to describe her experiences. Frankly, the current CBLDF Board is interested in understanding where we can improve our governance, and we can’t do that holding people silent. She was kind enough to speak with Board President Christina Merkler about her experience. Since their conversation, we have been in touch with former Board members and read all the Board Minutes from that time. The behavior Cheyenne describes is not acceptable and her letter does not appear to have been recorded by, or even brought to, the full Board’s attention.