A SHORT HISTORY OF COMICS CENSORSHIP - THE COMIC BOOK LEGAL DEFENSE FUND UPDATE
For more information write:
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
P.O. Box 693
Northampton, MA 01061
Dr. Fredric Wertham publishes Seduction of the Innocent, a book purporting that comic book reading causes juvenile delinquency. In true McCarthy-era fashion, the U.S. Senate holds hearings to investigate Wertham's claims. A new Comics Code Authority is formed prohibiting any controversial comics. As a result, the most innovative company of the decade, EC Comics, is forced to cancel most of its line. This includes titles like Vault of Horror and Tales From the Crypt, which years later are judged to be classics.
1960's & '70's
Beginning in the late '60s, the underground comix movement shirks the constraints of mainstream publishing. Heavily influenced by the EC line, especially MAD magazine, underground cartoonists like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, and Robert Williams produce an acclaimed body of adult work. In New York, one of their titles, Zap #4, is prosecuted for obscenity. The trial lasts several years and goes through numerous appeals. In 1973, the comic is finally ruled obscene and banned. (Since then, Zap #4 has been sold in New York without prosecution and the work of its creators has appeared in the Museum of Modern Art and other galleries.)
As an outgrowth of the undergrounds, "alternative" comics flourish with publications like RAW, Love & Rockets, and American Splendor. Cartoonists Art Spiegelman, Dave Sim, Will Eisner, and others win widespread recognition for their ambitious work. At the same time, creators such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore push the boundaries of super-hero comics into more mature territory. Various religious and conservative leaders decry these developments claiming that "comics are for kids.' In 1986, Friendly Frank's, a comics store in Lansing, Illinois is busted for selling "obscene" comics. The titles in question are Omaha the Cat Dancer, The Bodyssey, Weirdo, and Bizarre Sex. The CBLDF is founded to support the defense. The case moves to the Appellate Court where the store manager is acquitted of all charges.
Following the Friendly Frank's case, the CBLDF remains active as a watchdog organization. Prosecutions of comic shops escalate. Two shops in Florida are busted. One is accused of selling the adult collection Cherry Anthology #1 to an undercover officer. The charges are later dropped. The other store goes to court for selling a "mature" title, The Score, published by Piranha, imprint of DC Comics, to a 14-year-old accompanied by his mother. The judge rules in favor of store owner Bill Hatfield. In 1992 police raid Amazing Comics outside San Diego, seizing 45 titles. No charges are filed. Other actions around the country are detailed below.
The CBLDF is monitoring the following situations where First Amendment rights are threatened....
Sarasota, Florida: On May 13, 1992, police arrested Timothy Parks, the manager of the store Comic Book Heaven, on seven counts of displaying material harmful to minors. The titles that were seized by police include The Survivors, The Heir, and Dark Tales, published by the now defunct Catalan Communications; Detectives Inc, published by Eclipse; and an issue of the British fanzine Speakeasy. In most states, the statute under which Parks is being charged doesn't even exist. However, on November 24, 1993, Parks was found guilty on two counts of displaying obscene materials to minors and sentenced to two years in jail. Parks' appeal bond was denied and he remains incarcerated in the Sarasota County Jail pending an appeal. Legal fees to date exceed $15,000....
Rome, Georgia: On February 18,1993, the Floyd County court found the owner of the Legends comic shop guilty of "distributing obscene materials." The verdict implicated two Aircel comics, Debbie Does Dallas and Final Tabu, as being harmful to adults. The case is now headed to the Appellate Court. Legal fees to date exceed $9500....
Largo, Florida: Michael Diana was charged with three counts of obscenity for publishing Boiled Angel, a self-distributed fanzine with a print-run of fewer than 300 copies. On March 25, 1994, Diana was found guilty on three counts of obscenity for publishing, distributing, and advertising Boiled Angel #7 and #ATE. He was ordered to spend the weekend in jail pending sentencing. Diana received three years probation. The terms of his probation require him to pay a $3,000 fine, undergo psychological evaluation within 30 days, maintain full-time employment, perform 8 hours of community service every week, have no contact with children under 18 years of age, take a course in Journalism Ethics (at his expense), and not draw any "obscene" material while on probation, even for personal use. The last dictum will be monitored by unannounced inspections of his living premises. An appeal is planned. Legal fees to date exceed $27,000.
San Francisco, California: The California State Board of Equalization (BOE) has decided that comic book original pages do not have the literary status of an author's manuscript, and are instead merely commercial illustrations. Consequently, the BOE is claiming that cartoonist Paul Mavrides (co-creator of The Fabulous Freak Brothers) owes back taxes for several years worth of publishing royalties. If the BOE has its way, all California cartoonists will eventually be dunned for this tax. This economic handicap would effectively muzzle an untold number of creators. The CBLDF is employing literary and tax attorneys to reverse the BOE's ruling. Legal fees to date exceed $25,000....
Chilmo Hills, California: In December 1992, prosecutors forced the manager of City Comics (located near Los Angeles), to accept a plea bargain for selling two adult comics, Debbie Does Dallas and Faust, to a minor. The sale was a fluke. Normally the store checked ID on adult purchases. But in this instance the "minor" was a 17-year-old using a false ID. The police had targeted the store with a sting operation because a small group of parents had complained that comics were too violent for children. Spider-Man was cited as an example. Subsequently the Chino Hills City Council passed an addition to their Business Regulations requiring special licenses for "minor-oriented businesses." City Comics' license was finally approved after a seven-month wait, but the store was forced to close due to financial restraints caused by the delay....
AMENDMENT ONE: "CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW...ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH..."