Scott Ellis 9 p.m., March 3
Don’t Fear the Funnies; Comics & Censorship
Don’t Be Afraid, It’s Only a Comic Book!
DON’T BE AFRAID, IT’S ONLY A COMIC BOOK!
How dangerous can a comic book be? Very, some would say.
Dangerous to the imagination.
Dangerous to commerce.
Dangerous to developing young minds.
It never ceases to amaze me that an inordinate number of people out there are genuinely scared of comic books.
I’m not talking about that well chronicled fifties brouhaha instigated by Fredric Wertham and his supporters (his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent implied that comics cause crime and homosexuality, sparking a Senate investigation).
No, I’m talking about contemporary comic books (not strips, though it can be argued that Doonesbury used to scare a lot of people, especially those who appeared within its panels).
I particularly mean comics published fairly recently, some of which seem to scare and threaten the beejeezus out of certain, shall we say, misguided folks. And not the folks you might expect.
Before I muse on my own encounters with various frightened factions, regarding comics I either created or published, let me tell you about a few of my contemporaries…
Mike Diana of Florida was the first guy in the U.S. to be convicted of a crime for drawing comics. His singular legal problems are the result of comics he created and self-published from home, mainly one called “Boiled Angel.”
Florida state authorities stumbled across his work quite by accident, during a murder investigation. Disturbed by the violent home made and home distributed comics, they passed “Boiled Angel” on to Mike’s local sheriff.
Nearly two years later, in 1994, Mike was busted for publishing, advertising and distributing obscene material. Assistant state attorney Stuart Braggish got it in his head that Mike was somehow a threat to society, by virtue of the fact that he liked to draw silly and gross pictures.
In an interview with exploitme.com, Diana said “"After a week in trial it only took jury of 6, 40 minutes to covict me on all 3 counts of obscenity.(Obscene Material: Graphic, sexual, or violent images or conduct not protected by the First Amendment's free speech clause). I was cuffed & taken by paddy wagon to jail untill sentancing. 4 days later I was given 3 years probation. This included stay at least 10 feet away from any one under 18, work 1500 hours community service, get a shrink to check me out at my own cost of $1,300., draw nothing even for my own use, this meant no drawing at all & police could search without warning, without a warrent to check! I must take a journalism ethics class at own cost, pay $3,000 fine. I was very shocked at all this! In the appeals my lawyer was able to get the Advertising obscenity charge dropped so this knocked off 1 year probation & $1,000 of the fine…when I first heard the judge sentence me I felt it was insane, but not too surprised since they had put me thru so much so far.”
“When I was charged,” says Diana, “the copies of Boiled Angel # 7 and #8 were on display at the courthouse for all minors to see…Florida has exposed kids and others to my sickest art, and they put it on the TV news!” Before the bust, the most Diana says he ever sold of a comic was a couple hundred copies.
Of course, public officials are notoriously intolerant and fearful of anything which remotely resembles a free press. Tiny indie comics like Mike’s can’t be influenced and controlled like the mass media, and therefore they represent a threat.
Operators of the retail comic shop Planet Comics were busted, over carrying one particularly vile and pointlessly twisted issue of a comic called Verotika, issue #4. The comic was published by purported rock star Glenn Danzig, and it featured a violent rape scene that, it turns out, was arranged by the father of the victim. The comic was sold – to an ADULT – and cops soon returned to shut the store down and take the owners to jail (see below “Short History of Censorship in Comics” article).
Now one could POSSIBLY have seen that one coming – Verotika #4 is indeed one of the most disgusting comics ever put to paper. But shutting down a shop and imprisoning people, just for SELLING it? To an ADULT?
What’s really frightening, tho, are the instances one could never have predicted. For instance, one of the biggest U.S. comic distributors, Capital City Distribution (now defunct), were scared of reality. Any comic that dealt with real life people and situations was considered risky, as they feared litigation from those who appeared in the comics.
When Boneyard Press published a comic biography about cannibal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Capital bought 1,600 copies and then, on reconsideration, decided not to distribute it.
“They paid me for it, anyway,” said Boneyard’s Hart Fisher. “Every year or so, they’d call me up and try to sell some copies back to me!” At around this time, serial killer trading cards were hot topics on TV talk shows, and victim family members were proving litigious in several instances.
Certainly having cat yronwoode on television talk shows, muttering to herself, staring off and weakly trying to justify Eclipse’s half-assed Killer collector cards, did nothing to make our industry look like it could aspire to valid journalism, let alone something with actual literary merit.
Even the relatively tame “Psycho Killers” comic from Comic Zone Productions came under critical fire, despite the fact that the title seemed like a genuine attempt to chronicle and examine a true sociological phenomenon. Not that I’m scrambling for superlatives when it comes to comic books about murderers. If the comic had been better drawn and not so obsessed with body counts, instead focusing on the killers’ lives before their first murder (rather than crassly re-enacting the crimes), it would have been much improved.
Dahmer’s own “survivors,” his victims’ families, were scared of the Boneyard comic bio. They were scared that it would “inspire” wannabe killers and they objected to Boneyard profiting from the tragedy. I’d tend to object as well, but that’s a subjective opinion and I wouldn’t attempt to sue Fisher the way the survivors did. Hart’s a nice guy, we’ve hung out and worked together, and he’s put out some pretty cool comics and some pretty lame ones (much like myself) but he definitely wasn’t trying to publish an illustrated “how to kill” primer.
The victims’ families apparently feared that Hart would make money that rightfully belonged to them, or some such thing, so they tried to get their hands on his stash (only marginally succeeding in the long run).
Fisher later began calling himself (self effacingly, one assumes) “the most dangerous man in comics.” But Fisher’s legal troubles pale next to those of Revolutionary Comics, the company I ran from 1992 until 1994. Prior to that, I was the writer of our high profile Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics series, and that’s where the troubles all began.
The title featured unauthorized biographies and the company’s founder, Todd Loren, was convinced that he had every legal right to do this. “After all, look at all those Kitty Kelly styled biographies cluttering bookstore shelves,” he’d say to anyone who’d listen. Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone don’t have to pay licensing fees to write about and publish photographs of celebrities. Why should a comic book have to? And how different is a drawing from a photo?
Make no mistake, the idea was based on pure commerce. Though Todd often screamed to the high heavens about his “First Amendment” rights, in very public bouts with Denis Kitchen and Gary Groth among others, the bottom line was that Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics was a million dollar idea.
The first issue, on Guns ‘N’ Roses, sold over 175,000 copies, becoming one of the best selling black and white indie comics of the era. The fact that he was also striking a blow for freedom of the press was a happy and fortunate coincidence (Todd always did admire Larry Flynt).
Of course, G’N’R threatened to sue, but they backed off when their lawyer could find no legal grounds. The company Great Southern, which held merchandise and licensing rights to several bands, did sue. They also feared a loss of potential income, and they declared that comic books were merchandise rather than “pictorial journalism,” as Revolutionary called its comics. “Just articles with drawings instead of photos,” Todd said in court, and Great Southern settled with Revolutionary when we agreed not to do comics about bands they represented. This was fear on Todd Loren’s part, fear of losing his brand new publishing empire.
It would be the last time he showed such fear up until his mysterious death two years later (the murder is still unsolved - and, yes, Axl Rose has an alibi).
When New Kids On The Block sued Revolutionary, it was for “trademark infringement.” There was little argument that we had every right to tell their story without authorization, since they were public figures. The crux of contention was that the band’s logo had appeared in the comic. Todd promptly reprinted the comic without the logo and the matter was settled, and we’d go on to do a “Fall Of The New Kids” issue later.
If it sounds like it was a simple matter, it was not. It took a mountain o’ $$$ and many months of court battles. Judge Rhoades finally agreed that comic books are entitled to the same First Amendment protection as any other sort of biography, in an important declaration from the bench that is rarely acknowledged in the comic book community as the stunning precedent it was.
Naturally, a slew of cheesy and downright sh-tty “biographical” comics flooded the market from competitors. Boneyard, Rock Fantasy, Personality (AKA Friendly, Celebrity and later Pop, but a turd by any other name still smells like sh-t), First Amendment Press and others tried to hop on the bandwagon, nearly all going out of business before long (Boneyard shifted gear into horror comics).
And what put them out of business? Besides the fact that most of them were truly terrible? Fear on the part of comic distributors again. Predictably, Capital City was the first to cower. They refused to carry Revolutionary’s “Fall Of The New Kids” comic for fear of legal reprisal from the Kids, despite the previous court decision in Revolutionary’s favor. They called the comic “incendiary” and said that it “leaves the door to litigation open.” You can imagine how stunned I was to hear this, since I hadn’t even written the Fall Of The New Kids script yet!
Luckily, we had alternative distribution outlets due to the nature and mass appeal of our comics, especially in music chain stores and on newsstands where we were outselling most “mainstream” comics anyway. We were very well prepared to battle the forces of suppression........
Then Diamond, the only other real large scale comic distributor, decided that it would not carry unauthorized material of any sort, including comic books. All the knockoff “bio” comics disappeared overnight.
Diamond’s decision came about due to a lawsuit initiated by representatives of ex-adult film star Traci Lords, who objected to her depiction in a set of trading cards.
Revolutionary Comics had also brought grief to Diamond - albeit indirectly - due to various suits we ourselves had faced. Diamond told us they were tired of fighting what they considered someone else’s war. In reality, we did all the fighting when it came to suits against us and none of our accusers ever went after Diamond. But Diamond was afraid that they were vulnerable nonetheless.
Their call to make, I suppose, but I still call it cowardice. We’ve since mended fences, and I should add that their current product placement staff is quite enlightened, though they still don’t carry any unauthorized bio comics. Well, sort of, anyways….
Diamond only selectively enforces their “ban” on biographical comics.
YET Diamond still sold RevComics AND, very publicly, they carried "He Said/She Said" comics, which made as much news as RevCom for awhile over their flipbooks, with a Clinton VS Flowers comic, as well as a Woody Allen/Mia Farrow bio and an OJ/Nicole Simpson flipbook comic.
Personality publisher Adam Post b-tched publicly, claiming he was shut out of Diamond over "quality" issues that had nothing to do with being unauthorized.
Bill Schanes replied "Yeah, okay. So?" Point being that Diamond felt perfectly justified to make a rule, and then only enforce it against comics they didn't like or that they thought lacked "quality."
After RevCom folded, Adam Post tried to launch a new bio comic line from atop the rotting remains of Personality Comics - he called his new endeavor Pop Comics. Adam Hughes covers, Jimmy Palomatti art, Sienkevitz pinups, a whole bunch of top notch talent - even the stories were pretty good! He did one on Marilyn Monroe, and maybe one or two others were published, tho he completed nearly a dozen Pop comics - the line was dead straight out of the gate when Diamond refused to carry, sight unseen. As much as I despise the way Personality's shoddy comics hurt RevCom, I marvel at how GOOD the Pop Comics were (I have some of the unpublished stuff, which Re-Visionary considered publishing). A friend of mine who co-founded Innovation Comics (Lost In Space, Dark Shadows, Vampire Lestat, etc), David Campiti, was the art director for Pop.
Interestingly, in the late ‘90s, when I showed Diamond a Led Zeppelin comic actually done by and intended for Pop, but DISGUISED as an upcoming Re-Visionary comic with no mention anywhere of Post's/Pop's/Personality's connection to the comic, Diamond was willing and even enthused to carry it, offering it a spotlight showcase in the main catalog...as a Re-Visionary Press Comic.
I would have done Pop Comics jointly with Adam, but he dropped the ball so badly on printing two Rock ‘N’ Roll Cartoon History books for me that I severed all ties with him.
Diamond also carried SOME of Hart Fischer's bio comics from Boneyard Press, but not all. They carried all the Comic Zone titles, about a third of which were bios (Postal Killers, Psycho Killers, etc), UNTIL they found out the managing editor was the former managing editor at Personality, and Diamond then dropped the last few Zone issues (tho the company had already decided to call it quits).
During this same period, Diamond carried at least two unauthorized bio comics from First Amendment Press: Grunge Comics #1 (Nirvana) and #2 (Pearl Jam). Nobody seems to have noticed this, or that it violated Diamond's supposed "ban." The same two guys publishing Grunge had made Diamond tons of money with those famous "He Said/She Said" comics (listed in Diamond's reorder Star System for years), pretty much assuring their "protection" at Diamond.
There was a HUGE brou-hah-hah over Topps Comics, who did a Princess Diana "Tribute" comic in 1997. Diamond not only carried it, but they gave it a huge spotlight, distributed Point Of Purchase posters, and generally went hogwild promoting what was clearly an unauthorized bio comic. Guys like Adam Post and Rankin wrote letters to CBJ and the Journal, both of whom did articles on the topic (I was interviewed for both, and they're here somewhere in the archives). Diamond's response?
"The Diana book is color."
Pressed for more, the reply became "Topps is a big company, famous for their baseball cards, so they have enough money to fight any resulting lawsuits."
When asked "You mean if someone has money in the bank, you'll carry their unauthorized bio, but if they're broke, you won't?
The reply was "Yes." And that pretty well settled that.
Now, in the late ‘90s, when I considered publishing unlicensed bio comics again at my own company, Re-Visionary Press, I was told by Diamond principals, off the record, "Just don't bring it to Diamond's attention that it's an unauthorized bio, and nobody will ever say anything." ie no "Unauthorized And Proud Of It," at least in solicitations and ads (I still planned to have a small disclaimer in the comics themselves, which the lawyer said we needed to be protected by the New Kids precedent). I was assured that, since I'd been doing business with Diamond all those years - as a RevCom editor, then ReVis publisher, but also going back to the 80s when I worked at Diamond's San Diego warehouse with Bart Mendoza - that I need not worry about Diamond carrying my comics. As long as I don't make a big noise about "UNAUTHORIZED."
Potential lawsuits no longer seemed to concern them, tho the “official” policy remained – on paper anyway - “No unlicensed bio comics.”
Surely, Diamond had noted how everyone who threatened or tried to sue Revolutionary over our “unauthorized and proud of it” stance was successfully fought off, thanks to the New Kids case and the precedent it had established. These suits did nothing except help both us and Diamond in many ways.
When hockey player Mario Lemieux sicked lawyers on us, his only legal ground was his claim that we couldn’t show him in uniform, since the uniform logos had to be licensed. We released to the press a drawing of him skating naked, with only a maple leaf covering his naughty bits, and a tagline reading “This is the only way Mario will allow himself to be portrayed in the media.”
In just a week, we sold out of the entire print run of Lemieux’s comic, about 80,000 copies. The suit was dropped without a single hearing. If I ever bump into Mario at a sports convention, I plan on thanking him.
(Revolutionary’s Montana comic)
Much the same thing happened when Joe Montana got frightened of our comic book about him. He equated us with a bootleg t-shirt, saying that we were hurting the sales of his video game and his other authorized Montana merchandise. Montana filed a suit against comic distributors which earned national press, sparked skyrocketing sales of the comic, and yet his lawyers eventually realized they had no case against Revolutionary and we were out of the fray entirely…with tens of thousands of Montana comics sold, and probably as many new customers, thanks to all the publicity.
(Copycat Montana comic by Personality)
(Copycat Montana comic by unknown company)
(Much later copycat comic...by Marvel and the NFL?!)
Former Revolutionary Comics president Herb Shapiro recently emailed me his own recollections of the Montana incident.
“The suit venue was in Tallahassee, and I flew up there with our lawyer, Andy Verne only to find out that the suit was already settled. It was of course, Diamond who caused Personality (who was the actual object of the suit) to cease distributing their Montana comic. After spending $30 to make copies of the suit, and spending $200 on airfare, we found that we could have stayed home. I bought Andy a nice lunch & we went home.”
“As an ironic sidebar, Montana's brother in law ordered about 50 of the books to distribute at his birthday party. Not wanting to start a family conflict, I told him that Joe might no be pleased. He told me to hold the order. A few days later, a check appeared from the brother in law for 50 books. I didn't know the name, but the address was the same as he gave me on the phone earlier. I packed up the books & sent them out personally.
The 7-11 store chain was so frightened of bad publicity, they dropped Revolutionary Comics from their newsstands after we published a biography of Mike Tyson. Their reasoning was that we were glorifying a convicted rapist, and thus all of our publications were deemed unacceptable. This despite the fact that the comic was published before Tyson’s conviction, and the accusation was discussed fairly and impartially in the comic script – which, by the way, was written by a woman.
Both local and national news agencies came to the Revolutionary office to film stories about the Tyson comic getting us kicked off newsstands.
The series that effectively ended any "bio ban" at Diamond was DC Comics’ "Big Book Of..." series. DC – home of Superman and Batman - has been one of the two top comic book publishers in the U.S. for the better part of a century now.
The “Big Book” series includes several large trade paperback books with short-short minibios compiled in themed editions like "The Big Book Of Weirdos," with top name artists like Drew Friedman, Brian Bolland, etc. All told, hundreds of minibios were published in the Big Books, of living and dead people, with not a single story "authorized" by any subject.
The Big Book series was one of the first to get Diamond AND DC in tight with bookstores - they were and likely remain hugely successful, becoming Previews catalog and Star System perennials. They were the first graphic novels I ever saw at Waldenbooks in San Diego. Several Big Books had already been released and had sold tens of thousands of editions when the Topps Princess Diana brouhaha hit. Someone pointed this out to Diamond, and they just shrugged and maintained their stance that unauthorized bios would be handled on a case by case basis rather than instituting a specific Diamond policy.
I doubt the word "unauthorized" was ever uttered between Diamond and DC employees. Nobody cared (other than maybe Adam Post from Personality and Hart Fischer at Boneyard, both of whose comics got dropped…and Hart probably p-ssed off Diamond by faking his own death for publicity...)
The comic industry’s weekly newspaper, the Comics Buyer’s Guide, is scared of even referring in an ad to one comic book, without ever having even seen the comic in question. Self publisher Mikal Vollmer ran an ad in a CBG issue for his “Dewey de Sade” comic, with ad taglines referring to story titles like “The P—P-- Game” and “Dead Chicks Get Me Hard.” Though they ran the ad once, Vollmer subsequently got a letter from advertising manager Jim Felhofer stating that “The ad obviously oversteps the boundaries of common decency” and that “we will not publish ads of this nature in the future.”
Hey, it’s their magazine, but couldn’t they have at least looked at the comic book first?
I lost one of my own distributors, for the Carnal Comics line at Re-Visionary Press (“True Stories Of Adult Film Stars”) just because of an ad. An ad by Vollmer again, as a matter of fact! In one my comics, an adaptation of the ‘70s erotic film “Johnny Does Paris - with John Holmes,” I ran an ad for a magazine Vollmer publishes called “Snuff Comics.” The magazine collects scenes from vintage fifties children’s comics, which veered strangely into violence and murder. There are also brief articles about these comics.
One of my largest distributors saw the ad and freaked out. Lost it. Went apesh-t. Just from the title alone, “Snuff Comics.” They told me in no uncertain terms they would not carry any of my comics which contained an ad for “Snuff.”
Pretty excitable, this distributor. The company carries hardcore Japanese porn cartoons, Penthouse, Playboy, and Hustler, but they’re afraid of the words “Snuff Comics.” Go figure.
Carnal Comics have also been seized and declared “obscene” at several borders and in several comic shops, but that’s a whole ‘nother story for a different day.
Even governments can be scared of comics. In Germany, there has been a ban since the forties on depicting a swastika on the cover of any publication. While one can appreciate the spirit behind this edict, it created quite a problem for anyone distributing the acclaimed and award-winning “Maus” comic collections, an amazing tale of Holocaust survival told in comic form.
Finally, a judge read the Maus series and gave the okay for its distribution.
I once read that in Japan, where comics are filled with sex, underage nudity and extremely graphic violence, and the comics are accessible to literally all ages, the crime rate is substantially lower per capita than in the U.S. They’ve apparently learned to appreciate comics for the cerebral and visceral escapism they can provide, instead of worrying about what sort of social ills and commercial chaos they can inspire.
Having to deal with frightened distributors and retailers was bad enough, on top of fending off litigious celebrities and low rent competitors, and I eventually walked away from doing unauthorized comic biographies in 1994. Until around 2000, I still wrote true-life bios, but fully licensed and created them with the participation and approval of the featured subject. It’s a much more pleasant job, to be sure, and it’s taken me out of the firing line.
I’m here to tell ya, friends and foes, they’re everywhere. And the power they have, to regulate and censor artistic expression and free speech, well, THAT’S what people should REALLY be afraid of.
In the 1950's, Dr. Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, a book purporting that comic book reading causes juvenile delinquency. In true McCarthy-era fashion, the U.S. Senate held hearings to investigate Wertham's claims.
A new Comics Code Authority was formed prohibiting any controversial comics. As a result, the most innovative company of the decade, EC Comics, was forced to cancel most of its line. This includes titles like Vault of Horror, Crime Suspenstories, and Tales From the Crypt, which years later are judged as classics.
Beginning in the late '60s, the underground comix movement shirked the constraints of mainstream publishing. Heavily influenced by the EC line, especially MAD Magazine, underground cartoonists like Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, and Robert Williams produced an acclaimed body of adult work.
In New York, one of their titles, Zap #4, was prosecuted for obscenity. The trial lasted several years and went through numerous appeals. In 1973, the comic was 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.)
In the 1980s as an outgrowth of the underground, alternative comics flourished with publications like RAW, Love & Rockets, and American Splendor. Cartoonists Art Spiegelman, Dave Sim, Will Eisner, and others won widespread recognition for their ambitious work. At the same time, creators such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore pushed 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 was busted for selling "obscene" comics. The titles in question are the Bodyssey by Heavy Metal artist Richard Corben, Omaha the Cat Dancer, Weirdo by Robert Crumb, and Bizarre Sex. The CBLDF was founded to support the defense. The case moved to the Appellate Court where the store manager was acquitted of all charges.
Following the Friendly Frank's case, the CBLDF became active as a watchdog organization. The 1990's have seen prosecutions of comic shops escalate. Two shops in Florida have been busted. One was accused of selling the adult collection Cherry Anthology #1 to an undercover officer. The charges were later dropped. The other store went to court for selling a "mature" title, The Score, published by Piranha, an imprint of DC Comics, to a 14-year-old accompanied by his mother. The judge ruled in favor of store owner Bill Hatfield. In 1992, police raided Amazing Comics outside of San Diego, seizing 45 titles. No charges were filed. But these are not three isolated events. In other cities around the United States similar situations have happened.
Sarasota, Florida: On May 13, 1992, police arrested the store manager Timothy Parks of Comic Book Heaven, on seven counts of displaying material harmful to minors. The titles seized by police included 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 he was being charged doesn't exist, however, on November 24, 1993, he was found guilty on two counts of displaying obscene materials to minors and sentenced to two years in jail. The appeal bond was denied and he remained incarcerated in the Sarasota County Jail for fourteen months. Legal fees exceeded $26,500.
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. All appeals were denied, and the guilty verdict stands as a precedent against the display of comic books. Legal fees exceeded $13,500.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: In March of 1996, Michael Kennedy and John Hunter closed their embattled comic book store, Planet Comics, after months of trials and tribulations resulting from a police raid in September of 1995. Eight weeks after the raid, eight assorted obscenity charges were filed against the owners, stemming from a complaint about Verotika #4 from a member of the Christian Coalition. The unidentified woman was referred to Oklahomans for Children and Families (OCaF), a non-profit obscenity watch-dog group, who pursue enforcement of local obscenity laws. They turned Verotika #4 over to Oklahoma City Police.
Following the raid, Kennedy and Hunter were arraigned in handcuffs and charged with trafficking, keeping for sale and display of obscene material deemed to be harmful to adults, as well as one charge of child pornography for drawings in the book Devil's Angel by Frank Thorne. Kennedy and Hunter were then evicted from their six year location and forced to take a less convenient and visible location across town. The financial hardship of the move was further compounded when the first landlord would not permit a forwarding sign on the door and one Oklahoma City Christian organization gloated on local radio stations at their success in closing Planet Comics down.
During the next few months sales dropped dramatically as many customers assumed Planet Comics had closed, and many parents would not permit their children to patronize the store. According to Michael Hunter, "sales at Christmas were off 65% ." To further add to the demise of Planet Comics, police again organized a raid, this time on the home of John Hunter, confiscating over 250 personal and business computer discs as well as the store computer.
A cinder brick was thrown through the front glass door of the store the following week.
Michael Kennedy indicated that "in good conscience I cannot continue to incur bills if the sales aren't there. I've lost my wife, my house and my store over all of this, I need to step back and rebuild my life. Luckily, thanks to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), I don't have legal bills to contend with on top of everything else."
On Friday, April 12,1996 Judge Larry Jones of the District Court of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma presided over the preliminary hearing for State v. Kennedy and Hunter, commonly known as "The Planet Comics Case." After listening to testimony and hearing oral argument on several motions, Judge Jones announced that the materials seized during the Planet Comics store raid did not warrant felony charges. Judge Jones subsequently ruled that the felony charges against Kennedy and Hunter were not proper, and reduced three of the previous felony counts to misdemeanors.
The three misdemeanor charges of displaying material harmful to minors remained intact. The felony charges of possession of child pornography were dropped by the State moments before the Defense's motion to dismiss the charge was to be heard. In short, the charges against Kennedy and Hunter were reduced from four felonies and three misdemeanors to six misdemeanor counts. Three of those counts do not call for imprisonment.
Defense Attorney, Chuck Thornton, commented after the hearing, "It should come as no surprise to anyone that the charges of possession of child pornography against Mr. Hunter and Mr. Kennedy have been dropped. It should be unthinkable to any competent lawyer that such a charge could have been leveled in the first place." The child pornography statute in question clearly states that to convict someone for the offense of possession of child pornography the artist must use a human being under the age of 18 as a subject. Thornton further commented "If those in the employ of the State of Oklahoma had taken the time to look at Devil's Angel, they might have noticed something quite remarkable -- not even a fictional child was portrayed. The entity portrayed in Devil's Angel was a demon which exhibited few attributes, if any, of a newborn child."
However, on Monday, April 15, 1996, the State filed its "Notice of Intention to Appeal." In doing this, the State was seeking to reinstate three of the felony charges contained within the State's amended information. Hunter and Kennedy had previously been charged with two counts of trafficking in obscenity and one count of keeping for sale obscene material, all three counts being felonies. An evidentiary hearing was held in the April of 1997 in which the two trafficking charges remained as felonies, but the one count of 'keeping for sale obscene material' was reduced, once again, to a misdemeanor.
In the final analysis, when all the fear-mongering and personal prejudices are stripped away, what are "We the People" so afraid of? Do "We the People" truly believe that someone left alone to write, draw and publish will be able to bring this Great Republic of ideas, and ideals, crashing to ruin here at the outset of its third century of existence? The incidents that you have just read about are real, and they happened here in the United States of America, creators of the Bill of Rights. Let me remind you of Amendment 1, The Constitution of the United States of America: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for the redress of grievances."
What part of this do some people not understand?
(thanks to the CBLDF and Dial B for Blog for several graphics used in this Rock Around the Town entry)
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