A Press Release From the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund... and Some Commentary
For those of you who don't know, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is an organization devoted to protecting the First Amendment rights of comic book artists and comic book store owners. From their website:
"The CBLDF exists to fight censorship and defend the first amendment rights of comic book professionals throughout the United States. In the past five years, the CBLDF has raised over $200,000 to pay expenses related to defending freedom of speech and expression, and the battle continues. As new waves of conservatism flood the publishing industry and the country, the CBLDF continues to raise the money and awareness needed to fight the censors every step of the way."
In recent years, this organization has played a pivotal role in protecting the rights of adults as the ideological descendents of the moral majority have sought to criminalize discussions of sexuality. Consider the case of Jesus Castillo, who was convicted of selling adult comic books to an adult. Or Mike Diana, who was convicted for simply creating drawings-- not distributing them to impressionable children or hurting anyone in any way-- that a jury found upsetting (as part of his conviction, he is no longer allowed to draw even for his own amusement. If that sounds illegal to you, don't worry-- it probably is).
Anyway, the CBLDF is currently trying to help Gordon Lee, a Georgia comic book retailer who made the mistake of accidentally giving a 9-year-old kid a comic book about Pablo Picasso that featured tasteful, non-sexual nudity rather than the X-Men comic where Wolverine uses his metal claws to disembowel someone.
I'll discuss this particular case in a moment. But first, the press release:
"The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund urgently needs your help. This August, the long-running case of Georgia v. Gordon Lee will finally go to trial, with court costs expected to hit $20,000.
"For nearly three years the Fund has defended Georgia retailer Gordon Lee, seeing him through multiple arraignments and procedures, and racking up $80,000 in legal bills. The charges stem from a Halloween 2004 incident in which Lee handed out, among other free comics, an anthology featuring an excerpt from the critically acclaimed graphic novel The Salon. The segment depicted a historically accurate meeting between 20th Century art icons Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, the latter depicted in the nude. It was a harmless sequence, no more explicit than the nudity displayed in the award winning Watchmen. Yet because the title found its way into the hands of a minor, Floyd County prosecutors hit Lee with two felony counts and five misdemeanors. The Fund eventually knocked out most of the charges, but must now defeat the two remaining misdemeanor counts of Distribution of Harmful to Minors Material, each carrying a penalty of up to one year in prison and up to $1,000 in fines.
"The case is slated to go to trial the week of August 13. We urgently need your support in order to wage the best defense possible against these remaining charges, and that means raising the $20,000 that the trial is expected to cost. Here’s how you can help:
"Make A Monetary Donation: Every dollar counts, so please make a tax-deductible contribution today. As a thank-you for making a donation of $30 or more, the Fund will give you a brand new t-shirt displaying the text of the First Amendment in the shape of an American flag. Show your commitment to free speech, and your support for this very important case.
Join The CBLDF: Now is the time to join or renew your membership in the Fund. Your member dollars provide the baseline of support that we need to perform our casework, and defend your right to buy whatever comics you wish. If you join now with a basic membership of $25 you will receive a CBLDF Member Card, featuring new Groo art by the one-and-only Sergio Aragones, as well as a subscription to our news publication Busted!, and special admission to CBLDF events across the country. If you join at a level of $100 or more, you will also receive one of the new First Amendment t-shirts.
"Donate Original Art & Collectibles: With summer conventions upon us, the Fund needs original art, high-grade comics, and other collectible items to make the most of our summer auctions. Please e-mail email@example.com for more information about how to donate to our auctions, or with a description of your intended donation. If your donation is accepted for our summer auctions, you will receive a letter of acknowledgment and a 2007 membership. To ensure that your donation is received safely, please do not send physical items until accepted by the CBLDF.
"With Gordon Lee's freedom in the balance, the CBLDF needs everyone who values Free Expression in comic books to do his or her part to support this very important case. Please make your contribution today."
Okay. So, for more on the Gordon Lee case, I would suggest you go to www.cbldf.org, where they have a lot of information available. But here's the short version:
On Halloween of 2004, Gordon Lee was giving out comics leftover from the summer's Free Comic Book Day (an event where comic book publishers provide retailers with free comics to be handed out, under the assumption that people might come back later to actually pay for more of the product; it's sort of like how crack dealers to business, I suppose). Anyway, either Lee or one of his employees accidentally gave a "mature readers" comic to a kid-- it wasn't done maliciously, or in an attempt to corrupt someone else's kid. It was an honest mistake; no one disputes that.
So the kid takes his comic home and shows it to his parents, who don't want their kid exposed to naked Cubists. Of course, that's their right, and it would have been completely reasonable for these parents to march right down to the comic book store to yell at Gordon Lee and demand an apology. But that's not what they did. No, these people decided that, to get satisfaction, they had to see Gordon Lee behind bars for his oversight.
That, my friends, is not reasonable.
It was a mistake. Nobody got hurt. A kid saw cartoon renderings of a naked woman walking and a naked man painting. Oh, and the woman refers to the naked man's painting as "masturbating," which I guess is a pretty serious dirty word whose meaning I couldn't even guess when I was nine. Seriously, if your kid is somehow damaged by looking at these pictures, you ought to just take him back to wherever you got him; he was broken to begin with.
Gordon Lee could face $2,000 in fines and two years in jail, all for "exposing" a kid to a cartoon version of Pablo Picasso. I mean, it's not just me, is it? That's pretty fucked up, right there. Isn't it?
So, if you can, donate some money to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. And if you can't spare the change, then perhaps send some kind thoughts in the direction of Gordon Lee's house in Rome, Georgia. But be careful not to let those thoughts get too close to the District Attorney's house. She's a pro-censorship zealot who wastes the tax dollars trying to prosecute frivolous cases in an effort to make it look like she's committed to "protecting the children."
There's that phrase again, by the way. As I mentioned earlier this week, some people will rationalize any act of mindless viciousness if they can convince themselves that it's all about "protecting the children."
Here's my Random Ten for this week:
Night Ranger-- "Sister Christian"
Prince-- "Erotic City"
Elvis Costello-- "Man Out of Time"
Elvis Costello again-- "Kinder Murder"
Prince again-- "Do Me Baby"
Sinead O'Connor and Shane McGowan-- "Haunted"
House of Pain-- "Top o' the Morning to Ya"
Cheap Trick-- "I Want You to Want Me"
Bob Dylan-- "Jokerman"
Billy Idol-- "Dancing With Myself"