Comic Fans Be-Aware!!

29 Jun

Good day all, I know, I know – this weeks column is terribly late and this on top of not having one in last week… well its unforgivable and I as all of your pardons and apologise before going any further.
Thank you.

Now, to the matter at hand – I was going to do a review this week of the Marvel Cosmic universe of comics but that will have to wait another week I’m afraid. This week I want to talk about something in recent news that I think all comic fans, as people who have a personal attachment to the industry, deserve to be made aware of and understand.

Firstly I would like to given an introduction to “The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund” (CBLDF) which is essentially a:

…non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers. The CBLDF provides legal referrals, representation, advice, assistance, and education in furtherance of these goals.

Now to some of you this might seem like something to laugh at – believe me the first time I heard about it I did quite uproariously! But after the humour ran short of breath for a moment I read a few news bits and did some research and stopped laughing soon enough.

Turns out there’s actually people out there who not only dislike comics and have issues with the more graphic and adult work in the medium – even just more graphic comic art like for example the lovely women drawn by the spectacular Luis Royo who is a personal favourite and has been for ages. But of course the greatest ire seems to be reserved for the infamously graphic and extreme manga comics from Japan – no surprise there!
Started in 1986 (yeah, that long back) as a simple fund to help pay for the legal fee’s of an Illinois shop owner who carried adult comics as well as his regular stock and was charged with selling obscene material – the poor fellow was even convicted but on appeal that was reversed.
Oh and if it proves the point of how seriously the industry takes the work of CBLDF it might help to know that two of the directors of the Fund are star-scribes Neil Gaiman (do I need to tell you who he is?) and Peter David who is also one of the more respected writers in comics – and arguably the writer of one of the most definitive runs for Marvel’s Incredible Hulk among a great many other titles.

Unfortunately this haranguing is no longer limited to simply charging comic shops for obscenity – the U.S. courts even held that material showing sexual content, even that of younger characters cannot be taken and charged as pornography outright because it is drawn depictions and no actual person is harmed or exploited in the production (that is more or less the gist of it, more detail of the decision can be provided for anyone interested). I think this image here by the legendary Frank Miller proves the line “a picture is worth a thousand words” so I’ll let it.

However in an unlikely twist, the U.S. no longer charges people for these things but its neighbor to the north has suddenly become a problem for comic fans. And not just fans of more extreme comics – they are making life HELL for anyone carrying comics, be they paper or even digital!!
Recently the Canadian border agencies who have been checking a great many people to the extent that they will check your laptop, ipad, iphone, ipod, flash drives and any other digital storage device if they so feel like it – random checks done with no given reason and these checks are becoming more and more common.
Last week the CBLDF announced their intent to help in the defence of an American computer programmer on his way into Canada who has been arrested on possession and importing of child pornography charges for bringing manga into the country on his computer. Now don’t get me wrong – if watching little kiddies being sexualised and the like is what gets you off then may whatever supernatural or divine entity you hold dear have mercy on you, because no one here on Earth is likely to do so and deservedly so… Apparently the poor fellow was visiting friends and was arrested on the way in when they decided to check his computer – and the CBLDF has clearly stated that “the images “are all comics in the manga style” and not photographic material so I think we can assume that even if they are graphic images they are nothing new or out of the ordinary – and for this the man (just barely at 20 years of age) faces prison for 1-10 years!

I don’t know about you but that scares the hell out of me a wee bit!

So wrong does this case appear that not only is the CBLDF helping out but even a Canadian group called the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund is helping out – the case is estimated to cost $150,000 Canadian (give or take a bit). That aint no chump change folks.

An incident that happened to cartoonist Tom Neely does not help this image of Canada prosecuting so rashly either:

They asked us to stand by the wall of the building and asked for the keys to our car. They opened up our suitcases and pulled out a random sampling of about 5 comic books we had in our bags. Those included Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions and the Black Eye anthology published by Rotland Press, of which I’m a contributor. The security guy asked us what the books were. We described them as “art comics” and he said he was going to take them inside for review. While we waited, two other security guards came out, opened the car and proceeded to pull out everything in the entire vehicle, pulled out a copy every book, and then went back inside.

 And this experience has been described by some as a relatively ‘friendly’ encounter compared to some.

 (I love this Mignola image!)

Another incident I found online was of a lady named Elizabeth McClung who is a Canadian citizen:

Saturday, I was surrounded by six officers, two watching me as the four others went page by page through my books looking for pornographic images and other evidence I was a sexual predator. How did this happen? I said a word which Canada Customs considers dirty: Manga. As soon as I declared that I had some of the japanese inspired comic books called manga, a Custom’s officer said, “That’s the stuff from Japan; there is some really obscene and filthy stuff.” No, I pointed out, these was printed in America and very mainstream. As more and more officers were called in, the six manga books I had were examined in detail. They were looking, they told me, for pornographic, obscene and adult material. “The age rating is on the back of each book.” (each manga book has ratings like 13+ or 15+ – mine were 13+). I was informed that I could have put different covers on or done anything else I could to get the pornography in and that if I spoke anymore, the books would be seized. So I stood there and watched my previously new books get examined page by page, thumbed through and pressed open because it was assumed if I read manga, that I was a sex offender.

Now if it was just porn comics they were after or such I might still not be so worried but people have noted that manga, horror and other genres have also shown up on various listings of the types of books that have been blacklisted by the Canadian customs authorities. 
An additional reason I felt for making this post was that this is not just a case of being unfairly prosecuted – as any of us can imagine, even being charged for a thing like child porn can leave marks on reputations and even on one-self to experience such a thing. 
 (a great piece by Bone creator Jeff Smith)
So for anyone planning on travelling to Canada and carrying comics be it in print form or electronic, read this essential rundown put out by the CBLDF and dont panic but be aware that such things do happen and people can be very unforgiving about these things in places with what I generally dub moron mentality. 
In closing I would like to ask all comic fans to support the CBLDF, they put out comics and art-collections periodically. Image Comics puts out a comic called Liberty Comics from time to time that showcases stories and art by some of the best talents in the industry with all proceeds going to the CBLDF. Their most recent book features work by Darick Robertson (The Boys, Transmetropolitan), Garth Ennis (Preacher, The Boys), Fabio Moon (Daytripper), Gail Simone (Birds of Prey, Secret Six) and fan favourite Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, The Flash) among many others. 
So next time you see or hear about an effort by the CBLDF, buy the comic, spread the word because who know who will be in trouble next and what the censors will go after!
So until next week when we leave such more serious matters behind us dear friends, I wish you all well and will see you round the bend!

4 Responses to “Comic Fans Be-Aware!!”

  1. Sumit June 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Outstanding piece Akshay. Very commendable that you went out and got this information and brought it to your readers.Something that help defend against meaningless persecution is definitely something I support.But, a word of caution is also needed – there definitely are people who can misuse comics to peddle porn without raising suspicions. Because I cannot imagine that today, there can be an institutionalised movement against anything without just cause. So comics lovers should also retain the fine line between expression and exploitation. I am not saying any of these people crossed the line, but they probably landed in a soup because someone before them did.

  2. Ridge June 29, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    Wow. Well researched. Impressive article, I must admit, and I am a hard man to impress! :DHow long did it take you to get all this inside stuff?

  3. Ridge June 29, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    As for porn… We already have Hentai, don't we? 😉

  4. Mr. Universe July 1, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    @SumitGlad you liked it! I felt I had to – things like this are important and people need to see this as well, for us in the industry its important to be aware of whats happening around the world, not just whats coming out when. And like I said, I dont condone certain extreme tastes but a cartoon of something is essentially just that – a cartoon. But more critically, its the maligning of a type of medium and harassment of comic readers that bothers me – this is a little too tight and "big brother" for my taste. @ridgecolour me flattered my friend! Did not take all that much time, just a little while and some patience sifting through internet pages and reports on the matter – heard about it recently and it caught the attention. Im a long-time follower of the CBLDF and have read their prior comics and all that so was not just chance that I knew about the basics. And yeah – we have hentai, but in such things we all know lines can be a little blurry sometimes. :DCheers!

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