Thursday, May 10, 2012

Comics, Courts and Controversy

I'm back after an unexpectedly long hiatus. Part of the reason for my absence is the effort I've devoted to completing a lengthy new law review article: Comics, Courts and Controversy: The Cases of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which has just been published by the Loyola Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review. You can download a copy at: 

Here's the abstract for the article:  

Cartoons and comics have been a part of American culture since this
nation’s formation. Throughout that lengthy history, comics and cartoons
have also been a subject of controversy, censorship, legislation, and litigation.
They have been viewed as a threat to society and a cause of juvenile
delinquency; they are scandalous, indecent, and obscene. The Comic Book
Legal Defense Fund (“CBLDF”), a New York-based non-profit organization,
provides legal defense for comic artists, collectors, distributors, and
retailers who face civil and/or criminal penalties for the creation, sale, and
ownership of comics, cartoons, graphic novels, and related works.

The Introduction to this article charts the history of the comic art form
and, in particular, its history in the United States. This section offers a
summary of the first efforts to restrict the content of comics via investigations
and Congressional hearings fueled by the dubious psychology and social
science theories of Dr. Frederic Wertham. These theories offer an example
of the kind of misguided fears that currently augment attacks on the
comic art form today. Finally, the Introduction explains the origin of the
CBLDF due to the prosecution of a comic storeowner.

The second section of the article provides a detailed discussion of Mavrides
v. Franchise Tax Board. In Mavrides, comic creator Paul Mavrides,
co-author of the notorious underground comic The Fabulous Furry Freak
Brothers, successfully battled the California Franchise Tax Board over the
taxation of comics. As a result, independent comic artists were free of undue
tax burdens that otherwise would have limited their ability to continue to create
comics with edgy political and social commentary.

The third section of the article focuses on the principal type of case the
CBLDF has worked on for the past two decades—fighting the U.S. Justice
Department and local state prosecutors’ efforts to censor the content of
comics, usually by alleging that the content is obscene or indecent. In particular,
the section focuses on the cases of Gordon Lee, a Georgia-based distributor
prosecuted for allegedly distributing an obscene graphic novel to a
minor, and Christopher Handley, an adult prosecuted under the PROTECT
Act for the mere possession of allegedly obscene Manga comics.

The final section of the article argues that the current American jurisprudence
imprisons creators, distributors, and collectors for the ideas they
express in graphic formats. It argues that the Supreme Court was wrong
when it decided that obscene materials are outside of the protection of the
First Amendment. Unfortunately, this decision has had a tremendous impact
on the rights of comic creators, distributors, and collectors. Furthermore,
the rationale for criminalizing explicit sexual material, to protect children
from the alleged harm exposure to these materials causes, is flawed.
The absence of any definitive proof of that harm leads to the recommendation
that at the very least, penalties for the creation, distribution, and ownership
of comics and cartoons with sexual content must be de-criminalized.

I hope you take the time to read it, and send me comments via this blog, or directly to me at Now that I'm back, more posts to come in the near future!

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see you back Marc. You might be surprised how many times I've looked in to see if you have updated the blog. Thanks for sharing the article.