Axel-In-Charge: Unmasking the "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Canadian customs has long had a reputation for being quick to seize any comics they find potentially obscene, and Tom Neely learned that the hard way this morning, as Canadian customs officers reportedly confiscated the five copies of the Black Eye anthology that he was bringing with him to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Ryan Standfest, editor/publisher of Rotland Press + Comic Works, which publishes Black Eye, emailed Neely’s account of the incident to The Comics Journal:
… They took ‘em. I tried to get them to just ship them back to me at home, but they said they were required to send it to Ottawa for review… if they found the material to be ‘obscene’ they would take ‘further action.’ I asked what ‘further action’ meant and he said they would just destroy them. Or there is a chance they might ship them back to me.
Black Eye is an anthology of dark humor, which was funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign; apparently a page by singly named artist Onsmith is what first caught the customs officer’s eye. The book also contains work by Ivan Brunetti, Lilli Carré, and Paul Hornschemeier, among others, and essays by Jeet Heer and other luminaries, and an interview with Al Feldstein … it’s hard to argue that this anthology wouldn’t have redeeming features. Nonetheless, the customs agent wouldn’t let it through, and kept talking about “further action,” which certainly sounds ominous.
Although Neely seems to have been taken by surprise, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund issued an advisory just two months ago about taking comics across international borders.
And this certainly isn’t the first time this has happened. In fact, Canadian customs releases a quarterly list of confiscated materials (including hate literature, comics, and DVDs—thanks for lumping it all together like that, guys!). You can find links to the reports at the site (NSFW!) site Gomorrahy.com, which chronicles censorship in Canada. These lists have the usual odd juxtapositions—why are some volumes of Phil Foglio’s XXXenophile admissible and others prohibited?—but mostly it’s a long list of fairly obvious porn comics, not all of which are banned. Tom of Finland? Admissible! Bondage Fairies? Too hot for San Bernardino County but OK in Canada! Ed the Happy Clown? Come on down! In fact, very few comics are prohibited, although quite a few were seized and later ruled admissible. I’d love to know who the guy is who has to read all of these, and how he must feel at the end of the day.
Manga does seem to raise their eyebrows. Back around 2005-2007, they were busily seizing many volumes of pretty tame manga. Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon was ruled admissible, which means that it was confiscated and examined, as were various volumes of Berserk, Grand Teacher Onizuka, and Saint Seiya, any of which a hardened porn habitue would throw away in disgust. In a 2006 blog post, Elizabeth McClung described her experience with Canadian customs, and how it made her feel to have them paging through every one of her teen-rated Tokyopop manga while casting her accusing looks. This post also notes that Canadian customs are more likely to seize gay-themed material than straight comics, and WGLB-TV, a gay Canadian news site, has a history of this dismal tendency.