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Iranian lawmaker withdraws complaint that led to cartoonist’s lashing sentence

Journalist Saeed Kamali Dehghan tweeted this morning:

Iranian MP who brought a case against a cartoonist, which resulted in a sentence of 25 lashes, has withdrawn his complaint – Fars #Iran

No other details are available at the moment, but it’s clear the move was backfiring on lawmaker Ahmad Lofti Ashtiani, who brought the complaint about cartoonist Mahmoud Shokraye’s depiction of him in a soccer uniform (the Iranian government has been criticized lately for meddling in sports). Iran’s “media law” court last week sentenced Shokraye to 25 lashes, a move that has drawn a growing chorus of protest both inside and outside Iran. “Iran’s online community has taken to social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook to express anger,” the Guardian reports, and cartoonists have been calling on other cartoonists to draw even more caricatures of Ashtiani. The Guardian has a gallery of Ashtiani cartoons by Iranian and non-Iranian creators, including their own cartoonist Martin Rowson’s depiction of him as a big baby.

Eurasia Review quotes prominent Iranian cartoonist Masooud Shojai Tabatabai, who gives a more nuanced view of the situation in Iran:

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Comics A.M. | Tunisian broadcaster fined for airing Persepolis

Persepolis

Legal | A Tunisian court last week convicted Nessma TV President Nebil Karoui of “disturbing public order” and “threatening public morals” by broadcasting the animated adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which features a scene that briefly shows an image of God. The Oct. 7 airing resulted in an attempted arson attack on the network’s offices and the arrest of some 50 protesters. Karoui was fined $1,600 by the five-judge panel; two members of his staff were fined $800 each. Prosecutors and attorneys representing Islamist groups pushed for Karoui to be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Others argued for the death penalty. [The Washington Post]

Business | Target will stop selling Amazon’s Kindle devices in its stores over a dispute regarding “showrooming,” where consumers check out a product at Target stores and then go home to buy it on Amazon for a cheaper price. Around Christmas, Amazon’s Price Check app gave shoppers a 5 percent discount on any item scanned at a retail store. “What we aren’t willing to do is let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom for their products and undercut our prices,” Target executives wrote in a letter to vendors. Target will continue to carry Apple’s iPad, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the Aluratek Libre. [The New York Times]

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First Second graphic novels make list of most-challenged books

The American Library Association just released this year’s list of Frequently Challenged Books, and there’s just one graphic novel (actually, a trilogy) on the list. And it’s not The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Battle Angel Alita, either — it’s The Color of Earth, Kim Dong Hwa’s quiet, rather poetic trilogy of Korean graphic novels published by First Second. The reasons cited: “nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group.” I have only read the first volume, but I can tell you that it’s not all that spicy; it’s the story of a young girl growing up with a single mom in a village in rural, 19th-century Korea, and while love and sexuality are a part of life and are discussed openly (including in the bath), much of the conversation is wrapped in nature imagery that is … not very informative. Indeed, the first volume opens with a sex scene, but it’s between two beetles.

I checked in with the folks at First Second, a publisher more at home on ten-best lists than most-challenged lists, and this is what Calista Brill, who edited the book, had to say: “We knew we were risking challenge when we published these books. But sexuality is a part of the adolescent experience, and The Color of Earth and its sequels handle this conversation with remarkable honesty and positivity. These books may have ruffled some feathers, but we remain very proud of them.”

As is often the case with frequently challenged books, this one has some critical support: the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) named it to its Great Graphic Novels for Teens list in 2010, the Texas Library Association’s Maverick Graphic Novels List and Booklist’s Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth. Interestingly, assuming the list is in order of the number of challenges, this book racked up more challenges than The Hunger Games and frequent fliers like Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice books, Sherman Alexie’s Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and of course, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Comics A.M. | Arizona legislature passes bill censoring electronic speech

Arizona state flag

Legal | The Arizona legislature passed a sweeping bill last week that would make it a crime to communicate via electronic means speech that is intended to “annoy,” “offend,” “harass” or “terrify.” While the law was intended to update the state’s telephone harassment laws to encompass the Internet, it’s not limited to one-to-one communications and thus, as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund notes, could criminalize “all manner of writing, cartoons, and other protected material the state finds offensive or annoying.” Media Coalition, a trade association that includes the CBLDF among its members, has sent a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer urging her to veto the bill. [Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Media Coalition]

Passings | Rex Babin, editorial cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, has died of cancer. [The Daily Cartoonist]

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Elected official presses charges over cartoonist’s gag

Wisconsin state assemblyman Steve Nass (R-La Grange) has filed criminal charges against political cartoonist Mike Konopacki, claiming that Konopacki’s use of Nass’ letterhead for a gag press release constitutes a felony.

It all started when Nass pressured officials at the University of Wisconsin’s School for Workers to cancel an arts festival, “The Art of Protest,” that would have featured cartoons and other works of art inspired by the labor protests that took place in the state last year. The school called off the festival after Nass and his chief of staff, Mike Mikalsen, threatened to cut the school’s funding. Mikalsen said upfront that Nass feels the funding for the school should be cut altogether, and added, “But we mostly reminded them that Rep. Nass and other Republicans are working closely with UW-Extension on WiscNet and some other pretty important issues, and that if this issue were to go bad and upset conservatives and our supporters around the state, we’d have a problem working together.”

In other words: Nice little school you’ve got there. It would be a shame if something were to happen to the funding.

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Comics A.M. | 30 years of Diamond; Angoulême memories

Diamond Comic Distributors

Publishing | John Jackson Miller profiles Diamond Comic Distributors to mark its 30th anniversary, offering a timeline of major events in the company’s history. [Comichron]

Conventions | Usagi Yojimbo creator Stan Sakai and AdHouse Publisher Chris Pitzer both report on their experiences at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. [Angoulême]

Retailing | Dark Horse Publisher Mike Richardson will give the keynote address at this week’s ComicsPRO Annual Membership Meeting. [NewsOK]

Retailing | Hypno Comics will open Saturday in Ventura, California. [Ventura County Star]

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Comics A.M. | Angoulême begins; judges come to cartoonist’s rescue

Angoulême

Conventions | Wim Lockefeer lines up the exhibits he’s looking forward to at the 39th Angoulême International Comics Festival, which begins today in Angoulême, France. [The Forbidden Planet International Blog Log]

Legal | Cartoonist Albert Lekgaba was sketching the proceedings of the Botswana Court of Appeal when security officers asked to step out of the courtroom, confiscated his work, and told him he could not draw in court, “especially if the judges were present.” When the judges learned of this, however, they informed the court registrar that sketching is indeed allowed, and they ordered that Lekgaba be readmitted to the courtroom and his sketches returned to him. [The Botswana Gazette]

Passings | California newspaper cartoonist John Lara has died at age 56. [Coastline Pilot]

Creators | Heidi MacDonald sums up a number of recent posts on piracy and the creative life in one mega-post, and a lively discussion follows in the comments section. [The Beat]

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Comics: More dangerous than mere words

Metropolitan Books has plans to publish Magdy Al-Shafei’s graphic novel Metro, which was slated to be published in 2008 by the Egyptian publisher Malameh but fell victim to state censorship: The Egyptian police broke into the publisher’s office, confiscated the book, and arrested Al-Shafei and publisher Mohammed Al-Sharkawi. The book had run afoul of the Mubarak-era’s strict censorship rules because it portrayed homosexuality and portrayed the Egyptian police in a negative light. Here’s the key quote:

The attorney who filed the complaint against Metro, Saleh al-Derbashy, told al-Ahram Online that despite those topics being present and accepted in regular literature, their graphic depiction renders the book “dangerous” and “disturbing to public morals.”

That’s certainly an attitude one hears expressed about sex and violence in graphic novels, especially by self-appointed gatekeepers for the young, but it’s the first time I have heard it applied to political discourse. Are political comics really more dangerous than political literature?

Comics A.M. | Jury weighs fate of Michael George

Michael George

Legal | The fate of Michael George was placed in the hands of the jury Thursday after closing arguments in the trial of the former retailer and convention organizer accused of the 1990 murder of his first wife Barbara in their Clinton Township, Michigan, comic store. Although a comic collector places George in the shop around the time of the shooting, George’s mother insists he was asleep on her sofa. The jury deliberated for about two hours Thursday, and is expected to continue this morning. [Detroit Free Press]

Legal | Manga blogger Melinda Beasi contemplates the larger implications of the arrest of Brandon X for bringing manga into Canada that authorities deemed to be child pornography: “What terrifies me about Brandon’s case is that each time we allow our courts or communities (any courts or communities) to criminalize comics (any comics), we are inviting them to criminalize our own.” [CBLDF]

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Comics A.M. | Judge bans note-taking in Michael George trial

Legal

Legal | The judge in the trial of former retailer Michael George banned note-taking in the courtroom on Friday out of concern that two women were sharing information with George’s wife Renee. George is on trial for the 1990 murder of his first wife Barbara, and Renee George has been barred from hearing the testimony of other witnesses because she may be called to the stand herself. Also, on Friday a witness testified he had called George’s store at around 5:30 on the day of the murder to ask why an Amazing Spider-Man comic had jumped in value from $5 to $40. Michael Renaud said he spoke to George for about five minutes and that George seemed to be in a hurry to get off the phone; the testimony places him at the crime scene rather than at his mother’s house, where he claimed to be at the time of Barbara’s murder. [The Detroit Free Press]

Conventions | Nearly 5,000 people turned out over the weekend for the second annual Detroit Fanfare, held at the Cobb Center. That’s slightly more than the number who attended the first event at the Dearborn Hyatt Regency, but half what organizer Dennis Barger Jr. had hoped for this year. [The Detroit News]

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Comics A.M. | Bankrupt Borders chain could be history by next week

Borders

Retailing | Borders Group, the second-largest bookstore chain in the United States, could be liquidated as early as next week if no other suitors step forward by Sunday evening, the deadline established by a federal bankruptcy court. A judge on Thursday approved the company’s motion to auction itself off after a proposal from private-equity firm Najafi Cos. fell apart over the objections of creditors. Borders, which once operated more than 1,000 stores, now has 399 locations and nearly 11,000 employees, including 400 at its Ann Arbor, Michigan, headquarters. [The Associated Press, The Detroit News]

Awards | The Young Adult Library Services Association has announced the 2012 “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” nominations, a list that includes Takio by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee, Axe Cop by Ethan and Malachai Nicolle, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden and many more. The final list will be announced in January at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting. [American Library Association]

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CBLDF: Alaska law overturned, fund-raising begins for Canada case

Last week we reported that the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was raising money to aid the defense of an American man who faces criminal child pornography charges in Canada because of manga found on his laptop by Canadian customs. This week, the Supreme Court struck down a California law regulating video games in a case in which the CBLDF had filed a friend-of-the-court brief. Today, a federal district court barred enforcement of an Alaska statute that would have made it a criminal offense to post material online that is “harmful to minors”; the CBLDF was one of the plaintiffs in that case. That’s a big week!

I asked Executive Director Charles Brownstein for a followup on the Canada case, and the news about the Alaska case broke while we were exchanging e-mails. Here is his answer in full, including an update on fund-raising for the manga case.

It’s been a momentous week for the CBLDF.  Last Friday we announced our decision to build a coalition to aid an American traveler facing prison time in Canada and registering as a sex offender for traveling with comics on his laptop.  On Monday we received news that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down a California law that would have made violence a new category of unprotected speech by banning the sale and display of violent video games, and that Justice Scalia cited our amicus brief as part of his majority decision.  And just today news arrived that we successfully helped knock out an Alaska law that would have placed severe restrictions on internet speech. 

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Akadot advertises too-hot-for-Kindle bundle

It used to be gospel among publishers that getting a book banned in Boston juiced sales. Can the same be true for Kindle? Digital Manga is banking on it; the Akadot retail site is offering all three of the books that were removed from Kindle (presumably for adult content) as a discount bundle. These are print editions, and the price, $18.99 for all three, is a considerable discount over regular retail, so it’s a good deal. The Digital folks have done well for themselves out of this whole affair, as the three books in question (two of which were deep backlist) have gotten a lot of attention; advertising them as too hot for digital is a pretty shrewd move.

Frank Cho to bring back Liberty Meadows

Good news for Liberty Meadows fans: Frank Cho is working on the long-awaited issue #38, after dropping plans (for now) to make it into an animated cartoon.

Liberty Meadows was originally a newspaper strip, but Cho’s art and sense of humor kept bumping up against editorial standards, and he ended syndication in 2001; “I got tired of the censorship and the low pay,” he told CBR in a 2006 interview, adding that his weakest strips were rush jobs done to fill in for strips that editors refused to run. Cho moved to a comic book format, first self-published, then through Image, but he put Liberty Meadows on hiatus in 2004, after issue #36. Issue #37 came out in 2009.

Cho let loose on his blog about his frustrations with Sony, which acquired the rights to create a downloadable Liberty Meadows cartoon for their Sony Digital division. Here’s his account of how that went:

I wrote the original pilot episode but it was rejected for being too “risque”. So other writers were brought in to tone it down and make it more kid friendly. Once I read the rewrite, I thought it completely missed the point of Liberty Meadows. So I rewrote the rewrite, and this went back and forth couple of times until we reached a compromised script. We turned that script into an traditional 2D animated pilot episode.

Enter Sony Television division. They saw the pilot episode and liked it. Liberty Meadows get bumped up to their television division and a TV series is planned. However there is one request, Sony Television people wanted Liberty Meadows to be more “risque” with adult humor like the “Family Guy”. This is the point where I rip my hair out in frustration.

Then the recession hit and all the executives involved with the project left the company. Fortunately, Cho’s contract had an inactivity clause (something the Tokyopop creators could have benefited from) so the rights have now reverted back to him.

His plan for now is to simply go back to drawing the strip, although he doesn’t rule out another movie or TV deal “if the right offer comes along.”

Kindle update: The return of Delivery Cupid

Pet on Duty is back!

Ever since the news broke last week that Amazon had removed some yaoi manga from the Kindle store, people, myself included, have been bombarding them with questions. No answers have been forthcoming, however. Amazon is like a huge black box with a screen in the side that sells books. What goes on inside it is anybody’s guess; their PR people don’t return emails or calls, and their customer service department spits out bland, automated responses like

“Occasionally books are removed from the Kindle Store for various reasons. We do not have any specific details about why this particular book may have been removed. The book’s publishers decide if a book is to be made available for the Kindle, and they can change this status at any time.”

In the Case of the Missing Manga, Amazon fails the Turing Test. It is obviously a robot.

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