Awards | The 2013 Lynd Ward Prize for Graphic Novel of the Year, presented by Penn State University Libraries and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, has been awarded to Chris Ware’s Building Stories. The jury’s comment: “Ware’s astute and precise renderings, composed with a tender yet unblinking clinical eye and fleshed out with pristine and evocative coloring, trace the mundane routines and moments of small crisis that his characters inhabit. In so doing, he produces not a document but a monument, a work whose narrative logic is architectural rather than chronological: a set of lives to be encountered, traversed, and returned to as the rooms and floors of a building might be over the years, still sequentially but not in a limited or decided-upon sequence. Stories, here, are meant not to be told but to be built, explored, inhabited—not merely visited but lived in.” [Pennsylvania Center for the Book]
Christjan Bee of Monett, Missouri, has been sentenced to three years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for possession of obscenity, specifically, comics that depicted children having sexual intercourse with one another and with adults.
The news came in a press release from the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for Western Missouri, which prosecuted the case. According to the prosecutor, Bee’s wife contacted local police in August 2011 and said she had found what she believed to be child pornography on his computer. The police executed a search warrant and seized Bee’s computer:
During the forensic examination of Bee’s computer, a collection of electronic comics, entitled “incest comics,” were discovered on the computer. These comics contained multiple images of minors engaging in graphic sexual intercourse with adults and other minors. The depictions clearly lack any literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
This case is reminiscent of that of Christopher Handley, who also pleaded guilty to possession of drawn images of minors having sex. This is not child pornography, points out Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, because the images are drawn, not photographic.
Brownstein told Robot 6 today that he believes the Bee case wouldn’t hold up in front of a jury, but his comments on the case were limited because the CBLDF was not actually involved; he first heard about it from news reports that Bee had pleaded guilty and, therefore, waived his right to defend himself. Still, Brownstein said, “Even without knowing all the facts, it is an extremely disturbing case.”
The director of the Greenville County Public Library system in South Carolina has decided to remove Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Neonomicon from library shelves following a patron complaint — even though her own board recommended that the book continue to be available.
The trouble started in June, when a parent allowed her 14-year-old daughter to check out the book, which was shelved in the adult section. “It looked like a murder mystery comic book to me,” Carrie Gaske said at the time. “It looked like a child’s book. I flipped through it, and thought it was OK for her to check out.”
Neonomicon is, of course, not a child’s book, as Gaske learned when her daughter asked the meaning of a “nasty” word. Gaske then gave the graphic novel a second look and saw that it included explicit sexual content. “I feel that has the same content of Hustler or Playboy or things like that,” she told local media. “Maybe even worse.” Gaske filed an official challenge to the book, and it was removed from circulation while the library’s internal committee discussed it.
Legal | The trial resumed today, if only briefly, in Tunis for the president of a Tunisian television network accused of “insulting sacred values” when he aired the adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Tensions were so high in the courtroom that proceedings were postponed until April. The Oct. 7 broadcast resulted in an attempted arson attack on the network’s offices and the arrest of some 50 protesters. Nessma TV President Nebil Karoui, who apologized in October, is charged with “insulting sacred values, offending decent morals and causing public unrest” because of the outrage triggered by a scene in Persepolis showing God, which is prohibited by Islam. [AFP]
Organizations | Stumptown Comics, the organization that puts on the Stumptown Comics Fest every year in Portland, Oregon, has added three new members to its board: Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein, Boilerplate co-author Anina Bennett and editor Shawna Gore. [Stumptown Comics]
In an ironic footnote to comics history, the Comic Magazine Association of America has given the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund the rights to the iconic Comics Code Seal of Approval.
The CMAA administered the Comics Code, a self-censorship scheme agreed upon by publishers, from the 1950s until January 2011, when it was officially disbanded. For most of its existence, the code was enforced by distributors, who would not carry a comic that did not bear the seal. Dr. Amy Kyste Nyberg chronicles the rise and fall of the Comic Code in a nice article on the CBLDF website.
Now the seal goes to the CBLDF, which dedicates itself wholeheartedly to fighting censorship — and even more appropriately, the transfer was announced during Banned Books Week! In keeping with its mission, the CBLDF will not put the seal on comics but instead emblazon it on T-shirts to raise money for the protection of the First Amendment rights of comics creators, publishers and readers. Said CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein, “It’s a progressive change that the Comics Code seal, which is yesterday’s symbol of comics censorship, will now be used to raise money to protect the First Amendment challenges comics face in the future. That goal probably would have been unimaginable to the Code’s founders, who were part of a generation of comics professionals that were fleeing a witch-hunt that nearly trampled comics and any notion that they deserved any First Amendment protection.”
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.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is using the funding site Kickstarter to raise money to publish a Transmetropolitan art book. Transmetropolitan, for those who may not be familiar with it, was a Vertigo series that starred Spider Jerusalem, a gonzo journalist in a depraved future, who, along with his assistants and a three-eyed cat, battled corrupt politicians, crazy cults and castrated police officers. Written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Darick Robertson, the book was published from 1997 to 2002.
Both creators are participating in the new art book, with Robertson providing a cover and Ellis a foreword. In addition, the book will include artwork by Cliff Chiang, Cully Hamner, Milo Manara, Jeff Lemire, Sam Kieth and many more.
Susan Auġér, the project manager for the art book, and Charles Brownstein, executive director of the CBLDF, were kind enough to answer my questions about the project.
JK: Where did the initial idea to do a benefit book come from?
Susan: A fan approached Darick Robertson’s table at Emerald City Comic Con, the best comics convention out there to meet and greet with creators. Darick agreed that it was a good idea, and the plan took shape shortly after that. You could say it was the perfect jumping off point: a book suggested by a fan, populated by many fans, produced for the fans.
Charles: Shortly after Darick appeared to benefit the CBLDF at WonderCon last year, we sparked up a correspondence with Susan, who had been organizing a project involving a variety of great pieces inspired by Darick and Warren’s iconic series. She did the legwork to get approval from DC Comics to make this book happen as a benefit for CBLDF, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it. There’s some great stuff coming through, and we’re gonna be thrilled to see it, to spread the word, and to do some good for people in comics with the funds that come from it.
If you’re planning on traveling abroad this holiday season, you may want to be wary of what comics you’re bringing on your computer, phone or other device. During a call with his fellow Comic Book Legal Defense Fund board members yesterday, writer Neil Gaiman tweeted about a trend the CBLDF has been watching: “On @CBLDF Board of Directors call. Just learning about Customs officers confiscating computers because they didn’t like the comics on them.”
According to Executive Director Charles Brownstein, both the CBLDF and the American Civil Liberties Union have been tracking the trend.
“The CBLDF legal team has been tracking trends in customs here in the U.S. and abroad that show authorities searching, and,in some cases, seizing the computers, portable devices, storage devices, and other items of travelers who have adult comics material stored on those devices,” Brownstein told Comic Book Resources. “The ACLU is tracking similar customs abuses from a privacy point of view. There’s a recent incident about which we’re not at liberty to discuss specifics involving this trend, where we were asked to provide information and letters of support. Because this is a pending matter, I’m not at liberty to discuss further specifics at this time.”
He added that in response, the CBLDF is working on a “best practices” document for comic fans going through customs. “This document will cover what they need to know to help mitigate their risks in this area,” Brownstein said. “We plan to issue this document in the first quarter of 2011.”