Comic book legend Neil Gaiman has a black eye at the moment — and he likes to joke that he got it “battling for the First Amendment.”
The truth is something closer to a curious incident involving his dog and a pipe, but because he suffered the injury just prior to an appearance at New York Comic-Con to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which just won a case that Gaiman has been championing for the past three years, we’ll let him get away with the fudge.
Since the CBLDF had spent more than $100,000 to help defend a comic book store owner named Gordon Lee who was charged with distributing harmful material to a minor, Gaiman was more than happy to announce prior to his reading that the case had been dismissed late Friday afternoon.
“One of his employees mistakenly gave a kid on Free Comics Day a comic with an accurately depicted sequence in which Picasso was painting,” Gaiman told MTV News, “and Picasso painted in the nude. So you have these little panels with this little naked man. He was nude, but it manifestly was not pornographic any more than an encyclopedia entry featuring the Venus de Milo. It’s really dodgy.
“So if you’re the kid’s mother,” Gaiman continued, “you go back in the shop the next morning and say, ‘This is ridiculous,’ and they say, ‘Oh my God, we’re so sorry. Here, have a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” graphic novel to make up for it, kid. And here, have some bubblegum cards too.’ That would have been a sane and sensible reaction.”
However, the state of Georgia did not agree at first, and when police got word that both a 9-year-old and his 6-year-old brother had seen an excerpt of Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel “The Salon” (which depicts the rise of cubism and depicts the first meeting between George Braque and Pablo Picasso), they charged Lee with two felony counts and five misdemeanor counts — which could have added up to three years in jail. Thanks to the CBLDF and a lot of legal maneuvering, the felony charges were dismissed and the misdemeanor counts consolidated so that Lee was facing only one year and a $1,000 fine. But the case resulted in a mistrial in November, and prosecutors had planned to bring the case back this year.
“It’s cost the fund $100,000,” Gaiman said, “and I think it was starting to edge into the millions for the city of Atlanta. The reason why this was so ridiculous, so iniquitous and should be stopped is that you’re in a world where someone like Gordon would just be driven out of business. A comic book shop does not have the financial resources of a state that has decided its intention or function is to put you into jail or drive you out of business.”
Freedom of speech in comics is not treated on the same level as those rights awarded to music, prose, art and movies, Gaiman said. “Barely a week goes by before a librarian contacts us saying, ‘They are challenging this “Daredevil” graphic novel. How do I keep my job and keep this on the shelves?’ Comics is just this strange, bastard medium that’s thought to be intended for kids, and so it falls between the cracks. If this was prose, there would be no argument, but we’re fighting for creators and publishers and retailers — and now librarians — so you’re free to read the stuff.”