Neil Gaiman On The ‘Obscenity’ Of Manga Collector Christopher Handley’s Trial

Look through your comic book collection. Do you have Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls”? Any of S. Clay Wilson’s Underground Comix? Even Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series? If the prosecution of manga collector Christopher Handley sticks, all of that and more could be considered obscene, Gaiman told MTV.

“I wrote a story about a serial killer who kidnaps and rapes children, and then murders them,” Gaiman said, referring to a storyline in “The Doll’s House.” “We did that as a comic, not for the purposes of titillation or anything like that, but if you bought that comic, you could be arrested for it? That’s just deeply wrong. Nobody was hurt. The only thing that was hurt were ideas.”

Gaiman’s currently supporting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s fight to defend Handley, who was arrested in Iowa for possession of obscene material based on his private collection, which included lolicon and yaoi manga. Lolicon focuses on the Lolita complex, where yaoi features male homosexual romance for a primarily female audience.

“They found his manga, and found some objectionable panels,” Gaiman said. “He’s been arrested for having some drawings of rude things in manga. I’m sorry, but if you went through my comic collection, you could arrest me if you’re going to start doing that. It’s just wrong.”

“There is explicit sex in yaoi comics,” Handley’s lawyer Eric Chase told MTV. “And the men are drawn in a very androgynous style, which has the effect of making them look really young. There’s a real taboo in Japan about showing pubic hair, so they’re all drawn without it, which also makes them look young. So what concerned the authorities were the depictions of children in explicit sexual situations that they believed to be obscene. But there are no actual children. It was all very crude images from a comic book.”

“Do you remember there was a law passed prohibiting making things that simulated child pornography, even if the things actually weren’t?” Gaiman asked, referring to part of the PROTECT Act (18 U.S.C. Section 1466A). (As in situations where an of-age female is in a pornographic situation, but “where she’s being presented as if she were 13.”) “They said, ’For heaven’s sake, we’re not talking about art. We’re only talking about stuff where you’re leading people to believe they’re looking at real child porn,'” said Gaiman.

Still, despite the argument that there was no actual children portrayed in the manga, Handley faces felony obsenity charges, including the receipt and possession of obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children. The case is going to trial on December 2. The jury will determine whether the manga is obscene or if it has artistic value. If found guilty of the charges against him, Handley faces a five-year mandatory minimum sentence.

“He’d be punished as if it were actual child porn,” his lawyer said. “And he did not look at child pornography.”

Gaiman’s been making appearances and giving the OK to Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab to make perfumes of his books to benefit the CBLDF to help them raise funds for Handley’s defense, as they did for comic book store owner Gordon Lee.

“They’ve made in excess of $38,000 for the fund, which is pretty wonderful,” Gaiman said, “and it’s real money that gets used for legal cases.”

Should obscenity or pornography laws apply to comics? Why or why not?