When Gordon Lee kept his comic book store open late on Halloween in 2004, he was hoping to attract the attention of youngsters. Three years, two sets of facts and a slew of changed charges later, Lee has received much more attention — from an outraged mother of two, the media, prosecutors, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the comic book community as a whole — all because of a comic book drawing of a naked Pablo Picasso. On Halloween night, Lee decided to participate in a trick-or-treat event where he distributed more than 2,000 free comic books at his store in Rome, Georgia. Among those he distributed was "Alternative Comics #2," which included drawings of Pablo Picasso's allegedly erect penis. A copy was handed out to two brothers, a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old, according to court documents. The boys' mother objected to the drawings of the penis, claiming it was inappropriate for her children
Thanks to Loop for feeding the story. So here's a brief summary: A comic store owner participates in a Halloween event for children. He knows kids will be receiving free stuff, and some of that stuff came from his store. Included in that stuff was a comic received by a 6 year old and a 9 year old which shows a naked Pablo Picasso (possibly with an erect penis) in an historically accurate moment. The mother of the two boys protested. The shop owner was arrested and now faces charges of distributing illicit material to minors.
Now my take. First, whether or not this is historically accurate is a non-issue. There are plenty of historically accurate events that are simply not appropriate for young children. A good example is Mel Gibson's The Passion. The violence in this film may be accurate, but young children have no business watching it until their minds are capable of processing what they see. There are many other examples in film, music, art and school textbooks. Second, a drawing of an erect penis and a naked man does, in my mind, amount to sexually explicit material, certainly inappropriate for a 9 year old and a 6 year old.
But then there is the issue of intent. What exactly was this guy trying to do? Based on what I've read, it appears that he gave out many comics that day, and these two boys were the only ones who got the inappropriate stuff. I have a hard time believing that he was deliberately doing anything lewd. Dumb? Yes. He should have exercised better judgment and looked over his free comics a little better before giving them to children. It was irresponsible on his part, and I wouldn't have any heartache with him paying a fine. But prison time? Come on. As I've said before, there are bigger fish that need frying.
Calling this a free speech issue is a stretch. You may have the right to view sexually explicit material, but you don't have the right to deliberately give that stuff to minors. It's against the law. So, I guess technically, the charges apply in that he distributed the stuff at an event that he knew would be attended by children, but again it seems like the prosecution would have to prove this guy's lewd intent and I just don't see that happening. If he had deliberately distributed one thousand of these comics to children, then there may be a stronger case. But we need to use a little common sense here. I don't think this guy is a pornographer and I don't think he needs jail time.