Tuesday, August 14, 2007

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.


Dan Trabue said...

I think I basically agree with you. A little dumb, but not that big a deal. No lewdness seems to be have intended.

I would probably disagree that a Picasso drawing of a penis is "sexually explicit" any more than giving a venus de Milo statuette away, even tho there's naked boobies involved.

The mother should complain if she found it offensive, refusing to patronize him further if she wants, and it should end at that.

The Loop Garoo Kid said...

Dr. W.,

The only fact i have to add is that the accounts I have read stae that the comic in question was inadvertently included in the thousands that weree distributed.

I haven't read the GA statute but it would seem that if the inclusion were inadvertent, then mens rea or intent would be lacking.

Of course certain issues spring to mind immediately like why does the mother of these kids have a hard on, as it were for this offense? When I heard the piece on NPR someone suggested that an apology to the mother should suffice.

Secondly, why is the DA pursuing this matter? I suspect that politics is lurking somewhere.

I need to consider the free speech issue a little more, however, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund executive Director Charles Bronwstein stated on the CBLDF website that "if Gordon is found guilty, it would establish a precedent that makes the seller of any book, magazine, or film depicting non-sexual nudity vulnerable to similar prosecution in the state of Georgia."

As Dan commented, banning te Veus de Milo seems a bit much.

Anonymous said...

I live in Rome and know Gordon. The comic in question was accidently put into the box that held the comics that were given out that night.

Gordon hands out free comics twice a year... FCBD (Free Comic Book Day) and Halloween night. After FCBD (in May) the extras were put into the back room in a box filled with other comics that were being saved. There were no warnings on the comic cover saying it contained explicit material, and the comic held previews for two other comics. The penis in the pictures in question was not erect by the way.

When the police came to Gordon the first time (a few days after Halloween) they had not even seen the comic in question. The original charges were for the nine year old boy. It wasn't until 18 months later and right before the trial was the begin that the prosecution added the six year old. When it was questioned how it could take 18 months for the prosecution to realize they had the wrong kid, it changed to the comic being given to/seen by both boys.

What I want to know, is why two boys would be offended seeing a penis. Don't these kids ever take a bath... change clothes? The point is, they didn't see anything they don't see on a daily basis.

In the meantime, Gordon has suffered for three years over this. Georgia is a horrible place to live (I am in the process of trying to move... for my children's safety). This place is like living in another dimension... it's that backwards here.

Also to note, in front of City Hall there is a statue... right on Broad Street (Main Street) that has two naked boys... anyone walking down that street to get to Gordon's shop will have seen two penis's just on the way there!