New York Comic-Con 2012
CBLDF Defending Manga Panel

by David Cabrera, Oct 14th 2012

The speaker was Charles Brownstein of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. He described recent prosecutions over manga as merely the latest page in the ongoing history of legal challenges and censorship against comics, which goes back to the 50s. The CBLDF itself was formed in the late 80s to defend a case in which a Lansing, IL comics retailer was convicted of possession and sale of obscene materials.

Manga's become increasingly targeted over the past few years. Brownstein interprets this as the same thing that happened to every emerging youth medium: comics, rock music, and now manga. There are people out there who decide that if they don't like a thing, it has to be obliterated. This is of course exacerbated by the cultural differences inherent to Japanese comics.

The first case covered on the panel was Texas Vs. Castillo. Jesus Castillo was a clerk at Keith's Comics in Texas, and he was arrested after selling copies of Demon Beast Invasion and Urotsukidoji to an undercover cop. Though these were explicitly adult comics being sold to another adult, the argument of the prosecution was, paraphrased:

“I don't care what type of evidence or testimony is out there... comic books are for kids. This is in a store across from an elementary school and it is put in a forum to directly appeal to kids. That is why we are here, We are here to get this off the shelf.”

Despite a vigorous defense from the CBLDF including the use of experts like Susan Napier and Scott McCloud, this specious argument sadly won. Appeals were turned down.

The next case was United States v Whorley. In Brownstein's words, Dwight Whorley was “a bad guy” (specifically, he'd already been arrested for child pornography in the past) prosecuted for bad reasons: he downloaded and printed pornographic lolicon manga from public computers. The significant point here is that drawings were, on account of the aggressive PROTECT Act, treated with the same severity as photographic child pornography.

The third case is the Chris Handley case, which was a very hot topic in the community a while back. Handley was a model citizen according to Brownstein: ex-navy, no criminal record, and aside from manga his other hobby was bible study. Handley had a delivery of manga intercepted by the postal inspector. Its contents got him followed home from the post office and arrested; his entire collection was permanently seized.

Handley pled guilty to avoid jail and was forced to take mental health counseling and prohbited from both anime/manga and internet chat. The argument was that all manga was obscene, and that while not illegal, his possession of this material indicated “sexual deviancy”.

The seven pornographic lolicon books that got Handley arrested were:

-Unfinished school girl (Mikansei Seifuku Shoujo)
-I (heart) Doll
-Kemono for Essential 3
-Otonari Kazoku
-Eromon
-Kono Man_ ga Sugoi
-Doll Labyrinth

The final case was that of Ryan Matheson, who was present at the panel to tell his story himself. The 25-year-old computer programmer was taking his first trip out of the country to Canada, when customs stopped to inspect the many gadgets he was carrying, most notably his iPad and laptop. An anime wallpaper piqued their interest, and they searched his computer for hours.

Ultimately Matheson was detained without a reason given, denied access to counsel, and jailed in a cell without food and only a concrete slab to sleep on. On the way to the prison, he was told “If you're raped here, it doesn't count!”.

The image that brought this about was a parody image of “The 48 Sumo Positions”, done as, of course, “The 48 Sex Positions.” The characters were tiny super-deformed images in a style familiar to most manga readers. The inspectors believed the characters to be four-year-olds.

The other images were a doujinshi of “a fantasy scenario between non-human characters”: whether it was erotic in nature was unspecified by the panelist, but that description implies very much that it was.

With the help of the CBLDF, Matheson fought the charges, and after several different prosecutors and two years' time-- during which he was barred from using a computer except at one specific job, which then cut his hours-- the charges were dropped. Brownstein credits the fund's legal “direwolves” with fighting hard for Matheson: however, wolves cost money and Matheson is still in debt to the tune of $70,000 for their services. The fund has been able to pay off $34,000 for him thus far.

Brownstein notes that the relatively happy ending of the Matheson case does not mean that this fight is over: for example, “manga” itself is often used as a code word for pornography. These cases have had chilling effects, as readers and artists are being very careful about the content they carry in case they run into this kind of situation. Academics studying Japanese culture are afraid that if they study sexually focused manga, they'll become targets. And of course, artists who do work of a sexual nature feel vulnerable carrying their work across borders. Brownstein cited a case of the malicious ex of a manga and furry fan reporting him to the police for his collection.

Brownstein stressed that anime/manga fans are not alone, and that CBLDF has been defending people in these kinds of cases for 25 years. Forces urging censorship are often misinformed or, as in the Castillo case, simply don't care about the truth of the matter. Art cannot be child pornography, he argued, and prosecuting people over drawings does not defend real people from real sexual abuse.


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