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New York Comic-Con 2011
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund - Defending Manga Panel

by Crystalyn Hodgkins,

Charles Brownstein, Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), Erica Friedman from ALC Publishing, and Deb Aoki from About.com's manga blog hosted the panel on defending manga. Brownstein began the panel with a talk on censorship in the history of comics and in youth media, noting that at one point jazz music and comic books were both subject to criticism of leading people to do lurid things, or had the image that they contributed to the delinquency of minors.

Now manga seems to be a category that is raising ire and getting that negative attention. Courts are looking at the material, not understanding it and proclaiming it illegal. Brownstein talked about the history of how comics and manga have led to persecution in courts, mentioning the Comics Code Authority, which Brownstein said led to a 50-year period of censorship in comics.

Then he went into some history about how exactly lines on paper can lead to being charged for a crime. He began with the case of Robert Crumb's Zap Comix #4, which was the first comic to be judged as obscene. In 1986 a retailer in Illinois was busted for selling certain comics to an undercover police officer. The CBDLF was also founded in 1986.

Brownstein then moved on to manga-related cases in the U.S. In 2000, a store in Texas was prosecuted for selling a copy of Legend of the Overfiend to an undercover police officer, and that despite bringing in notable names such as Susan Napier, the defendant was still convicted.

Brownstein then discussed the Protect Act, which was enacted to combat child sex abuse and child sex tourism, but also had provisions that said that art depicting sexual activity with minors is child pornography.

Next Brownstein talked about the Christopher Handley case. Handley was a 40-year-old disabled veteran in Iowa, who took care of his disabled mother, worked as a computer programmer, and loved manga and bible study. Law enforcement intercepted a package for him coming from Japan, saw comics they found objectionable, and set up a sting. Handley picked up the package and was followed home by the police, who seized his collection. In this collection the police found a few volumes of manga they deemed objectionable. Handley ultimately decided to plead out of the case because he was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

Currently, the CBLDF is working on a case of a man in his 20s who flew to Canada for a convention. When he went through customs, the customs officers searched his belongings, including his electronic devices. They found a dojinshi (self-published comic) on his computer based on Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, and he had scanned in the picture of the character from the dojinshi because he had a friend who was a fan of the character. Customs also found a picture of "chibi"/super-deformed characters in sexual positions on his computer. Canadian authorities then arrested him and said that he possessed child pornography and had the intent to distribute child pornography. The man is facing a minimum of one year in prison and registering as a sex offender, and a legal bill of CAD$150,000. Brownstein mentioned that when asked why the man doesn't just stay out of Canada, he answers that the offense is extraditable, and also that the man did not do anything wrong.

Friedman then began talking a little about the Japanese side of the situation. Usually in regard to legal cases involving manga in the U.S., the defense can talk about how Japan has a different art aesthetic. However, with the passage of Bill 156 in Japan, it is difficult to continue using that defense. Friedman added that the Japanese manga publishing industry protested the bill by boycotting the Tokyo Anime Fair, but because the event canceled due to the earthquake, the point they were trying to make was moot.

Aoki added that while many in the audience may be used to the manga style, people who aren't familiar with manga would see many manga characters and think they looked like children, or younger than they really are. Brownstein also added that it is important to reach out to people to educate them about the manga style so as to help them to understand the style. Aoki also added that many of those who aren't familiar with manga assume it's hentai and perverted, and it's important to educate people so they don't have that stereotype.

Brownstein then asked Friedman and Aoki how to educate people who don't understand manga, and Friedman answered that she's practically become a teacher all the time. Friedman also added that Borders was one of the only bookstore retail chains to sell queer and adult comics, and it is a real blow that they are now no longer in business.

Friedman also mentioned that it is a good idea to those who want to be more active to work with local libraries Libraries are fighting the same kind of battle, and working with local libraries would help to educate more people about manga.

Brownstein mentioned that manga fans and readers may be too ashamed to speak out and be active in defending the medium, but fans need to band together and stand proud to defend manga. Aoki expressed her surprise that there hasn't been any uproar yet about boy's love manga, but both she and Friedman agreed that such an uproar is sure to happen eventually.

The panel then launched into a Q&A. Some notable points from the Q&A were: when an attendee who said he draws adult comics asked how he could protect himself from being charged with a crime, Friedman answered that she makes all her comics 18+, she cards buyers when they are face to face, and she has a good lawyer. Aoki and Friedman then both agreed that they wouldn't want anyone to change their drawing style or what they draw in order to protect themselves.

Brownstein also mentioned that the CDBLF website publishes a list each quarter of books seized in Canada, and that list goes back to 2002. Friedman also advised that people should read translator Dan Kanemitsu's blog to get a better understanding of the political situation around Bill 156 in Japan.

The CBDLF is currently working to raise CAD$150,000 to pay for the legal bill for the Canadian case mentioned earlier. Those who want to support the cause can contribute or become a member of the CBLDF. Last, Brownstein gave away a signed copy of Lychee Light Club to one NYCC attendee who had donated at the CBLDF's booth.

Editor's Note: we were recently contacted by John Bogan, who had this correction to offer to the above information:

At the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund panel at NYCC, CBLDF executive director Charles Brownstein mis-stated part of the history of manga-related cases. With the Canadian customs case bringing CBLDF and manga back into current news, it is worth straightening out exactly what sort of material was involved.

In the panel, Brownstein mentioned a 2000 case in Texas: "a store in Texas was prosecuted for selling a copy of Legend of the Overfiend to an undercover police officer".

He was mistaken as to what material was purchased. CBLDF's own page identifies it as "the second volume of CPM Manga's Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen".

One point about this that often gets lost in coverage is this was not the original Demon Beast Invasion manga by Toshio Maeda (who also created Overfiend), it was a four-issue American-produced comic published under license by Central Park Manga's adult Bear Bare Press imprint. The collected graphic novel of CPM's two DBI miniseries is still listed on the Right Stuf website.

The Right Stuf site correctly names the artists (Lundsford was the artist on The Fallen miniseries involved in the Texas case) but incorrectly lists Maeda as the writer. The actual writer for the CPM series was Jose Calderon, as listed on Amazon.

Thanks to Mr. Bogan for the clarification.

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