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Comic book retailer sentenced to jail for selling a book to an adult
August 21, 2002 6:39 PM   Subscribe

Comic book retailer sentenced to jail for selling a book to an adult The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's lawyers are filing an appeal in the highest criminal court in Texas in the obscenity conviction of Jesus Castillo, manager of a Dallas comic book store. Castillo has received six months jail time, a year probation, and a $4000 fine. [more inside]
posted by dejah420 (36 comments total)

 
You know, even after my comic was successfully removed from the shelves in Texas, I really didn't think this case could be successfully prosecuted...and yet, there it is, Jesus going to jail for selling a book to an adult. (I published CHAOS Magazine, which was pulled and prosecuted because we showed a penis in one panel of a 32 page book. The CBLDF kept the retailer out of jail, thank gods.)

The CBLDF is facing down some pretty tough opponents this year. Donations of art, time and of course, cold hard cash would really come in handy. If you've ever read a comic designed for a grown up audience, click here to visit the CBLDF, take a look at some of the cases and see what you've got lying about in the couch cushions to help the fight against censorship.
posted by dejah420 at 6:44 PM on August 21, 2002


Comic books, and I don't care what type of evidence or what type of testimony is out there, use your rationality, use your common sense. Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids.

Wow. The DA is more or less saying 'ignore the testimony and the evidence.'

Comics are an adult medium and its easy to prove, but Texas justice doesn't care. I don't think obscenity laws are doing anyone any good. They're generally vague, selectively prosecuted, and arguably victimless crimes.

There's much wrong here and its fairly obvious that 'protect our children' laws are an effective way to trample first amendment protections.
posted by skallas at 7:03 PM on August 21, 2002


"The children! What about the children?!" Gah, more people trying to turn the entire country into one big gated community. Then they act all surprised when "the children" can't deal with the real world.

Good thing the comic wasn't homoerotic; then they'd just have to kill the poor bastard.
posted by Poagao at 7:08 PM on August 21, 2002


Is there anywhere safe to live in Texas other than Austin?
posted by machaus at 7:17 PM on August 21, 2002


This probably has little to do with the legal issues, which are based in Miller, but the Demon Beast Invasion comics seem to be based on a "hentai anime" series {PG-13 link} in the erotic horror genre involving scenes of young (possibly underage) girls being raped by alien monsters. This at least can explain the reaction: it's a characteristically Japanese cartoon style with the omnipresent neotony emphasizing youth and themes that would be disturbing even if they weren't animated. Cels {not work safe!}. It's definitely adult material, and the DVD contains warnings such as "ABSOLUTELY NOT FOR ANYONE UNDER 18". I couldn't find a picture of the comic book cover; here's issue 1, though. There does seem to be a warning.

Here's a local summary article with greater detail.
posted by dhartung at 7:43 PM on August 21, 2002


machaus: We have small pockets of sanity in Houston. Well, in my apartment anyway...

I've been putting off buying some CBLDF stuff for a while. Seems like that's gonna have to change.
posted by Cyrano at 7:52 PM on August 21, 2002


worst. customer. ever.
posted by quonsar at 8:12 PM on August 21, 2002


I don't care what type of evidence or what type of testimony is out there...

Forget more or less saying, he is saying it. Someone should be disbarred for this.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 8:56 PM on August 21, 2002


Someone outta set up one of those $1 donation PayPal (or similar) accounts for the legal fees. I bet they could turn a profit!
posted by runthegamut at 9:02 PM on August 21, 2002


This is the same logic that was used against the tobacco companies. Joe Camel is a cartoon. Cartoons are for kids. Therefore, Camel is marketing to kids. And we slip a little further down the slippery slope. No, they won't ever be able to ban the Federalist Papers by claiming they appeal to children. But they could ban an lot of things that are interesting and harmless to adults, and thereby make the world a duller place.

skallas: so this is DA nullification?

dhartung: I don't think neotony, per se, is really what is going on in anime character design. The size of the eyes relative to the face is certainly neotony, and maybe the smallness of the facial features, but the body structure, the ratio of head to body size, of legs to torso, and the general slenderness of the bodies is characteristic of adults, not children. What the anime character designers have done, it appears, is to take features we find attractive from all human ages and combine them into a single character design. Which some people find attractive, and some find disturbing.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:13 PM on August 21, 2002


Someone outta set up one of those $1 donation PayPal (or similar) accounts for the legal fees. -- runthegamut

That's the whole point of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, really. And no, the CBLDF has never made a profit. Not once in all the years they've been defending artists, writers and retailers have they ever made a profit. Many of the lawyers work pro-bono (free), but the costs can accumulate like you wouldn't believe. Just deposition costs can run into the thousands.

dhartung, thanks for the groovy link, I'd totally forgotten about that story.

quonsar, you're a very silly boy. I like that about you.
posted by dejah420 at 9:31 PM on August 21, 2002


dejah420: This is the same logic that was used against the tobacco companies. Joe Camel is a cartoon. Cartoons are for kids.

I think that's completely different. Advertising isn't protected speech like art is. The tobacco companies were found illegally marketing to minors as revealed by their own memos. I think Joe Camel was just the biggest nail in that coffin and wouldn't have been proof of anything without the rest of the evidence.
posted by skallas at 9:37 PM on August 21, 2002


dejah420: This is the same logic that was used against the tobacco companies. Joe Camel is a cartoon. Cartoons are for kids.

Nope, wasn't me. :) T'was Slithy_Tove.
posted by dejah420 at 10:12 PM on August 21, 2002


Someone outta set up one of those $1 donation PayPal (or similar) accounts for the legal fees.

As per the linked article, you can donate to the CBLDF right here.
posted by webmutant at 10:13 PM on August 21, 2002


[stands in front of dejah420, catches the bullet. hands skallas his glasses.]

I've never found those memos very convincing. There were tens of thousands of documents, written over decades, that were combed to find this stuff. Show me any large organization, business, governmental, educational, with thousands of employees, in business for decades, in which someone at some time hasn't written a memo proposing something unethical.

Sorry, but this story is bad. Stuff taken out of context, misrepresentation of dates: Joe Camel dates from 1988, he wasn't created 'shortly thereafter' the 1973 memo.

Media is media. If you didn't stick up for Joe Camel, don't be surprised if no one sticks up for hentai manga.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:25 PM on August 21, 2002


Slithy_Tove: If you didn't stick up for Joe Camel, don't be surprised if no one sticks up for hentai manga.

Sorry, I'm not buying it. Advertising doesn't have the protections other forms of expression have, and for good reason.

The situations are 100% different. The critcism about this comic is obscenity. Joe Camel was never accused of being obscene. All these two cases have in common is 'cartooniness.' You're trying to equate a controlled substance's marketing with a comic book?

If there's an analogy here its with the porn industry, not the tobacco industry.
posted by skallas at 10:36 PM on August 21, 2002


How is this advertising?
posted by holloway at 10:47 PM on August 21, 2002


All these two cases have in common is 'cartooniness.'

Yes. That's my point.

You're trying to equate a controlled substance's marketing with a comic book?

Tobacco in the US is not a 'controlled substance' in the usual sense.

The issue is not advertising vs non-advertising. The issue is exploiting society's concern for the welfare of children ("Think of the children!") to suppress otherwise legitimate activity by adults.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:54 PM on August 21, 2002


I just think it's great that Scott McCloud testified at this trial.
posted by bingo at 2:38 AM on August 22, 2002


Was the comic book in the 'kids' section, or was it in the 'adult' section?

If it was in the 'kids' section, then they may have a case. Otherwise, it was explicitly labelled as 'for adult' and in a controlled environment where children couldn't access it. So, yes, I'd equate it to the porn industry. And that the case has little merit.

So, now, the question is, does the city have a law regulating porn within a certain feet/meter distance from schools? If not, then they should eventually have this overturned. If they do have such a law, then again, the city has a case.

As for the Joe Camel thing - there is a slight difference when you saturate places with images like Joe Camel smoking, and when you have porn in comic books that are in plastic wrap sitting where kids under 18 can't get them.

So, I can agree with both skallas and slithy tove. Although splitting semantic hairs over the use of the phrase 'controlled substance' is kind of annoying, so I may just move a little bit more onto skallas' side of that argument. (grin)
posted by rich at 6:23 AM on August 22, 2002


There have also been cases where the comic shop worker who rang up the sale, not necessarily the owner, has been been the one charged with the crime.

I'm sure I could find a specific comic shop case link if I had the time, but anyway, here's a link to another Dallas Observer article about Dallas's similar practice of prosecuting low-level porn shop clerks.

(Hey there, De.)
posted by Shane at 6:48 AM on August 22, 2002


Comic books, and I don't care what type of evidence or what type of testimony is out there, use your rationality, use your common sense. Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids.

Cultureless swine! Try thinking outside the self-imposed American box. It's 'cause of people like him, Disney can't produce quality adult-themed flicks such as science-fiction, action, or even suspense thrillers, genres that the Japanese have already covered in their animes. Note that I've conveniently excluded hentai, 'cause in America, violence is okay, but sex is a no-no :).

The jury rejected expert testimony from Scott McCloud...

Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics. Incredibly comprehensive book about how comics work. This is a perfect example of "If you're explaining, you're losing".
posted by freakystyley at 7:20 AM on August 22, 2002


Was the comic book in the 'kids' section, or was it in the 'adult' section?

It was in the adults section. Not only that, Keith's Comics doesn't normally stock the book, it was a special order item that the buyer didn't want/didn't pick up.

(I'd link to Keith's, but they seem to be down.)

Keith's Comics have a very good policy of keeping the adult books separated from the kids stuff. For example, when I was publishing, my book...which really was pretty mild for the 90's...was labeled "for adults only", and was kept in the adult section on the very top shelf. Heck, I couldn't reach the book.

My point being, that a kid could not have gained access to any of the adult books, unless his/her parents purchased the book and gave it to them. They are not, and have never been accessible to children.

What's astounding to me is that we've been fighting these cases for as long as we have...and we don't win nearly as often as you would think.

And yes, Scott McCloud rocks muchly.

oh, hey, if anyone wants to send me proof of donations to the CBLDF, I'll send you a copy of the banned CHAOS Magazine for free...I know, an old banned comic is hardly massive incentive...but hey...it's got a blowjob scene...ok, not a good one mind you...but still, it's "banned"... oooooh.
posted by dejah420 at 8:27 AM on August 22, 2002


Prior thread about Dallas prosecution of porn video store clerks. It seems down in Texas they enjoy putting pressure on the little guys.
posted by dhartung at 8:48 AM on August 22, 2002


This is the same logic that was used against the tobacco companies. Joe Camel is a cartoon. Cartoons are for kids...they could ban an lot of things that are interesting and harmless to adults, and thereby make the world a duller place.

Yes. But the solution is not to set up rigid delineations between what's acceptable for kids and what's acceptable for adults; that's merely treating the symptoms, not the problem. The solution is to realize that the First Amendment isn't a time-release thing that kicks in when you turn 18, and that anyone has the right to read this material.

If people would accept that kids should not be legally prevented from viewing porn (which really ought to be a given, IMHO) this DA's arguments would be moot and this would be a non-issue.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:48 AM on August 22, 2002


I'm going to defend the DA ...

A jury's job, under Miller, is to apply the standards of their community to decide if the material appeals to a prurient interest (hentai? check) and lacks redeeming artistic, social, or literary merit (hentai? a judgment call). The DA was entirely proper to tell the jury to ignore "experts" and rely upon their own judgment in making the community standards determination.

Unless the experts matched the community demographics (Texans with families and most likely conservative and religious inclinations) their testimony, is, under Miller, entitled to very little deference or weight.
posted by MattD at 10:13 AM on August 22, 2002


Ishmael.. the idea of making it illegal for 'under 18' is to prevent it from being marketed directly to youngsters, who would then race out and spend all their spare change and lunch money on 'Big Bottomed Beauties', complete with free pack of Bubble Yum Bubble Gum.

That, and of course, taking the concern (ahem, responsibility) out of the hands of lazy parents.

Parents *should* police what their own kids watch and do, of course, but I'd be worried about the marketing tactics that would be used without some kind of regulation in place.

Now, does someone want to explain this whole Miller thing?
posted by rich at 10:24 AM on August 22, 2002


MattD, interesting point about applying community standards... although it certainly doesn't reflect well on the community... relatively speaking, of course :).
posted by freakystyley at 10:45 AM on August 22, 2002


hmmm.... this Miller thing is disturbing. So essentially, the moral majority in a given community gets to decide what speech is allowed to be free and what speech is to be supressed? Though it's always bad form to second guess the founding fathers, I'm almost certain that this isn't what was intended when they rolled out that first amendment.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:08 PM on August 22, 2002


The Miller thing is actually this.

Sorry I can't find a better link/explanation. Someone might want to trawl old threads at the Warren Ellis Forum for discussions of Frank (Dark Knight, Sin City) Miller's original involvement with the CBLDF (but the Delphi Forums search mechanism sucks lately for searching old threads.)
posted by Shane at 12:58 PM on August 22, 2002


(I guess I should have explained we have two Miller things going on...)
posted by Shane at 1:02 PM on August 22, 2002


Okay, okay, already!:

MILLER v. CALIFORNIA, 413 U.S. 15 (1973)
posted by Shane at 1:06 PM on August 22, 2002


1. Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment. Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 , reaffirmed. A work may be subject to state regulation where that work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex; portrays, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and, taken as a whole, does not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Pp. 23-24.

2. The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards" would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, Roth, supra, at 489, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. If a state obscenity law is thus limited, First Amendment values are adequately protected by ultimate independent appellate review of constitutional claims when necessary. Pp. 24-25.


So, um.. what is the definition of 'average' person and 'contemporary community'? And, doesn't this law apply only to the unsolicited distribution of 'pornography' (as defined by the standards)?

Also, is there anything with Larry Flint's cases that relate to this?
posted by rich at 1:55 PM on August 22, 2002


Comic books, and I don't care what type of evidence or what type of testimony is out there, use your rationality, use your common sense. Comic books, traditionally what we think of, are for kids.

Dang! Guess I should go throw out all my Sandman volumes or give them to an elementary school library.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:17 PM on August 22, 2002


MattD: Unless the experts matched the community demographics (Texans with families and most likely conservative and religious inclinations) their testimony, is, under Miller, entitled to very little deference or weight.

The D.A. emphasized the proximity of the store to a school and the comic book medium's appeal to children. It seem likely to me that people in that town, in general, know nothing about adult-oriented comic books, let alone Japanese comic books, and they don't know to how to determine what kind of people those books appeal to. I don't think that ignorance should be acceptable as part of a community standard.
posted by bingo at 6:40 PM on August 22, 2002


We're missing the point here:

Presumably the comic shop was displaying the comic in a responsible manner, in an adult section or shelf, bagged in plastic with no cover nudity showing. If this is the case, the question of "comics are for kids" or "comic shops are frequented by kids" should never come into play. In fact, any mention of these arguments should be strenuously objected to by the defense.

The only issue should be the display of "obscene" materials as defined by the Miller precedent.
posted by Shane at 6:09 AM on August 23, 2002


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