Manga, the Reader, and the Government

A 38-year-old man from Iowa is facing a 20-year prison sentence for allegedly possessing Japanese comic books that the government deems “obscene,” because they supposedly depict teens engaging in sexual acts. No photographic images were found in his possession–only comic drawings published in Japan, a small portion of which involved depictions of sex acts.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which usually helps cartoonists with legal matters, is taking a special interest in the case; it is the first time a private collector is being prosecuted:

Handley’s case began in May 2006 when he received an express mail package from Japan that contained seven Japanese comic books. That package was intercepted by the Postal Inspector, who applied for a search warrant after determining that the package contained cartoon images of objectionable content. Unaware that his materials were searched, Handley drove away from the post office and was followed by various law enforcement officers, who pulled him over and followed him to his home. Once there, agents from the Postal Inspector’s office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Special Agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and officers from the Glenwood Police Department seized Handley’s collection of over 1,200 manga books or publications; and hundreds of DVDs, VHS tapes, laser disks; seven computers, and other documents. Though Handley’s collection was comprised of hundreds of comics covering a wide spectrum of manga, the government is prosecuting images appearing in a small handful.

You can read about the case here. The thing I find strange about it is the fact that drawings, which are products of the imagination, just like novels, can be considered obscene and subject to child pornography laws. And where does one stop? Would Utamaro’s woodblock print Lovers in an Upstairs Room, which has been exhibited in museums around the world, fall under this same category?

(via Neil Gaiman’s blog)