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My Autobiography Is Now Illegal

I'm going to tell you a story. Bear with me a moment, O best beloved. I promise I'm going somewhere with it, and probably not quite where you'd expect.

When I was fifteen years old, I lost my virginity. I have never once regretted this, and far from the life of pregnancy, promiscuity, degradation and low self-esteem that I was threatened with (mostly after the fact) I seem to have done okay, which fact I lay primarily at the feet of a really fabulous sex ed program.

It didn't hurt at all, although it was awkward as hell. It was not a sexy experience. We were not sexy people. We looked like coathangers with acne. I was as flat as a board, my hair was regrettable, and the only reason anyone would put lingerie on me was if they were planning on ironing it. After several abortive attempts to do the deed, we finally managed it in his parent's guest bedroom, while they were at work, during which time A) his very large dog kept trying to jump on the bed to see what was going on, B) his performance anxiety got the better of him. Twice. and C) he was so scared that his parents would find out that when the phone rang mid-coitus, he actually answered it, spent ten minutes attempting to act normal to a caller from Science Museum who was trying to renew the family membership, and by the time he got back to the business at hand, the performance anxiety problem had fatally reoccurred, a situation not at all helped by the fact that I'd begun laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all.

This was not erotic. Me telling it to you is not erotic. At best it's funny and stupid and a bit sad, and if I took the time to polish it and work the narrative and fine-tune the phrasing, I could probably aspire to poignancy. Still, it's my life--my stupid idiotic wonderful life--and every word I have written is entirely true and I would change no part of it because I would not be other than as I am.

If I made a comic out of it, not only could I go to jail for child pornography, but you, O best beloved, could be in the cell next to me for owning it.

(See, I told you it probably wasn't going where you were expecting.)

Ganked from Neil Gaiman's blog today:

The CBLDF is currently in the very weird position of having to defend a reader of comic books, because his yaoi collection looked like child porn to the postal inspector.


No photos. Manga. And we all know the manga style, and there's a real taboo against pubic hair in a lot of Japanese comics, and the end result is that because they're drawings of explicit sex and OH GOD ANIME STYLE, somebody got their panties in a wad.

Now, like everybody else with two brain cells to rub together, my response to child pornography is OH GOD NO NO NO KILL IT KILL IT WITH FIRE. But when we start to talk about art featuring such things I get the feeling of straddling two very slippery slopes, and while it's pretty easy to see where the bottom of the child pornography slope leads -- KILL IT WITH FIRE BRING THE GRENADES -- I get the feeling with this case that we're staring down at the bottom of the other slope. And it's bad.

Really bad. Very, very, very bad.

If a comic book artist draws something sexual that looks like the participants might be under eighteen--or where they ARE under eighteen, as witness my autobiography--that's apparently child porn.

And these guys are actually prosecuting it as such.

My outrage is late to the party, but better than never showing up at all, I suppose. I was willing to sit on my hands when they promised that they were just going after the really freaky stuff at the far end of the spectrum--I mean, I felt a sort of twitchy "this is daaaaangerous" voice in the back of my skull, but it ran into the KILL IT WITH FIRE screaming and was doused. But you start going after yaoi manga and even though it is desperately far from my tastes, that little voice starts chanting "First they came for the homosexuals, and I didn't speak up..." I mean, dude. I know people who LOVE yaoi--normal, sane, awesome people, the vast majority of them perfectly cool heterosexual women. These are not people who should be prosecuted for sex crimes in any world that I recognize.

(Seriously, do these obscenity people know about "Love is..."?)

I'm a comic book artist. Comics provide me with the better part of my living. If I drew the love scene from Romeo & Juliet, I could get hauled up before a jury. Okay, that's Shakespeare, I'm guessing it would fall under having redeeming artistic merit...but what about my LIFE? Sure, I think it'd have artistic merit, but I sure as hell don't want to be having to defend that to a jury in rural North Carolina, where the BEST case scenario is that I'd wind up innocent and dead broke to say nothing of the destruction to my reputation, and if they happened not to agree that I'm the artist I think I am, I could end up on a sex offender list.

For doing a comic about my life.

And if you, O best beloved, who have listened to me so faithfully, who like my work despite it all, and bought "My Life And Dumb Luck: An Autobiography"*--you'll be there in the cell next to me.

That's what this is about. I was already kinda screwed, but this is the first case I've heard of of somebody getting screwed merely for owning comics that somebody thinks looks inappropriate. (Shit, dude, it's manga. I mean...I mean...DUDE. MANGA. I realize that's not a coherent argument, but all I'm managing here is a lot of meaningless hand gestures and that thing where you open and close your mouth and splutter a bit.) 

I like you guys. I'm sure you'd be excellent company in the cell, but I'd much rather have coffee and skip the whole jail thing.

So the long and short of this is that the government has decided that it's illegal for me--a comic book artist--to do a comic about my life. My teen years are now off-limits to me as an artist. (God help you if you actually sexually abused as a child and wish to do something hard and grim and brutal about it. Maybe they can slip you an Eisner with a file in it.) And not just like "sort of illegal but c'mon, we're never going to do anything about it," illegal, but "we are going to try to get precedent to nail your ass to the wall for even OWNING a copy" illegal. (And while this section of my hypothetical autobiography would probably not be particularly explicit by my standards or yours, I REALLY don't want to have my artistic future dependant on what the postal inspector thinks is appropriate.)

I was willing to go with the law, as part of the greater good, on the principle that surely nobody would ever go after anything that wasn't completely freaky-wrong-kill-it-with-fire no-question-in-anybody's-mind child porn, but this just goes to show, yet again, that if you give some people an inch, they'll take a goddamn yardstick and try to shove it up your ass.

Seriously. What the hell?

So anyway, that's my outrage. Go buy a membership in the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund or something, and may the art gods have mercy on all our souls.

*Alternate title: "This Reminds Me Of Labyrinth: The Ursula Vernon Story."

Full press release from the CBLDF

NOTE: Discuss this in the comments all you want, but BE NICE. If somebody disagrees with you, it is not okay to call them a pedophile apologist. We tend to be incredibly civil in the comments here, and I am super proud of how y'all handled the election discussions, but this particular topic tends to get ugly as hell. Please proceed from the assumption that nobody here thinks it's okay to sexually exploit children.

I've always found it kind of strange and a little creepy that legally speaking there's not much difference between five and fifteen. I mean... I personally was a late bloomer, so I wasn't doing much, but I know what my peers were up to at that age. It's really nasty for somebody to take sexual advantage of a child, but fifteen-year-olds aren't children.* And then you add the whole fiction vs. fact thing in... why exactly should "taking advantage" of teenagers who don't actually exist be the same crime as doing real icky things to real children? It's creeping into "thought crime" territory, when you're calling somebody a criminal for committing "crimes" that exist only as ink on paper.

*Yes, I know an adult can take advantage of and manipulate a teen in ways that probably are criminal, and are almost certainly not healthy, but that's not the same category as abusing a child, in my mind at least.

i'm sorry, but you are obviously thinking thoughts that are not authorized under the patriot and john werner defense reauthorization camps. please report to our nearest FEMA camp for de-education.

:::sighs::: i am always amazed at the mob mentality and knee jerk reaction of people. :::more sighs:::

that said... please don't get any ideas about digger and lack of... um.. furrage.

I don't think people are as concerned about protecting mammals/marsupials as their own species. Once we're all taken care of, then, THEN they'll go after the others.

...I think we have time, and scads of it. Wombats, to me!

I agree with you. Artists explore sexual themes and images because they are part of the human mind and the human experience...should children be harmed in exploring the Lolita-complex...OF COURSE NOT! but can an artist explore this theme? yes. Should adult materials bekept out of reach of children? of course. Do we keep poisons and sharps things from our children? of course.

this is that insideous wraith of censorship....the end of which is prison, book burning etc.

Clearly, we should next go after the sellers and purchasers of those "Catholic School Girl" outfits... the ones only available in adult sizes...

Yes, and I should be prosecuted for still having my school uniform in my closet, and never wearing that in preference for the actually attractive but similar outfit in the "Don't wear this where Mum can see" drawer. Clearly.

So the long and short of this is that the government has decided that it's illegal for me--a comic book artist--to do a comic about my life.

Might want to wait for an actual conviction before you go that far. Yes, this sucks, and yes, the prosecutor is an idiot, but after all that is what we have the court system for.

Strictly speaking, that idiot is the government.

"Love Is..."
Oh gawds, is there a word for the visual equivalent of an earworm?
I did read about that at Neil's place. CBLDF is wonderful and I have gotten very cool stuff for supporting them.
Everyone should.

...and now I'm wondering what manga it was. Not because I'm worried that I might own it, but for the same reason I always want to read banned books.

I don't know much about yaoi but I am wondering if it is one of the Kaori Yuki books? I know they don't technically fall under yaoi, but I thought one of them had child abuse.

I understand why things get out of hand when it comes to kids having sex. I mean, it's true that people like to pretend that it isn't happening, as ridiculous as that is. Perhaps this particular case is pushing it too far. Really, though, I think that that is better than the alternative. (What can I say? My views are revolutionary. ;))

Additionally, it's really sort of ridiculous that a sixteen year old having sex is as illegal as a six year old. But, yeah, I'm again just stating the obvious, I guess. XD

This just... I can't... what? What?

Linked this on my journal, I hope you don't mind.

this is why, each and EVERY SINGLE TIME the government wants to enact or strengthen laws prohibiting or regulating ANYTHING, yo have to scrutinize VERY CAREFULLY what it lets them do that they're not telling you.

EVERY TIME a law is enacted, odds are very good they're using emotional manipulation to make you think we need this law to protect our kids/our property/our community/etc when in reality, it is the proposed law itself that is the true threat to our constitutionally guaranteed liberties.

During the recent Canadian election, I had my students (grade five, ~ten years old) examine a bunch of campaign literature that they brought in themselves, from each of the four major parties in our riding. We discovered that:

1) All of them stated they were the best choice for families;
2) All of them said they'd lower taxes, while only one admitted that they'd raise it somewhere else to compensate;
3) All of them promised jobs for the area;
4) All of them took at least one cheap shot at one of the others;
5) Three out of four included postcard pictures of their own party leaders, on the same page as caricature-type portraits of one of the other party leaders.

Which is to say - I agree with you and wish more people had the savvy to look at campaign literature or proposed laws and recognize those attempts at manipulation. They'd become a lot less effective.

(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand
Wow. Now, I'm as "OMGNONONOKILLITWITHFIRE" about child pornography as the next morally responsible person, but going so far as to prosecute someone for owning manga that to somebody else looks like underage individuals is just taking it one step too far. Maybe a couple steps.

I also find this interesting, because up here in Vancouver we just had an exhibition at the local art gallery entitled "KRAZY: The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art" which I had the good fortune to see. Unfortunately I only got to go once, and we spent about four or five hours in there; if we had taken the time to actually read every single comic page presented from start to finish we could have been there twice as long.

One of the exhibits I remember was a series of comic book pages (western comics, I should add) depicting a young boy who grows up with a typical Christian upbringing and ends up going kind of crazy about the whole sex/masturbation thing. I don't remember the specifics, and I didn't read all of it because, like I said, it would have taken hours if we did, but there were many pages of this poor kid, definitely underage, masturbating, thinking about sex and masturbation, and in a later panel, actually having every object around him turning into a penis and seeming to assault him. It was rather shocking, but that was the point of it; it was depicting that artist's neurosis when it came to sex and growing up, and how utterly messed up his idea of it became because all his life he was told it was BAD.

I really wish I remembered the name of the artist or the comic itself, but I don't. But I can tell you that there were children wandering through all these exhibits, and most of it was definitely not safe for kids, and a lot of it depicted sexualized children, or sexualized cartoon characters, or death and violence, or images of the holocaust, etc., but it was put on show in an art museum as works of art, not as something that should be condemned.

Sorry for going on for ages, but... yeah. People are definitely overreacting in this situation. I wish I had something more intelligent to add other than: That's freaking nuts.

I was also at the show, and I have the book from it. You'd be thinking of "Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary" by Justin Green.

Okay, so my understanding of child pornography laws is that they are made to stop the exploitation of children. When someone is prosecuted for such, it should be because there is a child that has been exploited.
If someone just draws a picture, there is no exploitation. There is no one being harmed in any way. Who are they trying to protect by prosecuting this guy?!?


Okay, that's Shakespeare, I'm guessing it would fall under having redeeming artistic merit...

This is not legal advice, but I don't believe you're right here. Child pornography falls entirely without the protections afforded by the First Amendment. If it is, according to the Supreme Court, child pornography, then its artistic merit is wholly irrelevant.

Oh, wait - I take that back. I've read the article, and see that they're not prosecuting under the portion of the Protect act I thought.

I actually read the entry on Gaiman's blog, went to the CBLDF, and purchased a membership.

Because if there's one thing that gets under my skin, it's the government deciding what I can and can't read/write/watch. Making things such as your autobiography (which incidentally, I found hysterical) illegal to write about is not doing me any favors.

Are they going to arrest Thomas Pynchon for the hauntingly disturbing tale of Bianca in Gravity's Rainbow? 'cause that shit won't fly, hoss.

And nobody had better say a goddamned word about "well that is literature that means something and this is pornography (or at least I assume the yaoi is pornographic)," because every time people try to distinguish between Art and art I want to hit them with a goddamned stick.

Chabon actually wrote a pretty cool essay on Art as entertainment that illustrates perfectly why I am so annoyed by that sort of distinction. I can't remember the link.

Still. Worth looking into. Use Google (or if you prefer not having your searches recorded and sold, Cuil) and find it. It's probably doable.

It's interesting... down here in Australia, earlier this year, there was this big thing about a guy who took photos of naked minors as 'art' (with parental permission), and there was a HUGE issue over whether or not that counted as pornography/exploitation. For that, with real children... personally I was of two minds about it, and I could definitely see WHY there was such a furor, but even then there wasn't a trial of the guy so much as a, "Should we allow this to exhibited?", so far as I can remember. But... cartoons? What the hell? There's not even the POSSIBILITY they could be mistaken for real children, let alone any children involved, I don't get how that can possibly be wrong... not my thing at all, but not exploitative!

Wasn't there also a case in Australia where a guy signed up to a mailing list for gay sex stories, and got busted because some of them involved minors and he hadn't deleted them immediately? (Even though most didn't?)

I seem to remember that they were unread, but that could be the rumor mill making it even worse.