Hello, Everybody--Nice seeing you again.
Nick Bertozzi is smart, funny, good-looking, and talented. Unfortunately, he’s also a cartoonist. He started out the way a lot of alternative cartoonists do, drawing his own crude, obscene, and funny comic book, “The Incredible Drinkin’ Buddies.” Then he got all artsy and drew “Boswash,” a story about a cartographer that, instead of being printed as a book, folded out like a map. He won some awards for that one. He drew a bumper sticker for WFMU in 2001. His art got better and better, and he started getting illustration gigs, and he got married and had a little girl, and his comics got more and more serious and historical, ’cause you don’t want to draw dirty stuff when you’re thinking about keeping your daughter off the pole. That’s why I was surprised when I heard that some poor guy in Georgia might be going to prison for giving away a comic book with a Nick Bertozzi story in it.
Every year, the comic book industry has a promotion where they give away free comic books. This is supposed to lure people into comics stores, as if there’s anything in there you’d actually want to buy once they get you inside. I used to love comics, but I don’t go into comic shops any more because I got tired of pimply-faced 17-year-olds calling me “Ma’am” as if it were an insult. Anyway, this guy, Gordon Lee, owns a comic book shop in Rome, Georgia, and he had a bunch of books for 2004 Free Comic Book Day that he couldn’t even give away, so he decided to hand them out to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. One of the books was an anthology called “Alternative Comics #2” that featured an excerpt from “The Salon,” Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel about Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. You know how kids love the early cubists. Nick did a lot of research on these guys, and the story is historically accurate, including the fact that the first time Braque went to Picasso’s studio, Pablo was painting in the nude. Naturally, that’s the part of the story that was excerpted in “Alternative Comcs #2.” Gordon Lee says the comic—which has a "Mature Readers" label—was accidentally put in the give-away pile, where it wound up being handed to a 9-year-old boy. The kid’s parents complained, and Gordon Lee was arrested.
I don’t think there’s any question that Picasso’s art is art—that’s not the issue here. I also don’t think there’s any question that Nick Bertozzi was not trying to draw dirty pictures when he drew Picasso naked. Nick claims he was trying to show the depth of Picasso’s creative passion, that he could get so engrossed in his art that he wouldn’t even register that he was naked. Besides, I’ve seen “The Incredible Drinkin’ Buddies” and if Nick Bertozzi wanted to draw a dirty picture, I’m sure he could and there’d be no question about it. But that’s not really the issue, either. Yeah, Gordon Lee’s been charged with five misdemeanor charges for handing a drawing of naked Picasso to a minor. (Of course, if the kid wants to see a penis, all he has to do is unzip his pants.) But the real legal issue is Georgia code 16-12-81 and its selective enforcement.
COGA 16-21-81 bans the unsolicited delivery of any content depicting nudity to any person in the state of Georgia, and prohibits any citizen of the state from distributing material depicting nudity or sexual content to any other citizen of Georgia, “through the mail or otherwise,” unless it’s enclosed in an envelope or package that says that the contents contain material depicting nudity or sexual content. Violation of the law is a felony, and Gordon Lee has been charged with two counts, one count for handing the comic to the 9-year-old kid, and one count for allegedly handing another copy to somebody else, an alleged “John or Jane Doe” that I guess the authorities just made up. Each count carries a possible penalty of 1 to 3 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Gordon Lee’s case has been taken up by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which has spent $20,000 on this nonsense so far. There are plenty of good legal arguments for throwing out the charges, and the lawyers have made them all. But for some reason, Gordon Lee is going on trial on September 12. The weirdest thing is that apparently this law has never been enforced before (like it might have been in the case of, for instance, any 20th-century art history textbook). Why is it being enforced against Gordon Lee? I dunno. Maybe the Floyd County district attorney is up for reelection. Maybe they don’t like comic books. Maybe they don’t like Gordon Lee. But just because it would be wrong to send Gordon Lee to prison, don’t you bet that he won’t go.
Thanks for reading my blog entry this week, and watch your step.