A Kickstarter has been launched to fund a documentary exploring the curious case of Mike Diana, a cartoonist who became the first American artist to be convicted for the obscenity of his work.
Diana's 1994 trial is a powerful illustration of the grey area that can occurs between First Amendment protections of artistic free expression and U.S. obscenity law that dictates materials that "lack literary, artistic, political, or scientific value," are not protected by the Constitution. The Diana case illustrates the problems this grey area causes because what is obscene and what isn't remains in the eye of the beholder.
Diana's comics were, understandably, challenging for the authorities in his home state of Florida at the time. As the Kickstarter notes, Diana
"[Published] a hand-made comic zine called Boiled Angel full of graphic, outrageous, often hilarious confrontational art, full of sex and violence, meant to shock and disturb."
So troubled were the authorities that they saw a link between Diana and an unsolved case of serial murders that had occurred in the state in 1991. DNA analysis ruled Diana out as a suspect, however the trial continued on the pretense Diana's work was shocking enough to inspire people to bring his hellish drawings into reality. Despite support from the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund and the ACLU, Diana was sentenced on this basis. He served 4 days in jail before being released and was then placed on 3 years of supervised probation in which was to refrain from continuing his drawings, undergo psychiatric evaluations, conduct 1,248 hours of community service and to stay away from minors.
Titled The Trial of Mike Diana, the documentary, directed by veteran film maker Frank Henenlotter, explores the media hysteria and public outrage Diana's work provoked, a common occurrence for controversial and developing artforms at the time. It also probes U.S. obscenity proceedings and reminds us all that free speech protections are shallow when the subjective view of the few is brought to bear on the many.