They say that fact is stranger than fiction. And regarding the following case, it’s definitely hard to believe just how much trouble a self-published comic book was able to cause for its creator. So much so that authorities were convinced by his gory drawings that he was a serial killer! But first, let’s give some context.
The First Amendment was created to protect the thoughts and views of the American people. By definition, “Freedom Of Speech” is the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint. You have the right to articulate or express your opinion in any way that you see fit without fear of government retaliation or censorship. Most newspapers filter their own opinions through political cartoons or comic strips. Depending what kind of person you are, there are varying degrees of what you, as an individual, will find offensive. But part of the beauty of creating art – true art, is to elicit some kind of reaction from the viewer. Make them think, and see how certain images or ideas might relate, resonate or impact them.
In the early 90’s, artist Mike Diana was self-publishing his own zine titled “BOILING ANGEL,” which depicted his ideas through outrageous, satirical, ironic art with sex & violence, intended to shock and disturb. He hand-made 8 issues of the mag, one of which was sold to an undercover cop. He was promptly arrested for obscenity, and judging from the drawings in his zine, the police were convinced he was the Gainesville Ripper! (He was not.)
After a blood test proved he was not the Gainesville Ripper, he was still charged with 3 counts of obscenity; one for publishing, one for distributing, and one for advertising the mag. During his trial in 1994, the jury on the case were visibly disgusted by the art of Diana. And despite testifying on his behalf for 3 hours to explain his art, they found him guilty, making him the one and only comic artist/publisher that’s ever been convicted in the United States for obscenity in their books.
Danny Rolling was eventually arrested and convicted for being the Gainseville Ripper, confessing to killing 8 people. During Diana’s trial for obscenity, Assistant State Attorney Stuart Baggish continued to compare Diana to the serial killer telling the jury, “This is how Danny Rolling got started. Step one, you start with the drawings. Step two, you go on to the pictures. Step three is the movies. And step number four, you’re into reality. You’re creating these scenes in reality” As part of his sentence, Diana was banned from drawing.
Right now, a documentary is well underway to tell Mike Diana’s full story and it’s being directed by none other than BASKET CASE creator Frank Henenlotter! Check out this first video promo for the doc discussing the trial itself.
Among the many people that have participated in interviews thus far, famed comic writer/author Neil Gaiman discusses the importance of Mike’s case. There’s currently a Kickstarter page set up to help the crew complete the documentary, so if you want to learn more about this and get involved, you can help right here. Below is a second, new promo for the doc.