In 1994 Mike Diana became the only comic book artist to be convicted of obscenity in the United States. Not even during the hysteria that led to the demise of EC Comics and the forming of the Comics Code Authority didn’t result in any arrests. BOILED ANGELS: THE TRIAL OF MIKE DIANA looks at how this came to happen and its effects on comics and freedom of expression in general.
As the director of films like BASKET CASE, BAD BIOLOGY, and BRAIN DAMAGE one might expect Frank Henenlotter to approach the material from a biased perspective. While his views are fairly obvious, he does give time to all sides and let them present their cases. The result is a balanced look at the case and not some empty piece of propaganda, something that it easily could have become.
BOILED ANGELS: THE TRIAL OF MIKE DIANA sets the stage with a brief history of comics, underground comics and fanzines, (seeing Factsheet Five mentioned brought back memories) and their relationship with the law. This is mixed with details from Mike’s childhood and the event that set him on his course. Although he himself wasn’t molested, hearing about the Catholic Church’s pedophilia scandal triggered something in him and he began drawing and publishing his work.
Interviews with, among others, Neil Gaiman, George Romero, and Stephen R. Bissette give an artist’s perspective. Stuart Baggish the prosecuting attorney and defense attorney Luke Ilrot are among those giving opinion on the legal aspects. Protesters and reporters covering the trial are also interviewed, a wide mix of viewpoints are heard from.
Of course, there’s plenty of footage with the subject of the film and much of his artwork is seen. Maybe a bit too much. Much of his footage sounds off, like he’s reading from cue cards not organically answering questions or reminiscing. It makes him seem the wrong sort of weird at times and may turn people off. Combined with the nature of his art and much of it dealing with pedophilia and sexual molestation it may people the wrong impression of him.
The issue at the center of it all is one that probably never will be resolved, what is obscenity? Where does one draw the line, and should there even be a line? These are questions that need to be reexamined frequently and especially in the current political climate.
BOILED ANGELS: THE TRIAL OF MIKE DIANA is on the festival circuit and I saw it thanks to a screener from this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. The screen had a NetFlix watermark so it should turn up thereafter it makes its rounds.