The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has joined with the American Booksellers Foundation, the Arkansas Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Freedom To Read Foundation, and the ACLU of Arkansas to strike down Arkansas Act 858, which makes it unlawful to display more than the top third of any publication that might be deemed 'harmful to minors.' Arkansas is the home state of mega-retailer Wal-Mart, which recently put 'skirts' covering the bottom two thirds of a number of women's magazines such as Redbook and Cosmopolitan, which feature racy headlines -- and this law appears to be an attempt to force all other retailers to do the same. The State Senator, who sponsored Act 858 (which was signed into law by ultra-conservative Governor Mike Huckabee), told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the law was directed at magazines like Playboy and was not intended to interfere with the sale of books like Of Mice And Men or romance novels. Nevertheless the law is so broadly worded that it would appear to leave comic shop and bookstore retailers in danger of possible prosecution for displaying books that could be deemed 'harmful to minors' under the very vague definitions of 'harm' provided in the Act.
ICv2 surveyed a dozen Arkansas comic retailers (and former retailers) and found that none of them displayed adult comics in their stores, though most carried Vertigo and Max titles. None of the retailers we talked to were about to change their retail practices because of the law, but some were fearful that ambitious prosecutors could create mischief if the law is allowed to stand. Several of the retailers who were most aware of the controversy surrounding the law felt certain that it would be declared unconstitutional as a result of the challenge by the ACLU. Retailers were keenly aware of prosecutions in other Bible belt states, such as Texas (see 'CBLDF To Take Castillo Case To The Supreme Court') and Oklahoma, and one retailer told us, 'Draw a line straight east from Oklahoma on I 40 and you end up right here in Arkansas.' Another retailer told us how the Books A Million chain was driven out of Searcy, Arkansas because the store refused to stop carrying a 'gay' book. As a result of the challenge to Act 858 the media in Arkansas is putting the spotlight on the controversial law. All the retailers we talked to hoped that Act 858 will be struck down by the ACLU/CBDLF lawsuit and that no retailer will be forced to battle the law in court in a 'test case.'