The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has agreed to defend Gordon Lee of Legends, in Rome, Georgia, against charges of distributing material depicting nudity, and distributing obscene material to a minor. The first charge alone, a felony, carries a penalty of one to three years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Legends distributed free comics during a Halloween event in downtown Rome, and inadvertently included Alternative Comics #2, which was the Free Comic book Day comic from Alternative Comics for 2004. One of the stories in the comic was an excerpt from Nick Bertozzi's 'The Salon,' which told the story of the first meeting between Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. Picasso is depicted in the nude, which is as the event actually occurred; there is no sexual content in the story. The comic was accidentally given to a minor, whose parent reported the incident to the police. Lee was arrested days later but has not yet been arraigned.
Late in January, Lee contacted Peter David, a CBLDF board member. The CBLDF board voted unanimously to take the case, and has retained first amendment and local counsel. Alan Begner of Begner & Begner of Atlanta, Georgia, an experienced obscenity attorney, will lead the defense. Paul Cadle, an independent practice attorney specializing in criminal law, will serve as associate counsel in Rome.
CBLDF executive director Charles Brownstein laid out the Fund's position. 'Our view is that Gordon was wrongly arrested and that no crime has been committed,' he said. 'We don't believe that the material is constitutionally obscene or harmful to minors, and we know that even though the work is not illegal, that Gordon did not intend for it to fall into the hands of a minor.'
Lee said of the case, 'Though I am willing to apologize for this particular art book getting in the hands that found it offensive, I will adamantly agree that the book is not 'harmful to children' or 'obscene.' In my opinion, this book is no more offensive than viewing the beautiful paintings of the Sistine Chapel or reading one of the best-selling books with stories of sex, lust and nudity known as the Bible.'
Brownstein indicated that the Fund hoped for an early resolution, but was ready for a long fight if that didn't happen. 'We hope we can get the charges dropped before it has to go to trial,' he said. 'If not, we're prepared to fight this battle as far as it needs to go.'
This is not the only First Amendment case involving Legends and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Lee was defended by the Fund in an obscenity case in the 90s, in which he was convicted.
According to Alternative Comics publisher Jeff Mason, the book in question was solicited and labeled as for 'Mature Readers.' 'I do not consider the book obscene in any way whatsoever,' Mason said. 'The Salon...is an artistic work of fiction. Alternative Comics generally publishes comic books and graphic novels for college aged folks and up, so I wanted our Free Comic Book Day book to be a showcase for the comics we publish.'