Obscene Prosecution

Comic book conviction

It is easy to forget, but you can still be convicted for selling a periodical to an adult in this country. A Dallas comic book retailer, Jesus A. Castillo, was found guilty in August 2000 of distributing obscene material after selling a copy of Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen #2 to an undercover cop. Last July the Court of Appeals of Texas rejected his appeal. Now he hangs onto the unlikely hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear his case.

At the trial, a six-person state jury decided that Demon Beast Invasion was obscene and thus illegal -- meaning that it has offensive sexual content under contemporary community standards and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. Castillo received a $4,000 fine, 80 hours of community service, a 180-day suspended sentence, and eight months' probation.

Two expert witnesses -- comic artist and theorist Scott McCloud and Susan Napier, an Asian studies professor at the University of Texas -- testified at the trial to the artistic context of the comic, which was adapted from an enormously popular Japanese comic.

The dissenting member of the three-judge appeals panel that ruled in July thought the trial did not adequately establish that Castillo was aware of the specific content of Demon Beast Invasion, which he hadn't read prior to the sale. Merely having placed it in an adult-only section was not sufficient proof that he knew the comic was obscene, the judge said.

A private eye hired by the defense found various porn magazines of equivalent sexual content for sale in the area, raising the possibility that the comic might not really violate community standards. Castillo and his lawyers have suggested that the prosecution prejudiced the jury by stressing the supposedly youthful nature of the typical comic audience and the store's proximity to an elementary school, though children were not at issue in the case.

In late 2002 the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which fights for comic sellers' and creators' legal rights, filed an appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court. Fund director Charles Brownstein told the Web-based comics news site newsarama.com, "There's no other remedy at this point, at the state levels. If there's any chance the Supreme Court will hear it, we're obligated to do so."

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