For freedom of speech advocates — or anyone who just wants to read comics in peace and quite — yesterday’s decision clearing Ryan Matheson of any criminal wrong doing for transporting manga comics to Canada will come as a great relief. Matheson — a 27-year-old comic book reader, amateur artist, and computer programmer — was accused of possessing and importing child pornography because of comic book images on his laptop as he attempted to get into the U.S.’s neighbor to the North.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund came to the rescue, helping not only with legal costs, but also providing experts to testify. The total legal costs of this case exceeded $75,000 with The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund contributing $20,000, and the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund pitching in another $11,000.
Others like me that are interested in comics, manga and anime should become informed about this important issue and stick together. Some people may be tempted to say things like, “Well, I don’t like that type of manga” or “That doesn’t bother me — I’ve never read that title,” but you should step back and take a look at the big picture. The law shouldn’t be based on what you like or don’t like. The people should have their own choice to pursue what they like and avoid what they don’t like. When overzealous governments try to unjustly attack comics and manga, they are attacking all of literature and art as a whole. Free speech should be absolute, not a pick-and-choose sort of thing. This is a very important right that we enjoy every day and we need to stand up for ourselves and protect it!
In so many ways, this case has echoes of the war against comics in the 1950s that eventually lead to the Comic Book Code, and a chill that spread across the comic industry, stifling innovation and stagnating the medium for at least 20 years. It can even be argued that the medium has never really recovered and as a result is still viewed as a “low” literature as a result.
Whatever you think of the manga and its sometimes pedophiliac nature [although I like a lot of manga, the genre has a history of sexualising youth, which is an aspect I don’t like or approve of], arresting people for having legal literature that does no harm to other real human beings cannot be right. Yet, like the horror comics of the 1950s, these comics are an extreme that can be easily exploited to curtail, not just the speech of those who read manga, but any comics that are deemed unacceptable by the morality police. Are those costumes too skimpy on Witchblade? Does Sin City promote misogyny? Does V for Vendetta inspire people to violence? I don’t know. I guess we’ll see in court.