William Blackstock

Could you get arrested for owning a graphic novel?

Film adaptations of graphic novels such as Zack Snyder’s 300 and the upcoming Watchmen mean that graphic novels are growing ever more popular. They’re not just in dingy comic book shops anymore but on the shelves in Waterstones and Borders. So is it right that they are now under threat by government anti-pornography legislation?
There are two bills in parliament at the moment that, if successful, could make the possession of “extreme pornographic images” an offence.
An “extreme image” is defined in The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act as one that is “grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character”.  So far, so good, right? That all sounds normal enough, but there¹s a sting in the tail for unsuspecting readers of the graphic novel:  “and a reasonable person looking at the image would think that any such person or animal was real.” There¹s a similar set of rules for child pornography. So, in a nutshell, if it looks like it¹s real (i.e. it¹s well drawn), then you can be prosecuted for owning it.
Fans of Frank Miller’s Sin City probably have little to fear; his stark high-contrast black and white panels are explicitly violent yet a far cry from “realistic”. If, on the other hand, you prefer Alan Moore¹s Lost Girls or even Neil Gaiman¹s Sandman, you may be in for a shock. In an interview with MTV here, Gaiman said (of the similar US PROTECT Act):

“I wrote a story about a serial killer who kidnaps and rapes children, and then murders them, we did that as a comic, not for the purposes of titillation or anything like that, but if you bought that comic, you could be arrested for it? That¹s just deeply wrong. Nobody was hurt. The only thing that was hurt were ideas.”

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