You may not know the name of Mike Diana, but you should. He is an underground comic artist who courted controversy and tackled challenging and provocative subject matter in his self-published series Boiled Angel. His gleefully, graphically grotesque artwork, influenced by comics legends like Bernie Wrightson and Jack Davis, depicted acts of sex and violence and was definitely not for all tastes.
One particular issue of Boiled Angel sold to an undercover police officer in his small Florida town led to Diana being ensnared in an ongoing murder investigation in the town of Gainesville and the first artist unjustly prosecuted and jailed on charges of obscenity. The Kafkaesque turn of events that resulted in Diana being banned during his three-year probation from producing any drawings or writings and becoming a lightning rod for artistic censorship is the subject of The Trial of Mike Diana, a new documentary from cult horror filmmaking legend Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case, Brain Damage). A Kickstarter campaign has been released for the documentary, and you can learn more about it and watch a trailer below.
The film comes from Henenlotter, producers Anthony Sneed and Mike Hunchback, and associate producer Caitlin McGurk. Their crowdfunding target goal is $40,000.
I’ll let the makers of The Trial of Mike Diana explain what this project is all about:
Does Freedom of Speech mean anything when authorities see only obscenity? Does an artist’s vision matter when community standards conspire to suppress it? In a small town in Florida back in 1994, Mike Diana learned that the answer was a resounding no. Freedom of Speech doesn’t mean anything when your art is declared obscene. And one man’s art could be another man’s obscenity.
Diana’s crime? Publishing a hand-made comic zine called Boiled Angel full of graphic, outrageous, often hilarious confrontational art, full of sex and violence, meant to shock and disturb. But it was a zine only sold to adults by mail. With a print run of only 300 copies, Diana’s zine was NEVER available in comic racks or in stores. And only one copy – count ‘em, one! – was ever sold to a customer in Diana’s hometown. And that one customer was an undercover cop!
Authorities in Florida were so appalled by Diana’s art that they first thought he was a serial killer! After determining that he wasn’t, they nevertheless decided to put him on trial for three counts of obscenity. Then, amazingly, the prosecution brought in a psychologist who testified that Mike’s comics could actually CREATE serial killers!
With an enraged community up in arms, Diana was found guilty. Though he only served four days in jail rather than the three years the prosecution asked for, he was put on probation for three years with a laundry list of regulations that included forbidding him to draw anything that MIGHT be considered obscene, even for his own pleasure in the privacy of his own home! And authorities were allowed to conduct warrantless searches to see that this was enforced.
Of course, that all happened in 1994 but it’s worth reminding people how fast one can lose their First Amendment rights.
It might seem like obscenity charges are a thing of the past but as the recent past has repeatedly shown us, Freedom of Speech is something that must be continually fought and won. And, unfortunately, history has a way of repeating itself.
THE TRIAL OF MIKE DIANA is not only an urgent reminder of how authorities can dictate what adults may create, see, and read, but it’s also a multi-faceted celebration of one of the most unique artists of the last 30 years.
The filmmakers are planning to conduct new interviews with several of the principal characters involved with Diana’s case, including his defense attorney and the prosecuting, as well as famous artists and comics industry experts such as Neil Gaiman (one of the first prominent comics professionals to speak out in Diana’s defense), Peter Bagge, Suzy Solar, and Stephen Bissette. Naturally the documentary will feature extensive participation from Mike Diana himself, speaking out more than two decades later about his unexpected legal troubles and how they impacted his life and ambitions.
Head on over to the Kickstarter campaign page and find out how you can contribute to fund this very special and highly relevant film project. Perks for donors range from a holiday E-card illustrated by Diana and autographed DVD and Blu-ray copies of the finished documentary, to a friends and family screening in New York City and the chance to watch a movie with Henenlotter, Diana, and Sneed, among many more.
So far the campaign has raised over $10,000 of its $40,000 goal with 23 days left to go. This film must be made, and we can make it happen!