Some of the above items are obscene; some, perhaps, aren’t–it all depends on who’s doing the defining. Earlier this year on the gulf coast of Florida, the definers were the Pinellas County state’s attorney’s office. To them Mike Diana’s drawings were obscene, and a judge and jury agreed. Diana, who puts out a xerox-‘n’-staples publication called Boiled Angel, was convicted of three counts of distributing and advertising obscene material. His sentence included the terms enumerated above, plus requirements to undergo psychiatric evaluation, stay employed, and work 12,000 hours of community service. It’s the proscription against drawing or possessing allegedly obscene material–and the unrestricted access police and his probation officer have to his house to make sure he doesn’t–that give the sentence its Soviet-style frisson. But the others have punch as well: Diana says the psychiatrist who examined him charged him $1,200 for the session, and when Diana said he couldn’t afford it the psychiatrist withheld the evaluation, leaving him in violation of his parole. Only a stay in the probation pending appeal, granted this week, saved him from more trouble.
Diana will be in town Tuesday night for the opening of a show of his work at Goat, a poster and comic-book emporium at 3728 N. Clark. The owner of the store, Shane Bugbee, hooked up with Diana when he volunteered to republish the two issues of the magazine that Diana got in trouble for. Those issues and a lot of other artwork by Diana–all of it guaranteed to add a novel touch to any interior decorating scheme–will be on display and for sale through January 13.
Over the phone Diana seems pleasant enough, and shy to the point of diffidence. He got into his uncrowded field after discovering underground comic books as a teenager. Why does he draw the stuff he does? “I like the shock value,” he says after a moment. “Some people like roller coaster rides and some people don’t. It’s exciting. Not in a sexual way, just in the power of the story and the images. It’s stuff you don’t usually see.
“That’s how I felt when I was younger, reading those other comics, and that’s what I wanted to try and do. There’s no specific reason for the scenes of violence–they’re just as gross and as shocking as I could make them.”
Diana’s interaction with police came about 18 months ago, after an order a full year before for two copies of Boiled Angel turned out to be from an intrepid undercover agent for the local county prosecutor’s office. (Several calls to the state’s attorney’s office for comment on the case went unreturned.) The prosecutor wanted Diana to do hard time; on this the judge demurred, though not before Diana spent four days in jail awaiting sentencing.
His defense and the ongoing appeal are covered by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, so the fees haven’t killed him. The trial has actually helped him in certain ways. He met his fiancee, Susie Morbid, after his name became notorious around town. She’d been up on obscenity charges as well–for showing a film of disgusto rocker GG Allin defecating onstage on her local cable-access show. Charges were dropped when it was discovered that defecation wasn’t included in the obscenity law in question, an oversight the local burghers soon rectified.
“He’s just making graphic what’s already in the paper every day,” says Bugbee, who got involved when Diana told him he was going to stop publishing. “I said that was horrible,” he recalls. “I told him that I would do it, and when they got me and shut me down then someone else would do it.” Diana, he confirms, “is very quiet and soft-spoken. He’s really ultrasensitive: that’s why he chooses the subject matter he does. It really bothers him.”
Peter Doubt writes to suggest that No Quarter, the Jimmy Page-Robert Plant reunion album, was titled as an answer to the question, what do you get back when you buy it with a twenty?… Reader photographer Brad Miller mounts a show at Lounge Ax Wednesday night. The exhibit will include music pix originally published in Option, Alternative Press, and other places. An opening reception runs from 8 to 10, with music from Steve Gerlach and the Springheel Jacks. It’s free.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Barry J. Grossman; illustration/Mike Diana.