In an obscenity first, a U.S. comic book collector has pleaded guilty to importing and possessing Japanese manga books depicting illustrations of child sex abuse and bestiality.
Christopher Handley, described by his lawyer as a "prolific collector" of manga, pleaded guilty last week to mailing obscene matter, and to "possession of obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children." Three other counts were dropped in a plea deal with prosecutors.
The 39-year-old office worker was charged under the 2003 Protect Act, which outlaws cartoons, drawings, sculptures or paintings depicting minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, and which lack "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Handley's guilty plea makes him the first to be convicted under that law for possessing cartoon art, without any evidence that he also collected or viewed genuine child pornography. He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
"This art that this man possessed as part of a larger collection of manga … is now the basis for [a sentence] designed to protect children from abuse," says Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. "The drawings are not obscene and are not tantamount to pornography. They are lines on paper."
Congress passed the Protect Act after the Supreme Court struck down a broader law prohibiting any visual depictions of minors engaged in sexual activity, including computer-generated imagery and other fakes. The high court ruled that the ban was overbroad, and could cover legitimate speech, including Hollywood productions.
In response, the Protect Act narrows the prohibition to cover only depictions that the defendant's community would consider "obscene."
"It's probably the only law I'm aware of, if a client shows me a book or magazine or movie, and asks me if this image is illegal, I can't tell them," says Eric Chase, Handley's attorney.