Over two decades after Boiled Angel creator Mike Diana became the first and only U.S. artist ever convicted of obscenity, an upcoming documentary aims to tell his story. Directed by cult filmmaker Frank Henenlotter and funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign, The Trial of Mike Diana will explore the often subjective standards of obscenity and the intense backlash that can result from what are after all “only lines on paper.”
There is no question that Mike Diana’s work, influenced by surrealist art as well as underground and horror comics, is well out of the mainstream — which is precisely the sort of content that CBLDF was founded to defend in 1986, after the police raid of Chicago-area Friendly Frank’s comic shop and the arrest of store manager Michael Correa. Like the underground comix by Denis Kitchen, Robert Crumb, and others seized in that raid, Diana’s Boiled Angel featured nudity and sexuality, but also extreme violence, including mutilation, rape, and child molestation, as well as taboo subjects such as necrophilia and cannibalism.
Diana came to the FBI’s attention in 1991 after some issues of Boiled Angel were found in the possession of Danny Rolling, then under investigation for the serial murders of five college students in Gainesville, Florida. Rolling acted alone and would later plead guilty in 1994 before being executed in 2006, but investigators apparently thought Diana could have been an accomplice based on no evidence apart from Boiled Angel. He was cleared of involvement in the murders after providing a blood sample, but the FBI turned his work over to local police in Pinellas County, who then charged him with obscenity.
This is where CBLDF came in, financing Diana’s defense by local attorney Luke Lirot. Despite Lirot’s valiant efforts and the fact that Boiled Angel did not meet the definition of obscenity as laid out in the three-pronged Miller Test, Diana was convicted and received a fine of $3,000, as well as a sentence of three years’ probation, which included stipulations that he stay away from minors and refrain from drawing. He found this last condition to be untenable, later admitting that he hid works-in-progress in the trunk of his car in case of surprise police checks on his home.
The upcoming documentary, which the filmmakers hope to have ready for the festival circuit in early 2017, will include original animation by Diana himself. The film will feature interviews with several key players from the trial and the surrounding spectacle, as well as commentary on Diana’s case and his art from a slate of industry experts including Neil Gaiman, who was inspired to join CBLDF’s board of directors after witnessing this miscarriage of justice.
Filming of The Trial of Mike Diana is nearly complete, but supporters can still contribute to a Kickstarter to help with post-production expenses including art editing, an original score, and a full legal review. We’re thrilled to see this project come to fruition!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.