“The Friendly Frank’s Case”
On November 18, 1986, while “monitoring places where youths congregate” in Lansing, Illinois, Officer Anthony Van Gorp and his partner purchased 15 comics from Michael Correa, manager of the comic book store Friendly Frank’s. In December, six officers came back and raided the store, seizing seven titles including Omaha the Cat Dancer, Weirdo, and Heavy Metal. Store manager Michael Correa was arrested and dragged off in handcuffs as police officers shut the store down for five days. Shortly after the original raid, police added Elektra: Assassin, Love & Rockets, Ms. Tree, Bodessey, and Elfquest to the list of titles for which Correa was facing charges of display of obscene materials.
In “Comics, Courts, & Controversy: A Case Study of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund,” Marc H. Greenberg writes:
The arresting officer, Sergeant Jack Hoestra, told the Gary Post-Tribune that, in addition to the legal charges of obscenity, he noticed a “satanic influence” in many of the shop’s comics. He told the paper: “Oh yes, there was absolutely a lot of satanic influence in the comics there. … If you know what you’re looking for, you can see the satanic influence all over. Three-quarters of the rock groups today show satanic influence, and it’s all over the television.”
Faced with the option of pleading guilty and paying a $500 fine or fighting the charges, Correa pleaded not guilty and fought back with the support of his employer Frank Mangiaracina, who solicited aid from publishers and fellow retailers. Denis Kitchen, publisher of Kitchen Sink Press was one of the first to be contacted by Mangiaracina. He recalls, “Frank called me because I was one of the publishers who got him busted,” Kitchen says. “He was pretty distraught. His store manager had been charged with some very serious offenses. What frustrated me was that Frank was struggling to take care of this himself and it didn’t seem fair.”
Word spread about what was now being called “The Friendly Frank’s Case.” Shortly after the arrest Kitchen discussed it with retailer Greg Ketter at a convention in Minnesota. Ketter was active in fundraising for Correa’s defense, and would host a signing with then-emerging writer Neil Gaiman in 1987 that raised $10,000 for the case. Kitchen discussed his feeling of obligation to aid Mangiaracina in defending his manager. The result was a plan to create a portfolio that would help raise money to pay for the defense. Kitchen recruited fourteen artists to contribute to the portfolio: Sergio Aragones, Hilary Barta, Reed Waller, Steve Bissette, Bob Burden, Richard Corben, Robert Crumb, Howard Cruse, Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Mitch O’Connell and Don Simpson, and Eric Vincent. Kitchen also found a printer who produced the portfolio at cost. Mangiariacina persuaded the International Association of Direct Distribution (IADD) to carry the benefit portfolio at a lower-than-normal discount. The proceeds from the project were placed into a bank account Kitchen dubbed The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
While the portfolio was out raising funds, a trial was held. On January 1, 1988 Correa was found guilty, fined $750 and sentenced to one year of court supervision. Kitchen, now in possession of the funds from the portfolio, took charge of recruiting a lawyer for the appeal and found First Amendment pioneer Burton Joseph, co-founder of the Media Coalition & Playboy Foundation willing to take up the case. On appeal, the judge declared that the comics at issue were “bizarre,” but they did not constitute obscenity. He overturned Correa’s guilty verdict on November 16, 1989.
Reasoning that this wouldn’t be the last time comics were threatened in this fashion, the leftover funds from this appeal were placed towards creating a permanent organization to protect comics. In 1990, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was born! Since that first case, the CBLDF has served to protect comics, waging legal battles, fighting unconstitutional legislation, and performing advocacy work to ensure comics can continue to grow.