In one of the lamer cases of prosecutors gone wild we've heard about in a long time, Gordon Lee, a comic-shop owner in Rome, Georgia, is going on trial this week for two misdemeanor charges of distributing lewd material to a minor. His alleged crime? Accidentally handing out pictures of Pablo Picasso's wang.
On Halloween 2004, Lee's shop, Legends, participated in a free comic-book giveaway. One of the many publisher-supplied free comics he handed out was "Alternative Comics #2," which included an excerpt from Nick Bertozzi's then-in-progress graphic novel The Salon, historical fiction based on the early-century Paris art scene. (Vulture excerpted The Salon here.) One panel shows a naked Pablo Picasso meeting George Braque for the first time, and when that comic book ended up in the hands of two kids with an extremely angry mother, Lee was arrested.
There have been all kinds of shenanigans in the case over the past few years — the day before Lee's trial was supposed to start in 2006, prosecutors mysteriously dropped all charges, only to refile new ones a few weeks later with a new alleged victim — but the fact remains that should he be convicted, he faces fines of up to $1,000 and a year in prison for each charge. His defense has already cost $80,000, paid for through the support of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. This seems like a lot to pile on a guy who made an innocent mistake that surely did not actually harm anyone. The case could finish as soon as the end of the week, depending on the court calendar.
But we're more concerned about the kids. When we were in fifth grade, a girl in our class stole a bunch of her older brother's Playboys and sold one-minute looks out of her locker for a quarter. That this was the greatest thing that had ever happened to us was never questioned, and when a teacher busted her in the act we were bereft — but proud that none of us had ever given away the great secret. That these two kids, upon seeing a vaguely scandalous drawing, immediately ran to their mom — as opposed to, say, charging their classmates a quarter to take a look — makes us worried that America is raising a nation of wieners.
Update! The trial has been postponed until tomorrow because of malfunctioning air conditioning in the courthouse.
Man faces trial for distributing comic books depicting nude Pablo Picasso [CourtTV.com via The Beat]
Gordon Lee: The Road to Trial [CBLDF.org]
Earlier: Vulture excerpts The Salon