MIAMI, Fla.—Cast your mind back to 1991 (assuming you were even alive then). Underground comic book artist Mike Diana, having just been fired from his "day job" as a school janitor in Largo, Florida, was visited just before Christmas by a couple of FBI agents. They were especially interested in the cover of his comic book Boiled Angel #6, which appeared to depict the deaths of five students found murdered in Gainesville the previous year, which murders remained unsolved at that time. The feds told him that he was a supect in the killings, which were later found to have been committed by Danny Rolling, the "Gainesville Ripper."
After an investigation which included the cops forcing Diana to give a blood sample, he was cleared of the killings ... but his troubles were just beginning. He started getting fan mail from one Michael Flores, who claimed he was a fellow comic artist and wanted Diana to send him copies of his latest issues, Boiled Angel #7 and #ATE.
Turns out, however, that Flores was a cop (though he'd insisted in his letters that he wasn't), and in 1992, he turned those comics over to Assistant State's Attorney Stuart Baggish—who promptly sent Diana a letter informing him that he was being charged with three counts of obscenity under Florida Statute 847.011, for publishing, advertising and distributing his comics.
It was the first time that anyone had ever been busted for drawing an obscene comic book.
Admittedly, his images weren't exactly Nancy and Sluggo; aside from the S. Clay Wilson-style graphics (see reproductions, left) taken a couple of steps further into the absurd, he also did little things like putting a row of "holy bibles" across the top of an image—not exactly the type of stuff that would endear Diana to the average Florida cop ... nor to the jury of elderly retirees who convicted him, despite the excellent defense provided by First Amendment attorney Luke Lirot, with the backing of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
"It was definitely a strange time," Diana recalled to Miami New Times reporter Liz Tracy. "I feel that one thing that upsets me, that I think is obscene, is the jail and prison system. A lot of people are put behind bars who don't need to be there."
One of those, of course, was Diana himself, who spent four days in jail before being released for three years' probation—during which time he took a journalistic ethics course, delivered food to HIV patients, and was not allowed to create any new artworks. Still, his probation officer in New York, where he was allowed to serve his sentence, claimed that Diana had violated same, and had a warrant issued for his arrest, which may or may not still be in force.
But since he completed his sentence, he seems to have made up for lost time by painting in oils, illustrating articles for Wired magazine, drawing posters for Marilyn Manson and The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, and drawing new comics like Superfly and Scummy Comix which have been published by Michael Hunt Publishing and Angry Drunk Graphics. A boxed set of Diana's work was recently released by Divus London, and he'll have an exhibit at the Superchief Gallery in New York City. He'll also be speaking and exhibiting at the Miami Art Museum's New Work Miami 2013 show.
However, though he's planning to do a graphic novel about his legal ordeal, it's likely that Diana won't be going anywhere near Pinellas County, where he was prosecuted; they might still hold a grudge.