In 1994, underground cartoonist, filmmaker, amateur publisher and First Amendment champion Mike Diana became the first artist ever to receive a criminal conviction for obscenity for artwork in the United States.
When Mike Diana was 9 years-old, his family moved from Geneva, New York to Largo, Florida. He began to draw constantly, becoming a fan of underground comics as a teen. Soon after graduating high school, he began printing his own comics, including the series, Boiled Angel, which grew to 300 subscribers mostly in cities outside of of Florida. This is a true feat, considering that this was a time before online social media. In 1991, a copy ended up in the hands of a California law enforcement officer who falsely linked Diana with the then unsolved Gainesville student murders. The FBI was alerted, Diana was investigated but Diana was ultimately cleared of all involvement. However, the hysterics continued.
Diana’s zines cover taboo subjects and are raw as his black line drawings are thick. Graphic depictions of sex, violence and caricature of church scandals are on every page. It is a gory and ruthless read. Diana was taken to trial by the state of Florida in 1994 and found guilty of obscenity on all counts of publishing, distributing, and advertising his artwork. As a result he was jailed for four days, was mandated to serve more than 1,200 hours of community service and was ordered to ‘stay away from minors.’ Additionally, Diana was forced by the court not to draw, even for personal use, as part of a stern set of his three-year probation conditions. It was a grotesque and crushing conviction.
The trial judge found the work "patently offensive" and stated, "The evident goal of the appellant's publication is to portray shocking and graphic pictures of sexual conduct so it will be noticed. If the message is about victimization and that horrible things are happening in our society, as the appellant alleges, the appellant SHOULD HAVE created a vehicle to send his message that was not obscene." His final attempt at appeal was denied when the ACLU and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund petitioned the Supreme Court. The court would not read the case. Diana continued his probation after his move to New York in 1996, where he has lived ever since.
Diana's work has been influential throughout the underground comix community. His use of hardcore imagery serves to magnify and pinpoint the hypocrisies infused in contemporary life as well as the institutions that feed into it. His form of confrontational satire calls upon the viewer to read between the lines, to become acquainted with Diana's distinctive iconography and to find within it both humor and very pointed commentary. As much as one can read Diana’s art work as purient and foul none can deny its artistic merit.
Diana's first exhibition Mike Diana: Miami or Bust at #BogusFloridaIncident will include drawings and paintings as well as works by other artists inspired by his output. This exhibition, coincides with Miami Art Museum’s NWM2013/the end event, “Convicted for Comics: A Talk with Underground Cartoonist Mike Diana.”