In October 2004, Gordon Lee, the owner of Legends comic shop in Rome, Georgia, gave out free comics for Hallowe’en. One of the thousands of comics handed out was a copy of Alternative Comics #2, from a previous Free Comic Book Day, which included an excerpt from Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel The Salon, starring Pablo Picasso. On three of the eight pages, Picasso is depicted painting in the nude.
It was alleged that the comic was handed out to a child and the parents complained to police. Lee admitted the mistake and offered a public apology. The apology was rejected and Lee was arrested and charged with two counts of distributing material depicting nudity or sexual content—felonies—and five counts of unlawful disposition of materials to minors—misdemeanors.
In April 2006, after 18 months, many court appearances, and with a defense funded by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the prosecutors dismissed the charges on the eve of trial because the wrong victim—a nine-year-old boy—was named.The charges were then re-filed, alleging bow starting that there two victims: the nine-year-old boy and a six-year-old boy. The CBLDF challenged this and charges were refiled for a third time. After further CBLDF motions, the case was declared a mistrial. A fourth filing was avoided if Lee wrote a letter of apology, which he did so.
Why is this relevant again now? Because this past weekend was Halloween ComicFest, where comic stores gave away free comic books ahead of Hallowe’en. A variety of different comic books for different age groups. Archie Comics had two, the mini-comic Archie’s Madhouse featuring traditional-style Archie comic books, and The Chilling Tales Of Sabrina Season Two #1, the free first issue of the new series being given away for free, solicited for Teens and with a Teen label on the back cover.
And featuring sexual scenes such as this,
And causing some retailers panic that, amidst all the thousands of comics being given away to kids, these may have been among them. Now, this kind of imagery is not outside the boundaries of Season One of The Chilling Tales Of Sabrina, with this scene prominent from the first issue a few years ago…
One retailer gets in touch with Bleeding Cool, Packrat Comics in Ohio, describing it as pornographic material above the Teen label and not suitable for such kid-focussed giveaway promotions. While Diamond representatives have defended the choice of comic and content, they have promised to be more mindful and explicit when listing such items for such promotions in the future. The retailer has suggested a more explicit warning system for future promotional events such as colour coding covers for easier separation of material for different age groups for Free Comic Book Day or Halloween ComicFest. The books are all delivered together inboxes, leaving retailers to try and work it all out. The retailer points out that the Gordon Lee incident was a mistake – but the current system makes it easier for mistakes to happen.
The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina Season Two #1 is written by the showrunner of the Riverdale TV show, Roberto Aguirre Sacasa, and was not the only mature readers title being given away for ComicFest labelled as teen but like others, such as Shiver, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and Mortal Instruments, it wasn’t stated as such in the solicited title and the Sabrina content may have been considered stronger in some markets than the other titles.
Diamond, however, have taken the point.