15th Jul2018

Fantasia 2018: ‘Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Features: Mike Diana, Peter Bagge, Stephen Bissette, Neil Gaiman, Evan Bacon, Stuart Baggish, Luke Ilrot, Christopher Marone | Written and Directd by Frank Henenlotter

boiled-angels-poster

Filmmaker Frank Henenlotter, himself no stranger to controversy, steps behind the camera for this documentary about Mike Diana, a comic creator whose career was not ultimately marked by his creativity but because he was the first American artist convicted of obscenity… and all at the age of 24.

The handmade comics that teenager Mike Diana created out in the 1980s were retina-ravaging exercises in depravity, seemingly precision engineered to antagonize the uptight right-wingers in the churches, media and legal system of his suburban Florida surroundings. And that they certainly did. Though Diana’s lurid, art brut tales of sexual violence and bodily desecration were only ever sold to a small following of a few hundred, paranoid policemen and opportunistic attorneys saw his work as a threat to society (or at least, cynically presented it as such).

Yet the story of Mike Diana should come as no surprise to those that know the history of comics… From the 50s outrage at EC Comics’ horror comics, leading to the creation of the Comics Code; Roger Crumb pushing the boundaries of taste and decency in the 60s with the likes of Zap Comix; even more recently with the story of Ant-Man (aka Hank Pym) beating his wife, or Ralph Dibny’s wife Sue revealing she’d been raped in DC’s Identity Crisis… But no other controversy in comic history, no matter the level of public outrage, has ever led to a creator being jailed for the crime of drawing!

Turns out Diana’s comic got caught up in the furore around a rash of murders in Gainesville, Florida in 1990 – which for films fans here in the UK is a situation very reminiscent of the reoccurring controversy around video nasties in the 80s and later the early 90s. Just like movies got the blame for tragedies such as Hungerford and the James Bulger murder, Mike Diana’s comic Boiled Angel became a scapegoat for a situation that, at the time, had no real reasoning behind it. And we know how the authorities NEED to pin the blame on someone or something in times like these… What’s really sickening is how the authorities entrapped Mike Diana.

Yes, entrapped. Despite the prosecutor in the Mike Diana case saying they never entrapped Mike Diana, the fact that he goes on to state that they couldn’t blame Boiled Angel #6 for inspiring the Gainesville murders, as the book was never found in Florida and then a cop PURPOSEFULLY bought the next two issues and had them delievered to Florida so they could investigate a connection, is as ridiculous as Graham Bright saying video nasties affect dogs. The fact they bought two issues with the INTENT to investigate, eventually deciding to prosecute for obscenity, is as morally repugnant as they made Mike Diana’s comics out to be!

Of course that’s my opinion and my opinion alone. You see Henenlotter presents Diana’s story in a very matter-of-fact fashion, a refreshing change from the over-dramatised, over-stylised documentaries that have become somewhat of the norm. Presented as a series of talking heads with those involved, including Mike Diana himself and the prosecution team that tried him in the early 90s, Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana tells it tale without bias, instead demanding the audience make up their own minds about what happened. And what I take from this film is a case of a young man fighting not only for himself but also for freedom of speech – a fight that is STILL going on today, only this time its online…

Which makes this documentary, whilst reflecting on the past, so perfectly timed for the present.

**** 4/5

Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana screened at this years Fantasia Film Festival on Saturday July 14th. It re-screens on Wednesday July 18th.

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