THERE'S ONLY SO MUCH I CAN SAY ABOUT A COMIC STRIP I DON'T NORMALLY READ, BUT...Funky Winkerbean seems to be a comic strip somewhat akin to being an American version of Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse, that's a dramedy that initially started off mainly being an observational take on typical family life but which, over the years, evolved or degenerated, depending on your point of view, into being almost like a three-panel-a-day didactic melodrama serial, with story arcs stretching over weeks or even months and a whole slew of supporting characters and various in-laws that one as to be a long-time reader of the strip to be able to make heads or tails of without a roadmap. Well, I don't know if that's the path that Funky Witherbean followed, since it was carried neither in the Montreal Gazette nor the Ottawa Citizen, maybe it was always like that. (For Better or For Worse used to be a lot less "messy" in terms of storytelling in that you could pick it up in the middle and be able to get the gist of what's going on in a week or two, without having to read volumes after volumes of the old strip collections in order to understand the backstory.)
Like Lynn Johnston, Funky Winkerbean creator-and-or-current-writer Tom Batiuk also likes dealing with the occasional "ripped-from-the-headlines" issue-based storyline. The current storyline has to do with a comic book store owner, Tom Howard, who sells a pornographic hentai manga comic to an adult, not realizing the adult in question is some kind of crusading anti-smut city councilwoman of some sort, Roberta Blackburn, who gets him busted with obscenities charges. (You can see the strip where the legislator character buys the comic on the official site, which doesn't seem to have been updated in a couple of weeks.) AnimeNewsNetwork.com alerted me to this storyline with a short article entitled "Funky Winkerbean Looks at Adult Manga Censorship", so I wrote the following reaction to the strips I looked at in the forum:
Not that I particularly approve of people getting jailed for possessing or selling drawings, but I hope the writing gets a little better as the antagonist is the same old cardboard cut-out loudmouth-narrowminded-fundamentalist-Christian-concerned-parent-cum-anti-smut-activist-or-legislator they always drag out anytime they need a conservative whipping boy.
As someone who would be a "South Park Republican" if I was American, I don't usually agree with those people, at least when it comes to "art", but I recognize their sincerity and I realize that they are more than one-dimensional bad guys.
Someone pointed out to me that the Roberta Blackburn is a major supporting character in the script, so she's not a cardboard cutout antagonist that Tom Batiuk created just for this particular story, she's a stock cardboard cutout antagonist, so I stand corrected. Also, reading the comments in the thread and the past couple of weeks' worth of strips, there are evidently personal reasons why she wants to get the owner in trouble and the store shut down, though I don't get the strip in the newspaper, and, as such, I don't care enough to research in-depth why this would be or explain the other parts of what little of the strip I did read today.
People are also saying that this story is primarily based on the real-life case of Jesus Castillo, a Dallas, Texas comic book store employee who was arrested, charged, convicted, and given a probationary sentence on obscenity charged for selling a pornographic hentai manga to two undercover police officers. A local city councillor was apparently trying to get a zoning re-draft passed, and the store at which Castillo worked was just across the street from a school, which had conveniently warned parents against many of the adult comics being sold there. After his conviction, his lawyers submitted his case to both the state courts and Supreme Court, though, it should always be noted that high courts only ever hear a tiny fraction of cases submitted to them, not because the other requests lack merit but just because time is limited and a court can only hear so many cases.
Certain free speech groups, particularly the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which paid for Castillo's legal defense, use the Castillo case as a rallying point. Unfortunately, the CBLDF, whether they admit it or not, have a hard-on against social and political conservatives in general (I discussed one specific instance of this briefly here), and, as, in recent years, conservatism has been on the upswing, the way they tell the story of the Castillo case is rather apocalyptic, making it tough to cut through the Howard Stern-ish levels of hyperbole and armchair lawyery.
So, as a public service to anyone who is reading the current Funky Winkerbean storyline, hears people mention the Jesus Castillo obscenity case, and decides to Google the name themselves, I shall link to trial lawyer William J. Dyer's (a.k.a. "Beldar") excellent and lengthy breakdown of the Castillo case, a balanced look putting the case in the proper perspective, showing that, among other things, while it was unfortunate that Castillo was brought up on charges in the first place, Castillo could probably have been acquitted had his CBLDF-provided defense team been more aggressive, and that the law doesn't treat comic books any differently from more highbrow forms of culture, and that the Texas v. Castillo case will never be used as a legal precedent anywhere. The Castillo case is very much like a modern day Inherit the Wind where people with good intentions have taken the case and made it into a morality play showcasing the ignorance of those who brought up the charges and then convicted him, but, when you actually look at the facts, the truth is a lot more mundane.
Also, just as an aside, the Funky Winkerbean strip from Friday or Saturday has the defense attorney mention that she had "been doing a little boning up on Japanese animé and manga, and it's clear that the books that were bought in [the] store are regarded as classics of their genre". I'll let the fanboyish complaint of manga comics being a medium, not a genre, pass, but I've been an anime fan for over a decade now and I've never heard of Demon Beast Invasion: The Fallen, wherein, among other things, a woman has sex with a tree, being called a "classic". Maybe a classic of hentai tentacle rape. :P
But that's only assuming that Tom Batiuk is using the Castillo case as inspiration; Batiuk doesn't seem to have any kind of blog, so I really don't know one way or the other what he's basing this story on.