Given the ideas I choose to explore in my work over the years, I’ve found that getting it printed is the hardest part of the process. It seems like I run into a problem with one company or another, whenever the work is about to be released in the wild. This is what has recently transpired with issue one of Chicken Outfit.
A small-run printing company we contracted recently has told us that management has decided to refuse to print the first issue of our odd, little adult horror tale. This comes after several days negotiation, an account setup, rejigging the comic layout, sending the final digital copy and giving them access to our credit information. We’re still awaiting word on the exact nature of the offending material, which was simply halted on the basis of “explicit content”.
We’re moving forward anyway, printing a more comic-friendly company. To be honest, we’re not surprised that this kind of censorship has come to pass, even though we took great care and responsibility in creating the images and text in our work. Our ideas have been carefully thought out, researched and represented with intellectual subtext, not just slapped together with excessive violent or sexual imagery. If they actually took more than a glance, the satire we’ve intended might have been apparent. As it stands, it appears they’ve merely glanced at a “bad picture” and reacted with knee-jerk terror.
I’m reminded of the year 1984, when censorship was openly practiced by our own Canadian government. Horror films were its main target. Films like Maniac (1980) had a running time of 45 minutes in my local theatre (The uncut version is 87 mins). Videotapes were also under the gun with films like Friday the 13th, The Burning and many other horror titles were hacked to pieces by a scissor-happy government body under the flimsy title of “The Ontario Film Review Board”. This group of moralists had the power to control what the Canadian populous was allowed to view and censored works they found objectionable by excising the offending footage, then releasing the film. Films like Evil Dead dodged the boards by making the blood black or green, instead of red.
The Canadian government didn’t stop at “editing” films, either. They excised all erect penises and scenes of penetration in pornographic films, refused videotapes and books from crossing the border into Canada and put black circles and pixelated boxes over works that fell under their Draconian guidelines. What a perverse lot they must have become, watching all that sex and violence they deemed unsuitable for the rest of us. The irony is that you can see all of these films uncut, widescreen and in HD on premium cable and Netflix. Can you imagine a film developing house refusing to print the film Maniac was shot on due to “explicit content”?
I was publishing a title called Paranoid Tales of Neurosis in those days and made it perfectly clear that it was an adult underground work in the vein of Zap or Weirdo with a dash of the autobiographical comics that were ramping up over the next decade. In other words, this isn’t Superman or Peanuts – it’s for adults only. I went through several companies that refused to print my forth and fifth issue with the only reason being “I wouldn’t want my children reading this.” The elderly president of the printer responsible for issue five communicated that his grandchildren wouldn’t appreciate my work either. Two whole generations repressing my art! Fredric Wertham would be proud. Regardless, I finally found a printer (they did grocery store flyers of all things) willing to take my money, actually do business, and filled the Diamond Distribution purchase order in time.
Jumping ahead almost 30 years later, I’m sitting in the same situation wondering why everyone has their panties in a knot. It’s hard enough finding an, on-demand printer for a 32 page unknown, independent comic book, that knows what they’re doing and has reasonable pricing. It’s been a long and arduous process of research, phone calls and perusing proofs, without the added pressure of uptight service industry types getting all jittery about a pair of tits or a splash of blood. Especially given that the narrative supports the ideas being rendered.
We knew that some content in the first issue was a bit over the top, but in an age where extreme, gratuitous sex and violence in various forms of media is commonplace, I’m kind of stunned. Chicken Outfit is no Human Centipede, nor does it even come close to some of the horror comics I’ve read in my current research. Hell, it’s not even as bad as some of the stuff in underground comics from the 70s. We’re not being haphazard with our ideas or going for pure shock value. I guess it’s a moot point, but it’s just really disappointing that the use of arbitrary censorship is still practiced by corporations.
In this digital age, I would imagine that printers wouldn’t be so choosy about what they print or more importantly, what they deem unworthy of being printed for the general public. It also reminded me once again that this kind of arbitrary repression by corporations is currently exercised online. If we’re not diligent, or think it doesn’t apply to us, it could become even more intrusive in the future, especially given the current climate of privacy concerns, online spying and information gathering.
While Chicken Outfit is definitely not middle-of-the-road, or everyone’s cup of tea – some may even find it offensive – I find it far more offensive that a printing company allows their personal biases to interfere with potential business. However, that is their choice and we must abide by it. Chicken Outfit #1 will be somewhat delayed because of this minor setback, but we’ll hopefully have it out before the end of July.
The printer’s response, after I asked what, exactly, they took issue with:
“The first indication that there may be inappropriate content in the book was the “adult content” and “X” rating on the cover.
Nudity and suggestive, explicit actions along with vulgar language – were the portions of the book that our management team had issue with.”
What truly irks me about all of this, is that they waited until the book was in pre-flight, before voicing their concerns. This is a service issue and I would have no ill will were it laid out up front. Also, for the record, there is no “X” rating on the cover of the our comic. The words “adults only” are indeed there, to indicate that our intended audience isn’t under 18 or geriatric types who might get the “vapours” due to our “vulgar language“. I also find it humorous that we’re able to be simultaneously “suggestive” and “explicit“.
This is nothing new to me, really. It’s the same modus operandi printers levied on Paranoid Tales 30 years ago. The final issue of that run was on the presses and ready to roll when grand’pa literally pulled it off the drums and ordered that “filth” out of their offices for good. Speaking of Paranoid Tales, the Anthology I mentioned a while back is in the works, so if you’re not shocked by boobs, blood or vulgar language, I suggest you check it out to see what all the hubbub was about.
Ultimately, all this means is further delay. When you’re working with the service industry, it’s, apparently, de rigueur.
We’ll get Chicken Outfit out there, even if we have to shave our heads, wear itchy robes and hand print each and every fucking copy, you can be sure of that.