When 18-year-old Mike Diana returned home from Christmas shopping with his mom in 1990, two cops were waiting for him on the lawn of their home in Largo, near Tampa. One officer pulled from his briefcase the teenager's underground comic book Boiled Angel #6. He flipped through the pages, showing his mother the creatures inside: a woman with a pentagram on her chest and stubs for arms, saying, "Fuck you & yer big ass." On the cover, a man with an erection and a bloody knife ripped a mangled fetus from a dead woman's belly.
The policeman then informed him that he was a suspect in the Gainesville student murders.
"At first I felt offended," Diana remembers. "I said, 'What about freedom of speech?'"
The cop responded like a television detective: "'I don't like your attitude.'"
The next day, police grilled Diana about his drawings. He gave a blood sample, at his mother's insistence, to prove his innocence in the killings.
But his troubles with Florida law enforcement didn't end there. Diana was eventually convicted on three misdemeanor counts of obscenity for publishing, distributing, and advertising his works Boiled Angel #7 and Boiled Angel #ATE. He became the first artist in U.S. history to be convicted on criminal charges of obscenity. He spent four days in jail and three years on probation.
"It was definitely a strange time," he says, reflecting upon those days. "I feel that one thing that upsets me, that I think is obscene, is the jail and prison system. A lot of people are put behind bars who don't need to be there."
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The sawing of babies and penises in his art, he points out, is a critique of actual situations and power structures such as religion -- particularly reports of child abuse. Boiled Angel #6 was, in fact, influenced by the murders in nearby Gainesville. The shock his art elicits allows Diana to communicate the gravity of real-life horrors.
Local nomadic arts collective the End/Spring Break and Miami Art Museum have invited Diana to speak in Miami. The speech this Thursday will make a statement about censorship and art. His controversial work will be shown nearby at Bas Fisher Invitational's "Mike Diana: Miami or Bust," alongside the art of those he has influenced, including Mike Taylor, Heather Benjamin, and Mat Brinkman.