US | 2018 | directed by Frank Henenlotter
Logline: A documentary tracing the history of American underground comic artist Mike Diana and his arrest and conviction for obscenity.
Mike Diana remains the only artist in US history to have been found guilty and convicted of obscenity. This was back in 1994. In Florida. These days Diana is a celebrated artist who has exhibitions around the world and whose controversial work is featured in hardcover coffee table books. But back in the late 80s he was a talented, but angry teenager who illustrated his contempt at aspects of humanity with graphic abandon.
Frank Henenlotter is a director well-versed in controversy and censorship, as he delivered such cult midnight fare as Basket Case, Brain Damage, Frankenhooker, and Bad Biology. He’s made docos before, one on sexploitation and one on the Godfather of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis, so it seems fitting that he tackle the untold story of Mike Diana and his “crimes”. As Neil Gaiman points out, what happened to Mike Diana is an appalling injustice, and it exposed the “noxious froth on the top of evil sewerage”. It was a volatile period, and Diana, being young and without the aid of money, was made an example of.
Beginning with EC Comics and the Code of Authority, moving through Underground Comix, and Heavy Metal magazine, Henenlotter’s compelling portrait of Diana’s world and the bigger picture, infused with much satire, and visual flair, paints a truly damning frame of small town attitude let loose. But Diana wasn’t small-minded. He may have been carrying issues, though he claims to have had a happy childhood (though his sister spills a few crazy stories!), but the most unfortunate factor was that the Gainesville serial killer was on the loose, and Diana’s sadistic, sexually violent cartoons looked very similar, leading many to condemn the young man as a psychopath. Talk about a long bow being drawn.
It’s fascinating history, with a macabre sense of humour (and added George C. Romero sage). At one point Diana is being interviewed and a black car drives past in the background, and Diana immediately notes that it’s detectives. Still on his case, twenty-five years down the track. Boiled Angels (the title refers to Diana’s damning ‘zine) is essential viewing for anyone interested in subversive pop culture.