Something that has got to be stopped is overreactive legislation on art, especially sequential art storytelling, or the medium will be destroyed before it really has its greatest chance to blossom. One of the most controversial topics regarding this is the portrayal of young-appearing characters in comics, and this is one of the topics about which I feel most passionately.
I will say first of all that I am vehemently opposed to actual child pornography, and also to exposing people to sex too soon in life. Responsible parenting should be employed at every stage of a child's life, to ensure healthy development. Note that I say 'responsible parenting', not 'trying to get laws passed so you don't have to do your job that you agreed to do when you got yourself knocked up and decided to keep it'. There is a significant difference, and it is unfortunately missed by many in the modern world.
In any case, actual child pornography has nothing to do with legitimate pornography and adult films. There are so many rules, regulations, and standards in adult filmmaking today that it makes the MPAA look like a bacchanalia. One of the things that I find most objectionable about the way anything adult-oriented or made solely for adults is discriminated against, especially in the last decade, is that so often the people who never watch, purchase, or otherwise enjoy it are the same people trying to put more and more limits on it for the people who do enjoy it. That would be as ludicrous as someone asking me to write up laws regulating the packaging of meat products.
As vexing as this is dealing with real people, it's even more infuriating when the characters are fictional, the situations invented, and the locations nowhere in this world. Some countries have passed laws prohibiting even ficitonal characters who 'appear underage' from engaging in any activity of the naughty kind, under the claim that it is to combat child pornography.
There are a number of reasons why this is a complete load of nonsense.
The first of which is the fact that it attempts to criminalise things by way of 'looking' or 'appearing'. Even in real life that would raise a complicated issue, the first facet of which is: who is going to judge? Many people may look underage to a person who has little experience with people under the age of 30. And it is no secret that most politicians and other law-related professionals not only tend to concentrate on the over-30 demographic, but are also in that same bracket themselves.
The second facet of this is: even if someone does seem to look underage, the quickest show of identification would prove they are not. However, that is generally only required when making a formal application of some kind or attempting to make an age-restricted purchase, such as adult videos, alcohol, cigarettes, et cetera. The law cannot prevent someone from having a relationship on the basis that they 'look too young'; there have been cases where people have successfully sued, and rightly, for being discriminated against because someone wrongly mistreated them, thinking that they were a different age than they are. And that does not even begin to consider the people like Gary Coleman, who will appear to be childlike for his entire life. What about young-looking actors like Alyson Hannigan and others who portray teenagers successfully into their 30s? If they were so discriminated against, they'd be in and out of court with a successful case in no time.
The second reason is, as these are fictional characters, fictional situations, and fictional locations, they cannot be judged adequately by laws established to govern completely different worlds, societies, and people. The easiest example of this is the Vampire: whatever age they are bitten at, they tend to stay for the rest of their lives in appearance. One of the most famous examples of this, Claudia from Interview with the Vampire, is clearly not a child after some years, despite still having the appearance of one. If we apply the laws as they are conceived, does it really protect...anyone? If we were to judge the situation as if Claudia were an actual person in this world, would it hold water? No, of course not; we could examine documents and see clearly that she was born long enough ago to be old enough to be someone's mother. Is it, then, permissible to discriminate against her by saying that because she has a youthful appearance, she may not enter into a sexual relationship? No, it is not.
Do most people in this world live to be thousands of years old and exist in a land of eternally-blooming flowers and magical fruit? No? Well then why should a law applying to this world apply to the denizens of that one? Are there races of shapeshifters well-known in this world? No? Then why should it apply to them, when they could take the appearance of any age that they please?
Look at the Elves in Lord of the Rings. Or even better, look at the Hobbits. So, because Hobbits generally look youthful for decades, any Hobbit-sex is criminalised? An Elf could look like a young teenager and be the age of an average human's grandfather, so they're not supposed to have sex? Good luck telling them that!
The third reason is, this cannot be evenly enforced at all. There is no real standard, only subjective judgement, and typically by those who do not understand art and are not qualified to assess artistic value. Are we supposed to destroy works of past masters of the Renaissance if they depicted 'underage looking' subjects in sensual situations or poses? Doesn't that show rather flagrant disregard to their time period, in which they may have been considered adults? Adolescence is a relatively recent invention, historically speaking. Even modern masters such as Maxfield Parrish depicted youthful exuberance in various states of undress or suggestive draping; does that, then, make it illicit?
What about differing styles? Absolute age cannot be objectively applied to artwork, because each and every artist employs a different style. Take a look at some European cartoons for adults, with their youthful and strange, almost inhuman, proportions. Now look at Japanese manga. Now look at Peanuts. Look at Garfield. Try to apply an absolute age to any of the characters; you're likely to be wrong. Look at Picasso and try to apply an absolute age to some of his subjects.
To choose a specific individual feature that is often a stylistic choice, let's take body hair: some artists draw it all, some pick and choose where to have it, others don't draw it at all or feel they can't. Many adults do have body hair, it's true; but many also shave, trim, and wax. Some adults keep their bodies completely smooth: I need only point out swimmers, bodybuilders, and the like, the majority of whom rid themselves of all body hair. It doesn't make them somehow not-adults, but some who attempt to condemn, for example, Japanese yaoi stories, have tried to allege 'underage looking' antics because they don't have enough body hair. It just further demonstrates utter ignorance of art, specifically by disregard for stylistic differences and aesthetic choices.
Art is a deeply individual, personal, subjective experience. What one person judges about a piece of art, another person will judge the exact opposite. It cannot be tied down and dissected. Art is expression, and each individual person will derive something different from it, because art speaks to personal experience, personal judgement, personal aesthetic. It cannot be held up to a legal standard because frankly, art is as inscrutable as magic. There are methods to self-expression through art, but there is no method that can ever be tought to give one person the ability to assess any individual piece of art for every possible meaning it can have to every possible person who experiences it.
It's one thing if it's a clear attempt to just apply some sloppy Photoshop filter to a photograph to get around a legal loophole and make it into a drawing rather than a photograph. But making any kind of 'drawn pornography' (a stupid term in any case) illegal is nothing short of laziness and attempts to thought-police. It's clear they have no comprehension of the creative process, or they'd know that most artists don't work with actual models and don't require a photographic reference to draw something. Where does it stop? Whether or not the things appeal to you, stop and think: is it really logical for them to step in and make restrictions for anthropomorphic animals, pregnant males, and other creatures that don't exist in this world? Can there really be any reasonable standards applied legally to them that would be legally sound if they did? With a legal precedent showing that they can step in and say 'you can't draw this sort of thing', what's to stop them from taking a little bit more and cracking down on something else?
The only thing that can stop them is if creators, publishers, and other concerned parties -- especially voters -- get together and put our collective foot down. Government, especially the United States' government, has acted like a spoiled child for over the past decade, a spoiled child whose parent never told it 'no'. Now is the time to say 'no'. We are the voters, we put them in office. And more and more, they're willfully refusing to upload the freedom of expression established in the United States and many other countries. That's not doing their job. It additionally seems to indicate an inability to differentiate from reality and fiction, which is not something that I applaud in people who command as great a social influence as politicians do.
Do you really want someone deciding the future of your country if they can't tell the difference between a real person and a fictional character?
Recently creators, actors, and publishers banded together to defeat a proposed law in Japan that would be more of the same morality legislation, criminalising depictions of imaginary characters in imaginary situations. I can only hope and encourage people in other countries to show the same kind of solidarity.
To quote a sequential art legend in one of the most thought-provoking political works of sequential art from the past 50 years -- V from V for Vendetta -- 'People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.' And this is true. Governments should not feel like they have carte blanche to do whatever they please, as long as they put a certain spin on it or try to shame people into agreeing with them. Each and every politician should be aware that he or she is accountable to each and every voter and each and every person who is affected by their decisions. Morality cannot and should not ever be legislated, especially when there are plenty of more deserving issues that need addressing; when millions of people are starving because they're unable to find work, who honestly cares if someone has naughty comic books?
There is much more protection for novels and the written word; they wouldn't dare to pass a law restricting the sale of Nabokov's Lolita, for example. So why, then, is it permissible to attack sequential art?
If people are punished for possessing or creating pornography of imaginary characters as if they were real people, it's a logical progression that they can be punished for possessing or creating stories that depict illegal acts with any imaginary characters. What's to stop them, after a legal precedent is established, from punishing a creator for having a character die during the story? Is it murder or manslaughter? You may think this sounds ludicrous -- because it does -- but it's exactly the same sort of situation. It's exactly as ridiculous as holding someone responsible for drawing a comic or having a comic someone drew, with other situations that would be illegal...if they were real people. Which they aren't.
When one legal step is taken and supported, accepted, subsequent steps are much easier. When it is allowed to punish people for one thing, albeit a controversial thing that doesn't appeal to everyone, it opens the door for other things to be controlled or done away with outright. Even if you think 'that could never happen to what I like', think again. It starts with something that is an easy target and an easy foothold, easy for unscrupulous politicians to cast shame on its supporters and proponents. They're just using it as a stepping stone to get to where they really want to go, to control what they really want to restrict.
This is punishing someone for thoughts, ideas, and creations. And that is unquestionably wrong, and unquestionably in defiance of, at the very least, the United States Constitution.
I urge each and every one of you to go write your political representatives, locally and nationally, and to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. You can find the official website here:
The time for sitting by and hoping for the best is long past. Creators, readers, and everyone else are having their rights trampled on by people who are not qualified to make the decisions they are doing. And it is the power and the responsibility of every responsible citizen to put a stop to it. Write your politician and say this isn't acceptable. And make sure to let your voice be heard in any and every situation where this is applicable.