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How To Keep Customs From Seizing Your Comics: The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Gives Advice

By / 05.16.11

Comic books taken at the border! Sound ridiculous? It’s not as bizarre as you might think. This past week cartoonists Tom Neely and Dylan Williams had their books taken from them on their way to the Toronto Comic Art Festival. It should be noted that one of the comics depicted sex with dead people and golden showers (no judgement). However, it is possible that it was a drawing of a college age couple kissing in combination with the necrophilia that got the books seized. In an interview on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website, Tom Neely says,

The guard flipped it open to a page he marked and pointed to a character and said “These drawings look like children…” and he flipped to another page and pointed out a panel in which two characters are kissing, and said that he thought would be inappropriate if they were “children.” I told him that I remembered an interview with Blaise where he said they were “first year art students in art school.” and he asked “Can you find anything in this book that would indicate their age?” Dylan flipped through and found a panel of a character mentioning an “unemployment check” and that a kid wouldn’t have that. The guard said “okay that might help…” and that he’d have to take it back inside for another look.

Unfortunately, we can only guess at why these comics were taken.

“It’s always hard to say why customs agents seize the work that they do, because oftentimes the determinations made are subjective,” said Charles Brownstein, Executive Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. “I don’t second guess the motives of customs authorities.  In 2004 a customs agent in South Carolina seized a shipment of books that included a strip satirizing the Bush administration called “Richie Bush,” because the agent alleged the parody comic was ripping off the Richie Rich trademark.  All kinds of content has been seized, and is at risk.”

So what can you do to protect your books? Keep reading to find out.

Before You Go

-Use a password and encryption on your electronic devices. From the CBLDF customs advice form,

Data on your computer that is protected by strong encryption would not be viewable by a customs agent, although the computer could be seized and subjected to decryption attempts.  Border agents are not empowered to force you to decrypt data, divulge passwords, or answer questions.

-Keep your hardware clean of anything you wouldn’t want Uncle Sam to see. Use an online drop box or leave an external hard drive at home with your data.

-Use the U.S. Postal Service to ship your comics. From the CBLDF Customs Advice form.

If traveling internationally to a known destination such as a convention, send “hard copy” materials or artwork to your destination in advance via U.S. mail or its equivalent.  U.S. Customs rules prohibit opening such mail without reasonable suspicion and a warrant.   Be aware, however, that these rules do not protect materials sent using private carriers such as DHL, UPS, or Federal Express.  Follow the same procedure for your return trip.

At Customs

-Have all of your travel documents in order. This means your passport, where you are staying, your flight information and if you are bringing books to sell have an invoice for all of your books.

-Act natural. Customs agents are looking for people that fit certain profiles, like drug mules. From Immigrations and Customs Enforcement procedures,

For example, individuals who fit the description of certain “profiles,” such as a drug courier profile, may be subject to search.  Other circumstances or behavior, such as nervousness when responding to questions, evasive answers, the extent or nature of the traveler’s belongings being transported, or even some types of written or visual material in the traveler’s possession, may form the basis for the agent’s suspicion.  Such suspicion may result in a more intensive search.

-If customs agents determine that your comics are objectionable, leave them be. “Unfortunately, as Tom Neely and Dylan Williams learned, once a customs agent determines that the comics you’re carrying are questionable, they will be taken from you and sent to higher authorities.  Your recourse is limited,” Brownstein said.

Afterwards

-If you have your comics taken by customs you need to find qualified legal representation. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a good place to start.

Want to protect free speech in comic books? You can support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund by purchasing a comic book from the wide selection of books on their site here or make a direct donation here.


TOPICSComics
TAGSCharles Brownsteincomic book legal defense fundcustoms

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