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November 18, 2007

CR News: Top Shelf’s Chris Staros on Delcourt’s Passing on Lost Girls

Delcourt's recently announced decision not to publish a French-language translation of the Alan Moore/Melinda Gebbie work Lost Girls for one of the world's largest markets due to reasons of law surrounding the depiction of minors in sexual situations, an element the critically-lauded work provides in spades, made me wonder what original, English-language publisher Top Shelf had to say on the matter. Despite gearing up for the Thanksgiving holidays, Top Shelf Co-Publisher Chris Staros was happy to oblige me.

"Well, we are disappointed, of course, because Delcourt was a good fit for the project," Staros told CR. "But we respect [Publisher] Guy [Delcourt]'s decision, as we have been friends for a long time, and understand that publishing involves a myriad of difficult business decisions. I do know that Guy is a huge fan of the work, so this wasn't an easy decision for him to make." Staros pointed out that the decision came late in the project's development. "[Delcourt] had already put a lot of effort into getting the book ready for publication -- the translation, lettering, and packaging design were complete."

imageStaros was happy to provide his perspective on why Delcourt made their decision, which aligns with what was reported in their initial announcement. "From what I understand, their concern was over some French law on the books from the '90s, and updated in the last year, which forbids the representation of pornography involving minors. They were also concerned about the issue that comic book publishers over there, if considered "children's publishers," could fall under greater legal scrutiny. And even though we provided them with all the positive reviews and rulings on the book to date, all these issues, combined with the fact that the French don't possess the equivalent of the First Amendment, made their legal department flinch at the last moment." Staros indicated that in his capacity as the current President of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, he was familiar with cultural and legal biases against comics as a medium for children and the desire to protect children as a vehicle for overzealous law. "It sometimes feels like our lawmakers are trying to sanitize our
country the same way that the Comics Code Authority sanitized our medium in the 50s. Alan Moore actually addressed this issue best with the single line from Lost Girls: 'Fiction and fact: only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them.'"

Staros went on to say while he could see why the decision was made, the fact that a company like Top Shelf took on the risks of publishing Lost Girls and a company like Delcourt did not, "really points out the value of smaller publishers, as we're often the only ones willing to risk everything to stand behind the books we believe in." Staros felt that his company should make that risk because of the potential chilling effect against publishing such works, and that the obvious literary merit of the work would be its ultimate shield against any severe action. He pointed to a Canadian customs letter from the person who reviewed the work, which he excerpted:
"The boxed set was found to contain depictions and descriptions of incest and bestiality, which are indicators of obscenity under current Canadian Border Services Agency guidelines. However, these depictions and descriptions are integral to the development of an intricate, imaginative and artfully rendered storyline. When considering the 'internal necessities' test, it appears that, in this instance, the portrayal of sex is necessary to a wider artistic and literary purpose. As a result, it is my opinion that the boxed set does not constitute obscenity.

"The boxed set was also found to contain depictions and descriptions of sexual acts involving persons under the age of 18. However, it would appear that these representations serve a legitimate purpose related to art and to the very detailed story about the sexual awakening and development of the three main female characters. Furthermore, it is my opinion that this item does not pose an undue risk of harm to persons under the age of 18 years. As a result, it is my opinion that this boxed set does not constitute child pornography.

"As the boxed set entitled Lost Girls does not constitute obscenity or child pornography, it does not fall within the provisions of tariff item 9899.00.00. Its importation into Canada is therefore allowed."
Staros underlined that he hoped that as the book continued to be sold, that it would meet the kind of "enlightened" reception in all markets as it did by Canada.

As for what happens next, Top Shelf and the creators keep the "modest" advance Delcourt paid to publish the works. Staros notes that if another French-language publisher steps forward, they can do so knowing they can purchase a translation and the lettering, as Delcourt has assured them of their support in that way.
posted 8:30 pm PST | Permalink

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