> Part I

by Roger Hutchinson
IT, (International Times) No.147, February 9th 1973, pp.17-20.

Of Cocks & Cunts & Comic Books

Presenting your own defence in a court of law has several distinct advantages, not the least of which is that you get to speak more often than anybody else. In the witness box you present your own introduction, are then cross-examined by all counsels for defence and prosecution, and then, believe it or not, you cross-examine yourself. Mick Farren used these complex advantages with considerable skill:
Nasty Tales was, if not a labour of love at least a labour of interest. Over the last four years the US have begun to push forward from the concept of using comics as a child's medium, to use of it as a medium for social and political beliefs...When one is publishing any magazine which in any way makes a discussion of sexual aspects, and I don't think anyone can deny that human sexuality is a constantly debated subject in this society, you have to guess what is deemed obscene. If you begin to diverge and take it into the realm of humour or pictures, there is immediate potential contact with Obscene Publications Act...On page 50 of this magazine (Crumb's Fuck-in and Orgy Riot) there is a lampoon on the sexual act. I feel that this picture has very great humorous merit in what I regard as a society obsessed by sex...Page 9 (Crumb's Dirty Dog) makes the point that the repression of an individual who is not glamorous, charming, or eloquent, is in fact the force that produces what this character has become, the archetypal man in the dirty raincoat. We are not in this story given the impression that the character is happy. He operates under total self-delusion...this particular story lays bare the myth of the glamour magazines and the girlie books.

Between pages 34 and 38 we have a number of stories of characters called the Furry Freak Brothers. In the underground the Furry Freak Brothers are virtually an institution, in the same way as in England Andy Capp is an institution, and they have great similarities. Andy Capp is shiftless, lazy, deceitful, he drinks and gambles to excess. He appears every day in our largest selling national daily newspaper. The Furry Freak Brothers also are shiftless, lazy, and deceitful, but instead of being drunkards they are soft drug users. They have the same cathartic effect of laughing at our failures and weaknesses.

Page 50 (Fuck-in and Orgy Riot) is somewhat more difficult to explain because it is a single visual joke. There is no thread of continuity. I can really only draw your attention to some of the attitudes to sex that we find in contemporary media. Chocolate ads where the relationship to a chocolate bar and a human penis is so explicit as to be almost embarrassing if one is watching it in mixed company. Page 50 is a parody of advertising techniques in that it takes reality through to total absurdity...

Judge: People who watch these television advertisements are deliberately being titillated?

Mick: Undeniably, my lord. They titillate the observer and then offer the product as a substitute. This is a very common technique.

Prosecution: What effect would this magazine have on the sanctity of marriage?

Mick: I do not have a great deal of faith in the sanctity of marriage.

Prosecution: Is there anything in this magazine which advocates love?

Mick: The culture around which this magazine was produced has frequently been referred to as the Love Generation. I see nothing in this magazine which says that love is a spurious emotion which should not be admitted.

The ad in IT advertising Nasty Tales No.1 suggested with uncanny accuracy, that hippies write in for copies of the magazine 'before we're busted'. At the Old Bailey so artless a remark takes on the proportions of a conspiracy...

Prosecution: 'Write to us before we're busted', Mr Farren?

Mick: At the time of publishing this advertisement the previous company who ran IT was in some course of their appeal to the House of Lords and the OZ Trial was set for June. It seemed from where we were in the underground press that being raided by the police was almost a fact of life, like rain...
And back to the Fuck-in and Orgy Riot:

Prosecution: How can it be to the public good that this parody of television advertising apparently was circulated among hippies?

Mick: It is a parody of the society that produces this kind of television advertising...it is a surreal fantasy, it is laughable and I felt that the laughter elicited would be to the public good.
Which is where the judge asked a Most Revealing Question...

Judge: Public good? Of hippies? Or of society at large?

Mick: Society at large, my lord.

Judge: I am not a hippie and I am over 28. What good is it going to do me?

Mick: It is a joke which deflates hypocrisy and pomposity...
Judge Alan King-Hamilton seemed to adopt the role of a second prosecution counsel with nonchalant ease. He rounded off Mick's evidence with these questions:

Judge: Can you point to any item in the magazine which either attempts to enlighten the dark areas of society or would help a group of people to evolve their morality?

Mick: Even the notorious page 50 would seem to take out a social bogey man, the representation of sex, hold it up to the light, and cut it down to size.

Judge: Sex is not a dark area of society.

Mick: I feel that despite progressive liberalising of sex over the past ten years, there is still a lot left to be desired in this field, and even what has so far been achieved has only been achieved in courts of law like this, and there is still a counter movement to push us all back into Victorianism.

"It is a fact that these people take drugs"
Being a witness at court of law requires a peculiar form of verbal competence. At the Old Bailey it's a fine art. It's not quite enough to be simply honest, or ordinarily articulate. You're called upon to follow arguments almost Socratean in their deviance, to watch for the hidden assumptions in the most innocuous question. A sense of humour is allowed, but only on the level of the express repartee set by the cross-examiner, and under the intense, television-camera immediacy of the courtroom procedure. No remark can be effectively revoked, any lengthy silent consideration is interpreted as vacillation. Nothing could be further from the high-pressure academic logic of the Old Bailey than the crazed disjointed world of the underground comic, or the minds of the artists responsible. With all that said, Edward Barker, co-editor of Nasty Tales and one of the most original and talented cartoonists in this country, gave lousy evidence.

On paper, in the transcript, it doesn't look so bad: but the transcript doesn't record the minute long silences before the monosyllabic answers, the nuances of expression in the prosecutors voice as he picks up and expands a casual answer. Edward's own cartoons were analysed down to the final detail, picked clean for any form of 'social merit'-of which in the terms of the Old Bailey, they fortunately have precious little. Do you know," asked the judge at the end of Edward's evidence, "of any cartoon which has not got artistic merit?" Edward had no answer. "Why," continued the judge, "is it calledNasty Tales?" Again, Edward didn't know. "Couldn't it," savoured the judge, "have discouraged drug-taking?" "Yes, it could," Edward admitted, "but finding American strips that discourage drug-taking is very difficult. I don't believe in discouraging people from doing anything, I think they should make up their own mind...If we had discouraged drug-taking it would not have been bought. It is a fact that these people do take drugs."

George Perry is assistant editor of the Sunday Times Magazine and co-editor of The Penguin Book of Comics. H J Blackham is 69 years old and a humanist. Germaine Greer is a cosmopolitan feminist. "You may be surprised," said the irrepressible judge in his summing up "that anybody came forward to tell you that anything in this magazine has literary or artistic merit. But there you are. This world is full of surprises and it happened." Yes, indeed, it happened, and all three of the individuals concerned acquitted themselves in the dock well enough to merit a less-boorish dismissal. For your amusement and education; extracts from the evidence of Perry, Blackham, and Greer:

Crumb's Dirty Dog - "Rabelaisian satire of a very high order".
Perry on Robert Crumb:
He is the most outstanding certainly the most interesting artist to appear from the underground, and this(Dirty Dog) is Rabelaisian satire of a very high order. He is using coarseness quite deliberately in order to get across a view of social hypocrisy in this strip...This is by no means the best of Crumb's work, Crumb at his best is probably far more shocking than this. He is a master of this particular medium, which for him is an appropriate one...I would say the first strip (Ruff Tuff Creampuff) does condemn violence.

Prosecution: By the police?

Perry: Authoritarian violence; the authority figure represents authoritarianism which could be in the form of sending B 52s to Vietnam. It is a condemnation of the politicians. The policeman is merely a tool of politicians and the establishment. He stands for an attitude towards people.

Perry on the Freak Brothers:

This is mocking the conventional children's comic approach where you have a cast of characters enacting a scenario week by week which ends in a gag...I don't think it is suggesting that drug- taking is necessarily a good way of life. I can remember cartoons in Film Fun and Dandy about burglars which in no way suggested that a child should become a burglar.

Blackham on Nasty Tales in Society:

I think the whole magazine is crude, but I think that is neither here nor there in the question at issue. It seems to be not in any sense vicious, assuming rather than creating pornography; it is positive in that it is calling for a more honest and open treatment of certain topics and an expanse of diversity of behaviour and ethos...It is anti-authoritarian within the context of the kind of harassment experienced by members of this group.

Prosecution: Does it brutalise and dehumanise sex?

Blackham: It is dealing with aspects of the social scene in which sex is brutalised already.
Greer on Robert Crumb:
(Dirty Dog) is one of the many people who is disfranchised by our society, in this case sexually. The only people admitted to the permissive society are the good-looking, young, and relatively well-to-do...(The Fuck-in and Orgy Riot) refers to a seminal notion that the underground entertained for a long time, the 'group grope' concept. It was of course absurd, it is impossible to behave as if a sexual revolution had occurred before it has occurred, and it is quite possible that if it had happened it would have been as unappetising as it is depicted here...(Crumb) satirises the underground for its servility, lack of democracy, complacency, inability to see what the political explanations were for the manifestations that surrounded it...

Greer on Literary Merit:

I would have thought the economy and breadth of language in Dirty Dog shows literary merit. It is at least very good journalism.
Prosecution: Surely journalism is not literature?
Greer: Addison would be very hurt to hear you say that...Among comic strips and comic books this is rather better than most and a good deal less insidious in its effect upon public taste than Superman. Creampuff has literary merit because it sets out to make a different point about concealed institutional violence.  Literary merit has everything to do with choosing the words most appropriate to the expression...Pope also has cause to refer to excretory functions. It would have been inappropriate to have (the characters in Nasty Tales) delivering two line speeches in rhythm.


Obscenity who really cares
The summing-up is, bar interruptions, the last time that any of the counsel get to speak to the jury. One after another they present the summary of their case, and then the judge takes everything under his judicial wing and presents what is theoretically an accurate précis of the entire proceedings. Of course, this never has been what happens and the Nasty Tales trial set no precedent. The judge says what he thinks, in whatever manner he chooses; and if he is 68 years old and his subject matter is an anarchic comic book aimed at and produced by people four generations younger than him; then his summary of their case is unlikely to resound with sympathy. In fact, Judge Alan King-Hamilton's summary of the Nasty Tales trial did the prosecution shame.

He followed a defence summary that with the exception of Mick Farren, was unconvincingly weak. Robin Grey insisted that Nasty Tales "may be for all time the least offensive magazine ever prosecuted" and stating quite unnecessarily that Mick Farren "is blessed with an intellect higher than most of the people in this court"; and Ronald Grey quoted Dorothy Sayers on the undereducation of children. Mick Farren's closing speech I would like to quote in full but lack of space forbids. Nervous, and speaking very quickly, he reminded the jury that:

We have become very removed from the real outside world...The bustle of everyday life seems to vanish as we step inside the courtroom and a new world appears. A world where to make a simple joke is fraught with sinister overtones, or to tell a story that involves people who take drugs becomes an instruction to take drugs.
The jury were watching Mick very curiously, allowing him a kind of attention which no member of counsel had gained. He repeated the essences of the magazine's virtues and purposes, expounded briefly on the machinations of authority in dealing with awkward minority groups, and took a brief pause for breath before stating:
I believe that this society has attempted to place too much emphasis on the role of authority in regulating the private lives of individuals. This is a belief that I hold strongly, and the bulk of the material in this magazine appeared to me to put this very question to the reader...The jokes in Nasty Tales took a robust view of our society. It poked fun at some of the authority, at the hypocrisy, at the failings of many sections of our society. If you, gentlemen, feel that this is contrary to the good health of our society, then I can only suggest that you convict myself and my friends.
Roger Davies, counsel for Edward, made the final speech for the defence at a time when there was little left to say, and closed the case apart from the judge's summing-up.

Judges do not favour Not Guilty verdicts. No rash statement, that, nor comment on the obvious. The point is that a Not Guilty verdict is the only courtroom occurence that can take the case concerned completely out of the judge's patriarchal hands. If a Guilty verdict is returned the case is still the judge's: his decision whether to fine the accused one new penny or send them to jail, and these actually relish making. Deific power over people's futures does odd things to any human being, and judges, difficult as it is occasionally may be to credit, are human beings.

Alan King-Hamilton began his summary calmly enough, flattering the jury of their ability through "common sense and good taste" to reach a sane verdict, and suggesting to them that they ignore his own remarks if they see fit. Fortunately the jury heeded that latter piece of advice, because after four or five minutes something deep in the back of Alan King-Hamilton's mind seemed to miss a cog.

...the pendulum of permissiveness (the judge looked meaningfully at the Nasty Tales on his desk) has gone too far and it is time it began to swing back again...Mr Farren said that he doesn't 'have a great deal of faith in the sanctity of marriage'. You may think it right to consider this...You may think it would have been more for the public good if it was designed to make the hippies understand what is wrong with them...Miss Greer is from their camp...it would not be proper to regard her as an independent expert...Mrs Farren, we have heard, was used to helping around the office with their personal problems. You may ask yourselves, members of the jury, whether she would not have been better employed in helping young hippies get back to their parents...

At this point a forceful shock-wave ran around the court, two counsels stood to object simultaneously, and my personal outrage grew so uncontrollable that the clerk of the court gesticulated violently at me, I gesticulated back, and was promptly ejected from the courtroom. Not an unpleasant experience, actually, if somewhat undignified.

The jury was sent out to consider its verdict first thing next morning, and after four hours thirty-four minutes they returned a verdict of Not Guilty. The majority was 10-2.

Michael Bateman in The Sunday Times rather sillily expressed the view that "the underground press sees this verdict as one in the eye for the Whitehouse Brigade". Were that true, it would be a petty and naive point of view. We've won a trial. We had a jury that was informed and liberal enough to identify more with the defence than with Edwardian morals of the judge and the prosecution. The implications of this fact are interesting. Could it be that Nasty Tales expresses the attitudes of the British public more accurately than Lord Longford or Alan King-Hamilton? On the basis of this jury decision that is a reasonable speculation, but not one that is going to seriously affect the authorities on the basis of one Old Bailey verdict. The genuine climate of informed public opinion must begin to express itself more vociferously and more widely. To quote Page 50, Nasty Tales No.1:

'Don't be shy! Anyone can join! Bring the whole family!
And get them signed up for jury duty.

> Part I