The Nasty Tales Obscenity Trials - Comic Books In Court

While most people involved with comic books remember the Wertham period of the 1950s and the resulting Kefauver hearings, the banning of Australian comics (also in the 1950s) and trials such as Disney v Air Pirates, not many remember the Nasty Tales obscenity trial that happened in England in the early 1970s.  This is an enormous shame as it still stands as one of the most important trials for the comic book industry as a whole, as the content of the book was placed on trial as obscene with a very surprising result.  The trial revolved around the publication of an underground comic book named, naturally, Nasty Tales, but, at times, it seemed that, as with the OZ trials that preceded it, the entire UK counter-culture was on trial with a guilty verdict all but assured as the Establishment fought to keep the subversives of the time firmly in their place. 

Nasty Tales was typical of the underground books of the time, containing roughly 70% of previously published strips by the likes of Robert Crumb, who’s contributions included the delightfully titled Grand Opening Of The Great Intercontinental Fuck-in and Orgy Riot and Dirty Dog, had previously seen print in IT (International Times) in the UK, without any adverse attention, and the remaining content was new material, created by a number of IT staffers and underground cartoonists.  In a bizarre twist Nasty Tales was freely available at newsagents, ensuring maximum exposure, but also enabling anyone access to it. 

Newsagent Roger Collier had received his copies of Nasty Tales #1 in a bundle of other assorted magazines and comics, and had simply placed it on the shelves with other comics, such as Beano, Dandy, and Andy Capp, along with assorted Marvel and DC reprints.  The fact that the comic was freely available on newsstands prompted the trial judge to ask, “Are Rainbow and Comic Cuts still published?”, prompting the following reply from Collier, “They are not.”  “What a pity,” responded the judge, to much laughter from the court.  Due to the graphic nature of the book, and it’s accessibility to children, it wasn’t long before a complaint was received from the mother of an eight year old boy, who had purchased Nasty Tales #1 for 20p from Collier’s newsagency.  The mother, later named as Mrs Wooley, promptly shredded the comic with her bare hands, marched down to the local police station, dumped her pile on the front desk and duly filed her official complaint, which was then forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.  Acting on the complaint the DPP had the police move in with the view of confiscating the remaining stock and arresting the publishers, namely Bloom (Publications) Ltd and four individuals, International Times company secretary Joy Farren, company directors Mick Farren, John Edward Barker (better known as Edward Barker, who has often been described as being one of the most original and talented underground cartoonists to emerge from the UK) and Paul Lewis, who also acted as the copy editor for International Times.  The arrests and charges came as no surprise as IT had been under scrutiny since similar underground publication, Oz Magazine, had been subject to it’s own obscenity trial (for which it was found guilty), forever ensuring that the highly articulate Oz Magazine/IT contributor Richard Neville would always be in work (no less a luminary than John Lennon openly protested during the Oz trials, provided financial support and released a protest single, God Save The Oz, which sank like a lead brick.  Despite his support for OZ, Lennon and other famous radicals all decided not to financially support Nasty Tales). 

On the day the police made their move, only Joy Farren was in the office – apparently the others were all enjoying themselves at the Glastonbury Fayre.  Joy, whose duties at IT, “…included coming in to the office for an hour or two in the morning, collecting the post and taking any money to the bank. I wrote regular articles at home and organised the small ads section,” later recalled the event in court, “I remember the morning when the police arrived. I looked up and said 'Good morning' and PC Chamberlain said, 'Are you the secretary?' I was rather cross because it is an instinctive reaction of people to assume that a woman sitting in an office is a typist, and that is one thing I get cross about-the automatic assumption that a woman is always a servant. So I replied that I was only helping out...I never even thought about things like being company secretary."  When later quizzed, PC Chamberlain accused Joy Farren of lying, stating with the true sexist attitude of the times, “If meeting a young woman when I walk into an office the natural thing to say is 'Are you the secretary?'."  The accusation of lying revolved around the fact that Joy Farren was an officer of International Times and had stated, when asked, that she, “…was only helping out,” and as such did not identify her true role in the organisation   The accusation didn’t stick.  In spite of this the publishers of Nasty Tales were indicted and formally charged with possessing an obscene article for gain under the Obscene Publications Act, namely 275 copies of Nasty Tales # 1 and as such were duly summonsed to appear in the Marlborough Street Magistrates Court in the winter of 1971 whereupon they elected for trial by jury. 

By the time the case reached the trial stage in 1972 three of the accused had left International Times.  Joy Farren had remained at International Times, where she managed the cash flow and wrote articles for publication.  Paul Lewis had moved on completely had distanced himself from both IT and his co-accused.  Mick Farren and Edward Barker had formed their own media co-operative (as was the way of the times) and continued to edit and contribute Nasty Times as well as contributions for IT, with Mick Farren also expanding his musical interests (his band, the Pink Fairies, recorded for the Stiff label, which is where I first heard of him in the late ‘70s), complete with staging a fund raising benefit concert for himself and his co-accused, which resulted in money being skimmed off by the owners of the hall they’d booked.

Mick Farren was, and presumably still is, an incredibly verbose man.  He chose to defend himself and proceeded to excel in court, both on the stand and in his questioning of witnesses.  As this exchange shows, he had a perfect grasp of the situation and was able to sum up the role of underground comics in a few paragraphs.  Asked about the possibility that underground strips had a largely negative impact upon society, he elected to compare the Freak Brothers to an English standard, Andy Capp.  Andy Capp was, at the time, a long running, highly popular syndicated daily strip about a married couple, Andy Capp and his long suffering wife Flo.  In its original incarnation Andy Capp was portrayed as being terminally unemployed and unemployable, a feckless character that’d while days away sleeping, drinking to excess, chain smoking, swearing, dodging bills, rent and responsibility.  He’d physically fight the rent man for the right to pay rent, he’d cheat at sport was continually sent off soccer grounds for bashing opponents and referees.  He’d routinely bash his wife, Flo, and insist that any money be spent on the purchase of alcohol.  He lived for the opening of the local pub and his open cheating with other women – and that was merely the start.  In later years Andy Capp has been diluted to the point of being almost unrecognisable, but, in 1972, compared to Andy Capp, the shiftless, wife beating, womanising drunk, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, the shiftless, drug dealing dope smokers, were, on the surface of things, somewhat tame.   

Farren[i]: 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?
Farren: 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?
Farren: I do not have a great deal of faith in the sanctity of marriage.
Prosecution: Is there anything in this magazine which advocates love?
Farren: 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.
Prosecution: 'Write to us before we're busted', Mr Farren?
Farren: 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...
Prosecution: How can it be to the public good that this parody of television advertising apparently was circulated among hippies?
Farren: It is a parody of the society that produces this kind of television is a surreal fantasy, it is laughable and I felt that the laughter elicited would be to the public good.
Judge: Public good? Of hippies? Or of society at large?
Farren: Society at large, my lord.
Judge: I am not a hippie and I am over 28. What good is it going to do me?
Farren: It is a joke which deflates hypocrisy and pomposity...
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?
Farren: 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.
Farren: 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.

On the other side of the coin, (John) Edward Barker almost sank the boat singlehandedly.  A hopeless drunk, he turned up to court in a dishevelled state and the rumour since was that he was stoned throughout the entire trial.  His testimony was peppered with disjointed comments, slurring speech and long pauses.   To say that his testimony was vague and confusing, as evidenced by this snippet, would be akin to saying that Hitler was a naughty fellow, at times.  Sadly Ed Barker died of heart failure in 1997 and was subsequently eulogised as being the, “…wittiest and most idiosyncratic cartoonist to emerge from the British underground press in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” by Roger Hutchinson in his obituary[ii].  In his time he had seen his work published in magazines as diverse as IT, NME, Private Eye and The Observer, along with countless underground comics. 
JudgeCouldn't it have discouraged drug-taking?
BarkerYes, it could, 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.

Joy Farren also didn’t fare too well, for different reasons, as she found the process somewhat intimidating and daunting.  Despite her exhortations that she preferred, “…any sort of book which is likely to expand human consciousness,” she admitted on the stand that she wasn’t always agreeable with the contents of publications that she contributed to, especially Nasty Tales, to which her contribution was virtually nil.  Her exchange with prosecutor Michael Coombe gives an indication as to her own unique point of view and how she reconciled her own personal tastes with that of a commercial publication.
Prosecution: Why did all four of you not join in Nasty Tales?
Joy: I have absolutely no interests in comics. I have always dealt with my own interests, and that was my function in the paper.
Prosecution: If the new venture was successful it would increase the income of the company?
Joy: Possibly.
Prosecution: Then you would have got more money?
Joy: No, we would have employed more people.
Prosecution: Did you think Nasty Tales was going to be a comic in the sense of Beano or Dandy?
Joy: No, I thought it was going to an underground comic book.
Judge: What is meant by an 'underground comic'?
Joy: Comics which are directed towards young people, who you might call hippies. Alternative comics is abetter description. Encouraging people to live off the land, to have a better diet, to be better human beings.
Judge: How can you live off the land underground?
ProsecutionGroup sex, does the underground recommend that?
JoyCertainly not.  I don't like group sex.
(At this point a copy of IT containing a vintage sex aid ad was waved before the court)
Prosecution: Were you aware that this sort of ad was going into the paper?
Joy: Yes: It was not part of a deliberate plan to advertise pornography.
Prosecution: Did it appear with your full approval?
Joy: Not necessarily. I don't like pornography.
Judge: Please look at the back page of Nasty Tales No. 1. How do you reconcile that with 'I don't like pornography?'

At which point Joy Farren was brought to tears by the entire process, broke down and had to be removed from the stand to regain her composure.  By her own account she was more interested in writing and helping people than producing an underground comic book.

However another witness who excelled was George Perry, then best known as the co-author of The Penguin Book of Comics (with Alan Aldridge), along with being an assistant editor of the Sunday Times Magazine.  Perry’s Penguin Book of Comics, which had first seen print in 1967, and then revised in 1971, focused mainly on the mainstream side of comics, with the book  covering the histories of American and British comics throughout the decades, arguably the first such book to cover both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  Despite the heavy focus on mainstream comics, Perry wasn’t ignorant about underground publications and when asked about the merits and importance of R Crumb, Perry responded;
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 also went on to compare the Freak Brothers to other long established and very mainstream UK comics;
Perry: 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.

Germaine Greer also got her oar in.  In 1972 the mere mention of her name could cause people do double-take, such was her reputation.  When her name was called the result was one of the most unintentionally amusing aspects of the trial.  As the bailiff announced, “Call Ms Germaine Greer,” the judge, Alan King-Hamilton QC, responded with a shriek of “Oh My God!”  At this point in time (and this was well before she turned into a grumpy old bag with sometimes puzzling views upon the world at large) Greer was one of the most famous, and important, women in the world, largely on the strength of her book, The Female Eunuch, in which she outlined the struggles and oppression of women and helped push forward the cause of Women’s Liberation.   A self-labelled ‘exile’ from her native Australia, Greer had strong views about the alternate culture of the time, was very passionate and highly capable of being able to get her point across and not one to shy away from a verbal stoush.  As with virtually any discussion that Greer found herself part of she didn’t let anyone down with her comments.
Greer:  (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...  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.

After the Nasty Tales trial Oz Magazine journalist Jerome Burn tracked down one of the jurors and, incredibly, managed to interview him.  The resulting interview offered up a fascinating insight into the workings of the jury and how the case was won.  The juror in question was a true Freak Brother, an un-named, long haired, bearded hippy who surprised his fellow jurors by being articulate and well educated, two things that went against the accepted norms for hippies at the time, who were expected to be shiftless, drug smoking, lazy bums.  The juror had been identified by the defendants and his facial expressions were generally used as a barometer of how the proceedings were going during the trial, something that he was clearly aware of.  The interview was subsequently reprinted, in full, in the now defunct Australian alternative magazine, The Nation Review, Volume 3, #25, dated April 6-12, 1973, complete with a scathing commentary from Richard Neville.  To add to the humour, the Nation Review elected to use a cover image of none other than Ginger Meggs to sell this interview.  Bancks would have rolled in his grave.  [iii]
Had you ever been to court before?
Only as a defendant at a quarter sessions but not before a jury as I've always pleaded guilty. Three of my busts were for drugs and one was for unlawful sexual intercourse. But I'd never been to the Old Bailey before.

What was it like when you got there as a juror?
I had to get up early; I. had got my jeans on and a sports jacket — very straight — I put this on because I thought, this is going to be very straight and I hadn’t got any pants so I had to wear my jeans and this one vestige of straight gear that I had. I thought "I'm getting the bread for it" and then I thought "Well, on the other hand, I'm probably going to be challenged on any jury anyway so I'm just going to be sat around all day and meditate". I was quite content, like when I go to the social security office. I sit there and meditate, so it's no hang-up; I got there, walked in and the attendants there asked me what was my business and I said I was a juror. They directed me upstairs and I saw another attendant who told me to sit down and he told me to sit down in the wrong place so I sat there in the court hall looking down at all the artwork and the bust of the judge which I thought was too incredible because that's what judges do look like. You only see their head and shoulders ... a sort of figure there — an object judging.

Did you then relate to any of the other jurors that you were to serve with?
No. Then I was on my own and there were these other guys who were obviously jurors but I was sitting in the wrong place so I was like the working class kid having his first day at public school. Too big a leap. Then I went down to the other jurors and hung around and I identified more with them. They were more obviously working class guys and obviously didn’t know each other. They were talking to each other and mumbling and walking up and down looking very agitated. Then we had our names read out by the usher who starts forming us into a little group and even then I was still reading my meditation book trying to be inconspicuous.
But I wasn’t even called up that day and at midday we were told to go home. So on the Tuesday morning I went back down again and they threw out the old jury, the ten they had selected the day before and started again going through the jury list in order. At that stage I had an extreme fit of butterflies in the tummy. All over nervous shaking because I knew, somehow or other, that heavy premonition, that they would get to me. They called out my name and I walked up fully expecting the prosecution to chal­lenge me and I stood there and sort of mumbled the oath and sat down and at that stage the depersonalisation was very strong; you just know that you have been fitted in and it will now commence. You're the piece that doesn’t fit and it really got heavy then.

What was your idea when you knew you were going to be a juror and that you would be part of making the decision?
I realised my function within the group. I realised the process of coming to one mind, the process of argument and self justifica­tion, so I realised that Enshalah or Kismet —the will of God — was my function within the group. I didn’t have any ego about it but I did have the problem of how to express it because I couldn’t go in there and say, "Look, Friends, Romans and Countrymen..."  I thought "There are eleven other guys here and they have obviously got jobs and they are obviously straight and how are they going to react to me? Are they going to put me in a cocoon and sit me way at the end and say, 'Shut up we know you're going to find them not guilty?' or were they going to communicate or what?"

Were there any other jurors you thought might he sympathetic?
I'm grounded in prejudice and I live against a wall of hypocrisy and hate without being paranoid about it. "He has got a good suit on and he can say fuck and it's jolly decent and he's a freak and if he says fuck it's obscene"; so that I was more bothered about this personal relationship with the rest of the jury than about what they would think about these scruffy freaks in the dock, because if you can sympathise with a guy personally then you are all ready for the next stage of the argument so it's an identity thing before the argument can be expected.

First thing after the trial began we all went out to read the magazine. Immediately there was a split between one guy saying "Guilty" and another who stood up and throwing it down said "Man, what kid has got 20p these days? That's rubbish; I don’t know why we're here." I thought it was rubbish too, just childish rubbish, sexual drawings, so I felt I could make contact with him and I established a father-son or electri­cian-and-mate type of relationship with him. Then there were two of us.

One guy wasn’t bothered about the so called obscenity; he was worried about the story of Israel getting the biological bomb. That guy shouting prejudices against Israel nearly had a nervous breakdown, so I estab­lished another relationship with him on an emotional level. "I will support you and you will vote not guilty." As soon as I got these relationships and got a chatty, friendly thing going, I found their relationship towards me was quite open because I was a freak. The solicitor for Joy Farren they used to call Ronnie Corbett and the prosecution partial­ly became Ronnie Barker so we had this joke relationship as a group.
Was there an equal and opposite force? People who thought, "This is so awful, we must make sure they get convicted"?
The main opposition was the foreman, the guy who looked like a rocker. He was married and he pinched his wife's bottom the day after he had read it so she said it had corrupted him. But I'm pretty much into communal group situations so I realised that it was no good waiting until we got into the jury room for the final recess to win converts. Fortunately the opposition didn’t realise this. Nor did they even realise that there was an opposing pressure group to them. They thought that the overwhelming pressure group was the court and that the façade of justice would be sufficient to swing the jury against me. They thought that my mate was one of them, so this factor of me being strange and the defendants being strange made them fall into a false complac­ency.

How did you choose the foreman?
At first I thought, "If there's going to be a Not Guilty then I want to have the honour of saying it. I want the orgasm of standing up in court and saying Not Guilty." But then I remembered that Mao Tse says that if you want to overthrow somebody you must first exalt him, so when we were in the jury room towards the end and the question of choosing a foreman came up, I said, "If it's Not Guilty then I'd like to stand up and say so." The guy who was leading the Guilties said, "No, we can't have you", thinking he had support with the rest, "I'd like to do it." So I said, "OK, I'll second you," and that's how he became foreman.

It sounds as if the trial is irrelevant in terms of putting up witnesses and detailing argu­ments because you just have a number of people who are either for or against and nothing is going to make them change their minds.
Well we had five guilties and three not guilties and four waverers. The four waverers were listening to the arguments and were quite open. Obviously regardless of the evidence the others would have stuck to their positions. Obscenity is such a nebulous thing that nearly all the goings on in the jury room were around the definition. Most of the case though was more of a game, like Germaine Greer and the prosecution. It was a classic fight; one of the people said it was better than between Foreman and Frazier. The repartee between her and Mick Farren was also superb. The way they presented things as evidence that wouldn’t have got out any other way, like saying "What would Dirty Dog do in this situation" as if he was a real character because he was real as far as the prosecution was concerned. There was also a great sexual thing for Germaine Greer coupled with a vindictive feeling for women’s lib. "If I could," sort of scene. "If I was half the man I thought I might be, given three quarters of the chance I might have had." But at the same time there was the thought, "Thank God they aren’t all like that".
But basically it is irrelevant, although the to-ing and fro-ing does indoctrinate the jury into realising its function. "Yes sir. Now it's time for us to go sir. Thank you sir. Now can we have a cup of tea? Now can we go to the toilet?"

Can the jury ask questions about the case?
They have to write a question down which involves an ability to express yourself. It involves quite a bit of nerve to actually make a move in court. You have to indicate to the usher that you have a question which is again very embarrassing and very awkward. So the pressure is against you asking ques­tions. The only thing you can try and do is through questions to try to tell the defend­ants what the jury considers the major point which is a very difficult thing to express. The major thing I wanted to say to the defendants was, "You're arguing Nasty tales is in the public good — that's irrelevant because they think it's just a comic". But how could I get that across?

Did you at all use the arguments that come up in court to bolster your own position?
I think that it definitely did come down to the jury dividing up into those repeating the prosecution arguments and those repeating the defence arguments.

How did the judge come over?
The major statement of the judge was that obscenity is like an elephant. You know what I'm talking about. "Obscenity is like an elephant." Like I was saying in the car after­wards, "Gentlemen of the jury I think the defendants are guilty. I would like to empha­sise this point because I think it is very important. I think the defendants are guil­ty." That's what the judge was saying virtually all the time.

Did the jury at any time regard him as being in a neutral position?
Very early on. The guy who swayed the last when it was nine to two and who was voting it was obscene although he didn’t think it was obscene but it was obscene for children, he thought the judge's summing up was beautiful. Actually the judge was amazing, his whole attitude was, "Gentlemen of the jury: little plastic dummies of the jury do what you're told when I pull the strings." We kept on trying to get people to rebel. He was like a fantasy character really; I've often wanted one of those Chinese chairs that's like a throne so I could sit there and say "I'm king in my pad," and "Bang, bang, guilty: off with his head."

When you were discussing the case did you talk about the defendants as actual people?
To some of the people who thought they were guilty these were some freaks who were totally insane beings and have got super brains and super powers over everybody because of these drugs that can change the psychic to their way of thinking and corrupt our children and have them running around mad. They were very sympathetic towards Joy as a woman but generally this realisation of somebody in the dock as another person is very hard to grasp. The whole structure of the courtroom is against it.

Does it help if the jury can identify with the defendants?
Oh yes. To become a real person to the jury is the most important thing a defendant can do. Of course it could go the other way. They could look at you and say, "You could be my son and if you were fifteen years would be too good for you". But generally people should defend themselves when they can. If they are defended by a barrister then they just stay part of the court furniture, but if they defend themselves they become real people. Mick was very good with his questions and even his weakness with the legal position was helpful all the way through but he ruined everything in his summing up. What he took 20 minutes to say was, "If you, members of the jury, are so fucked that you find this obscene then find me guilty," and he sat down. But you should never underestimate a jury, never talk down to them. They can easily see an honest argument. The summing up is important and should be to do with, "Your boy in the street at your school. Are they going to blow up your house, is it going to do them any good." It's got to be on that level.

The defence was very worried about Edward. He seemed pretty stoned most of the time but I don’t think any of the jury noticed anything. You see it was the way a freak ought to be.

The underlying thing in a conspiracy or obscenity trial is that there is this wicked force and unless the state is there it will be let loose on the land and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will ride again. If you can show that you are just an ordinary bloke who drinks bitter and smokes No. 6 and nothing to be worried about then you have a chance of getting through to them.

But even if the occasional defendant comes through as human the whole process must come over as very artificial?
Some people believe that in prison they've got their own private room, a private bath­room and a colour TV, only they can't go outside. They may even have a maid come round. They believe the surface reality. The surface reality is: this is the legal system; this is justice and this in the queen's name who is on the throne by the power of almighty God. The judge is sane because somehow or other he's a QC and has tea with the queen who's the model of sanity so there's sanity behind it all: somewhere there's someone who knows what is happening.

What they don’t ask is "What is real in this room? Why is he sat up so high and wearing a funny wig?"

The reality of a courtroom is that there's a few people in a room and an atrocity is being committed. A farce in the name of justice is being enacted and this farce, this unreality, gets through to the jury in the form of emotional freak outs, emotional breakdowns. People who were suddenly whipped away from their normal occupa­tion, kept away from their families, sudden­ly realise, if they are reasonably enlightened or reasonably aware, that they have got to make decisions about someone else's reality when they can't even make decisions about their own. So they're in this position: "Normally my boss tells me what's real and I accept it but now the judge is telling me what's real and he's telling me to do this to this guy." He's saying "Find the defendants guilty and I can put them away" and I'm thinking, "Why bring me into it. Why don’t you just say 'you can go to prison for ten years, you for fifteen years, off with his head' “and act like you're mad because you must be. They think this is all real and so the unreality doesn’t get through to them as unreality, it gets through to them as emo­tional breakdown, one guy headed for a nervous breakdown.

Did you find it very pressurising?
Oh yes, incredibly. In fact by the time the judge's summing up comes, it's terrible, it's like the climax of a movie, where you're on your seat and you feel you can't handle any more. Really the pressure is unbelievable. I was totally not at home when I went home. I was thinking, "Ah yeah, I'll be glad to get back because at least there I'm alienated. At least I know where I am when I'm not anywhere." Whereas the fact is when I'm not home I can't relate to the fact that I'm on the Nasty Tales trial, and if they go down, I'm going to be walking around saying, "I didn’t do it".

Did the other members mind serving?
Not really. There's a feeling of "I am a member of the jury and I represent the public". The jurors biggest ego thing is-that he has made it; being a juror is somehow or another a status symbol, being inconveni­enced by matters of state is an impressive fact even though they may be losing money.

What was really the factor that made the one guy change his mind?
To go back a bit ... there was the fact that the police had walked past the porn shops to bust them upstairs in an office. One guy was saying, "If you will explain to me why they sell cigarettes with a warning on them, I will vote guilty". In other words, "Why don’t the government ban cigarettes if they're danger­ous"? This argument about the porn barons financing the police so they won't get prosecuted, this power in the economy, the power of money to promote tobacco and alcohol. These all became part of the politi­cal factor. The judge was obviously against them, the prosecution was against them, they were doing their best. It all boiled down to using this one eight year old child as a scapegoat. "Here you are mummy, here's some porn for you to look at." I mean, did the child know what it was showing to its mum? I mean the mere fact that he showed it to his mum showed he didn’t know what it was. This was the borderline thing, with this guy. The fact that it could come into the hands of a child. The fact that it looked like a comic. And the fact that he was old and embarrassed by sexuality. So I said, "You don’t think it's obscene but you're worried by it being a comic. What's the logic of that? And if you hang the jury up, we're going to be here for another two days."

After you'd reached your decision and an­nounced it, were the jury pleased?
I was ecstatic. Another two people in the guilties thought we had come to the wrong decision. The guy who changed his mind was fed up; the "I've had to do something distasteful, I want to get home to my wife" scene. Another two guys were saying, "Wow, we're suddenly liberated, we can talk to these freaks, we have helped them". One said, "If it wasn’t for the fact that I've been assimilated into society I'd be with you, I agree with a lot of things you're doing". They wanted contact.

As previously mentioned the hearing was a landmark for two reasons; it marked the first time a comic book had been placed on trial in the UK and, in a massive blow to the Establishment; the trial resulted in a resounding ‘Not Guilty’ verdict for the defendants, the first, and only, time an underground comic book, let alone any comic book, had won such a trial.  The repercussions of the verdict were felt almost immediately amongst the counter-culture and alternate press, and it marked the beginning of the end of over a decade of oppression and harassment of the underground movement by the UK government.  Once the trial had ended, in true underground comic fashion, a book was produced based upon the transcripts and recollections of those who were there.  The book, an all-star publication titled The Trials of Nasty Tales[iv], is a cracking read and essential for anyone interested in learning more about the trial, as is the book Nasty Tales by David Huxley,[v] the latter offers a great insight into the underground comic scene of the UK from the ‘70s onwards.  The Trials Of Nasty Tales featured contributions from George Snow, Edward Barker, Dave Gibbons, Chris Welch, Gilbert Shelton, Skip Williamson, Martin Sudden, Crumb, Rob Beddall, Ed Mirer, Andrew Butcher and many others.  The underground comic book scene would not only survive, but would explode and continue to grow to proportions that those on trial in 1972 would never have dared to imagine.  Barker and Farren would enjoy the fruits of their success by producing more and more underground comics, with varying degrees of success. 

Today, with the benefit of hindsight and history, it’s easy to draw a line from Nasty Tales directly through to publications such as Viz.  Viz is easily more obscene, both in language and content, than Nasty Tales ever was, other than the R Crumb orgies.  Where the emphasis was to bury underground comics and alternate publications and make sure that they were only accessible via alternate shops and mail order in the 1970s, in the 1990s and beyond titles such as Zit and Viz would be offered openly on sale in newsagents all over the world with a mere warning sticker on the front covers.  Without the trial of Nasty Tales, and the resulting verdict, it’s doubtful that a title such as Viz, and others of its ilk in the UK, would be able to enjoy the mainstream success that they now do, and have done since those heady days of 1972.

[i] All trial quotes are taken from IT, (International Times) No.147, February 9th 1973, pp.17-20
[ii] The Guardian 19 April 1997
[iii] This interview, with the un-named juror, was taken from the The Nation Review, Volume 3, #25, dated April 6-12, 1973,
[iv] Parts of this comic book can be found at Mick Farren’s web-site, The site contains a brilliant, and utterly humorous, account of the Nasty Tales trial, as well as a reprint of the IT article mentioned above.
[v] David Huxley: Nasty Tales: Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll and Violence in the British Underground. Publisher: Critical Vision (Headpress), 2001


Dave Gibbons said…
FWIW, Trials of Nasty Tales was one of my first print appearances. I was especially proud that one of my illos was used for the cover...
Daniel Best said…
I was going to hazard a guess and say it was your first published work Dave, but I wasn't totally sure. How did your involvement come about?
Dave Gibbons said…
May well have been my first "professional" work! Mick Farren had seen a strip I'd drawn , for a local youth mag, called "Litterbug". He wanted to use it in the International Times. He'd thought I was an American from the art style. I was thrilled and, as I recall, phoned me a week or two later about the Nasty Tales piece. Again, thrilled! I drew it from verbatim trial transcript. Felix Dennis got in touch and I ended up drawing a lot of stuff for his underground comics before he got into consumer mags. The "Litterbug" piece surfaced again in Starburst mag, years later.
Unknown said…
The Maltz Museum has been buying-up artworks of Marc Breed's and destroying them.
-UPI Newswire

Previous Posts!

Show more

Popular posts from this blog


New York Scam: A Serious Warning For All Travellers

Yogi Bear's Sexuality Explained