One of the downthetubes team, Richard Sheaf, is offering a copy of the special The Trial of Nasty Tales comic, published in 1973, on eBay – featuring a cover and interior art by Dave Gibbons.
This rare comic is inspired by the Nasty Tales obscenity trial, which happened in England in the early 1970s, considered one of the most important trials for the comic book industry as a whole.
“The trial revolved around the publication of an underground comic book named, naturally, Nasty Tales” notes Daniel Best in a fascinating account of proceedings, “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.
Featuring a mix of reprint, including work by Robert Crumb, previously seen print in IT (International Times) in the UK, and some new material, incredibly Nasty Tales #1 was freely available at newsagents. When a copy racked with Beano and other comics by one newsagent and bought by an eight-year-old boy, his purchase resulted in the prosecution.
(His mother 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).
Marking the first time a comic book had been placed on trial in the UK, in a blow to the Establishment, publishers IT (also publishers of OZ magazine) and the comic itself were found not guilty of the charges against them. It’s the only time an underground comic book, let alone any comic book, had won such a trial, and as Daniel Best notes, it marked the beginning of the end of over a decade of oppression and harassment of the underground movement by the UK government and, it’s argued, not only enabled more underground comic publishing but paved the way to enabling titles like VIZ to be freely available in newsagents, unafraid of censorship.
The Nasty Tales underground comics anthology folded after just seven issues, but the 36-page special Trials of Nasty Tales that followed, with a cover by Dave Gibbons, lettered and and designed by Richard Adams, offered on eBay is considered something of a landmark title, and a copy is held today by the British Library and featured in the Comics Unmasked exhibition.
The comic, published by H. Bunch Associates, delivers a full-length account of the trial, illustrated by creators who include not only Dave Gibbons but Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and Will Eisner, who donated their services free of charge. The trial transcript is juxtaposed with several hilarious caricatures of the people inside the courtroom, sharing the sometimes comically ridiculous story of the trial with its readers, using actual courtroom dialogue.
Dr David Huxley, a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, documented the case as part of his book Nasty Tales: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Violence in the British Underground, which also recounts the British version of the horror comics campaign in 1954, ,seizures at Knockabout comics by HM Customs in 1982 and the Press Council hearings for Oink comic in 1988. The book features contributions from artists such as Crumb, Dave Gibbons, Gilbert Shelton, Skip Williamson, Martin Sudden, Crumb, Rob Beddall, Ed Mirer, Andrew Butcher and many others.
• Nasty Tales: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Violence in the British Underground is available from book shops, including Amazon – using this link helps support downthetubes
• The Nasty Tales Obscenity Trials – Comic Books In Court
Daniel Best’s account of the trial and its impact
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.