In 1994, while living in the conservative Florida town of Largo, underground comic artist Mike Diana became the first person convicted of artistic obscenity in America. It was for the publication of his comic, Boiled Angel, which featured in its pages transgressive and grotesque imagery depicting violence, strange murders, rape, eroticism, and downright sacrilegious subject matter. Inspired by the psychedelic and surreal 70s underground comics, Diana envisioned the work, as a mirror of America as seen through the bombardment of the 24-hour cable news cycle. And earlier this year, Superchief Gallery LA staged an exhibition of Diana's work titled Boiled Angel, which featured new multimedia works and a reprinting of the infamous underground comic.
Diana, who unwittingly distributed some of his 300 copies of Boiled Angel to an undercover law enforcement officer, tells Creators that he thought he would be protected by the First Amendment, but wasn't surprised with the Largo authorities' response. He was summarily convicted of obscenity and served three years supervised probation and community service.
"As I published my zines, I knew for a fact I had the right under the United States constitution to create what I wanted—it was never a doubt," says Diana. "I knew I was an artist and I had the right to create, [but] I also knew I was in a highly conservative part of Florida."
Diana started creating zines back in 1988, sometimes even drawing comics in class during his final year of high school. Boiled Angel grew out of another zine Diana had created titled Angelfuck, which took its name from a Misfits song. After three issues of Angelfuck, Diana moved on to Boiled Angel, in part because he started getting art and writing submissions, and needed a new artistic pipeline.
"I started to fine tune my own art dwelling on serial murder and child abuse and anti-religious imagery," Diana says. "With Boiled Angel, I wanted to create the most shocking and offensive but meaningful and beautiful fanzine that I could. It's meant to be funny but also make you think and leave a bad taste or some kind of taste in your mouth."
At the time, Diana was watching the nightly news, and what he calls "Florida horror stories" were sickening to him. As he saw it, people had become desensitized to their own surroundings. In a manner of speaking, Boiled Angel would shock them out of their collective stupor. It did—just not in the way he had intended.
For the Superchief Gallery LA show, Diana originally intended to paint giant murals on the space's massive walls, but after discussing it with the gallery's co-creators William Dunleavy and Ed Zipco, decided to paint on large canvases. Another idea was for Superchief to reprint all eight issues of the Boiled Angel zines into one book. Given that Boiled Angel was being reprinted, Diana and the gallery felt that the paintings should contain the comics' imagery.
"We did an enlargement of the Boiled Angel #1 cover and the # 8 cover as well as a bunch of classic boiled angel inside pages from the eight issues," Diana notes. "It was great to see them come to life."
With the retrospective of Boiled Angel zines collected in two printings and an exhibition now complete, Diana plans to resurrect the title for all new work, which includes art submissions he has been collecting. Given that it has been years since the last issue, Diana plans on calling it Son of Boiled Angel.
There is also a Mike Diana documentary in the works, and more comics he plans to publish that have longer storylines, with one being 64 pages. Diana is also creating a 150-page comic about his childhood as a developing artist and the events that led to his legal problems in Florida.
"Going through it in real life was so difficult of a time—I really was not ready to face this project," says Diana. "It is emotional thinking about all that. But now, after doing the doc and kind of having to dive into it, I feel I am ready to do it. I have so many comics in my head, stories I want to do," Diana muses.