Comic book artists are to fight a law which bans depictions of children in sexual situations, saying it could criminalise legitimate artists and fans.

The law was buried deep in the coroners and justice bill, which passed through the Commons earlier this week, and is now on its way to the Lords.

Media attention was focused on the clauses relating to secret coroners inquests - which was passed - but several other clauses related to crime and justice were also in the fine print of the bill.

The law was originally laid out following consultation with children's groups and the entertainment industry, although, as GM Jordan points out in a comment piece for today, comic professionals were not invited to contribute to the process.

The Ministry of Justice was concerned that digitally manipulated photographs of children could provide a loophole for paedophiles from the law banning possession of child abuse photographs.

The government also had an eye on the increasingly extreme animated pornography - called Hentai - originating in Japan. This sometimes includes scenes of child abuse, but would have not been illegal under previous laws.

But a growing coalition of artists are increasingly concerned about the effect the law will have on artistic expression.

Critics have pointed to the comic The Lost Girls, written by infamous comic creator Alan Moore – the mind behind current blockbuster movie Watchmen.

The comic, a piece of erotic fiction envisaging the sexual awakening of three famous fairy tale characters – Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Wendy from Peter Pan.

The women meet in their 30s but certain pages deal with their experiences in their late teens. Despite the girls in the book being above the age of consent, the law defines child as anyone under 18.

Oppenents of the bill argue that if it is followed through, those who had bought the comic would be automatically criminalised by having it in their possession.

A group called the Comic Book Alliance has formed to challenge the law. Its founding members include Moore's daughter, Leah.

Several high-profile comic creators have joined the campaign, including Bryan Talbot and Neil Gaiman, writer of Stardust, which was recently turned into a Hollywood film starring Robert De Niro, and The Sandman series.

But the activists are concerned not enough fellow professionals will join the campaign for fear of appearing sympathetic to paedophile animation.

The Ministry of Justice said the comic community's concerns are unfounded.

"It is not our intention to criminalise the legal entertainment industry, the art industry or pornographic cartoons," a spokesperson said.

"The proposed offence has been carefully constructed to target the material which causes most concern and is at the extreme end of the spectrum. Images will have to meet certain conditions to be considered illegal."

And in a comment piece for today, NSPCC policy advisor Dr Zoe Hilton said drawings of child abuse serve to legitimise abuse.

26/03/2009 01:01:01