Friday, October 02, 2009

I fought the law and...

A big hand for the boys and girls at the US border for keeping their country safe from Canadian comic artists and their ilk!

So in case you went to SPX last month and wondered to yourself why my table stood empty, cease wondering; I was stopped at the St. Stephens border, had my books seized and had to pay $200 to get them back and was then sent away. Why? Well:

FLASHBACK to SPX 2008...
See, I work with strange notions like common sense and basic human understanding. I draw cartoons for a living and think very little about how the stock market works or how to build an airplane so when I drove up to the US border in 2009 and was asked where I was going I cheerfully and honestly said "To the Small Press Expo in Maryland to sell my comic books!", which is of course, the wrong answer.

The car was searched and I was informed I couldn't sell my books in the US. I asked why and was told, "Because you can't". My option was to drive back to Canada and get rid of my books if I wanted into the States, BUT I was allowed to bring a few copies of each book for promotion and give away provided I didn't sell them. So I left there thinking the problem was you can't SELL in the US, but you can GIVE AWAY. So I stashed all but a few of my books on the Canadian side of the border and passed through, having a jolly good time for the rest of the week I spent traveling around the US.

This idea took hold once I spoke to a few other Canadians at SPX who drove down to the show. "Never tell them you're selling, it's all promo and freebies." OK, so that's somewhat dishonest but what the hell does FREE TRADE mean anyway? I don't know, but I DO know that spending a week in the US is certainly going to cost me more then I could ever hope to take in on a few comic sales. Proportionally, the US is getting a sweeter deal with my tourism then I am grasping fist fulls of hard won American coin.

SPX 2009...
So I'm all signed up for SPX, have my "Free" comics in the trunk and two friends driving while I sit in the back and try and take care of a nasty flu bug that got me only days before. We get to the border and guess what? Seems I'm flagged by customs for my previous crime of ignorance pertaining to US Customs laws. They search the car, pull out all my comics and berate us for three hours.

Civil, polite and well versed in common courtesy they are not. The Henry Rollins wannabe cop could be heard to say such things as, "What's all these boxes doing on the counter? Who's the guy with the funny books?" then, flicking a customs paper at each of us, "You can read? You been to college? Know what this says?" followed by, "You tried to pull this last year and we gave you a warning so this time we're seizing your books. We will fine you and you may or may not get them back. You will not be crossing into the United States".

As if doing cartoons for a living wasn't difficult enough, I'm now on par with drug smugglers and terrorists. I've been told that I will be searched every time I try to cross into the US now and could be banned from ever entering the country should I fail in any way to please them, which includes I'm told, they have to BELIEVE what I tell them on top of not crossing the border with any funny books in my possession.

To underscore how common sense was not a part of this three hour ordeal, one of my travel friends had about a dozen of his own photocopied mini's he was planning to give away at the show. One of the officers said to him, "You plan on just giving these away? I would never just give anything away. How much did these cost to make?" and Henry Rollins pops in and states, "I don't care what he says; he's taking these down there as a commercial venture in the hope that he can get work". And so he was written up much like I was my first trip down and threatened with similar treatment as to what I was receiving should he try this sort of thing again. All because of 12 photocopied comics he was just going to give away.

$200 US later, I get my books and go home where my flu turns into a lung infection and I miss a week of work. My only comfort was the hope I gave one or two of those upstanding officers H1N1 or something during my stay. I grant one exception, and that being to the officer who decided to take the time and speak to me like a human, helpfully trying to clarify the 'rules' while the others tried to figure out how much money to fine me for (of which one woman was outraged that it was only $200 and not $800 for all the time they spent figuring out the paper work on my seizure).

Anyway, I think I'll just find comfort in all the great Canadian shows for a while. TCAF was the best show ever for me last year and I wasn't seen as a criminal for selling comics. Sorry US, but your CBP wankers make me wonder if its worth the trouble.