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Webcomic / The Illustrated Guide To Law

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The Illustrated Guide to Law is a webcomic by Nathaniel Burney that teaches legal concepts to a general audience.

For each subject, the comic begins by presuming no knowledge, then proceeds in baby steps to fairly sophisticated discussions.

This work contains examples of:

  • A Dick in Name: In the section covering the fifth amendment, a corrupt corporate executive is named Richard Head. The author lampshades this, saying "This is what happens when I let my 9-yr-old design a character."
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  • Antagonistic Offspring: The Defense Counsel is the Prosecutor's father. No moral weighting attached, but they're by definition on opposite sides.
  • Art Evolution: The author has acknowledged that, at first, he didn't think anybody would be reading it, so the art was done quickly and inconsistently. But once he realized he had an audience, he started putting more effort into the art.
  • The Brute: The Heavy in the Conspiracy storyline, Judge Bahrwho's actually a judge, strangely enough.
  • Classy Catburglar: Mrs. Flavors in the Conspiracy section.
  • Courtroom Antic: The suppression hearing on eyewitnesses gets a little heated, and at one point Pi throws another lawyer's papers into the air to make a point. She's right, but the Judge warns her not to do anything like that in front of the jury. These antics are meant to illustrate principles of law — real lawyers, naturally, don't bother with this, because they know the other lawyer already knows them.
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  • Cut the Safety Rope: The section on murder discusses the situation of cutting the rope. If you cut the rope, you're guilty of murder. If they cut the rope, you're in the clear... but good luck proving it.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: Here, they're not used to get information, but to get a suspect to confess. This page and the following explain, in detail, how the police can induce a confession (true or not).
  • Everybody Calls Him "Barkeep": The Defense Counsel and the Prosecutor are never named aside from their professions. Although the prosecutor is nicknamed "Pi" after the symbol used in court transcripts.
  • Five-Man Band: In the story arc about Conspiracy. The tale is re-examined in the the Miranda Warning section.
  • Genki Girl: Pi. In the wiretap section, she's virtually bouncing off the walls with excitement, and even in court, she often acts like she's had way too much sugar. Often overlaps with her being Hot-Blooded.
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  • Genius Bonus: There are lots of throwaway jokes and visual gags for readers familiar with mathematics, physics, literature, gaming, and history, to name just a few.
  • Good vs. Good: Both the Defense Counsel and the Prosecutor are well-intentioned and serve an important role in the justice system, but neither one is perfect. The verdicts are usually just, but there are a few storylines where an innocent person goes to jail, or a guilty person walks free, because of mistakes that they made.
  • Homage: The comic contains a variety of homages to pop culture ranging from Star Wars to old newspaper comics to Portal to Slenderman etc. It's been known to be meta with it, with Alfred Hitchcock's silhouette appearing at one point to ask if references to his MacGuffin and to North by Northwest had crossed the line from homage to theft.
  • Hot-Blooded: Pi blows up into a rage in open court on multiple occasions.
  • Idiot Ball: Several people used in examples (mostly because they misunderstand various legal principles).
  • The Mole: The Entrapment section includes several undercover cops or police informants. The Miranda Rights section reveals that the Ringleader from the Conspiracy section was a police mole.
  • No Warrant? No Problem!: Most of the section on the Fourth Amendment is about cases where this applies, since the vast majority of searches are, in fact, warrantless. While courts like warrants, the (greatly simplified) rule for warrantless searches is simply that it has to be a reasonable search.
  • Off on a Technicality: Criminal Procedure explains how the "technicalities" of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments work. The cases where the case dies on a single technicality are usually cases where the evidence is suppressed because of a police error. "No evidence, no case."
  • Perspective Flip: in the Miranda Rights section, we get to see the Conspiracy storyline from the perspective of the police as they arrest and interrogate the criminals
  • Precision F-Strike: The in-over-her-head Patty makes heavy use of self-censoring euphemisms ("cheese and crackers!") throughout her police encounter... until she's tossed in jail at the end, which warrants a sulky f-strike.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Instead of the other examples (which use people), the explanation of rape uses stick figures.
  • Repeated Cue, Tardy Response: The chapter on eyewitness identification begins with a lengthy introduction involving how memory works, and how law enforcement can inadvertently cause a false identification... but no discussion of law. Finally, the police officer character gets frustrated, throws his coat on the ground, and asks what the law requires him to do. Then there is a long beat of several panels. Just as the officer begins asking the question again, the narrator jumps into view, saying "did someone say law?"
  • Take That!:
    • His section on the jury gets absolutely nasty toward the system, pointing out that expecting twelve ordinary individuals with no legal training to comprehend the complex requirements of the job is entirely unreasonable.
    • As well as eyewitness identification procedures where the law's standards on reliable eyewitness runs counter to what science says the memory works.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Pi loves her tacos.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: The detectives made their pitch to their favorite prosecutor, who responded with sober dignity...
    Pi: Omigod YEAH!
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: There are lots of little throwaway gags for those familiar with physics and mathematics. The author goes out of his way to get period costume and other details just right. And the comic spends a lot of time laying evidentiary groundwork when it's about to bust a particularly well-entrenched myth (see the dozens and dozens of pages setting forth the history of the right against self-incrimination, the neuroscience and psychology of interrogations and eyewitness identifications, and the history of government from the Stone Age to 1776).
  • Western Terrorists: All the terrorists that the comic uses for examples appear to be white and vaguely anti-corporate/anti-government.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: "Fremont," "this state" or "<person>'s state" is often used when the comic has to get down to details and examples.

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