Banned Books Week: A Comics Perspective
As usual, the good folks at School Library Journal have done an excellent job of explaining the importance and significance of Banned Books Week, beginning this Saturday, September 26, and going through October 3. Since 1982, this has been a pivotal week to celebrate not only the joys of reading, but the freedom of being exposed to ideas, themes, images, and words that challenge our beliefs, expand our knowledge, and give us the tools to grow. And while prose books face the most well known challenges in the public eye, comics, manga, and graphic novels still endure their rough history of censorship and banning.
As SLJ points out, the beginnings of the comics-banning movement are expounded upon in David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague, which details the McCarthy-like witch hunt that took place in the ’50s over comic books. Begun by Dr. Frederic Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, it ran comics companies out of business, stifled creativity, virtually ended a gigantic sales boom in the industry, and solidified a cultural tenant to devalue the worth of the stories found within their pages.
Those beliefs carry on even today, creating an environment in which comics can be legislated against and even used to prosecute comics sellers.
Consider these recent comics-related cases:
In September 2007, a complaint was filed against Tintin in the Congo in the Brooklyn Public Library. Much like complaints against Tom Sawyer, the book was described as racist and using offensive stereotypes. The library moved the book to the Hunt Collection, which requires patrons to schedule an appointment to view the room’s contents. While using the First Amendment to protect offensive materials is perhaps one of the least popular aspects of its defense, it remains an important element in the fight to protect literary freedoms.
Craig Thompson’s Blankets and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, two nonfiction graphic works, came under fire in late 2006 in Missouri. The library in Marshall was contacted by a patron who wanted the books removed for their frank sexual content, which was considered inappropriate for children. The books faced an arduous journey, with supporters on both sides either fighting to have them removed or to keep them on the shelves. In March 2007, the books were allowed to go back on the library’s shelves.
For its own part, Fun Home has faced additional challenges. Fun Home details the author’s own coming-out process and her findings about her late father’s sexuality, and how his closeted lifestyle affected her upbringing. The memoir was added to the syllabus of a University of Utah English course in 2008, but a student objected to having to read it and contacted a group called “No More Pornography” to fight the required reading. The student was given an alternate reading requirement, but the group decided to protest Fun Home anyway, adding a petition to ban the book to is website. (They apparently weren’t very successful. It’s hard to tell if NMP still exists as a group; their website is no longer online.)
The Captain Underpants series has not been challenged as much as of late, but in 2005, it ranked as the eighth most frequently challenged book, according to the American Library Association. (It was challenged for reportedly being inappropriate for its age group and for having antifamily content.)
Oh, and here’s a new way you can take part in Banned Books Week by reading a graphic novel. The sixth most banned book of the 20th century, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, has just been adapted as a graphic novel by Tim Hamilton. Read a banned book in a whole new way and feel the burn!
Another worthy cause to support in honor of Banned Books Week: The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund