Banned Books Week is pretty well known, but did you know many comics and graphic novels and memoirs also face bans? Like other banned books, comics are banned for reasons like offensive language, sexual content, and so forth—but because comics are visual, even one panel that is called into question can cause a comic to be challenged or banned. Plus, as Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) mentions, people often still see comics as only for kids, or think they’re low value, and are attacked based on these misconceptions.
In the spirit of Banned Books Week, here are some comics and graphic novels that have been banned or challenged.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
This YA graphic novel about a middle school drama club was the 10th most challenged book of 2014 and the 2nd most challenged book of 2016. Why? For the shocking scene of two boys kissing—and conversations about same-sex crushes. The horror. Parents panicked and wanted to ban the book. Go read this awesome novel—and pick up her other ones, too. They’re all great.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel:
This graphic memoir was one of the top 10 most challenged books in 2015, and faces multiple challenges every year. It’s a memoir of a lesbian author and her father, who is closeted. While there are sex scenes, they’re not gratuitous, and they have a purpose. Regardless, that shouldn’t be a reason to ban a book.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
This comic is insanely popular, and is often a “gateway comic” for people—and with good reason. It’s an addictive story about an alien family. The parents come from opposite factions, and they’re on the run, trying to raise their new baby. (And the mom breastfeeds—a lot!) Among other allegations, it’s been called “anti-family.” It’s clearly not a comic for children, but that’s not its intended audience, either. I’m not a big sci-fi person, but I read volume 1 and immediately ordered volume 2. You won’t be disappointed with this one.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
This is a perfect comic to read in these increasingly dark days—because we cannot, must not, forget the horrors of the Holocaust that happened not that long ago. Using different animal species to tell the story, Spiegelman’s book has been called “anti-ethnic” and “not for children.” The irony of a book about the Holocaust being called “anti-ethnic”…think about that one for a minute.
This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
It’s won multiple awards in children’s lit, but this graphic novel has been challenged because of mentions of teen pregnancy and profanity. Because clearly, young people have never heard of these things before. The book tells the story of two friends during a summer of that weird time when childhood and adolescence overlap. They watch older teens, struggle with family issues, and try and come to grips with growing up. It’s exquisitely, beautifully, painfully accurate.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner
Combining prose and comics, this novel (suspected to be autobiographical, but considered a novel) was challenged when a parent of an 11-year-old boy who checked the book out of the library flipped through it and thought it was “unacceptable.” The mayor of Stockton, CA called it a “how-to book for pedophiles.” The book contains themes of sex, STIs, drugs, and so forth—it’s not for children. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on the library shelves.
The Color of Earth, by Kim Dong Hwa
The first book in a highly-praised Korean comic book series (manwha), in 2010, this book was challenged more than The Hunger Games, Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The reason? Nudity and sexual content—it was seen as not suitable for the age group. It’s about a young girl and her widowed mother, who are isolated in their community; eventually, both mom and daughter find love again.
There are plenty of other banned and challenged comics: Bone, Persepolis, Sandman, In the Night Kitchen, Palomar, Tank Girl, and more. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the CBLDF, read challenged comics and spread the word about them, and support your local library.