It’s Banned Books Week in the US. During one week, we highlight our freedom to read and our right to free access to material and information. Traditionally, we’ve heard a lot about Huck Finn and The Satanic Verses being challenged in the US and banned elsewhere, or about And Tango Makes Three promoting the homosexual agenda, but there have been several comics–especially in the past few years–that have been challenged in American schools and libraries.
Four Letter Words
If you look at the list of most challenged comics in this century, there’s a funny thing happening: somehow, without meaning to, several comics whose titles are single four-letter words have been regularly challenged. And rarely for profanity.
Maus has not only been challenged in the United States, but banned in other countries. There is a swastika on the cover, which, regardless of the content, has been illegal to display in some places in Europe. Here in the US, it has been deemed “anti-ethnic”, which, I don’t know, but I kind of seems like it’s the opposite of that.
Bone has been ceaselessly challenged across the US for various reasons; some saw it as promoting drinking and doing drugs, while others found it racially offensive and violent. Others still just found it to be inappropriate for the age group it was made available to. I know several people who read this in middle school. They’re fine.
Saga has been on the commonly challenged list for a couple years now, with its primarily reason for challenge being “anti-family”. How a book about soldiers from warring planets getting married, having a child, and trying to maintain their relationships with each other and their extended families is anti family is beyond me. Other reasons for challenge, like nudity, sex, and profanity, I can at least see examples of there in the text. But anti-family? Come on.
It’s All Pornography
A nearly overarching number of comics that have been challenged for reasons beyond “unsuitable or inappropriate for an age group” received those challenges because of nudity or sexual content. Comics like Raina Telgemeier’s Drama and The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa, two very different stories of adolescence and coming-of-age, have been challenged because of “sexual content”. which can apparently mean several things depending upon who is making the challenge. In the case of Drama, the only situation is an age-appropriate same-sex kiss. In The Color of Earth, it’s an artistic display of sexuality. Neither of these is wrong.
If Blankets and Fun Home–even Pride of Baghdad, you know, the one about the lions–can be challenged in institutions of all levels for obscene materials (Y: The Last Man got challenged at a college for heaven’s sake! A college. Where grown-ups go to shape and improve their thoughts), where does it end? As a society, what can we do to enforce more “self-censorship,” where a person can object to or elect not to read something without aversely affecting the rest of their community? I may not enjoy Batman: The Killing Joke, but I’m not going to make sure nobody else who goes to my library reads it either. As a librarian, my social responsibility to my community and my country is about ensuring intellectual freedom for all people, which includes providing them with materials I might not like or agree with.
It’s my democratic right to read Persepolis, dammit. And everyone else’s, too.
While it’s just seven days, Banned Books Week lays the groundwork for our actions for the rest of the year. As comics readers, we forget that there are people who take offense to the works of art that we enjoy and devour on a regular basis. The books I’ve touched on are just the tip of the iceberg of comics that have been challenged and/or removed for whatever reasons. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a detailed list with case examples of recently challenged books and the outcomes of those challenges, if one exists. And Humble Bundle has a Forbidden Planets Bundle in honor of Banned Books Week.
So this week, let’s do the little we can to stick it to the overzealous parent who doesn’t think anyone’s child should read what they don’t want their own children to read, or the righteous citizen who doesn’t want anyone in their community to have access to books they find offensive. I think I’ll go revisit Fun Home. How about you?