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This year’s Banned Books Week, slated for Sept. 21-27, will spotlight comics and graphic novels, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Banned Books Week planning committee announced today. Graphic novels have been the subject of a number of library and school challenges over the past few years, and the American Library Association’s most recent list of frequently challenged books includes, incredibly, Jeff Smith’s Bone.
Comics and graphic novels are somewhat more vulnerable to challenges because of their visual nature: While one would actually have to read To Kill a Mockingbird or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to find potentially offensive content, all a would-be guardian of morality has to do with comics is flip one open and leaf through the pages looking for Naughty Bits. That’s apparently what happened when the Chicago Public Schools attempted to remove Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis from classrooms; the move was based on a few panels taken out of context.
Furthermore, despite yeoman work on the part of publishers, retailers, critics and librarians, a large portion of the public still seems to believe comics are low entertainment for children, and thus that no comic has literary value and all comics should be child-safe. That was the attitude that led to the removal of Alan Moore’s Neonomicon from a South Carolina public library after a mother let her 14-year-old daughter check it out from the adult section and then was shocked that it included “nasty” words and explicit sexual content. “It looked like a murder mystery comic book to me,” the mother told the local newspaper. “It looked like a child’s book. I flipped through it, and thought it was OK for her to check out.”
Watch for more news about this as the American Library Association annual meeting rolls around at the end of June; librarians are at the forefront of both freedom-of-speech issues and the promotion of graphic novels, so this should be an interesting combo. And this is as good a time as any to start following the CBLDF blog, which is constantly updated with news of comic and graphic novel challenges around the world.