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This year’s pairing of Banned Books Week and comics, with considerable input from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, was pure genius. While it is sponsored by a number of organizations, Banned Books Week is heavily supported by libraries, and librarians have been among the most ardent boosters of graphic novels in the last ten years.
In fact, Banned Books Week is really all about libraries, and to a lesser extent, schools. The days of government censorship in the form of prohibiting publication, import, or sale of a book for offensive content are long gone. Nowadays, “banned books” really refers to books that someone wants to remove from a public library or a school. Often, those attempts are unsuccessful because the library in question has a solid acquisition policy and a process for handling challenges, which is how it should be. Libraries buy books for a reason, and they shouldn’t take them off the shelves without a better reason.
Many public library challenges have a similar narrative: Kid checks a book out of the library, mom finds the book and freaks out, mom goes to the library, or the press, and demands the book and all others like it be removed from circulation. When the proper process is followed, a committee of professionals reviews the book and makes a decision, and you and I seldom hear about it; it’s when someone goes to a public meeting and starts yelling and waving a book that things go haywire. That’s what happened in South Carolina, where the a mother let her daughter check out Alan Moore’s Neonomicon, which the library had correctly shelved as an adult book, then was shocked to discover it had sex in it. In this case, the library review committee recommended that the book remain on the shelves but the library director overruled them.
As Banned Books Week winds down, the American Library Association has released a video of Stan Lee addressing literacy and attempts to ban comic books.
“There have been times when people tried to ban comics, they felt that they stifled a child’s imagination because, why should a child see pictures of what he or she is reading about,” he says. “But my answer to that always was the same: Why would anybody go to see a Shakespeare play, because you’re seeing the characters on the stage? Maybe there should be no plays; maybe we should just have to read the script. Maybe there should be no movies, there should be no television shows, there should be no radio shows — just read the script. Obviously, that’s ridiculous. Reading is the basis for all these other things.”
Legal | A conference has been scheduled for Oct. 27 in San Diego to discuss a possible settlement in the trademark dispute between Comic-Con International and Salt Lake Comic Con regarding the latter’s use of “Comic Con.” Comic-Con International filed lawsuit last month, claiming Salt Lake organizers are attempting to “confuse and deceive” fans and exhibitors with their use of the term. Salt Lake Comic Con formally responded on Monday, denying those accusations and asking a federal court to find Comic-Con International’s trademarks invalid. [The Salt Lake Tribune]
Banned Books Week | Reporter Sydney Gillette gets the local angle on Banned Books Week, talking with a local comics retailer and a librarian. While Missoula, Montana, has very few book challenges, the most recent one at the public library involved a graphic novel, The Furry Trap, by Josh Simmons. Neither the public libraries nor the schools in the area have ever removed a book in response to a challenge. [Montana Kaimin]
Banned Books Week | Michael Cavna talks with Jeff Smith, Scott McCloud and Neil Gaiman about the importance of Banned Books Week. Says Gaiman, “I get tired of when people say that no books are banned just because [you can get it elsewhere]. Say you’re a kid in a school district [that banned a book] and there’s not a local Barnes & Noble and you don’t have 20 or 50 bucks in disposable income … That book is gone. It was there and now it’s not. The fact you can buy it on Amazon doesn’t make that any less bad.” [Comic Riffs]
Banned Books Week | Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, discusses comics and censorship in a video interview. [Reason Magazine]
Just in time for Banned Books Week, the Cleveland, Texas, city council declined to act on a local pastor’s request that the public library remove all occult-themed books, including the wildly popular Vampire Knight manga series, from its young-adult room.
As we previously reported, Rev. Phillip Missick of the King of Saints Tabernacle Church addressed the city council on Aug. 12, demanding the “occultic and demonic room be shut down, and these books be purged from the shelves, and that public funds would no longer be used to purchase such material, or at least require parents to check them out for their children.”
He also complained about the decor of the Young Adult room, which includes a Sorting Hat and a figure of Dobby the Elf, both from Harry Potter, and a bouquet of dried roses. (We’ll get back to the roses.) Missick filed a formal Statement of Concern with the library, asking for the removal of five specific books, and he wrote a letter requesting a general ban on anything with an occult theme, saying, “As ministers of Christ, it is our responsibility to ‘watch’ and ‘warn’ against Satanic assaults against the hearts and minds of our children.”
Banned Books Week | National Public Radio’s Lynn Neary covers Banned Books Week, with interviews with frequently banned creators Jeff Smith (Bone) and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants). Although Smith acknowledges he was initially shocked to see his acclaimed fantasy adventure among the 10 most challenged books of 2013, he soon came to terms with the distinction. “I mean my heroes are on this list,” he says. “People like Mark Twain and Steinbeck and Melville and Vonnegut, so part of me also kind of says, ‘OK, fine I can be on this list.'” [NPR]
Banned Books Week | Michael Dooley runs a brief excerpt from Fun Home, and Keith Knight does a show-and-tell of his comics that were too controversial for some newspapers. [Print Magazine]
This is Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of all the books that someone, somewhere, thought was objectionable — which usually means they make good reading. This year, the focus is on comics and graphic novels, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is working with the other sponsors, including the American Library Association, to produce a number of resources for librarians and others, including a Banned Books Week Handbook; the organization has also posted a handy list of Banned Book Week events across the country (including this panel discussion, which I’ll be part of).
Graphic novels | Sales of graphic novels are up 10 percent so far this year compared to the same period in 2013, according to Neilsen BookScan, which tracks sales in bookstores and other general retail channels. In terms of unit sales, that’s about 5.6 million books sold this year, as opposed to 5.1 million in 2013. The trend is echoed by Diamond Comic Distributors’ numbers for the direct market, which show graphic novels up 3.8 percent in dollars and 5.8 percent in unit sales year to date. [Publishers Weekly]
Creators | Alison Bechdel is having a busy week: Following the news that she has been awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship, she announced her new book: The Secret to Superhuman Strength, a memoir of her obsession with exercise and a history of American fitness fads, to be published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. [The New York Times]
Conventions | Salt Lake Comic Con may have achieved near-San-Diego proportions in just two years, with an estimated 120,000 attendees, but most of those seem to be locals, according to Scott Veck of Visit Salt Lake: Just 800 hotel rooms were booked through the local tourist organization, as opposed to 3,000 for the big Outdoor Retailers trade show. About 15 percent of Salt Lake Comic Con attendees were from out of state. [Fox News 13]
Creators | Mumbai, India, editorial cartoonist Kanika Mishra was infuriated when controversial religious leader Asaram Bapu said the victim of a highly publicized gang rape shared responsibility for the crime. When the news broke that Asaram was accused of raping the 16-year-old daughter of one of his followers, Mishra drew a series of cartoons about it — and then, when his supporters threatened and harassed her, she drew about that, too: “I decided not to send this message that I am afraid of these goons. I made more and more cartoons on Asaram as his followers abused and threatened me.” Mishra is one of two recipients of this year’s Cartoonists Rights Network International Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning. [India West]
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.
Bone, Jeff Smith’s critically acclaimed fantasy adventure about three cousins swept up in epic populated by dragons, rat creatures and evil forces, was among the books most frequently challenged last year in schools and libraries.
The news comes from the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which has released its annual Top 10 List of Frequently Challenged Books as part of National Library Week. In 2013, the organization received 307 reports on attempts to remove or restrict materials from library bookshelves and school curricula across the United States. That’s down from 464 official challenges in 2012.
Bone came in at No. 10 on the list, which was led once again by Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series and populated by the likes of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (see the full rundown below). The last comic to make the list was Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth in 2011.
The ALA’s 2014 State of American Libraries Report doesn’t cite specific challenges to Bone or reveal how many there have been, but it does offer broad reasons for the objections: “political viewpoint, racism, violence.”
Although the challenges last year apparently failed to attract media attention, there was a good deal of coverage of complaint filed in 2010 by a parent in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, objecting to the depictions of drinking, smoking, gambling and sexual situations in Bone. However, a school district committee voted 10-1 to keep the books on library shelves. (There’s a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund case study, if you’re interested.)
History | Michael Dooley celebrates Banned Books Week with a look at the comics singled out by Dr. Fredric Wertham in Seduction of the Innocent as particularly corrupting of our youth; Dooley juxtaposes scans of the pages with Werthem’s commentary. [Print]
Creators | Lynda Barry is now an assistant professor of interdisciplinary creativity in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) as well as the UW-Madison Department of Art; she was an artist in residence at the university last year. [University of Wisconsin-Madison News]
Creators | Congressman John Lewis, co-author Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell talk about their involvement in the graphic novel March. [Free Comic Book Day]
New York Times bestselling author and Identity Crisis writer Brad Meltzer will host a Google Hangout on Tuesday sponsored by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for a Banned Books Week discussion, including the censorship of literary material throughout history and how individuals and groups have found ways to combat banned books.
Meltzer is best known in comics for Identity Crisis and the 2006 relaunch of Justice League of America, for which he and artist Gene Ha received an Eisner Award for Best Single Issue. An accomplished novelist, he most recently released the political thriller The Fifth Assassin.
The CBLDF’s Banned Books Heroes Google Hangout takes place September 24 at 8:00 PM Eastern/5:00 PM Pacific. Those interested in joining can RSVP on the Google+ event page.
Banned Books Week kicks off today, and the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has lots of resources for those who are interested, including a blog and lists of the most challenged books over the past 10 years or so.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is a co-sponsor of Banned Books Week, has a comics-specific list on their site as well, compiled by Betsy Gomez. Click on the title of any comic and you will get more details about the book, why it was challenged, and what the outcome was. The list includes everything from J. Michael Straczynski’s The Amazing Spider-Man to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, and you could do a lot worse than to just spend the week reading those graphic novels.
The CBLDF also has a list of ComicsPRO retailers who are having special events around the country to celebrate banned comics, and offers brochures and other resources for retailers who want to have their own events.
A lot of us have been observing Banned Books Week with lists of banned and challenged graphic novels and notes about recent challenges in libraries and schools, but this video of manga creator Akira Maruyama speaks to a larger issue: When books are suppressed, they may simply disappear.
Maruyama is talking here about shoujo manga (manga written for young girls). Most histories of manga start with the Year 24 Group, a cohort of female manga creators born in or around 1949 that includes Moto Hagio (A Drunken Dream, The Heart of Thomas), Ryoko Ikeda (The Rose of Versailles) and Keiko Takemiya (To Terra). Maruyama, who edited a shoujo manga magazine in the 1950s and 1960s, says that we have lost the body of shoujo manga that was published during that time, because it was not only disparaged but actively suppressed. Parents looked down on manga, regarding it as cheap slapstick, and, Maruyama says, “Left-wing thinkers thought manga was bad for the intellectual development of children.” Children, on the other hand, preferred it to the “boring” storybooks of the day. The writers and leftists actually organized book-burnings in the summer of 1955, bringing manga its own Fredric Wertham moment. Manga was later rehabilitated, but the male critics (who didn’t read shoujo manga) and the Year 24 creators (who were busy reinventing it) simply ignored first-generation shoujo manga. Maruyama defends this early manga, which the Year 24 creators grew up reading, and calls for researchers to search for this manga, preserve it, and bring it back into the public eye, restoring a lost chapter in the history of the medium.