Another Toronto Comic Arts Festival has come and gone, leaving in its wake a lot of broke-but-smiling comics fans, a couple of artists with a new cause celebre, and some interesting reading.
As we reported on Friday, Canadian customs seized all five copies of the Black Eye comics anthology that creator Tom Neely was trying to bring to TCAF. The news was originally reported by Ryan Standfest, editor and publisher of Rotland Press + Comic Works, at The Comics Journal, and Ryan adds in comments that Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions was also seized from Sparkplug publisher Dylan Williams. (For those who are curious about what’s too hot for Canada, here is a preview.) Standfest posted his reaction to the Black Eye confiscation at the Rotland blog; I’m sure there will be more to say about this soon.
The winners of the Doug Wright Awards were announced on Saturday night: Pascal Girard’s Bigfoot won the award for Best Book, Alex Fellows won the Best Emerging Talent award for Spain and Morocco, and the Pigskin Peters Award, given to non-traditional and avant-garde comics, went to Michael DeForge’s Spotting Deer.
Meanwhile, the folks at the Canadian comcs news blog Sequential have posted a special TCAF edition of Sequential Pulp, which you can download as a PDF or read via Issu, with lots of good stuff, including interviews with Jillian Tamaki and Mark Laliberte, books reviews by Tom Spurgeon, Salgood Sam, and others, and pages and pages of original comics. It’s all free, so go, browse.
Canadian customs has long had a reputation for being quick to seize any comics they find potentially obscene, and Tom Neely learned that the hard way this morning, as Canadian customs officers reportedly confiscated the five copies of the Black Eye anthology that he was bringing with him to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Ryan Standfest, editor/publisher of Rotland Press + Comic Works, which publishes Black Eye, emailed Neely’s account of the incident to The Comics Journal:
… They took ‘em. I tried to get them to just ship them back to me at home, but they said they were required to send it to Ottawa for review… if they found the material to be ‘obscene’ they would take ‘further action.’ I asked what ‘further action’ meant and he said they would just destroy them. Or there is a chance they might ship them back to me.
Black Eye is an anthology of dark humor, which was funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign; apparently a page by singly named artist Onsmith is what first caught the customs officer’s eye. The book also contains work by Ivan Brunetti, Lilli Carré, and Paul Hornschemeier, among others, and essays by Jeet Heer and other luminaries, and an interview with Al Feldstein … it’s hard to argue that this anthology wouldn’t have redeeming features. Nonetheless, the customs agent wouldn’t let it through, and kept talking about “further action,” which certainly sounds ominous.
Although Neely seems to have been taken by surprise, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund issued an advisory just two months ago about taking comics across international borders.
And this certainly isn’t the first time this has happened. Continue Reading »
Yaoi manga is a niche genre, but like all niche genres, it has a devoted following. Yaoi readers gobble up the books like romance fans read Harlequin novels, which is not surprising as they are basically the same thing, except that yaoi 1) is manga, 2) is a love story between two men, and 3) often includes lots of sex.
It’s hard to know whether number 2 or 3 above is responsible, but Amazon has instructed at least one publisher to remove its yaoi books from the Kindle store, while allowing considerably more explicit male-female titles to remain. Digital Manga Publishing, which puts out several lines of yaoi, ranging from the fairly tame June imprint to the pretty steamy 801, posted this notice on its blog yesterday:
Recently Amazon has become more strict in enforcing their content requirements for ebooks. Several DMP books that have been available online since 2009 are getting the axe, beginning with our 801 Media titles like Weekend Lovers and King of Debt. However, in the last few days the issue has spread to the June imprint by Amazon’s refusal of The Selfish Demon King, and the removal of The Color of Love from the Kindle store. We fear that Amazon may target more of our books for removal so we’re warning all Amazon Kindle store users that providing you with our content may become more difficult in the future. However, if you purchase our ebooks before Amazon decides to remove it from their store you will still be able to access the book from your account.
All the books mentioned are already gone from the Kindle store, and several are missing from Amazon’s print book selection as well.
(Warning: NSFW image below.)
Cryptozoic Entertainment is working with The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to create a set of 70 trading cards that chronicle the history of comic book censorship. The cards will be released in July, no doubt just in time for Comic-Con International in San Diego.
In addition to the base set, special sketch and autograph cards will also be available. Already signed on to participate are Geoff Johns, Neil Gaiman, Darwyn Cooke, Gail Simone, Mark Waid, Brian Azzarello, Paul Levitz, Denny O’Neil, Frank Quitely, Phil Hester and many more. You can see some of the sketch cards that have already been created on the CBLDF site.
“The generous response from the creative community has been overwhelming,” said CBLDF Board President Larry Marder. “The most impressive gesture has been how many creators are briefly lending CBLDF their Intellectual Property for this project only. Creators letting us borrow their characters for these artists to sketch include Jeff Smith, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, John Layman, Jim Valentino, Matt Wagner, Rob Liefeld, Stan Sakai, Eric Powell, Mike Richardson, and many others.”
You can find the complete press release after the jump.
What a difference a year makes! A year ago today, the iPad not only didn’t exist, it hadn’t been officially announced yet. People read comics on their iPhones and iPod Touches, but the screens were too small for a good experience (and therefore, no one wanted to spend much money on them). The iPad changed all that, with a big, full-color screen that is just a tad smaller than a standard comics page (and a tad larger than a standard manga page), and publishers started taking digital comics seriously. The distribution was already in place, thanks to the iPhone—comiXology, iVerse, Panelfly—and now the publishers not only jumped on board with those platforms but also started developing their own apps.
The digital comics scene is still developing, but the iPad was the game changer. For many people, it was the first time that they could comfortably read comics on a handheld screen. Now, it’s just a question of marketing—this year, publishers will grapple with bringing comics to a wider audience, outside the existing readership, and balancing the digital marketplace with the established brick-and-mortar retail structure.
Here, then, is a look back at our digital year.
Viz Media sent out a press release today highlighting its spring-summer 2011 lineup, and the manga publisher has scored a coup: Tenjho Tenge, by Oh! Great, which Viz will be releasing “100% faithful to the original” in two-volume omnibus editions.
A classic boobs-and-battles manga, Tenjho Tenge was originally published by CMX, the now-defunct manga arm of DC Comics, and it was nearly the death of the imprint, too, because someone at CMX made the mistake of trying to release it as a teen-rated manga. To do this, CMX had to cover up the nudity, rewrite the dialogue to eliminate sexual innuendo, and downplay the violence, thus obliterating the key selling points of the series. This heavy editing caused a surge of white-hot Internet rage, with manga fans storming message boards, boycotting the series (reading it in scanlation form instead, just to twist the knife), and even setting up a website (now defunct) solely dedicated to the sins of CMX. DC stonewalled at first, but when Asako Suzuki became director of manga in 2006, she acknowledged that perhaps it wasn’t the best decision, and eventually, under her guidance, the editing got lighter and lighter. Despite the popular outrage, CMX editors consistently said that Tenjho Tenge was one of their biggest sellers, and the series was up to volume 18 when DC pulled the plug on CMX last spring.
Viz will release the series without edits, beginning with volume 1, as part of its Signature line, which is aimed at older readers. Anime News Network followed up with Leyla Aker, the editor-in-chief of the Signature imprint, who told them that Viz chose to start the series anew because the differences between its version and CMX’s would be so profound that they might confuse readers; she added that she and Viz Vice President Alvin Lu are “longtime fans” of the series.
The Ten-Cent Plague tells the story of not one but several campaigns against comics on the grounds that they were violent and bad influences on children. And, to be fair, the crime and horror comics of the time were pretty damn gruesome, repulsive enough that a lot of folks were willing to set aside the First Amendment on the grounds that the Founding Fathers couldn’t possibly have envisioned the Crypt-Keeper, and they certainly wouldn’t want to defend that. Hajdu documents a flurry of legislation banning all sorts of comic books throughout the country, mostly promoted by people who genuinely cared about children (but who also seem to have forgotten that children have brains of their own).
A similar impulse led California legislators to pass a law in 2005 banning the sale of violent video games to anyone under 18, but the law was struck down by a lower court, because apparently you can only protect youngsters from sex, not violence. This led Justice Antonin Scalia to become the unlikely hero of video gamers everywhere, as he argued on Tuesday that while the First Amendment definitely wasn’t designed to protect obscenity, it should apply to everything else, even violence.
Trying to keep a book out of a public library seems profoundly un-American, and yet it seems to be a great American pastime; as we have seen this week, challenges to graphic novels and prose works are all too common.
Americus, by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill, looks at the human side of that equation, telling the story of two 14-year-olds who are huge fans of a fantasy series, The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde, and the chain of events that is set in motion when the mother of one boy takes away his library copy and tears it up. It’s not a challenge, per se, as the library promptly gets a replacement copy; it’s really about the futility of trying to control another person’s thought process by restricting their reading. Americus is running as a webcomic (with a very interesting side blog) right now, and it will be published next year as a graphic novel by First Second Books. I e-mailed MK Reed and Jonathan Hill to discuss their story and their feelings about challenging books.
Robot 6: What was the book that carried you away as a child, the way Apathea does for the characters in this story?
The Huffington Post has a list of the 10 most popular graphic novels that have been challenged in libraries. The list purports to be from the American Library Association, but I can’t find it on their site; I suspect they pulled the graphic novels off several lists of challenged books. Here they are:
• Absolute Sandman, by Neil Gaiman and others
• Blankets, by Craig Thompson
• Bone, by Jeff Smith
• Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
• Maus, by Art Spiegelman
• Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
• Tank Girl, by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin
• The Dark Knight Strikes Again, by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
• The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
• Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Notably absent from the list is any mention of manga, which has been challenged in several libraries recently.
The Daily Cartoonist’s Alan Gardner reports that over 20 papers have requested a replacement strip for Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur this Sunday, because of potentially controversial content. It’s pretty thin gruel:
The cartoon by Wiley Miller depicts a lazy, sunny park scene with the caption, “Picture book title voted least likely to ever find a publisher… ‘Where’s Muhammad?’” Characters in the park are buying ice cream, fishing, roller skating, etc. No character is depicted as even Middle Eastern.
Miller’s reaction: “the irony of editors being afraid to run even such a tame cartoon as this that satirizes the blinding fear in media regarding anything surrounding Islam sadly speaks for itself. Indeed, the terrorists have won.”
That’s a bit over the top. The terrorists haven’t won because newspapers won’t print a comic that is even mildly controversial; it’s a longstanding American tradition, although the humor in this one seems to be on a par with jokes in which Jesus walks across the water hazard on a golf course.
In another post, Gardner points to an interfaith group’s call for cartoonists to stop depicting Osama Bin Laden, on the grounds that it might make public discourse less stupid. That’s certainly a noble goal, but I doubt kicking Bin Laden off the comics pages will accomplish it.
This week is Banned Books Week, an annual event sponsored by the American Library Association and a host of other organizations to bring attention to books that have been challenged or removed from libraries, schools and reading lists over the past year. You can find the full list of challenged books from 2009-2010 here, and it contains plenty of good reading, from Sherman Alexie’s Diary of a Part-Time Indian (often challenged but beloved by readers) to the anthology Paint Me Like I Am: Teen Poems. The list tilts strongly toward young-adult novels and sex manuals, but there are a surprising number of classics, including To Kill a Mockingbird (a parent objected to the word “nigger,” which seems to miss the point), Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (a perennial on this list) and the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, which, shockingly, contains the term “oral sex” and has therefore been (no joke) removed from classrooms in the Menifee, California, Union School District and may be banned permanently there. The most often-challenged book in 2009, according to the ALA’s top ten list, is ttyl and its companion volumes ttfn, l8r, and g8r, which, as you might guess, are YA novels.
The list contains a handful of comics, as well:
A few weeks ago, we reported on one Margaret Barbaree, who wanted all manga removed from the public library in her hometown of Crestview, Florida. Ms. Barbaree’s complaint evoked hoots of derision, and some rather unkind personal attacks, from across the blogosphere, but in the end, things may have worked out well for everyone.
Barbaree filed over 200 challenges to individual books in the Crestview library, asking that they be removed from the shelves, and she argued her case in a news piece (scroll down to the July 9 video) for the local cable station. While she may not have been the most articulate spokesperson, her crusade brought up some issues worth discussing. On the one hand, libraries should not have to restrict their collections to books suitable for a five-year-old, and individuals should not be able to dictate what all the patrons of the library can read; on the other hand, it’s reasonable to keep younger readers away from the more lurid adult graphic novels. In fact, the library had already shelved the books Barbaree complained about in the adult section, but now it has created a separate teen room and moved the adult and teen books farther apart. This seems to bring the Crestview library solidly into the 20th century—did they not have a teen room before? Still, they seem to have done a nice job of it, getting the teens involved and taking the opportunity to jettison their collection of VHS tapes (which probably got them a few more irate letters, but there’s no pleasing everyone). More importantly, everyone’s problems were solved without resorting to the nuclear option of removing all graphic novels from the library, and that’s a lesson that some other library districts could learn from—including the Wicomico, Maryland, school system, where Dragon Ball has been banned from all school libraries, including the middle and high schools (the first volume carries a Teen rating, according to the Viz website).
Legal | The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund joined a coalition of booksellers and other organizations in a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday to challenge an expansion of Massachusetts’ obscenity law to include distribution via the Internet of material “harmful to minors.”
The new law, which went into effect on Monday, is intended to close a loophole that led the state Supreme Court to overturn the conviction of a man accused of sending sexually explicit instant messages to someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl. Following the February ruling, the state Legislature swiftly to add IMs, text messages, email and other electronic communications to the existing obscenity law.
But the coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the Association of American Publishers, argues that the law is too broad, and “bans constitutionally protected speech on the Internet for topics including contraception and pregnancy, sexual health, literature, and art.” Under the statute, violators can be fined $10,000 or sentenced up to five years in prison, or both, which the group asserts will cause “a chilling effect” or online booksellers. [The Associated Press, CBLDF press release]
Note: The following story contains images intended for an adult audience.
Earlier this year, Rob Berry and Josh Levitas launched an ambitious project: Adapting James Joyce’s Ulysses into webcomic form. Their Ulysses “Seen” is more than just a graphic novelization; readers can click on the images to a reader’s guide that translates the parts in foreign languages, explains the obscure references, and notes how Berry and Levitas had to improvise to put the text into graphic novel form. So when Buck Mulligan hoists his shaving bowl and intones “Introibo ad altare Dei,” readers who did not grow up with the Latin Mass will know what he is talking about.
Yesterday, Berry and Levitas unveiled their free Ulysses “Seen” iPad app. In order to meet Apple’s standards for the iTunes Store, they had to tone down some of their art—specifically, the nudity—and since fig leaves and pixelation weren’t allowed by Apple, they had to reframe some of the panels. Below is their description of why they undertook the project and what it took to get it accepted, as well as a panel (NSFW) from the webcomic, the original version of the art reproduced above.
A seven-member committee voted unanimously last week not to remove the manga series Death Note from the library of Volcano Vista High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The committee included librarians, someone from the school district, a parent, a local businessman, and the pastor of a local church.
According to the Albuquerque Public Schools website, the series was challenged by Peggie Salazar, the parent of a Volcano Vista student, who stated, in her request for a hearing, “The book talks about killing the bad guys. Even though the death note is toward bad people, it is still killing and who the bad guy is could be different in everyone’s eyes. You never know what were the thoughts of the killer for the Columbine killings.”