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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.
The public library system in Hertfordshire, England, has restricted who can check out graphic novels that are classified as “adult” — which includes not only mature-reader titles but also comics aimed at a broader audience, such as Batman and The Avengers, according to the local newspaper.
Often, these sorts of stories start with a parent who is outraged to find a child checking out or browsing adult materials. In this case, however, the issue was simply one of proximity: When Louisa de Beaufort brought her two children to the public library in her small town of Harpenden, she noticed that graphic novels of an adult nature were on the other side of the bookshelves that held children’s books. What’s more, mature-readers graphic novels in the adult section were shelved alongside tamer titles.
De Beaufort used her child’s library card to borrow not one but 10 mature titles, including The Boys, Crossing Midnight and Fatale, at a self-checkout station in the library. She then complained to the staff that any child could check out any book.
Digital comics | In today’s Amazon-acquires-comiXology article, Rachel Edidin deflates much of the hype, and the panic, surrounding the deal, pointing out that comics distribution is already a monopoly, large corporations already run the comics market, and comics have been available on Kindle all along: “Is the concern […] a distribution monopoly? If so, the direct market is in no position to criticize: over the last 15 years, Diamond Comics Distributors has consumed almost all independent print distribution in comics, and dictates practices and policy to retailers and publishers alike. The idea that print comics are somehow more independent than their digital cousins — or a scrappy underdog fighting the good fight against evil corporate profiteers — is frankly ridiculous.” [Wired]
Awards | Michael Cavna talks with Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer about winning the Pulitzer Prize in cartooning. [Comic Riffs]
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.)
Digital comics | Jeff Gomez examines the implications of Amazon’s planned acquisition of comiXology, opining that it will give comics a wider reach but also force publishers of superhero fare to broaden their appeal beyond the core demographic: “The books will now be exposed to millions of newcomers, so it will behoove major publishers to make their stories more female-friendly, streamlined, and accessible. With comiXology’s new aim to make ‘every person on the planet a comics fan,’ publishers will need to consider new genres, greater variety, and more varied age groups.” [Business Insider]
Digital comics | ComiXology will continue to offer its Digital Storefronts for retailers, and it will not allow Amazon to target users of its Pull List service with its own offers, according to spokesman Chip Mosher. Also, no changes are planned to comiXology’s other retailer tools. [ICv2]
Legal | Eriq Gardner delves into the issues underlying the continuing legal battle over unauthorized replicas of the Batmobile from the 1966 Batman television series and the 1989 film: This summer the Ninth Circuit will consider the appeal of Gotham Garage owner Mark Towle, whose Batmobile replicas were found in February 2013 to violate DC Comics’ copyrights and trademarks. While Towle argues that Batman’s ride is a “useful article,” meaning a utilitarian object not protected by U.S. copyright law, a federal judge ruled the Batmobile is “a copyrightable character.” Gardner notes that if the appeals court sides with DC/Warner Bros., “Hollywood studios would win a powerful weapon to stop products that are similar to props like light sabers and ruby slippers.” [The Hollywood Reporter]
Conventions | The Salt Lake Comic Con spinoff event FanXperience is shaping up for its April 17 debut with the addition of KidCon, a pavilion dedicated to younger attendees. “We don’t want the impression that we have KidCon there for everything else to become less kid-friendly,” says co-founder Dan Farr. “Although I would imagine 99 percent of the people that are coming are going to take their kids throughout the whole hall, it’s just to have an area where they can go and spend a little more time with their kids.” The inaugural Salt Lake Comic Con in September drew an estimated 80,000 attendees; organizers anticipate as many as 100,000 for FanX, which will have almost double the floor space. [Deseret News]
Legal | The judge was a no-show for what was supposed to be the announcement of the verdict in the trial of Algerian cartoonist Djamel Ghanem, who stands accused of “insulting the president of the republic” in a cartoon that was, bizarrely, never published. Ghanem’s lawyer says the verdict has been postponed; the cartoonist faces up to 18 months in prison and a fine of 30,000 dinars ($380 U.S>) if found guilty. [Global Post]
Publishing | DreamWorks Animation’s announcement on Monday that it is launching its own book-publishing unit doesn’t mean the end of the road for its comics licensees, at least not yet: ICv2 talked to representatives from IDW Publishing, which publishes the Rocky & Bullwinkle comics, and Ape Entertainment, which has had a number of DreamWorks licenses, and both say that this won’t affect their comics. [ICv2]
Auctions | A collection of comics that included the first issues of The Amazing Spider-Man and the British satirical comic Viz, as well as long runs of several Marvel series, brought in almost £25,000 (about $41,300 U.S.) at an auction in Newcastle, England. The majority of the comics were from a single collector whose wife decided to put them up for sale after he died. For those who are curious about the details, Duncan Leatherdale of The Northern Echo liveblogged the auction. [BBC News]
The deadline for the new Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grants for Libraries is fast approaching — any library that would like to apply has until Feb. 7 to turn in their applications.
The pair of grants were announced in December by The American Library Association and the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation. The Will Eisner Graphic Novel Growth Grant will provide support to a library that would like to expand its existing graphic novel services and programs, while the Will Eisner Graphic Novel Innovation Grant will provide support to a library for the initiation of a graphic novel service, program or initiative.
“The Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grants for Libraries is a significant grant award that recognizes libraries for their contributions to the growth of graphic literature, sequential art, and comics as a literary medium. We are excited to give more opportunities to libraries to shape new ideas about graphic novels at their library,” said Carl Gropper, the President of the Will and Ann Eisner Family Foundation, in a press release. “Will Eisner is recognized as one of America’s most influential comic artists. But this was not always the case. Will Eisner stayed true to his passion that sequential art served a wide range of needs. Today, graphic novels are one of the fastest growing categories in publishing and bookselling. These novels are more complex and varied in content than the comics that preceded them. They are subject to academic study, library and museum exhibits and prestigious literary awards.”
The Young Adult Library Association has announced its 2014 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, a list of 78 titles that range from history and autobiography to superheroes and mystery.
The finalists were selected by a committee from among 122 nominees recommended for readers ages 12 to 18. From those 55 titles, 10 were singled out for exemplifying “the quality and range of graphic novels appropriate for teen audiences.”
Legal | Ecuadorean cartoonist Xavier Bonilla has received a court summons on unspecified charges that seem to relate to a cartoon that President Rafael Correa finds offensive. The case was brought by Ecuador’s new media regulator; Correa has stepped up attacks on the press in recent years, and the newspaper that runs Bonilla’s cartoons, El Universo, has been prosecuted in the past. [Business Standard]
Censorship | Michael Dooley looks at successful and unsuccessful attempts to remove comics from schools and libraries over the past 13 years; this short roundup is informative in its own right, and it’s apparently a sidebar to a longer article that’s not available for free. [Print Magazine]
Creators | Newsday picks up the story of Al Plastino’s original art for the John F. Kennedy comic that was canceled when the president was assassinated, and then published a few months later at the request of the Johnson administration. Plastino, now 91, had been told the artwork would be donated to the Kennedy Library, but last month at New York Comic Con he learned that a private individual had the art and was planning to sell it through Heritage Auctions, which now says it won’t move forward until the ownership question is resolved. Copyright lawyer Dale Cendall, former DC Comics President Paul Levitz and artist Neal Adams weigh in on the case. [Newsday]
Kickstarter | In the wake of the successful Fantagraphics Kickstarter campaign, Rob Salkowitz looks at the evolution of the crowdfunding platform from a way for individual creators to connect with their audiences to a pre-sale mechanism that eliminates a lot of the risk for smaller publishers. [ICv2]
The students of Lane Tech College Prep High School, who rallied in March to protest the ordered removal of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis from Chicago Public Schools, have been honored with the Illinois Library Association’s 2013 Intellectual Freedom Award.
The protest, organized by the student body and the 451 Degrees Banned Book Club, was sparked by an email from the principal calling for the removal of the graphic novel from Lane Tech’s library and classrooms ahead of what was thought to be a Chicago Public Schools ban. Within hours of the news circulating, and amid outcry from teachers, parents and students, district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett clarified that Satrapi’s autobiography wasn’t being removed; rather, it was being pulled from the seventh-grade curriculum over concerns that some of its content may not be age-appropriate. Chicago Public Schools released images from the graphic novel depicting a man being whipped, burned with an iron and urinated on, which Byrd-Bennett referred to as “powerful images of torture.”
Depicting Satrapi’s experience is a child and young adult in Iran during the Islamic revolution, Persepolis has received almost universal acclaim. The 2007 animated adaptation directed by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud was nominated for an Academy Award.
Awards | Sean Phillips was named as best artist and Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, as best comic/graphic novel at the 2013 British Fantasy Awards, presented Sunday at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, alongside the World Fantasy Awards. [British Fantasy Society]
Publishing | Tim Pilcher of Humanoids talks about his company’s new plans to distribute its graphic novels in the United Kingdom through Turnaround Publisher Services. [ICv2]
Conventions | Italy’s Lucca Fest had a record-breaking show, with 200,000 tickets sold and 300,000 attendees in all. [The Hollywood Reporter]
A New Zealand library’s refusal over the summer to carry Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls has received renewed attention, earning a signal boost from Neil Gaiman and a stern denial from the National Library of New Zealand that it had anything to do with the move.
The story illustrates the strange and unenviable predicament of libraries in countries with censorship laws: If they submit the material for government review in hopes it will be cleared, they risk triggering a ban; however, if they don’t submit a potentially objectionable book, they risk later being found in violation of the law.
Here’s what happened in New Zealand: Over the summer, cartoonist Dylan Horrocks reported he had asked his local library in Auckland to purchase a copy of Lost Girls. The library refused, and he posted its response on his Facebook page:
Thank you for your suggestion to purchase ‘Lost Girls’ by Alan Moore. Due to the depictions contained within this graphic novel we have been advised by the Office of Film and Literature Classification that we may be at risk of prosecution if we made the book available to customers. As a result Auckland Libraries will not be purchasing copies of this title.
As it turns out, Stuff.co.nz reported this week, the library had purchased a copy in 2008, at a patron’s request, but removed it from shelves after concerns were raised about the content.