The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to Lee Ann Lowder, deputy counsel for the Board of Education of Chicago, questioning the school district’s authority to remove Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis from seventh-grade classrooms. The letter is signed by NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein, as well as representatives from PEN American Center, the National Council of Teachers of English, and other organizations. I don’t usually find myself on the opposite side of an issue from these folks, but my own opinion is that this case has been overblown.
Here’s the backstory: On March 14, employees showed up at Chicago’s Lane Tech to physically remove Persepolis from classrooms and the library and ensure no one had checked out any copies. This seemed sinister, to say the least, and word spread literally overnight. As parents planned a protest on March 15, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett backtracked and said the book was to be removed from seventh-grade classrooms but not from school libraries. Byrd-Bennett said the district would develop guidelines for teaching the book to juniors and seniors, and possibly in grades eight through 10 as well, but it’s not clear whether the books also were removed from those classrooms.
I think the issue here is really not the removal of Persepolis but rather the way the Chicago Public Schools handled it.
The controversial removal of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis last week from seventh-grade classrooms of Chicago Public Schools had at least one positive side effect: healthy sales of the 13-year-old graphic novel at local bookstores.
DNAinfo reports several area booksellers sold out of the memoir over the weekend following a directive by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett telling schools to stop teaching it as part of the seventh-grade curriculum “due to the powerful images of torture in the book.” The school system is also reviewing whether Persepolis, which chronicles Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during the Islamic revolution, should be taught to grades eight through 10.
The initial order, reportedly sent by district staff without administration approval, called for a system-wide ban, with removal beginning Wednesday afternoon at Lane Tech College Prep, sparking a protest Friday by teachers, parents and students. The National Coalition for Censorship also sent a letter to the district, urging the return of the graphic novel to classrooms. According to Progress Illinois, hundreds of students at Lane Tech also participated in a sit-in Monday morning, while those at Social Justice High School organized a read-in.
According to DNAinfo, by Monday no copies of Persepolis were available at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square, Quimby’s in Wicker Park or Women & Children First in Andersonville.
“Whenever something gets banned, we kind of like to push it more,” said John Khosropour, an employee at Unabridged Bookstore in Lakeview.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund joined the Kids’ Right to Read Project and the National Coalition for Censorship in urging Chicago Public Schools to return Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to seventh- through 10th-grade classrooms.
The award-winning graphic was pulled Wednesday afternoon from Lane Tech College Prep ahead of a district-wide ban, sparking outcry from teachers, faculty and students, some of whom planned a protest Friday afternoon. Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett then ordered principals to disregard the earlier directive, leaving Persepolis in libraries but asking that the book not be taught in seventh-grade classrooms — it was previously part of the curriculum — “due to the powerful images of torture.”
The memoir recounting Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during the Islamic revolution is also under review for grades eight through 10. A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said the initial directive was sent by district staff following concerns raised by teachers at Austin-North Lawndale, but it didn’t reflect the intent of the administration.
In the letter to Byrd-Bennett and the board of education, the National Coalition Against Censorship wrote, “While we are relieved that the book will remain available to older students, the restriction on access for junior high school students is extremely troubling. The title character of Satrapi’s book is herself the age of junior high school students, and her description of her real-life experiences might well have special relevance to them. The explanation that the book is ‘inappropriate’ for this age group is unpersuasive. The vast majority of Chicago middle school students are surely aware of the reality of violence and its devastating effects on people of all ages. Most have witnessed it on the news, if not in their own neighborhoods.To remove this book because of objections to its content is impermissible under the First Amendment.”
Read the full letter below.
Conventions | Nearly 10,000 people flocked to the Lexington (Kentucky) Comic and Toy Convention over the weekend, far exceeding expectations. [Kentucky.com]
Piracy | This is about movies and music more than comics, but it’s an interesting perspective: Thorin Klosowski explains why he gave up on illegal downloads. The short answer: It’s now easier to stay legit. [Lifehacker]
Commentary | Julian Darius takes a hard look at last week’s removal of Persepolis from Chicago classrooms and what that says about our society’s attitude toward torture. [Sequart]
Awards | Dave Brown received the Cartoonist of the Year award at the Society of Editors’ UK Press Awards. [The Independent]
Chicago Public Schools have been told to disregard an earlier order to remove Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed 2000 graphic novel Persepolis. Instead, the Chicago Tribune reports, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has asked that the autobiography no longer be taught to seventh-graders. It will, however, remain in libraries.
Word of the initial order spread quickly following the removal of copies of the book Wednesday afternoon from Lane Tech College Prep, one of the largest schools in the city. The move sparked outcry from teachers, parents and students, who had organized a protest for later this afternoon.
Although Persepolis in included in the district’s curriculum for seventh-graders, Byrd-Bennett said in a letter sent to principals this morning that it may not be appropriate for that age group. According to the Tribune, the district released images from the graphic novel depicting a man being whipped, burned with an iron and urinated on.
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.
Reports began circulating last night that Chicago Public Schools has instituted a ban on Marjane Satrapi’s 2000 graphic novel Persepolis. Copies of the book apparently were taken Wednesday afternoon from Lane Tech College Prep High School, one of the oldest, largest schools in the city, as a preamble to a district-wide ban.
ROBOT 6 reached out to the CPS press office this morning and has been promised a response by the end of the day.
Word spread through a post on the parent/teacher news blog CPS Chatter that included a photo of an e-mail (below) from Lane Tech Principal Christopher Dignam to his staff regarding the move. The only reason given was a directive handed down from a regular Chief of Schools meeting held Monday.
Retired CPS teacher Fred Klonsky had more information on his blog, noting a report from one teacher that “News on social media boards yield that CPS is claiming that there was a set of new books sent to schools and the distributor included copies of this one by mistake. Since CPS hadn’t paid for them, schools were asked to pull the books and send them back. ‘a mix-up.’ The books, in fact, were purchased some years ago by an English teacher when she applied (and received) a grant to pay for them.”
The story of Satrapi’s own experience as a young girl living through Iran’s Islamic Revolution, Persepolis has experienced near-universal acclaim, winning, among other awards, the American Library Association’s Alex Award for adult books that have special appeal to teenage readers.
UPDATE (9:46 a.m.): DNAinfo Chicago reports teachers, parents and students are planning a protest this afternoon in response to the graphic novel’s removal. The website spoke to a representative for Pantheon Books, Satrapi’s North American publisher, who noted that Persepolis has never been banned in the United States.
UPDATE 2 (10:38 a.m.): Mayor Rahm Emanuel has told DNAinfo Chicago he’ll “take a look into” the book’s removal.
UPDATE 3 (12:50 p.m.): Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has told principals to disregard the previous directive. However, she’s asked that Persepolis not be taught to seventh-graders.
Comics College is a monthly feature where we provide an introductory guide to some of the comics medium’s most important auteurs and offer our best educated suggestions on how to become familiar with their body of work.
This month we’re looking at the output of a cartoonist that in the past decade has captivated an audience that has largely avoided comics, Marjane Satrapi.
Continue Reading »
Publishing | Kodansha’s Attack on Titan, the action-fantasy manga by Hajime Isayama, has sold more than 9 million copies in Japan, according to the Sports Nippon newspaper. The eighth volume was released last week in Japan; Kodansha USA will publish the second volume next month in North America. [Anime News Network]
Publishing | Alex Zalben pays a visit to the Valiant offices and talks shop with editor Warren Simons: “Asking whether the idea was to set these up so that you can go right to TV, video games, or other properties, Simons strongly denies that was behind the relaunch. ‘I think you have guys who really love comic books,’ said Simons. ‘I’m just interested in publishing comic books. Obviously in this space, in this day and age you want to pay attention to everything – just like everyone does. But I think it all derives from publishing … [The publishers] just wanted to read comics about the characters that they loved growing up!’” [MTV Geek]
Conventions | Three-day tickets went on sale this week for New York Comic Con. Confirmed guests so far include Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Mike Mignola and Josh Gates. [Collider.com]
Publishing | The revelation that DC’s newly reintroduced Green Lantern Alan Scott is gay has moved Christian comic publisher Art Ayris, who is also the executive pastor of a Baptist church, to announce that his company Kingstone Media won’t be including gay characters in its lineup: “If Kingstone is the only comic book company in America doing it, we will stand for the things God says are godly and stand against things that clearly fall under the category of sin.” [Baptist Press]
Retailing | The Avengers movie seems to be bringing new customers into comics stores looking for Marvel titles, at least in Maryland. Pullbox requests for Marvel comics are also up, suggesting some of the uptick is from existing customers. [The Star Democrat]
Legal | A Tunisian court last week convicted Nessma TV President Nebil Karoui of “disturbing public order” and “threatening public morals” by broadcasting the animated adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which features a scene that briefly shows an image of God. The Oct. 7 airing resulted in an attempted arson attack on the network’s offices and the arrest of some 50 protesters. Karoui was fined $1,600 by the five-judge panel; two members of his staff were fined $800 each. Prosecutors and attorneys representing Islamist groups pushed for Karoui to be sentenced to up to five years in prison. Others argued for the death penalty. [The Washington Post]
Business | Target will stop selling Amazon’s Kindle devices in its stores over a dispute regarding “showrooming,” where consumers check out a product at Target stores and then go home to buy it on Amazon for a cheaper price. Around Christmas, Amazon’s Price Check app gave shoppers a 5 percent discount on any item scanned at a retail store. “What we aren’t willing to do is let online-only retailers use our brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom for their products and undercut our prices,” Target executives wrote in a letter to vendors. Target will continue to carry Apple’s iPad, Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the Aluratek Libre. [The New York Times]
Rather it is a short, illustrated prose fairy tale, and one that, while original, is heavily inspired by and contains elements of many other familiar fairy tales, although not necessarily Iranian ones, with Beauty and the Beast and the story of Cupid and Psyche informing much of the early part of the book.
While it’s not the sort of work Satrapi is best known for, it’s not exactly a departure either. Her 2006 graphic novel Chicken With Plums featured some fairy tale-like sequences embedded within it, even if it the overall story was inspired by stories of a real relative of hers, and that same year Bloomsbury published a children’s picture book of hers entitled Monsters Are Afraid of the Moon.
The Sigh was originally published in Satrapi’s adopted country of France, and Archaia re-published it in an English-language edition late last year. Edward Gauvin handled the translation, and it’s a very lovely-looking book the publisher has put together. I’m not speaking of the art, necessarily—we’ll get to that in a moment—but as in an object.
Legal | The trial resumed today, if only briefly, in Tunis for the president of a Tunisian television network accused of “insulting sacred values” when he aired the adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Tensions were so high in the courtroom that proceedings were postponed until April. The Oct. 7 broadcast resulted in an attempted arson attack on the network’s offices and the arrest of some 50 protesters. Nessma TV President Nebil Karoui, who apologized in October, is charged with “insulting sacred values, offending decent morals and causing public unrest” because of the outrage triggered by a scene in Persepolis showing God, which is prohibited by Islam. [AFP]
Organizations | Stumptown Comics, the organization that puts on the Stumptown Comics Fest every year in Portland, Oregon, has added three new members to its board: Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Charles Brownstein, Boilerplate co-author Anina Bennett and editor Shawna Gore. [Stumptown Comics]
Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy at our local comic shop based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a “Splurge” item.
If I only had $15, I would only be buying one title this week: 20th Century Boys, Vol. 18 (Viz, $12.99). Sorry Americanos, but Naoki Urasawa is delivering a gripping, sprawling drama that most other books can’t live up to. Wait, I’m wrong – I’d buy two comics with a $15 budget this week; I’d snag the $1 The Strain #1 (Dark Horse, $1) for the price point and Mike Huddleston. I’ve read the novels, but for $1 I can’t miss sampling at least the first issue.
If I had $30, I’d be thankful to double-back and first get Uncanny X-Force #18 (Marvel, $3.99). This issue, the finale of the “Dark Angel Saga,” has been a long time coming and I’m excited for the writing, the art and the story itself; and I can’t forget colorist Dean White, sheesh he’s good. After that I’d pick up my usual Walking Dead #92 (Image, $2.99) and then try Ed McGuinness’ new work in Avengers: X-Sanction #1 (Marvel, $3.99). I’m a big fan of McG’s work, but also realize just how different he is than the standard Marvel (or mainstream super-hero) artist in general. I’ve loved his storytelling sense since Mr. Majestic, and will pick up most any of his work without knowing much about the book itself. Next up would be James Robinson & Cully Hamner’s The Shade #3 (DC, $2.99). I’m surprised DC hasn’t done more marketing for this book, especially considering it’s a character who’s never held a series before; they’ve done little-to-any marketing to define just who the character is, relying on his ties to a lesser-selling series that ended ten years ago (no matter how good it was). Getting off my soapbox: those that have been reading The Shade know it’s good. After that I’d round it off with the best looking comic on shelves, Batwoman #4 (DC, $2.99).
If I was to splurge, I’d double-up my J.H Williams 3 fix with the final volume of Absolute Promethea (DC/ABC, $99.99). Although I already own these issues in singles, getting it over-sized and in hardcover is a treat. I’m hoping it also includes some production art or process sketches – I’m a nut for that.
What if the Image Seven were Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Chester Brown and so on, instead of dudes who made their bones drawing Spider-Man and Wolverine? The result would probably look a lot like L’Association.
Founded in 1991 by French alternative-comics titans David B., Killoffer, Mattt Konture, Jean-Christophe Menu, Mokeït, Stanislas, and Lewis Trondheim, L’Association was formed as a response to the lack of opportunity for avant-garde comics provided by France’s mainstream comics publishers. But L’Asso quickly became a sales forced to be reckoned with on its own, thanks in large part to its breakout hit, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Over the years, the publisher’s lineup took on “everybody who’s anybody” proportions in the Francophone comics world, with Julie Doucet, Joann Sfar, Blutch, Dupuy & Berberian, Emmanuel Guibert, and Guy Delisle all releasing work through the collective.
But as was the case here in the States with the makers of Spawn, Youngblood, WildC.A.T.s et al, L’Asso became a house divided. A combination of personal rivalries, diverging interests, and outside opportunities elsewhere soon saw the seven founders go their separate ways, leaving Jean-Christophe Menu as the publisher’s head honcho. What happened next — hidden financial records, unexpected layoffs, an employee strike, accusations of alcoholism and paranoia, tumultuous meetings involving hundreds of people, and a team-up between the departed founders to wrest control of their former company away from Menu’s allegedly dictatorial hands — became the stuff of comics legend.
Now the Comics Journal’s Matthias Wivel is telling the story of the L’Asso War — and getting participants on both sides on the record. In part one of his fascinating report, he takes us from the founding of the group to the eve of the company-wide strike in protest of Menu-directed layoffs that rocked Angoulême, France’s biggest comic con. In part two, he chronicles the strike and the resulting legal wranglings and wild-sounding general assembly meetings that eventually led to the co-founders’ return and Menu (and Satrapi)’s departure. Filled with juicy quotes from Menu, Trondheim, David B. and other leading players, the whole sordid saga reads like a movie, or more appropriately a comic, which, thanks to a team of cartoonists led by Trondheim, it’s about to become. Take a break and read the whole thing — it’s one of the most compelling collisions of art, commerce, and clashing cartoonists that comics on either side of the Atlantic has ever seen.
Publishing | Emily Nilsson, wife of Sparkplug Books publisher Dylan Williams, said she plans to continue running the publishing company after the death of her husband. “We need your support now as much as ever,” she said in a post on the Sparkplug blog. “We are grieving at the same time as we are trying to keep business afloat, and trying not to overstrain ourselves. We want to publish again soon but that is a step we will consider more once we get through the next few months.” Nilsson, Virginia Paine and Tom Neely will continue to run Sparkplug, with plans to continue online sales and attend conventions like the upcoming MIX in Minneapolis next month and the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival in December. Williams passed away in September due to complications from cancer. [Sparkplug]
Legal | Michael George, the former comics retailer found guilty of murder for the second time, is in the Macomb County (Mich.) jail after his bond was revoked following Tuesday’s verdict. George was found guilty of murdering his first wife Barbara in the back of their comic book store in 1990. “The family’s ecstatic,” said Barbara’s brother Joe Kowynia. “There’s no way a jury is going to get this wrong twice. I feel sorry for my nieces, this is long overdue. Now that this is over, Barb can rest in peace. And we can move on and he can rot in jail.” [Detroit Free Press]