INTERVIEW: Gail Simone Guides 'Blockbuster Update' of Red Sonja, Vampirella and Dejah Thoris
Graphic novels | This week is Banned Books Week, when the American Library Association releases its list of the 10 most challenged books of the previous year. This year’s list includes three graphic novels: Persepolis, Saga and Drama. Michael Cavna discusses graphic novel with Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who points out that Drama, which was challenged for being “sexually explicit,” is just the opposite: “In the incidents I’ve personally been involved in, and many others, the book’s light touch is precisely what infuriates those who want to take it off the shelves — there’s a sense that’s been communicated to me and others that kids shouldn’t be reading that being gay is a normal part of the human experience.” [Comic Riffs]
Censorship | During a panel at Comic-Con International, members of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund criticized a student’s attempt to have four graphic novels banned from her college campus. Crafton Hills College student Tara Shultz and her father, Craig Shultz, have called for Fun Home, Persepolis, the first volume of Y: The Last Man, and the second volume of The Sandman, all of which were included in a course on the graphic novel as literature, to be removed not only from the course but also from the college bookstore. The school has refused. CBLDF director Charles Brownstein noted that this is part of a troubling new trend: Graphic novel challenges at the college level. The CBLDF has been involved in 18 college cases so far this year, up from 10 in all of 2014. [Redlands Daily Facts]
Creators | “Opus’s [voice] came screaming back at me — true— when I faced those four empty panels that I hadn’t done since 1989,” cartoonist Berkeley Breathed told Michael Cavna, explaining why he is returning to his comic strip Bloom County after a lengthy absence. He also discusses the possibility of self-publishing rather than going with a newspaper syndicate: “Dead-tree media requires constancy and deadlines and guarantees. This flattens the joy. It also presents a huge income. It’s an interesting trade-off, isn’t it?” [Comic Riffs]
Commentary | David Brothers critiques Marvel’s plans to publish hip-hop themed variant covers, given that none of the newly announced creators for Marvel titles are black. [i am davidbrothers dotcom]
Creators | Kate Beaton talks about her family, webcomics, princesses, and her pony character’s guest appearance on Adventure Time. [Time]
A course on graphic novels as literature at a California college won’t carry a disclaimer after all, despite a statement by the school’s president that one would be included in response to a student’s complaint about adult content in some of the required reading.
According to Redlands Daily Facts, a Crafton Hills College spokeswoman said the disclaimer was never mandated, and Professor Ryan Bartlett, who teaches the English 250 course, ultimately decided against one.
“College is supposed to be a place where students can have real exchanges about sometimes difficult topics,” Bartlett said in an email. “An English major will have to read works in the literary canon (for example Shakespeare, Chaucer and the Bible) which include similar issues present in the chosen graphic novels. If we put a disclaimer on this course, then we should put a disclaimer on all literature courses, and I do not feel comfortable going down that slippery slope.”
Following a student’s protest over the contents of the graphic novels required by her English 250 class, Crafton Hills College President Cheryl A. Marshall has issued a statement saying the college will not ban any books or alter the content of the course.
I support the college’s policy on academic freedom which requires an open learning environment at the college. Students have the opportunity to study controversial issues and arrive at their own conclusions and faculty are to support the student’s right to freedom of inquiry. We want students to learn and grow from their college experiences; sometimes this involves reaffirming one’s values while other times beliefs and perspectives change. In this specific case, the syllabus distributed on the first day of class contained the list of required reading materials allowing students the opportunity to research the books and make a choice about the class. The class is one of numerous electives available for completion of the English degree. We are attempting to avoid this situation in the future and Professor Bartlett has agreed to include a disclaimer on the syllabus in the future so students have a better understanding of the course content. I know he appreciated the differing views presented by Ms. Shultz in his class.
College student Tara Shultz is the latest in a long line of people to be shocked to find that Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir about growing up during the Iranian revolution, contains violence.
A 20-year-old attending Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California, was so dismayed by the graphic content in four of the graphic novels required by her English 250 course — official description: “the study of the graphic novel as a viable medium of literature through readings, in-class discussion and analytical assignments” — that she and her parents are seeking to have them banned by the administration.
In addition to Persepolis, Shultz took exception to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the first volume of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Y: The Last Man, and Neil Gaiman, Mike Dringenberg & Co.’s The Sandman: The Doll’s House, due to the depictions of sex, violence and “obscenities.”
“I didn’t expect to open the book and see that graphic material within,” she told the Redlands Daily Facts. “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.”
Three comics — Persepolis, Saga and Drama — were among the 10 most frequently challenged books last year in U.S. public schools and libraries, according to the American Library Association. This appears to be the most comics to make the list.
The organization released the annual findings of its Office of Intellectual Freedom as part of National Library Week. In 2014, the OIF received 311 complaints to remove or restrict materials in public libraries or in school curricula, up only slightly from the year before.
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of her life as a child and young adult in Iran during the Islamic revolution, came in at No.2, with complaints frequently citing “gambling, offensive language [and] political viewpoint” as well as its “graphic depictions.” Although the ALA doesn’t note specific challenges, we reported last year on incidents in Oregon and Illinois.
The Ball-Chatham School Board in Chatham, Illinois, voted unanimously this week to keep Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis on a reading list for seniors at Glenwood High School.
Mike Housewirth, the father of a student, had asked that the graphic novel be removed from the list, questioning the teacher’s judgment in assigning a book about Muslims on Sept. 11. He also objected to the book’s depictions of torture (particularly one in which a guard urinates on a prisoner) and dismembered bodies.
“If my son had drawn a picture like that at school, he would have been expelled,” Housewirth said, adding that while he felt his son was mature enough to read the book, the overall tone was “appalling.”
“Reading controversial material does not hurt students or corrupt them,” countered Glenwood High School Principal Jim Lee. Students don’t simply read a book and accept it at face value, he added; they use it as a springboard for discussion and reach their own conclusions.
According to the Medford Mail Tribune, the parents object to the availability of the graphic novel in the Three Rivers School District’s high school libraries. Some contend teenagers shouldn’t have access to the book without parental approval.
Depicting Satrapi’s experience as 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. The graphic novel was at the center of a controversy in March 2013, when Chicago Public Schools ordered its removal, sparking protests from parents, teachers and student. That order was quickly rescinded, but CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett asked that Persepolis no longer be taught to seventh-graders, as it may not be appropriate for that age group.
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.
Retailing | Finally breaking its silence regarding the feud with Hachette over sales terms, Amazon acknowledged it’s buying less print inventory and “safety stock” from the publisher and is no longer taking pre-orders for its titles. And while Amazon conceded that “Hachette has operated in good faith and we admire the company and its executives,” the retail giant said “we are not optimistic that this will be resolved soon.” The company also recognized the affect the dispute may have on authors, revealing it offered to fund 50 percent of an author pool to help mitigate the impact. Hachette responded, saying it was glad Amazon has admitted its actions have an effect on authors: “We will spare no effort to resume normal business relations with Amazon—which has been a great partner for years — but under terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them, at the same time that it recognizes Amazon’s importance as a retailer and innovator.” [Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat]
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.
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.
Comics sales | The direct market continued its rise last month, with comics and graphic novel sales up 22.59 percent compared to March 2012, according to Diamond Comic Distributors. Marvel routed DC Comic in this month’s sales, claiming 40 percent of the market to DC’s 27 percent. [ICv2]
Conventions | The fire marshal had to turn away hundreds of people Sunday from the DoubleTree Hotel in Tampa, Florida, where the two-day Tampa Bay Comic Con was being held. An estimated crowd of 4,000 were crammed into the lobby and the ballroom (which is designed to hold a maximum of 1,200 people), with many hoping to see The Walking Dead star Lauren Cohan. Organizers conceded they need a larger venue for the twice-yearly event. [Tampa Bay Times]
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.