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.
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 | Matthew Garrahan’s profile of reclusive Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter is somewhat sharper than the Los Angeles Times story linked last week, as it includes accusations that the 69-year-old billionaire threatened an employee, made a racially insensitive remark, and maneuvered Disney Consumer Products chairman Andy Mooney and three other executives (all African-American women who reportedly referred to themselves as “The Help”) out of their jobs. Nikki Finke follows up at Deadline with details of Disney and Marvel’s attempts at damage control, as well as the news that Disney has settled with the three former execs. [Financial Times]
Retailing | Comics shop veteran Amanda Emmert, executive director of the retailers’ association ComicsPRO and owner of Muse Comics in Colorado Springs, talks about retailing, the health of the industry, and the popular perception of comics shops as men’s clubs: “I have new customers who walk in and tell me how strange it is for a woman to work in a comic book store or a gaming store. Their experience comes more from watching The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory, as you pointed out, than from seeing a great number of stores, though. I am very lucky to work for ComicsPRO; I get to work with hundreds of stores around the country, a large percentage of which are owned or operated by women.” [Colorado Springs Gazette]
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]
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]
Crime | About 50 protestors were arrested in Tunisia for an attempted arson attack on the offices of Nessma TV after it screened Persepolis, the animated adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s celebrated autobiographical graphic novel. The protesters claimed the animated movie offends Islam. All political parties in Tunisia, including the country’s main Islamic party Al-Nahada, have condemned the attack and expressed their solidarity for freedom of the press. [Variety]
Digital comics | Warren Ellis looks at the current options and sees webcomics as a broadcast, out there for free and bringing in new readers through notifications, links and solidarity, whereas digital comics services like comiXology (or even Marvel’s subscription) service are closed systems, more like a shop with comics on the shelves. That makes a difference in building an audience and also in the pacing of the comics, because webcomics can better accommodate the more decompressed storytelling that Ellis prefers. Lots of interesting nuggets among the ramblings. [Warren Ellis]
Continuing our countdown of (in our opinion, obviously) the most important and influential comics of the past ten years, here’s the second half of our list, from #15-1. If you missed it, you can read part one over here, with an explanation of how we put the list together and the (admittedly somewhat arbitrary) ranking. Can you guess what made number one? (hint: it’s not one of the books sampled in the collage above.) Read on to find out!