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 school board in the Japanese city of Matsue has restricted student access to Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, the autobiographical story of a six-year-old boy who survived the Hiroshima bombing.
The board ruled that the book will remain in elementary and junior high school libraries but only teachers will have access to it; students will not be allowed to check it out.
Barefoot Gen, which originally ran in Shonen Jump, a magazine for teenage boys, is based on Nakazawa’s own experiences; he was seven years old and on his way to school when the bomb was dropped, and the adult who was walking with him was burned to death on the spot, and his father, brother and sister were killed when their burning house collapsed on them.
The Matsue school board made its decision last December, after a complaint was filed with them alleging “Children would gain a wrong perception of history because the work describes atrocities by Japanese troops that did not take place.” Many Japanese nationalists deny that Japanese troops were involved in the Rape of Nanking or committed war crimes during World War II, such as the events depicted in the book. Nonetheless, the school board said its decision was based strictly on the level of violence in the books and not on the political nature of the complaint.
Barefoot Gen has been acclaimed worldwide, and it is included in the Hiroshima Public Schools’ peace education curriculum for elementary school students, although there have been calls for it to be removed from schools there as well.
Once more, it appears, Fredric Wertham may have been right.
For the latest evidence, look no further than a Philadelphia preschool, which has purportedly banned “wrestling, Super Hero play, and Monster games,” because they’re resulting in injury.
Reddit user Oremar posted a May 17 letter (below) brought home by his son that states, “Recently it has come to our attention that the imaginations of our preschool children are becoming dangerously overactive causing injuries within our pre-k community. Although we encourage creative thinking and imaginary play, we do not promote out [sic] children hurting one another. Wrestling, Super Hero play, and Monster games will not be permitted here at [name redacted]. In addition, please monitor the different media that your children may view. The re-enactment of televisions [sic] shows/movies are being done during active paly [sic] times in school.”
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 shortlist has been announced for the 2012 Stan Lee Excelsior Award, whose winners will be selected by students from 77 secondary schools across the United Kingdom.
Established in 2011 by Paul Register, a school librarian in Sheffield, the awards are designed to promote comics and to encourage children and teenagers to read. The winners — first, second and third place — will be announced in July during a ceremony at Ecclesfield School in Sheffield. The nominees are:
• Peter Panzerfaust: The Great Escape, by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tyler Jenkins (Image Comics)
• Wonder Woman: Blood, by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins (DC Comics)
• Strontium Dog: The Life and Death of Johnny Apple, by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra (Rebellion/2000AD)
• Soul Eater Not! Vol. 1, by Atsushi Ohkubo (Yen Press)
• X-O Manowar: By the Sword, by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord (Valiant)
• Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Sean Michael Wilson and Declan Shalvey (Classic Comics)
• Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton, by Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Mahmud Asrar (DC Comics)
• Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Change Is Constant, by Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz and Dan Duncan (IDW Publishing)
“Sidescrollers is a fun slacker romp with some crass humor, and swearing (god forbid) but an overall positive, anti-bullying, message. Whether it belonged on a school reading list in the first place isn’t for me to decide. I AM bothered by the Enfield Board of Education’s knee-jerk reaction to yank it from their list and disallow the individual schools the ability to decide on titles all because of a single parent’s complaint who’s child apparently did not even attend this school. Schools are so frequently bullied by outside influences that they become overly sensitive to the slightest hint of controversy, resulting in a sterile and uninteresting curriculum. This neglects student development and could even forever stunt their interest in education. But when it boils down to it, the schools of Enfield have the right to do what they will and I respect their decision, however cowardly it may be. But never forget, kids aren’t stupid. They deserve the freedom to explore new ideas for themselves even if some don’t agree with them. I truly believe that kids, especially of high school age, should be free to read ANYTHING they want.”
– cartoonist Matt Loux on the removal of his graphic novel Sidescrollers from the Enfield, Connecticut, public schools’ list of summer reading for incoming freshmen. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has asked the school district to reconsider, noting the board did not follow its own procedures in removing the book from the reading list.
Graphic novels | The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has written to the Enfield, Connecticut, school district to ask that Matthew Loux’s SideScrollers be reinstated to its summer reading list and to point out that the district did not follow its own procedures when it removed the book last month after the mother of a ninth-grader complained about the graphic novel’s profanity and sexual references. [CBLDF]
Digital comics | Digital distributor iVerse has unveiled a new deal to sell foreign-language translations of Marvel and Archie comics worldwide. iVerse will have exclusive global rights to Marvel’s foreign-language comics, both floppies and trades, while for Archie they will create apps in different languages for different countries, starting with Japan, China, and India. iVerse CEO Michael Murphy says that 50 percent to 65 percent of the company’s digital sales are to international customers (including Canada). Nonetheless, the comics will be “platform-independent”: iVerse will provide translation (through a combination of machine translation and human editors) and distribution, so the comics will be available through their Comics + app but also through other channels, such as Amazon or iBooks. [Publishers Weekly]
A Connecticut school district will more closely scrutinize summer reading lists following a mother’s complaint about the profanity and sexual references in Matthew Loux‘s 2006 graphic novel SideScrollers.
Published by Oni Press, the book centers on three video game-playing friends slackers who suddenly become motivated when one of their secret crushes announces she’s going to a rock concert with a bullying jock. The well-reviewed comic was named one of the Young Adult Library Association’s 2008 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, which is probably how it ended up on the reading list.
But no more. According to WFSB TV, the Enfield Board of Education has removed SideScrollers and will take reading-list selections out of the hands of individual schools. Now a board committee will choose the books for district.
Christie Bosco told the board on Tuesday that she was “floored” after she read the graphic novel recommended to her freshman son. “I was absolutely amazed that anybody would recommend this and put a school’s seal of approval on it. Parents are busy and they expect that if it’s a book that a school system endorses, it’s going to be appropriate for their children. And that’s where Enfield failed.”
The board clearly agreed, with one member telling Bosco, “This kind of reading material doesn’t belong in the schools.”
“I think that the book is a bit vulgar,” Superintendent Jeffrey Schumann offered. “The topics they tried to cover were covered well, but perhaps there would be other texts that could cover them in a better way.”
Libraries | A middle school library in New Brunswick, Canada, has been asked to remove Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim’s Dungeon series for review after the mother of a 12-year-old student complained about the depictions of sex and violence in one of the volumes. The CTV News reporter goes for the easy gasp by showing the scenes in question to a variety of parents, all of whom agree they don’t think the book belongs in a school library, and in this case the mom has a good point: The book received good reviews but is definitely not for kids. [CTV News]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller has been looking at the fine print in old comics — the statement of ownership, which spells out in exact numbers just how many copies were printed, how many were sold, etc. One of the highlights is Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge, which sold more than 1 million copies, making it the top seller of the 1960s. “It’s meaningful, I think, that the best-seller of the 1960s should come from Barks, whose work was originally uncredited and who was known originally to fans as ‘the Good Duck Artist,’” Miller concludes. “Fandom in the 1960s was bringing attention to a lot of people who had previously been unheralded, and Barks is a great example. He changed comics — and now comics were changing.” [The Comichron]
A Maine school board voted overwhelmingly last night to allow the anthology Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age to remain in middle-school libraries after a parent challenged its appropriateness because of “objectionable sexual and language references.”
The Sun Journal reports the board of Regional School Unit #10 in Dixfield agreed with a recommendation made last month by a special committee that the book be made available only with parental permission. Superintendent Tom Ward said this is the first time in his eight years as head of the district that a book has been challenged.
Edited by Ariel Schrag, the 2007 anthology features contributions by such cartoonists as Gabrielle Bell, Daniel Clowes, Joe Matt, Dash Shaw and Lauren Weinstein. As the title suggests, the frank stories focus on the highs and lows of life in seventh and eighth grade, from first loves to first zits. It was selected by the New York Public Library as one of its 2008 Books for the Teen Age.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sent a letter to Ward last month saying that Stuck in the Middle “may not be right for every student at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School. But the library has a responsibility to represent a broad range of views in its collection and to meet the needs of everyone in the community – not just the most vocal, the most powerful, or even the majority. While parents and community members may – and should – voice their concerns and select different materials for themselves and their children, those objecting to particular books should not be given the power to restrict the rights of other students and families to access the material.”
Board member Cynthia Bissell disagreed with that notion, arguing the anthology does nothing to fulfill the function of schools. ““I read it cover to cover,” she said. “I was appalled. This book does nothing to elevate students. It implies that everyone speaks and acts that way.”
This isn’t the first time Stuck in the Middle has been challenged: In November 2009, a South Dakota school board voted to remove the book from middle-school libraries while making it available to teachers to use in class.
Libraries | A committee recommended Monday that Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age, an anthology of comics about middle school edited by Ariel Schrag, should remain in the Buckfield Junior-Senior High School library in Dixfield, Maine, after the mother of a student challenged its appropriateness because of “objectionable sexual and language references.” The local school board will make a final ruling in January. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sent a letter of support for the book prior to the hearing. A school board in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, pulled the graphic novel from middle-school libraries in November 2009, but allowed teachers to continue to use it in class. [Sun Journal]
Digital | Charlie Sorrel looks at the iPad comic reader called, appropriately enough, Comic Reader. [Wired]
Politics | Minnesota House Majority Leader Matt Dean has apologized for calling Neil Gaiman a “pencil-necked little weasel,” but contends the author and comics writer should return the $45,000 fee he received in May 2010 for speaking at the Stillwater, Minn., library (Gaiman donated the money, minus agents fees, to charity). Dean’s original remarks were made during a discussion of how the state’s tax-generated Legacy funds for the arts are spent. He was quoted as saying that Gaiman, “who I hate,” is a “pencil-necked little weasel who stole $45,000 from the state of Minnesota.”
Now, however, the Republican lawmaker has dialed back the rhetoric while standing by his underlying criticism. “My mom is staying with us right now,” he tells Minnesota Public Radio. My wife’s out of town, and she was very angry this morning and always taught me to not be a name caller. And I shouldn’t have done it, and I apologize.”
Gaiman, who responded to Dean’s initial comments early Wednesday on Twitter, has since expanded on his remarks on his website, writing in part, “I don’t like the idea that a politician is telling people that charging a market wage for their services is stealing.” [Minnesota Public Radio, Underwire]
Comics | A psychologist has been brought in to a Houston elementary school after a group of fourth-graders created a comic book allegedly depicting them holding a gun to the head of one of their classmates. [My Fox Houston]
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.”
I first met David Ball a few years ago, while working on a story for my employer, The Patriot-News, about how comics were being used in high school and college classrooms. Luckily for me, Ball just happened to be teaching a class on the subject at the nearby Dickinson College. Ball was kind enough to return the favor and invite me to speak to his comics class when he taught it again a few semesters later.
Fast forward to today, where Ball is co-editor, along with Martha Kuhlman, of the new book from the University of Mississippi Press, The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is A Way of Thinking, a collection of essays by noted comics scholars like Jeet Heer about the seminal Acme cartoonist.
Knowing Ball lived and worked next door (relatively speaking), it seemed silly for me not to get in touch with him and see if he was up for an interview. Thankfully, he was eager to talk about the book.
Why Ware? What is it about him and his comics that you feel justify a book of this nature?
Unlike many of our contributors in the collected volume, I came to Ware’s work very late and not as a dedicated reader of comics but rather as a scholar of American literature. I had known that fascinating things were going on in contemporary comics for a while, but reading Jimmy Corrigan knocked the wind out of me. The book seemed so versed in the American literary genealogy of Melville and Faulkner and Nabokov with which I was familiar, but was using techniques, referring to other comics, and stretching my brain in ways that were wholly new to me. I knew that I would need to educate myself rapidly to catch up — a still ongoing process — and that colleagues in history, art history, and comparative literature, as well as comics commentators and enthusiasts could help me better understand what I was reading. Ware quickly became a discovery I could share with others and a way I could talk to, and learn from, scholars and readers whose interests were different than mine. That kind of intellectual dialogue is what this book of essays is about, and I hope that readers of the volume will similarly find ideas that are new to them, and share in that sense of discovery. Every time I reread one of Ware’s comics, or get my hands on a new fragment of “Rusty Brown” or “Building Stories,” I find something new and unexpected. That sense of discovery is a rare thing in any art form, and I’m convinced it’s why we’ll still be reading Ware fifty years from now.
Digital piracy | Although some have credited, or blamed, Rich Johnston for bringing pirate website HTMLcomics.com to the attention of publishers, Harlan Ellison has stepped forward to gleefully suggest he may have had something to do with its exposure: “Several months ago, if you recall, we were advised of an internet pirate who was posting — along with about 30,000 other pages — DC, Marvel, Archie, Dark Horse, and on and on — my stories from HARLAN ELLISON’S DREAM CORRIDOR. When we advised him to cease and desist, he essentially told me to go fuck myself, and urged me to sue him. Just like every one of them, all the way back to my AOL suit, he told me he couldn’t be found, he was impregnable, I could go fuck myself. … I warned him. … I asked four members of The Flying Blue Monkey Squad to help me. They found him in one day, unsnarled all his shunting devices, tracked his footprint back to his main server, we got his name, his location in Tampa, Florida, and sent that data on to, well, friends of friends.”