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Maine school board votes to keep Stuck in the Middle in libraries

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.

Comics A.M. | Stuck in the Middle to remain in school library

Stuck in the Middle

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]

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Comics A.M. | Minnesota GOP leader apologizes to Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

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]

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Panel votes to keep Death Note in school

The first volume of Death Note

The first volume of Death Note

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.”

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Editing is thinking: An interview with David Ball

The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is A Way of Thinking

The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is A Way of Thinking

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.

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Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes



Digital piracy | Although some have credited, or blamed, Rich Johnston for bringing pirate website 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.”

Johanna Draper Carlson, Alan Kistler, Gia Manry, Simon Jones, Jaime Weinman and Douglas Wolk have additional commentary. [Robot 6]

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Bone to stay in Minnesota school district’s libraries [Updated]

The offending volume

The offending volume

A Minnesota mother’s challenge to Jeff Smith’s Bone series has failed, with a panel from the Rosemount-Eagan-Apple Valley school district voting 10-1 Tuesday to keep the books in its elementary school libraries.

A committee consisting of parents, teachers and media specialists heard arguments from Ramona DeLay, who wanted the series banned because the fourth volume depicts smoking, drinking and gambling, and from other parents who wanted the book to stay in school libraries. Smith sent a written defense as well.

Bone has won numerous awards and garnered many positive reviews, but here’s the best part: The kids like it.

Rosemount students Spencer Strop, 13, and his fourth-grade brother, Preston, say they agree.

“I didn’t take it in a bad way,” said Preston, who began reading the books when his brother brought them home. “It’s not like anybody got drunk or was doing anything bad with drinking.”

The brothers said the setting of the novel is in a tavern, and some of the characters occasionally smoke a pipe and cigars. Spencer first picked up the novel from the library at Rosemount Middle School.

“We were actually hoping it would stay,” he said.

Said media specialist Melinda Martin, “I respect her right to object to the series, but not for her to censor it for the rest. I feel you would be doing a disservice to our district if you remove this book from our elementary schools.”

Update: Jeff Smith has posted about the decision on his blog and included the entire letter he sent to the review committee.

Jeff Smith responds to effort to remove Bone from school district’s libraries

Bone: The Dragonslayer

Bone: The Dragonslayer

During his spotlight panel at C2E2, cartoonist Jeff Smith reacted to Friday’s news that a parent in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul is seeking to remove Bone from the school district’s libraries.

“It just broke yesterday; I don’t know anymore about it than you do,” Smith said on Saturday, responding to a question from the audience. “She objected to the gambling, smoking and drinking and the sexiness. I feel sorry for her son. He’s going to be really embarrassed, but you know, not everybody has to like my stuff. That’s fine. But I really can’t go along with this un-American concept of banning books. Let the Nazis do that.”

The parent, Ramona DeLay of Apple Valley, Minnesota, filed a formal request with the school district last month asking that Bone: The Dragonslayer be “withdrawn from all students” because it depicts drinking, smoking, gambling and “sexual situations between characters.”

According to KSTP TV, DeLay is seeking to remove the entire series from the district’s 18 elementary schools; 12 of those schools have at least one volume of Bone available to students.

The district’s Reconsideration Review Committee will meet on April 27 to consider DeLay’s request. The good news is that of the 20 similar cases heard by the committee since the early 1990s, materials were removed from library shelves in just three instances.

Minnesota mother objects to Bone‘s content and library availability

Bone: The Dragonslayer

Bone: The Dragonslayer

A parent in a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, has filed a complaint with the school district objecting to the content in the fourth volume of Jeff Smith’s popular Bone series.

Ramona DeLay of Apple Valley told Sun Newspapers she was “a little shocked” that her son, and elementary-school student, was reading a graphic novel depicting drinking, smoking and gambling. She filed a formal request to the school district on on March 15 asking that the book be “withdrawn from all students.” In the complaint, DeLay also cited “sexual situations between characters.”

The district’s Reconsideration Review Committee will meet on April 27 to consider DeLay’s request.

I’m certainly only guessing, but I imagine this has to be one of the very few times that Smith’s bestselling, and multiple-award-winning, series has been challenged. Tom Spurgeon has additional commentary.

Comics A.M. | The comics Internet in two minutes

Light Yagami, from "Death Note"

Light Yagami, from "Death Note"

Manga | A 14-year-old middle-schooler in Owosso, Michigan, has been suspended indefinitely after a classmate found a Death Note-inspired note containing the names of two students and times, and turned it over to a teacher. In Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note, the hit manga turned anime and live-action movie franchise, a high school student sets out to rid the world of evil using a supernatural notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it.

Although the incident with the Owosso student was turned over to police, who forwarded the case to the prosecutor’s office. Police and school officials say they don’t believe the teen intended to harm anyone, and that no one was in danger.

This is at least the sixth incident in the United States in the past few years in which a student was disciplined for possessing a “death note.” [Argus-Press, Anime News Network]

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Send Us Your Shelf Porn!


Thank you for joining us for a very special, educational edition of Send Us Your Shelf Porn. Today’s guest is Ohio teacher Chris Peace, who is trying to improve his students’ reading skills by introducing them to comics. He’s even put together a small graphic novel library for them, which you can see in the photo above.

But Chris does a much better job explaining his collection than I ever could, so I’ll let him take over …

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This contest is totes awesome

R. Sikoryak's Strand bag

R. Sikoryak's Strand bag

Get it? I said “totes” and it’s a tote bag contest! Oh, I slay myself.

Ahem. Anyway, The Strand Bookstore has teamed up with Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly, Toon Books and the School of Visual Arts to offer the Strand Tote Bag Design Contest. All this month, until March 31, aspiring artists are encouraged to send in their design for famed New York book shop’s next “artist tote bag.  Judges for the contest include  previous bag designers Art Spiegelman, Adrian Tomine, R. Sikoryak, Françoise Mouly and Steven Heller.

The prizes are pretty impressive. The grand prize winner not only gets to see their art printed on the store’s bag, but also gets: an afternoon with Mouly; D&Q’s complete set of books from 2009; $450 worth of recent Fantagraphics books; a complete set of Toon Books; and more.

Second prize nets you a class at SVA, a collection of signed D&Q books; more comics from TB and Fanta, and a $100 coffee gift card. Third prize is the same, but less so.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tempted to enter by just drawing a couple of stick figures.

Rules and details for the contest can be found at that fifth link. A look at past Strand tote bags can be found here.

School board pulls Stuck in the Middle from library shelves [Updated]

Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age

Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age

The school board in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Monday voted to remove the anthology Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics from an Unpleasant Age from middle-school libraries.

The move, spurred by a parent’s complaint that the graphic novel contained foul language, sexual references and depictions of teen smoking, reportedly marks the first time in at least eight years a book has been removed from the student collection. Teachers will continue to have access to the graphic novel, and (curiously?) may use it in class.

According to the Argus Leader, the board’s decision came after a unanimous recommendation from a review committee composed of two teachers, two parents and an assistant principal.

A 2007 anthology published by Penguin’s Viking Children imprint, Stuck in the Middle was edited by Ariel Schrag and contains contributions by Gabrielle Bell, Daniel Clowes, Joe Matt, Dash Shaw, Lauren Weinstein and others.

As the book’s  title suggests, the 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 committee questioned whether middle-school students possess the maturity to see beyond the “objectionable language” in two or three of the stories and be able to glean a positive message.

In a statement provided to the Argus Leader Schrag said, in part:

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