How is your holiday shopping going? Mine is mostly finished, because I am a selfish person and don’t give gifts to very many people. However no matter how many people you love or how many people to whom you feel obligated, I’d like to make a suggestion for the perfect present.
I don’t mean the excellent graphic novel by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker, although you should definitely consider it if you haven’t already. No, I mean the actual truth.
If the last several months have shown us anything, it is that, to most Americans, the truth is a fungible thing. Anything is true if you want it to be true. Fact-checking is for suckers. This isn’t healthy for us as individuals, nor for the country as a whole.
It certainly doesn’t bode well for our government. And by forcing news-gathering organizations to make profits, we ensure that we will not get the best news, but the most popular. We won’t get the most facts, but we’ll know if Kanye dyed his hair.
(I’m very sorry that I know this.)
It’s important to get the news from reliable sources. My go-to page is The New York Times. They make mistakes, and they have a bias towards their most affluent readers, but they hire good people and give them the space to write real stories. You could do worse than to send someone a subscription.
I don’t just read the Times, however. I read all sorts of things, and you should, too. Your hometown paper could probably use a few more subscribers. It’s useful to check in with the BBC and other international sources. The Week is a magazine that collects and digests news from all over. Full disclosure: I worked for a PR firm that had The Week as a client a decade ago.Different national perspectives are important. So are different cultural perspectives. The overwhelming majority of professional journalists in this country are white. I’m not questioning their commitment to the truth, but no single one of us can represent every single possible perspective. Give yourself a gift this solstice and seek out news and opinions from people who don’t look like you. If I might quote from this fascinating piece:
“… over my relatively short career, I have met so many wildly talented and generous and serious minority journalists who have provided me with emotional and spiritual sup
port that I will never be able to repay. These relationships are still there. The talent is still there. The audience for our work is still there. What’s changed is where we will publish that work and the spaces in which we will foster new friendships and rivalries.
“But, comics!” you wail. “I come to this website to read about comics!” I hear you, Constant Reader. As a comics fan, you have an opportunity to discover lots of important ideas in the very medium you love. For example, Brought to Light is a spectacularly paranoid and well-researched book from 1988 about spies and drugs and American duplicity. It’s a beautiful and bloody masterpiece.
If you want to give something more recent –and slightly more upbeat – I suggest Trashed, an autobiographical discussion about environmental issues, class and capitalism. Not only did this book encourage my efforts at composting, but I also tie up my trash bags much more securely since reading about all the gross things sanitation workers have to put up with.
For your loved ones who enjoy musical theater, you could do worse than give Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s moving story about her father, her mother, and her own coming of age. It’s the inspiration for the Tony Award winning musical, and it tells a harrowing story about families and how dangerous it is to live in the closet.
I’m learning more about Singapore than I ever knew I wanted to know in The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew. This biography of a fictional cartoonist reveals so much about pop culture, colonialism and the twentieth century.
I hate writing about this. I hate having to write about this so frequently. But this is the world we live in.
As my ol’ pal Martha Thomases wrote a couple days ago, I tend to have a thing about free speech. I’m an absolutist. In my fevered brain, I figure we don’t have free speech unless it’s complete and it covers everything, in all forms of expression. Some people put limitations on what will be tolerated and they put restrictions on what can be said and where things can be said. Even if I were the one making those decisions – an amusing concept – that is not free speech. As I keep on saying, I would not remove Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf from the libraries, although I would use the book to teach high schoolers the cause and effect of hate speech.
This does not absolve the speaker (writer, filmmaker, videographer, broadcaster, Internet troll) from taking responsibility for his or her actions. That’s why we have anti-defamation laws, and if they make you think twice about what you say, well, you should be thinking twice anyway. I’m also pro-truth.
People like to quote the 1919 Supreme Court ruling that says you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater. They are mistaken. In the case of Schenck v. U.S., Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” The italicized words are my doing, but even if you note the critical difference… it doesn’t matter.
Schenck v. U.S was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1969 in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, which ruled that speech could only be banned when it was likely to incite imminent lawless action – a riot. This test is a matter of established law. Yelling fire outside a building to prevent people from entering is quite different from encouraging people to stampede out.
Having been a free speech absolutist for about a half-century, I am particularly terror-stricken when a bunch of self-righteous assholes get books pulled from libraries. This time they not only got another book banned, they got the publisher to stop printing the book.
The good folks at Abrams published a clever little book titled Bad Little Children’s Books, written by “Arthur C. Gackley,” which is a nom de plume. It says “Kid-Lit Parodies, Shameless Spoofs, Offensively Tweaked Covers” right there on the cover. I am not going to comment on the quality of the material in the book because that is completely irrelevant, and besides such comment would only be my opinion and, as I noted above, I am not the arbiter of good taste. Yes, that is quite a shame.
The hubbub in social media was so great that the author asked Abrams to cease publishing his book. Abrams declined to withdraw the title, but they said they won’t be going back to press for subsequent printings.
My favorite comments on said social media are those who say “it’s not funny.” Really? Who the hell are you to determine what is or is not funny? Roy Cohn, the far-right-wing lawyer who orchestrated Senator Joe McCarthy’s red scare in the 1950s and later became one of Donald Trump’s major influences, was a gay man so closeted he refused to accept his own sexuality to the point where he even refused to let his lover into his hospital room as he was dying from HIV. The fact that he died of HIV due to his unacknowledged sexual orientation is likely to have contributed to his death: if you can’t accept your gayness you might not be taking the necessary precautions for safer sex (note to heterosexuals: you, too). You don’t think his death is funny? To quote George Carlin, “Fuck you, I think it’s hilarious.” Neither you nor I are the arbitrator of “funny.”
This social media stuff is scary. It, too, has the rights of free speech and there’s no ifs about that. I do note it’s the same tool that elected Donald Trump, in part, because of false news implants by people like Trump’s designated national security adviser Michael Flynn and General Flynn’s son. The kid’s tweet about how Hillary Clinton ran a child sex slavery ring out of a Washington DC pizza parlor motivated one idiot to drive from North Carolina to Washington to shoot the place up. I gather this is because he thinks most theaters now are fire retardant.
A few days ago the Washington Post ran its list of the top 10 books most challenged in schools and librariesand, once again, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home makes the list. It’s number seven with a bullet… right underneath “The Bible.” Number eight is Craig Thompson’s graphic novel Habibi. There are two ways of looking at this. The first is, well, I guess it’s nice to see graphic novels are being taken seriously, even by the terminally self-righteous. The second is, censorship sucks.
If there is anybody who I have yet to piss off, this should do the trick. I am just as opposed from removing books from school libraries. Often you hear parents say they don’t want to have to answer the difficult questions their children might ask after reading such material. I respond “You should have thought of that before you pounded out your kid.” Explaining such stuff honestly and in terms your child can understand is a good part of your job. It ain’t easy, but “childrearing” and “easy” are mutually exclusive, and if you didn’t know that when you decided to keep the fetus, welcome to Earth.
These articles on ComicMix usually end with “support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund” and many of us who toil here do just that. If you haven’t already, check them out. If you’ve got some spare cash and you’ve already paid the rent and put food in the pantry, please send them some loot.
Early this past Sunday, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history took place at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, FL. It took place during Pride. It took place on Latin night. Estimates so far have 50 dead and 53 wounded.
I can’t even remember what I was originally going to write about. This news consumed me on Sunday and I knew I had to write about this. This is important. Many other people have and are going to write about this. They should. They need to.
We all have different reactions to this event. Some are graceful, some make the LGBTQ community invisible, while others praise the massacre. Having collected my thoughts on this, I can conclude that one thing we certainly need a great deal more of is empathy.
People fear what they don’t understand. People don’t necessarily get exposed to people that aren’t like them, and thoughts and feelings that go against what they’ve come to believe as truth. We need more people being exposed to more ideas.
When I was going through elementary through high school, there was no learning about the LGBTQ community. There was no LGBTQ club at school. I do know that they have since started a club. I don’t know if they’ve since started teaching more about the community. During my undergrad, they did have specific courses on LGBTQ history and the like, but that attracts people already sympathetic and interested. Those aren’t all the people that need that information.
People need to learn about the Stonewall riots – not just from terrible whitewashing movies, but in the classroom. In our textbooks. They need to learn that trans women of color were pivotal to LGBTQ rights. They need to learn about Harvey Milk. They need to learn about the AIDs epidemic and a president who stood idly by and did nothing even as his good friend Rock Hudson was dying. And they need to learn about the latest transphobia and bathroom bills in the same way I and many others learned about racial segregation. Learning that it was wrong. We need more empathy and understanding, and it has to be taught.
Queer American history is certainly more than just those examples, but it’s a start. And it needs to be taught as American history. Not an elective. Not something that can be passed over. People need to be given the chance to know and understand our history. They need to learn about it when they’re young and as they’re developing thoughts and opinions on the world around them.
People need to be exposed to queer people in their lives. Family, friends, students, teachers, politicians, actors, authors, and other professionals. And not just in a heteronormative fashion demonizing non-monogamous relationships, premarital sex, and other alternatives. Different people lead different lives and we need people to understand and accept that, and the only way that will happen is by seeing people living those lives openly and being happy doing it.
If you have kids that like reading comics, make sure they’re also reading comics with queer characters. If they’re reading Batman, they could be reading about Batwoman as well. If they’re reading X-Men, some of the titles have queer characters. If they’re reading graphic novels like Watchmen or V for Vendetta, they should also be reading Fun Home and Stuck Rubber Baby. Tales with queer characters aren’t just to give queer people characters to look up to, they’re also to show other people that we are humans.
This goes for adults too. Straight cis adults need to push themselves and reach beyond their comfort zones if they haven’t already. And even if they have, they need to keep doing it. Cis queers need to push beyond into trans literature and entertainment. When’s the last time you read a book by a trans author? Seen read a comic by a trans artist? They’re out there and ready to be found. Ready to be supported.
Most important of all, exposing younger people to the queerness around them may help them understand themselves better. I know that if I had queer role models when I was in school that I would have had more confidence in myself. Maybe I’d have even come out at a younger age.
Queer people need to be respected, they need to be empathized, and they need to be given hope.
I love autobio graphic novels. I love them to the point that I hope to do one of my own. Fun Home, Blankets, Persepolis, Marbles, Epileptic, Clumsy, there are far too many excellent examples to name. Keeping all this in mind, ComicMix’s own Martha Thomases suggested I read Patrick Atangan’s Fires Above Hyperion to get my thoughts on it. I did in fact read it, and I did in fact have thoughts.
Prior to holding a copy of Fires Above Hyperion I was unfamiliar with Patrick Atangan. He’s an openly gay, multiracial author who has written and drawn many graphic novels before this, including Silk Tapestry and The Yellow Jar, and you can find out more about his work atwww.nbmpub.com. This particular story documents his often antagonist relationship with dating and gay culture spanning two decades.
The story is told chronologically, starting with his Junior Prom, and goes into about eight different anecdotes over the course of twenty years of men he’s been involved with. There was very little reference to what the actual years are that these stories take place, if at all. I’m not sure I realized how much of a pet peeve that is for me until I read this book. When dealing with actual events that happened in real life, I like to have an idea of when they occurred, as it is made clear that gaps do exist between stories. Though, since it is in chronological order, it does make it easy to follow, and this might just be me being nit picky.
Fires Above Hyperion comes in at ninety-six pages. With about eight anecdotes to cover, it gives very little time to delve into the one time encounters, flings, and deeper relationships that make up the story. This ends up getting frustrating for me as the reader, when one of the early anecdotes is about a six-year relationship and how that has as much precious story real estate as an anecdote about a guy Patrick goes on a date with once.
Ultimately, this makes me feel like too much of an outsider. What makes books like Blankets and Clumsy so powerful is that they shared all sorts of little details. It felt like you were going through all the emotions with the author. It’s not as personal and intimate an experience here, and not only does it take away from the story overall, it prevents the humor from landing just right. The dark humor is present, but because I feel detached from the story as I’m reading it, it doesn’t seem to work. Instead of feeling a situation is funny, I end up just feeling kind of bad for Patrick or the person he was with, depending on the particular anecdote.
There is something in this story that is important for the medium, and that’s Patrick’s perspective as a gay man that’s part Latino and part Asian. The vast majority of graphic memoirs dealing with an author who is part of the LGBT community tend to be from a white author. Although this does not take up a lot of Fires Above Hyperion, it is brought up closer to the end of the story, and for me was the most interesting part to read.
Patrick Atangan is certainly talented and was able to lay out this book in a way that was easy to read, and that’s tougher than it sounds. The art itself simple, and in this instance I would argue that it is a bit too simple. Being done digitally, I noticed throughout the book a lot of copying and pasting different illustrations into later panels, and some of the men from earlier in the books are palette swapped and reused later. That did cause confusion at a couple of points, where I was wondering why this character from earlier in the book was back, until I figured out that this was actually a new character. While I don’t think that art being done that way is inherently bad, at ninety-six pages and a price point of $14.99, I think it’s a bit much.
I can’t say I’d give this an overall recommendation. I think it’s a flawed piece that does genuinely try to hit the mark and falls short. However, if you love graphic memoirs, and in particular if you love graphic memoirs from LGBT creators, I encourage you to give Fires Above Hyperion a read. Patrick Atangan has a unique voice and perspective in this field, and this book’s success can help usher in more graphic memoirs by more people whose voices we so desperately need to hear.
When I was a kid in Ohio, the school year would start the Wednesday after Labor Day. I can tell it’s Back to Schooltime because I want to buy pens.
Originally, I thought about writing a column that was a curriculum guide for classes comic book characters might take. Interlac 101, Latvarian History, that kind of thing. Or perhaps I would suggest a class in California History for the newly-arrived DC crew.
That might have been funny. I reserve the right to use those ideas at a time and place to be negotiated.
Instead, I want to talk about graphic storytelling and its role in modern education. For real. When I was a kid (when we took class notes on papyrus), the conventional wisdom held that comics books were for stupid kids. Bringing one to school (and getting caught) meant a public humiliation and confiscation.
And there’s good reason for this. For one thing, it’s fun to read even the most pessimistic graphic novel. To quote the link: “Comics and graphic novels are a great source of entertainment, and that is, without a doubt, this medium’s most utilitarian strength. Modern education system thrives on selling grades, and completely ignores the love of learning.”
“The Love of Learning.” That’s what school should be about. Unfortunately, in these United States, it is not.
Nothing is simple anymore, and that includes treating graphic story as something worth reading. The politic divide that encourages textbooks like this encourages a fear of conflicting ideas that, in my opinion, is antithetical to a true education.
When the texts are comics, the battles look like this and like this, or like the protests at Duke over Fun Home. It’s interesting to note that, in the second link, the book was banned over the protests of the people who objected to it.
Education has become such a battlefield that the threat of possible controversy is enough to shut down any exchange of ideas at all. We aren’t talking about students hurling insults at each other, or teachers who flunk students for expressing a difference of opinion. We’re talking about books. In many cases, we’re talking about award-winning books that have been lauded in the public marketplace for decades.
I know there is a faction of people out there who would like it if children never questioned authority, who want kids to learn the lessons necessary to be good little workers who obey the bosses, the religious leaders, the cops and the president. Kids who can read enough to understand ads for products they don’t need, who are happy with watching a screen all day and drinking Budweiser.
To me, that’s a form of child abuse.
No one can read everything, of course. We all pick and choose. Even at Duke, Fun Home was on a suggested summer reading list, and not required. The fundamentalist Christians who felt it was an assault on their beliefs remain free to go through life wrapped in their sanctimonious ignorance.
You might ask yourself, “What’s the big deal? A bunch of kids in an academic ivory tower are acting like spoiled brats. That’s what college is for. They’ll find out soon enough that the real world doesn’t have time for that kind of self-indulgence.” And I would agree that a lot of us (well, me anyway) who were self-righteously full of ourselves in college eventually found out that our ideals didn’t always translate into reality. I’d even argue that lessons learned that way stay with us longer than if we had gotten it right the first time. One of my favorite things that I learned in school was that life is more interesting and fulfilling when we know people who are different from ourselves and who will challenge our assumptions.
The alternative is to turn out people who all think and act the same way, who think that majority rule is more important than defending the rights of the minority. And if you think I’m exaggerating, check this out.
These are the dog days of summer. There is relatively little news. The only movies being released are ones expected to tank, at least critically. Comics and television and other serial media are idling, getting ready to ramp up for their fall seasons.
I thought I would have nothing to write about.
I thought I would have to create a story that would be a metaphor for my recent battles with the health care industrial complex, which in this case means the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. I would name the villain after the medication prescribed by my doctor because of the super-human battle I had to wage to get my insurer to cover it.
And then this happened. Some Duke University freshmen objected to the fact that Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home is on a suggested summer reading list.
Big whoop, right? It’s a “suggested” list. No one was making anyone read anything. There are lots of other interesting titles on the list. And Duke is a private university, so there is no overt issue of government coercion. No one makes you matriculate to Duke. If you don’t like what Duke offers, go elsewhere. Marketplace of ideas. Yada yada yada.
Even so, there are many who consider this an example of discrimination against Christians. They claim Fun Home is lesbian pornography and to read it would violate their consciences.
I’m not a Christian, so maybe I’m ignorant about certain inner-circle rules and regulations. Still, I’ve read all the testaments, and I don’t recall any injunctions against reading things with which one disagrees. Not even in Leviticus.
And I’m not a lesbian, nor do I consume a lot of porn (except for this, which makes me swoon), but I don’t know anyone among the millions of people who read it who have celebrated Fun Home for its ability to arouse the reader sexually. Again, it’s possible I don’t hang out with a fun crowd.
What’s so horrible about reading a book that contradicts your core beliefs? Most of us hold at least one or two ideas that are out of the mainstream, which means that we are bombarded daily with things with which we disagree. As a Jew, I’m subjected to two months of Christmas celebrations, plus Easter in the spring. As a New Yorker, I still get stuck watching news reports about fires on the West Coast. As a person who appreciates healthy food, I still have to pass the McDonald’s on my corner too many times.
It’s not all about me and what I want. (Hard to believe. I know.) And that’s something I learned in college, when I was exposed to ideas and ways of thinking that were different from those with which I was raised.
The straw-man argument usually made at this point in the discussion is to accuse those of us who are not conservative Christians of doing the same thing, banning books with which we disagree. I know this is something that so-called liberals occasionally do, because we are all humans and almost all humans act like assholes sometimes. Still, when I Google “liberal book-banning,” I don’t get any recent results.
I do, however, get links to articles that bemoan “political correctness” and “trigger warnings.” In my experience, both terms can be used to limit discussion, but that doesn’t mean they are the same as book banning. It is my observation that people who bring up political correctness have most likely already lost the argument. And people who dismiss trigger warnings don’t understand what they are.
This essay describes the situation well. The author says
“I also take issue with the idea that trigger warnings “coddle” college students and perpetuate hyper-sensitivity. Trigger warnings notify people of potentially triggering content, which means that they’ve already gone through the traumatic experience in question….Trigger warnings are not a form of censorship, but a form of courtesy. It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t write about controversial or painful topics.”
Trigger warnings provide more information, not less. Providing more information is not usually considered a form of censorship. It does, however, require more work.
To me, the best part of college was the smorgasbord of ideas that were offered to me to sample. I could taste as many as I wanted. I learned that I liked Chinese literature and African history. I learned I didn’t like lentil loaf, a dish that didn’t exist in either Youngstown or boarding school.. I learned about conceptual art and Soviet-era cinema.
I didn’t have to read Fun Home, because it didn’t exist yet. Which is too bad. Fun Home showed me that accepting your parents for who they really are is the only way to love them, and to love yourself.
The Spider-Man show goes down in history as one of the most overwrought, over-hyped failures in Broadway history, not to mention the biggest money loser in Broadway history. Meanwhile, Fun Home is one of the surprise hits of the Off-Broadway season.
There haven’t been many theatrical hits inspired by comic books. The Superman musical didn’t make any real money. There was talk of a Batman musical, but it never happened (unless you count thishttp://www.batmanlive.com/#/. The closest successful adaptation since World War II was Li’l Abner, from a newspaper strip. The movie remains a favorite of mine.
Why did Fun Home succeed when Spider-Man didn’t? I hadn’t seen Spider-Man. Tickets were really expensive, and the Broadway audience is frequently boorish, talking and taking photos throughout a performance. The reviews weren’t good, and it seemed that they took the story in a camp direction. That seemed lazy and predictable to me. Certainly not something I’d pay several hundred dollars to experience.
In contrast, Fun Home makes few references to the medium of its source material. The narrator, a grown-up Alison, will occasionally use the word “Caption” to set up a scene. At the end, a frame from the graphic novel is projected onto the stage.
The play is not the book. I guess that’s obvious, but the ways in which they differ are actually quite striking. The story on stage is much more linear. Lisa Kron and Jeanne Tersori, who wrote the book and music, focus almost entirely on the relationship between Alison and her father. Understandable, but I missed seeing a more fully rounded dramatization of her mother, her siblings, and Joan, her first lover. At one point, I wondered if the show could even pass the Bechdel Test. Then Alison had a conversation with Joan about the gay student union at Oberlin, so they got that out of the way. (And also, I was amused at how well they captured the tone of political groups at the time. God, we were insufferable.)
The most interesting aspect of the show, to me, was the way they used three different actresses to portray Alison as a child, a college student, and an adult. The kid, Sydney Lucas, who plays the young Alison is remarkably good. She conveys the delight of discovering those first hints of her sexuality with a knowing glee.
The music and choreography are terrific. I’m curious to see how this show will travel. The staging at the Public Theater was relatively simple, so that it’s easy to imagine local theater groups able to adapt it to their situations. The cast is only nine people, three of them children (Alison and her two brothers).
Will the success of the show bring a new audience to the graphic novel? I don’t know. Will it make the media consider comics as something other than superheroes? I don’t know that either. In the meantime, I wonder if anyone is working on a show based on Stuck Rubber Baby? Because I would see that in a heartbeat.
(In honor of Banned Books Week (September 30-October 6, 2012) we are reprinting this list from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and will be reprinting lots of stuff from them over the coming week to highlight their efforts. Donate now! —CM)
Banned Books Week is upon us, and it’s telling that the event is more relevant than ever in its 30th year. Given their visual nature and the rampantly held misconception that comic books are for children, comics are among the most challenged and banned books in libraries and schools. Let’s take a look at some frequently challenged and banned comics…
Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations by J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita, Jr., and Scott Hanna
• Location of key challenge: A middle-school library in Millard, Nebraska
• Reason challenged: Sexual overtones
The parent of a 6-year-old who checked out the book filed a complaint and took the story to the media; the parent also withheld the book for the duration of the review process rather than returning it per library policy.
• Location of key challenge: Stark County District Library in Canton, Ohio
• Reason challenged: Sexism, offensive language, and unsuited to age group
Despite the challenge, the library retained the book and now holds two copies, which are shelved in the Teen section.
Blankets by Craig Thompson
• Location of key challenge: The public library in Marshall, Missouri
• Reason challenged: Obscene images
CBLDF wrote a letter to the Marshall library on behalf of Blankets and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, playing a key role in keeping both books on shelves.
Bone by Jeff Smith
• Location of key challenge: Independent School District 196 in Rosemount, Minnesota
• Reason challenged: Promotion of smoking and drinking
A letter from Jeff Smith decrying the attempted ban of his book was read aloud at the library review committee’s hearing, and the challenge was ultimately rejected by a 10-1 vote, to the praise of Smith and the CBLDF.
Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama
• Location of key challenge: All public school libraries in Wicomico County, Maryland
• Reason challenged: Violence and nudity
The library review committee recommended that the books in the Dragon Ball series, which were recommended by the publisher for ages 13+, be removed from the entire public school library system, including at the high school level.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
• Location of key challenge: The public library in Marshall, Missouri
• Reason challenged: Obscene images
CBLDF wrote a letter to the Marshall library on behalf of Fun Home and Craig Thompson’s Blankets, playing a key role in keeping both books on shelves.
Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes
• Location of key challenge: A high school in Guilford, Connecticut
• Reason challenged: Profanity, course language, and brief non-sexual nudity
A high school teacher was forced to resign from his job after a parent filed both a complaint with the school and a police complaint against the teacher for lending a high school freshman a copy of Eightball #22, which was later published as the graphic novel Ice Haven.
In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
• Location of key challenge: Multiple locations
• Reason challenged: Nudity
In the Night Kitchen was not often removed from shelves; instead, librarians censored it by painting underwear or diapers over the genitals of the main character, a precocious child named Mickey.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
• Location of key challenge: Jessamine County Public Library in Kentucky
• Reason challenged: Sex scenes
Two employees of the Jessamine County Public Library in Kentucky were fired after they took it upon themselves to withhold the library’s copy of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier from circulation because they felt it was pornographic.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
• Location of key challenge: Pasadena Public Library in Pasadena, California
• Reason challenged: Anti-ethnic and unsuited for age group
Nick Smith of the Pasadena Public Library describes the challenge as being “made by a Polish-American who is very proud of his heritage, and who had made other suggestions about adding books on Polish history… The thing is, Maus made him uncomfortable, so he didn’t want other people to read it. That is censorship, as opposed to parental guidance.”
Neonomicon by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
• Location of key challenge: The public library in Greenville, South Carolina
• Reason challenged: Sexual content
Despite giving her 14-year-old daughter permission to check out the book, which was appropriately shelved in the adult section of the library, a mother filed a complaint, claiming the book was “pornographic.” CBLDF wrote a letter in support of the book, but it remains out of circulation pending review.
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichon
• Location of key challenge: Various
• Reason challenged: Sexual content
Despite receiving high praise from the ALA and Booklist and featuring a cast consisting of animals, the book has been challenged at libraries for sexual content.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists
• Location of key challenge: Various
• Reason challenged: Anti-family themes, offensive language, and unsuited for age group
When asked about how he felt when Sandman was labelled unsuitable for teens, Gaiman responded, “I suspect that having a reputation as adult material that’s unsuitable for teens will probably do more to get teens to read Sandman than having the books ready and waiting on the YA shelves would ever do.”
SideScrollers by Matthew Loux
• Location of key challenge: The public school district in Enfield, Connecticut
• Reason challenged: Profanity and sexual references
The school district removed the book from non-compulsory summer reading lists, possibly violating its own review policy, which states in part that “no parent nor group of parents has the right to negate the use of educational resources for students other than his/her own child.” CBLDF wrote a letter in support of the book and is still awaiting a response from the school board.
Stuck in the Middle, edited by Ariel Schrag
• Location of key challenge: The public school system in Dixfield, Maine
• Reason challenged: Language, sexual content, and drug references
CBLDF wrote a letter in support of the book, and the school board voted to leave the book on library shelves with the caveat the students must have parental permission to check out the book. “While we’re pleased to see the book retained in the library’s collection, we’re very disappointed that it is retained with restrictions,” said Executive Director Charles Brownstein.
Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse
• Location of key challenge: Montgomery County Memorial Library System, Texas
• Reason challenged: Depiction of homosexuality
The book was challenged alongside 15 other young adult books with gay positive themes. The book was ultimately retained in the Montgomery County system, but was reclassified from Young Adult to Adult.
Tank Girl by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett
• Location of key challenge: Hammond Public Library in Hammond, Indiana
• Reason challenged: Nudity and violence
The Tank Girl books are meant to entertain an adult audience, frequently depicting violence, flatulence, vomiting, sex, and drug use. After the 2009 challenge, the Hammond Public Library chose to retain the book, and it remains on shelves today.
The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
• Location of key challenge: Various
• Reason challenged: Nudity, sexual content, and unsuited to age group
When the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom released their list of the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011, the second-most challenged book on that list was The Color of Earth, the first book of a critically-acclaimed Korean manwha, or comic book, series.
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
• Location of key challenge: Various
• Reason challenged: Unsuited to age group
Watchmenreceived a Hugo Award in 1988 and was instrumental in garnering more respect and shelf space for comics and graphic novels in libraries and mainstream bookstores. The inclusion of Watchmen in school library collections has been challenged by parents at least twice, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Given their visual nature, graphic novels and comic books are among the most-challenged books in libraries and schools. CBLDF is an official sponsor of Banned Books Week, which takes place September 30 – October 6, 2012. Please help support CBLDF’s defense of your right to read by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!
As if to offer a bookend to last week’s column about Neil Gaiman and creativity, Amazon delivered Alison Bechdel’s new book, Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama. A companion to her harrowing and brilliant previous book, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which was about her father’s life in the closet and eventual suicide, Are You My Mother is about her relationship with her mother, and the life of an artist.
I’ve been a huge fan of Bechdel’s work since I first saw her strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. The sense of humor on display here, making fun of the challenges facing those who aspire to change the world with their passion, fervor, and political correctness, mirrors my own. (If you, too, like Bechdel’s series, I can’t recommend The Complete Wendel enough because Howard Cruse is incredibly funny.) I know the people in the strip. I identified with these characters so closely that I would sometimes question my sexual orientation.
Are You My Mother isn’t funny. I mean, there are some laughs, but the story is about the struggle the artist faces when she tries to make art that is honest and meaningful and, with luck, lucrative enough to make a living. The struggle involves the women she loves, including her mother and her therapists. I’ve read some criticism of this book that centers on the sections about psychiatry, saying they are too literal, too heavy-handed. I didn’t find that to be true. I thought they reflected the artist’s zeal to find answers, to find ways to heal her pain.
Gaiman discussed the nuts-and-bolts of an artist’s life. He talked about what to do, what kind of jobs to take, how to deal with discouragement, and how to carry on. Bechdel describes the work, the really hard parts, where you have to dig and be honest, no matter what the consequences.
I don’t think these two perspectives are in conflict, nor do I think one is superior to the other. I think, in fact, both are saying the same thing: that to be an artist, one has to find one’s unique gift, and then one has to present it to the world. No one else has the same gift, so no one else can do your work for you.
For example, this week, I’ve been mesmerized by a begonia I planted on my terrace. It is red, with an orange undertone and a blush of rose. There is a gray spot on it, one that is probably the first bit of mortality. I cannot stop staring at it. Even when the sky is overcast, the petals seem to glow. I can’t tell you why this moves me so much. Perhaps, in a previous life, I was a queen in India, and my king presented me a jewel with the same tones. Perhaps I lost a beloved baby blanket with that color. It looks a bit like blood, thinned with lemon juice. I know that every writer I enjoy would find a different story to explain it.
As should I.
Gaiman and Bechdel are describing the same thing, but inside out from each other. Either way, it still fits.
It’s spring, that magical time of year when the flowers bloom, birds sing, and school libraries publish the list of books most frequently banned or attempted to be banned.
This year’s list is a mixture of new best sellers and timeless classics. You’ve got your Hunger Games, your To Kill a Mockingbird, your Brave New World and your Gossip Girl. There is a guide that explains to kids about what happens to mom when she is pregnant, and the reason it’s listed is because it is “sexually explicit.”
Look, I understand that most school libraries have limited budgets and limited shelf space. They can’t stock every book in the world. Someone has to make decisions about what gets purchased and where it gets shelved.
The problem is who gets to decide.
I’ve been the mother of a first-grader, and if there arose a ridiculously hypothetical situation wherein my six-year old came home with Brave New World, I probably would have a talk with his teacher. I think it is inappropriate (my kid would have just learned his ABCs, so I think Alpha and Beta might be a stretch), but rather than try to get it banned, I would hope to understand what the teacher was thinking. Maybe there is a new pedagogical theory that I don’t understand.
But no one is complaining about Aldous Huxley being taught to first graders.
The idea that someone is objecting to To Kill a Mockingbird because of “racism” is ludicrous. It’s a story about racism, how it affects people of all races in a community. It’s great novel, beautifully written and evocative. It’s also a great opportunity to start a conversation with students – most likely middle school or older – about how our country evolved and is still evolving.
A lot of the books on the list made their places because, according to their critics, they contain “sex,” “violence” or both. Some contain “nudity.” Some have “language.” I have trouble imagining books that don’t have at least a few of those elements. How can you describe human interactions without at least one? How can they teach the Bible (any version) or Shakespeare without them?
Some parents say things like, “I don’t want the schools teaching my child about sex/racism/war. I want to do it myself.” And that’s all well and good. However, one doesn’t teach a child by restricting information. If the school teaches something with which one doesn’t agree, one should use that as an opportunity to demonstrate one’s own position. As a Jewish parent in a predominantly Christian society, this was something I did regularly.
Some parents don’t want their children exposed to any ideas that might influence their kids to think independently. I have to wonder why these people had children. They would be happier with dogs.
Why does this matter to comics fans? Because the people who decide to ban books from school libraries are the same people who think comics are just for kids, and therefore should face the same restrictions they think are appropriate for school libraries. These people are why the American Civil Liberties Union has always included comics as part of their mission, because they remember that the attacks against comics in the 1940s and 1950s were attacks on all of us.
Our democracy can only succeed when all members have access to the marketplace of ideas. That includes Mein Kampf and Heather Has Two Mommies, Twilight and The Catcher in the Rye, Harry Potter and Captain Underpants. It also includes Superman and Spider-Man, Hellboy and Preacher, Fun Home and The Playboy.