My 12-page feature for Print’s February issue examines how and why comic books and graphic novels have been suppressed in the United States. The story reaches back to 1920s Tijuana bibles and extends up to today’s digital media environment. Several artists whose comics have been stifled and squashed also weigh in on the subject.
Below is a brief account of recent attempts – sometimes successful – to remove critically acclaimed comics from libraries and schools. The list could even be stretched to include Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen, inasmuch as this 1970 children’s book is rendered in comic strip format. It’s been in the top 25 on the American Library Association’s list of most frequently challenged books for two decades. And it’s endured indignities that range from having librarians cover up the young boy’s penis in the illustration to actually being burned.
Alan Moore, who’s authored four of these graphic novels, said in 1967 that parents should be responsible for what their children read and “…shouldn’t hand over that responsibility to an outside body, and along with it, hand over the responsibility of all those other parents who have been finding it quite easy to take an actual personal interest in what their children are reading and to monitor their reading habits themselves.” You can discover more details about the circumstances surrounding these cases at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s website.
Watchmen, Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Dave Gibbons
Beginning with a Harrisonburg, Virginia library, there have been a number of attempts to ban this 1986 graphic novel, a complex critique of superheroes, in the interest of young readers.
Stuck Rubber Baby
Writer/artist: Howard Cruse
writer/artist: Daniel Clowes
A 14-year-old Guilford, Connecticut high school freshman chose this comic book – short stories about various kinds of relationships – as a reading assignment, which her teacher approved with the warning that it contained explicit material. Her parents alleged it was pornography and insinuated that her teacher was a potential predator.
Outcome: The school put the teacher on leave. He resigned the following week. No criminal charges were ever filed.
Writer: Alan Martin, artist: Jamie Hewlett
A Hammond, Indiana library patron requested that a book – a collection of the punk, post-apocalypse comics series – be removed because of nudity and violence.
This Korean coming-of-age manhwa (manga) for teens was listed second on the American Library Association’s top ten most frequently challenged books of 2011, due to its nudity and sexual explicitness.
Writer: Alan Moore, artist: Jacen Burrows
A teenage girl checked out this horror graphic novel from the adult section of a Greenville, South Carolina library, with her mother’s permission. When her mother read the book, she filed a complaint, calling it pornography.
Outcome: It was withdrawn, then returned to the shelves by a library board vote. It has since been completely removed by the head librarian.
Writer/artist: Marjane Satrapi
Chicago Public Schools administrators pulled this coming-of-age graphic novel from some classrooms because of profanity and violence.
Don’t miss Print‘s Sex & Design issue where Michael Dooley explores the subject of comics and censorship in greater detail, and other articles take a look at sex in advertising, women who design and other issues.