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.
2001+ 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.
Portion of the panel in question from the Watchmen
2005Stuck Rubber BabyWriter/artist: Howard Cruse
Library patrons in Montgomery County, Texas, challenged this coming-of-age graphic novel, along with several other gay-positive Young Adult books.
Outcome: the book was reclassified as an Adult book.
2008Eightball #22writer/artist: Daniel ClowesA 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.
2009Tank GirlWriter: 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.
2012NeonomiconWriter: 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.
2013PersepolisWriter/artist: Marjane Satrapi
Chicago Public Schools administrators pulled this coming-of-age graphic novel from some classrooms because of profanity and violence.
Outcome: It’s been banned from the 7th to 10th grade classrooms of Chicago’s public schools.
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.
The Underground Press: Graphics of Outrage, Protest, and Provocation
Killing Editorial Cartoons Is Not Fake News
Weekend Heller: A Bad Call for Design Freedom
Photo Book Seized by Egypt’s Censors
About Michael Dooley
Michael Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches History of Design, Comics, and Animation at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor and author.