As some of you may know, the American Library Association has chosen to focus on banned comic books for this year’s Banned Books Week. For those of you who are unaware, Banned Books Week is a celebration of the freedom to read. The week-long celebration was first set up by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to a surge in the number of books that were challenged by parents. Last year alone, over three hundred challenges were reported to the ALA. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most books that have been challenged by parents and teachers are quietly removed from the shelves of libraries, including a number of classic works.
This year, the ALA has partnered with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to draw attention to the comic books that parent most frequently object to. While many comics are simply entertainment, some of these works contain deep and personal stories or brilliant examples of art. At the core of each, however, is an idea. Ideas are living, breathing things that do not deserved to be shunned. So, In the spirit of embracing these beautiful ideas, I bring you a sampling of the list of challenged and banned comic books. The list in its entirety can be found on the CBLDF website.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
In 1991, Spiegelman released his masterwork: Maus. The eleven-time award winning story is based on Spiegelman interviewing his father Wladek Spiegelman, who was a Jewish man in Poland during the 1940s. Maus bounces between the past and present as he recounts the story of his life. The book rather starkly depicts the various nationalities as different animals. For example, the Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs, and Poles are pigs. Maus as an artistic expression is lauded as one of the finest works on the Holocaust, and was the first comic book in history to win a Pulitzer (which is kind-of a big deal). But for Spiegelman and his father, it is a deeply moving personal journey.
Unfortunately, Maus has been challenged for being “anti-ethnic” as well as “unsuitable for young readers.” It is obvious that this sort of story can make people uncomfortable, but frankly, that is the point.
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists
The Sandman series is Neil Gaiman’s brainchild. Often rated alongside Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns, there are few comic readers who have not heard of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and even fewer, who did not immediately love it. Gaiman is a true lover of books, and he has shown it by creating one of the finest pieces of literature in this century. For those who are unaware, The Sandman follows Morpheus, an endless being who has dominion over all dreams. The loose and fantastic narrative (I mean fantastic in all senses of the word – look it up) easily captures the imagination of readers as they are led by Morpheus through his wide and varied tasks, responsibilities, and even hobbies (like mucking about with Shakespeare). After the 75 issue run, the series spawned dozens of spin-offs because of its rich and breath-taking mythology.
Sandman has been challenged many times over the years. The reasons vary from “anti-family themes” to “offensive language” (something I’ve been accused of myself many times). Gaiman, master wordsmith that he is, has the best response to the situation: “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.”
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
As relevant now as ever, Persepolis details Marjane Satrapi’s life from growing up in Iran to studying in Austria, to her eventual return to her home country. Persepolis shows life during and after the Islamic revolution, an event that changed Iran from a semi-modernist country to the Iran that we picture in our minds today. Persepolis can be difficult reading for some people, even past the depictions of torture it contains. The story shows a side of Iran that many Americans are unused to.
No solid reason has been given, but the book remains restricted throughout the entire Chicago Public School System. It is possible that the reason for the restriction is based on the graphic nature of the torture that Iranian dissidents suffered at the hands of their oppressors. However, the children in the CPS have repeatedly pointed out that the scenes are no more graphic than those depicted in their history books for other similar events.
Beyond these three are at least a dozen titles that have been challenged, restricted, or outright removed over the years. Once again, the CBLDF has the entire list on their web site at http://cbldf.org/banned-comic/banned-challenged-comics/. No book deserves to be banned, and the best thing you can do is to pick one up and read it. Borrow from a friend, or from the library, order it from your local shop. Find something you like, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t read it.