July 3, 2014
Banned Books Week turns focus to comics this year
by Nick Davies
Banned Books Week will be celebrated once again this September, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) is highlighting comics that have been challenged and banned in an effort to raise awareness of censorship in the medium.
The CBLDF is an organization that provides legal support and expertise to readers, authors, and librarians through (per its website) legal defense & advocacy and education. Ian Chant writes for Library Journal that the group has been using the occasion of this week’s American Library Association (ALA) annual conference to introduce a new handbook with “rundowns of commonly challenged comic titles, myths about banned books, and ideas for programming around Banned Books Week.”
Chant interviews CBLDF executive director Charles Brownstein, who details some of the reasons that comic books and graphic novels have faced frequent challenges, including in libraries: “For one thing, many people still see comic books as a low art form, and the free speech and expression of authors and artists has a similarly low value associated with it. The graphic nature of the medium also mean it depends on static images that are easy to take out of context.”
Books geared to a children’s audience also tend to run afoul of overzealous book banners, protesting the exposure of kids to “inappropriate” material. For example, Jeff Smith’s Bone was the tenth-most challenged book in American libraries last year, including many challenges from parents trying to get the book removed from their children’s libraries because it depicts gambling, smoking, and sexual situations. Brownstein protests, “Parents have the right to say what should be in their household. They don’t have the right to take that decision away from other parents.”
Japanese manga titles for adults can run into trickier issues, since they have occasionally been faulted for drawings of minors having sex, which can violate the Protect Act. But Brownstein counters that those objections aren’t in the spirit of the law, insisting, “The law exists to curtail criminal behavior. Not to prosecute people for deviant fantasies or images.” The CBLDF has been working with Dark Horse Comics to put together a guide for libraries that outlines best practices for manga books in their collections, particularly with regard to how stories steeped in Japanese culture can be misunderstood by American readers.
In addition to the manga guide and the handbook given out at the ALA conference, the CLBDF has created discussion guides for several titles that are frequently challenged, such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Alan Moore’s Watchmen; and they’re offering tools and ideas for libraries to launch their own events. Banned Books Week will take place this year from September 21-27.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.