Written by Shawn Bourdo
I love going to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund panels. There are all kinds of challenges to creators and publishers. What happens is that if it isn’t in my own backyard, it’s easy to ignore censorship going on around the country, even though it affects the access you might have to books, games and movies in your city.
Charles Brownstein led a great discussion about the current status of banned and challenged titles, most of these at libraries. The best part of the panel for me was talk about why graphic novels get banned more often than prose titles, video games, and movies. The theory is that, since the reader controls the pace of reading, the static image is seen as more offensive. From the point of view of the person challenging titles, the graphic images on the page are more offensive than what may only be 15 seconds in a film or in a paragraph of text in a book.
The list of banned titles is varied. In the past couple years, Bone V.4 was challenged because Smiley Bone smokes a pipe and Lucious sells beer. These simple offenses have got work by Maurice Sendak and Dragon Ball challenged because of nonsexual child nudity. The Amazing Spider-Man Revelations title by Straczynski was challenged because Mary Jane wearing a bikini top and short skirt.
Other titles get banned because of bad language even when dealing with legitimate teen issues. The book Side Scrollers was on a Summer Reading list as an important piece about bullying. A nonparent from the school brought a complaint that was later overturned because only parents of children in the school can bring complaints about a title. Well-reviewed titles like Persepolis and Blankets have been banned because of language, not content. One father went so far as to call the police on a high school teacher who let a student read Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes.
The second most-challenged title is an award-winning book, Color Of Earth. Despite being well respected in the literary world, it gets challenged because of casual nudity. There are surprising challenges because of subject matter to Sandman and Maus. The latter banned because it tells the account of the Holocaust that parents found disturbing.
The undisputed King of Banned Books is Alan Moore. The perennial leader in challenges is Watchmen and Batman: Killing Joke. Recently a librarian wanted a ban on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. She accomplished it by checking out the book for a full year, essentially taking it out of circulation and limiting access to it. When she was fired for this censorship, she went to her local TV station to tell them of the filth in their local library. The result was death threats to the library director and not any backlash on the librarian. Alan Moore’s modern horror comic, Neonomicon, was signed out of the Adult section of the library by a parent for their child who then wanted the book banned when they discovered the nudity and violence in the book.
It’s important that fans of this medium are as aware of what is going on behind the scenes as they are aware of what new releases are coming out. We’ve got a great resource in the CBLDF that monitors the challenges around the country. I need to catch up with this through the year instead of waiting for the Con each year.