Thursday, September 25, 2014

Banned (Comic) Books

     Hey there gang, and welcome back to Shelves and Stacks. As always, I'm your host Jamie Thomas, and if there ever was a week to promote literacy one tome at a time, it'd be this one. For those of you out of the loop, this week is Banned Books Week.

  Held every September from the 21st to the 27th , and promoted by everyone from local libraries  to the authors themselves, Banned Books Week is a celebration of an individual's right to read whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want!

Check out: for more on how you can get involved, and for more information.

    With all that squared away, let's get down to business!   No, not to defeat the Huns.

Jeez guys, you act like these peaceable nature lovers are out to invade a country or something. Paranoid much? 

     No gang, the business at hand is a call to arms! A chance to defend, life, liberty, Mom's apple pie, and of course, our most precious resource of all. Comic books.

Ya. Rly. Wanna make somethin' of it, Hooty?

      Ok, comics may not be as important as say, oxygen or anything, but they've really come into their own since being introduced back in 1933.They've spawned countless film and television franchises, inspired everyone from Bradbury to Gaiman, and have been known to provide even the most unwilling reader  a way to get excited about literacy. It's for that final reason ladies and gents that we must stand up for comics! Still not convinced? Still think comics are just kiddie stuff, or escapist, male power fantasies featuring grotesquely muscular nut jobs and pretty ladies prancing around in outfits that'd make Lady Gaga cringe?

Rob Liefeld, you're the Michael Bay of comics.
  Liefeld aside, these comics straight off the banned and challenged list are a testament to the growth and evolution of the medium, and why we need to keep them on the shelves, and in the hands of not only the youth, but all the scoffing oldsters. Pulled straight from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's site, the following four selections are all comics I've read multiple times, and hold near and dear to my heart. Check out: for the full list.

1. Bone by Jeff Smith

Reason Challenged: Depiction of smoking, drinking and gambling.

    Written, drawn, and self published back in 1991 by the incomparable Jeff Smith, Bone is a beautifully rendered, and highly engaging fantasy epic about three cartoony cousins (Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone), who after being run out of their home town, stumble into a lush, fantasy realm called The Valley, and into an age old conflict of good vs. evil, and man vs. "stupid,stupid rat creatures". While Smith's work has served as a stepping stone into the world of literacy for hundreds of children, Smith never intended to write specifically for that audience.

   With that in mind, it's easy to imagine that Smith wouldn't have thought twice about having several key scenes take place in a local tavern,centering a storyline around a foot race and a betting booth, or bestowing a seemingly endless supply of cigars on his resident comic relief.

You know, I don't even see any smoke coming off this thing.

    So, what's the big huffing (and puffing) deal? Cartoon and fantasy characters smoking and drinking is nothing new. Granted, our attitudes toward the two have become less relaxed in recent years, but the characters in Bone don't appear to promote these behaviors in any way. The characters who drink are never depicted as drunk or drinking in excess. In fact, more than a few scenes in the tavern depict characters having a meal, or simply enjoying one another's company. As for Smiley's cigars, they're used in a very Groucho Marx sort of way. They're not necessarily a source of tobacco as they are a prop. They give Smiley something to do with his hands while pontificating. In one scene they serve as a handy plot device a la Hansel and Gretel.
  The gambling in the story mainly takes place during The Great Cow Race arc, and everyone who gambles (or in Phoney's case fixes the bets) winds up losing big, and getting their comeuppance for it.

Seems legit...

So, if nothing else, Smith is showing us the dangers of gambling, and reckless behavior.

2. Persepolis by: Marjane Satrapi

Reason Challenged: Profanity, and depiction of violent content.

    Published back in 2000, Persepolis is the two part, autobiographical memoir of author Marjane Satrapi's youth and adolescence in war torn Iran. Set just after the Islamic revolution, Satrapi details the struggles (and occasional joys) of daily life in a political war zone. Drawn in a simple monochrome style, and narrated in an open and honest voice, Persepolis strives to " keep [its] dignity and be true to [its]self ".

   While I do agree that Persepolis is awfully heavy material for younger audiences, its honest, pull no punches approach is exactly what we need.  While works like Persepolis (as well as Art Spiegelman's Maus, but more on that later) are typically viewed as a chance to take in exploitative violence, their true purpose is to enlighten and inform. Satrapi's account of the Islamic revolution is forthright and accurate, albeit slightly unreliable, but is also thoroughly humanized by her presence in it. To this end, Satrapi is able to give the revolution and all its surrounding conflicts both a national and personal identity.

         Scenes like the one above are common in Persepolis. They cut through the violent content and profane language (present, but not at all excessive. Just honest), and provide readers with a look into Satrapi (and Iran)'s past as each struggled for a better future.

Fight for your right, kids.

    3. Blankets by: Craig Thompson

Reason Challenged: Obscene imagery.

   Written and illustrated by Harvey award winning graphic novelist Craig Thompson, Blankets is the story of Thompson's boy to adulthood. Centering around his life with his strictly religious family, Thompson gives readers unabashedly honest insight into the struggles of a budding artist coping with the highs and lows of a first love. Thompson's story runs the emotional gamut, inviting us to join in tender moments between himself and the object of his affections, Raina; to the constant feelings of fear and obligation to family and savior experienced by Thompson, and his younger brother, Phil. Rendered in a style best described as wistful, spindly, and swirly, Blankets encompasses all the familiar strangeness of adolescence.

From angsty to adorable in zero to sixty. 

            So, where does the alleged "obscene imagery" come into play in such a heartfelt story? Why, after Craig meets Raina of course! Over the course of the story, Craig winds up spending a few weeks with Raina and her family, and the two....well, you know. Love stuff. Anywho, it's this section of the book that tends to leave parents and teachers with white knuckles and protruding forehead veins. Honestly, I find the approach to this subject matter tasteful, creative, and , in some cases, playful.

Told you things got swirly.

   As you can see, there are no naughty bits present. In fact, the entire book partakes in surreal, patterned designs, feeding the addled, adolescent mindset of the author quite nicely.

Best. Exposition. Ever.

 4. Maus by: Art Spiegelman

Reason Challenged: Considered anti-ethinc, and inappropriate for age group.

     Ok gang, here it is. One of the most notorious graphic novels, banned or otherwise. Much like Satrapi's Persepolis, celebrated underground cartoonist, Art Spiegelman's classic Maus debuted in 1991, and still provides grounds for discussion, examination, and controversy to this day. Chronicling the journey of Spiegelman's father, Vladek, Maus provides a brutally honest look at the living conditions for prisoners living in POW camps. Often ridiculed for its representation of characters as animals (Most notably mice as the Jewish people, cats standing in for Germans, and pigs representing the Polish), Maus has been called everything from a masterpiece of modern literature, to a disrespectful farce, ripping off Animal Farm.

Honestly, I find it to be a fitting and clever metaphor on war and barbarism's dehumanizing effect, but that's just me.
    The challenge toward Maus calls the work "anti-ethnic". While I most definitely do not condone the subjugation of one group by another, I'd be hard pressed to consider Spiegelman's work "anti-ethinic". if it's anti anything, it's anti hatred. Anti fear mongering. Anti hatred. Like Satrapi after him, Spiegelmen's willingness to embrace all aspects of history allows him to inform his readers of the dangers of totalitarianism and xenophobia, while in a Thompsonesque journey of self discovery, better understand Vladek's preceptions of him self, the world around him, and finally, Art.
I warned you.

  As for the "inappropriate for age group" concern, I'm on the fence. According to the CBLDF's post, the book was found in a local library. No section was specified. On that note, "public library" means open to the public, with all materials accessible to the public. While libraries typically have designated sections for different age groups, books intended for one group may fall into the open hands of another. Is Maus heavy stuff for a kid to wrap their heads around? Totally, but should we really keep history from them? The more we hide, sugar coat, and neuter the facts, the more likely it will be that the next generation gets it wrong, and finds themselves doomed to repeat it. I'm not saying we should or shouldn't ease them in a bit at a time, or push them in all at once, but come on people, let's not keep them in the dark? Besides, isn't the point of the written word (and the penciled panel) to enlighten as well as entertain? 

  This has been your dose of Shelves and Stacks. I'm your host Jamie Thomas, reminding you to stand tall, and read like everyone's listening.

No comments:

Post a Comment