It’s my favorite celebratory week again! Welcome to Banned Books Week! Go Team Freedom of Speech!
From the American Library Association website, “Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Books are challenged and banned at schools and public libraries all over the United States. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.
This year there is a special focus on graphic novels. For those of you unfamiliar with this format, a graphic novel is essentially comics bound into a trade paperback format. Many people don’t understand that the comic format can be used to tell complex stories that deal with adult themes. This leads to many misunderstandings where a parent assumes a graphic novel is appropriate for a child, even if shelved in the adult section of a library, because it’s just a comic book, how bad can it be?
When I was young, like elementary school and early junior high, I read the occasional comic book. My Mom would sometimes buy me an Archie, Misty, or Dakota North book at the grocery store. I knew other comic books existed, like Superman and Batman, but I didn’t really have any interest. Overall I had no real interest in comics.
Then one day in high school a friend had this odd book with him. It was a thin, with a leather cover that had an odd gold key on it. When I expressed an interest, he asked if I liked comics. I said they were okay. And that’s when he loaned me the graphic novel “Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes” by Neil Gaimen.
It collected “Sandman” issues 1-8. I read it in one sitting and it turned my mind inside out. It had visuals that repulsed me (and still do), but writing that was compelling. It created a world, and characters, I’d never experienced before, and it did it through the medium of comics. After that I was sold. First I had to make sure I was on top of the “Sandman” series. Then fortunately as an adult I found a comic store who had an owner with a real knack for finding exactly what I would like. Now I have a large graphic novel collection that yes, even has some Batman in it.
Now I learn that a large selection of my favorite graphic novels have been banned or challenged and that really concerns me. Not only do these books have literary value in their own right, I feel graphic novels are a great gateway reading device for kids and teenagers who may have lost their love of reading or have yet to develop it. Keeping the age appropriate ones available in schools is of upmost importance and keeping the others available in public libraries is just, well, kick ass.
“Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations” by J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita, Jr., and Scott Hanna
“Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again” by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
“Batman: The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore and Brian Boland
“Blankets” by Craig Thompson
“Bone” by Jeff Smith
“Dragon Ball” by Akira Toriyama
“Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel
“Ice Haven” by Daniel Clowes
“In The Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak
“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier” by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
“Maus” by Art Spiegelman
“Neonomicon” by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows
“Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi
“Pride of Baghdad” by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
“Sandman” by Neil Gaiman and various artists
“SideScrollers” by Matthew Loux
“Stuck in the Middle”, edited by Ariel Schrag
“Stuck Rubber Baby” by Howard Cruse
“Tank Girl” by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett
“The Color of Earth” by Kim Dong Hwa
“Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
If you want to help defend challenged comics and graphic novels, consider donating to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
Curious about what books have been banned or challenged this 2013-2014 cycle? Check out this year’s list!