Banned Books Week is upon us again this week, bringing back the challenges of censorship vs. the freedom of expression. This includes all printed work, though much in the sequential arts are often targeted.
Since the days of metal moveable type, select books have been the subject of scrutiny, sorted for censorship and challenged by figures of authority. In our modern times, these books now include those in sequential art format (comic books, graphic novels).
The reasons for censorship vary further with comic art, as visuals often enhance the type and message. These comics can exhibit a powerful force for change and subversion. Such works can enlarge the meaning and stir powerful emotions. They can also change one’s growth and development, and often inspire. But creativity and imagination have no limits, and can interfere with the intended moral directions of ruling establishments. Banned Book Week is a resistance to censorship, and a continued fight to ensure creative writings that may offend or bother particular groups on narrow moral standards, are not hidden from for that purpose.
Below are my suggestions and notes for popular banned and challenged (in certain areas and past times) comics. I also included many “Case Study” links to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (cbldf.org). Keep in mind, some books do carry mature reader labels or age recommendations, which usually acts as a suggestion guide or warning.
(Special note – This is an updated post from a past post on this site, with some new additions and slightly changed intro):
Writer/Artist: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: Scholastic 2012
Graphic novel format
“Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead, she’s the set designer for the drama department’s stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!?.”
Banned/Challenged by: The Chapel Hill Elementary in Mount Pleasant, Texas in 2014 for being “sexually explicit” though there is little info towards what. There were some complaints about two boys who happen to be gay, who briefly kiss. Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
Drama remains an otherwise highly-praised, critically acclaimed book.
Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories
Writer/Artist: Gilbert Hernandez
Publisher: Fantagraphics, 2003
“For the first time ever, Fantagraphics is proud to present a single-volume collection of Gilbert Hernandez’s “Heartbreak Soup” stories from Love & Rockets, which along with RAW magazine defined the modern literary comics movement of the post-underground generation. This massive volume collects every “Heartbreak Soup” story from 1993 to 2002 in one 500-page deluxe hardcover edition, presenting the epic for the first time as the single novel it was always intended to be. Palomar is the mythical Central American town where the “Heartbreak Soup” stories take place. “
Banned/Challenged by: The mother of a child who checked out the book at a school library in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, on the basis of it being “child porn.” However, there was no clear case for this other than the mother’s accusations and alarmed supporters taking her side. The book was further challenged by the local media and school officials. Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
Meanwhile, it remains a highly-reviewed book held in high regard by fans of the Love and Rockets series.
Amazing Spider-Man volume 2: Revelations
Writer/Artist: J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita Jr.
Publisher: Marvel Comics, 1999
Note: Collects Amazing Spider-Man (1999) #36-39
“Spider-Man comes to understand that not all heroes possess great powers. Meanwhile, Aunt May struggles with her discovery of Peter’s greatest secret. “
Banned/Challenged by: An elementary School in Millard Nebraska after a parent complaint of the book having “a lot of sexual overtones.” The book was apparently never returned during the review process, and was later listed in their online catalog as “out for repairs.” Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
Writer/Artist: Brain K Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics, 2012
Monthly series in single issue and collected in volumes.
“The series is heavily influenced by Star Wars, and based on ideas Vaughan conceived both as a child and as a parent. It depicts two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series. “
Banned/Challenged by: Often challenged for removal, according to the American Library Association, for reasons of being “anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group ” Also, one monthly chapter of Saga was once removed by Apple for its mobile devices. Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
A fantastic series for those who like a little bit of everything in their science fiction, with no limits to the imagination.
Writer/Artist: Keiji Nakazawa
Publisher: Last Gasp 2004
Notes: Manga series, now collected in volumes. Originally published in Japan in Shonen Jump Magazine from 1973-1985.
“This harrowing story of Hiroshima was one of the original Japanese manga series. New and unabridged, this is an all-new translation of the author’s first-person experiences of Hiroshima and its aftermath, is a reminder of the suffering war brings to innocent people. Its emotions and experiences speak to children and adults everywhere. Volume one of this ten-part series details the events leading up to and immediately following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.”
Banned/Challenged by: Multiple educational institutions for being too graphic with violence and imagery, and also “anti-Japanese.” Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
Otherwise critically acclaimed, and essential to those who appreciate manga as an art form in storytelling, and love historical fiction.
Writer/Artist: Jeff Smith
Publisher: Originally Cartoon Books 1991 (self-published), now by Scholastic
Originally a series, now collected in volumes and a all-in-one omnibus
“The BONE adventures tell the story of a young bone boy, Fone Bone, and his two cousins, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, who are banned from their homeland of Boneville. When the cousins find themselves mysteriously trapped in a wonderful but often terrifying land filled with secrets and danger – and special new friendships – they are soon caught up in adventures beyond their wildest dreams.”
Banned/Challenged by: Multiple school libraries, often challenged for multiple reasons (political stuff, drinking) and being “unsuitable” for minors. Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
Great fantastic series, but I think a repeat target because of the cartoony appearance of lead characters. Still, a great read for all ages wanting a bit more than the typical G-rated Disney formulaic stuff in their epic fantasy literature.
Writer/Artist: Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Pantheon, 1991
Notes: Originally published in serialized parts in Raw Magazine, 1980-1991. Now obtainable through the direct market in a complete book.
“The Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus” tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. “Maus” approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in ‘drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust'”
Banned/Challenged by: Pasadena Public Library in Pasadena, California. Major book chains in Russia. Reason: anti-ethnic and unsuited for age group. Probably other areas for it’s Swastika imagery. Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
An essential read for all those who love comics. The storytelling is emotionally gripping, and at times quite suspenseful. Also, the only comic story to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Writer/Artist: Garth Ennis / John McCrea
Publisher: Year: Dynamite, 2007
Notes: Monthly series, collected in volumes.
“This is going to hurt! In a world where costumed heroes soar through the sky and masked vigilantes prowl the night, someone’s got to make sure the “supes” don’t get out of line. And someone will! Billy Butcher, Wee Hughie, Mother’s Milk, The Frenchman, and The Female are The Boys: A CIA-backed team of very dangerous people, each one dedicated to the struggle against the most dangerous force on Earth – superpower! Some superheroes have to be watched. Some have to be controlled. And some of them – sometimes – need to be taken out of the picture. That’s when you call in The Boys!”
Banned/Challenged by: Qatar’s Ministry of Culture, banned and denied checkout to a reader there for being “offensive.” More info here.
Garth Ennis uses a lot of dark humor in his writing, but with fantastic character development (other works including Preacher, Punisher, Hitman).
Writer/Artist: Marjane Sartrapi
Publisher: Pantheon 2003
“Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.”
Banned/Challenged by: Multiple schools for different reasons including “coarse language and scenes of torture.” Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
Not only fantastic for its challenging content, but for the art style and storytelling. Though it was later adapted into an award-winning animated film, this book is a better known as Marjane Satrapi’s artistic memoir.
Writer/Artist: Matthew Loux
Publisher: Oni, 2006
“Brian, Brad and Matt are best described as lovable perpetual losers. They’re good guys who just lack direction and are all too happy to be enjoying that lazy time after high school. Their favorite thing to do in life is to play video games, eat junk food and kick around the suburban town they live in. All of this tranquil laziness is interrupted when Brian, Brad and Matt discover that the new girl Amber (of whom Matt is sweet on) is going to that night’s big local rock show with Richard, the bully football jock. Determined to steer her away from Richard, the boys are launched off of their lazy rears and forced into a grand adventure. Chased by an irate football team, a vengeful troop of Girl Scouts and a stalking evil cat that may actually be possessed by Satan, our heroes are thrust into a giant rock ‘n’ roll video game adventure.”
Banned/Challenged by: Connecticut School District after a complaint of sexual references and profanity. Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
Well received for its time, and often recommended on various shelves of comic stores and libraries. But, also relevant for the growing inclusion of geek culture to the current pop mainstream.
The Color of Earth
Writer/Artist: Kim Dong Hwa
Publisher: First Second 2009 (Macmillan)
“First love is never easy…Ehwa grows up helping her widowed mother run the local tavern, watching as their customers – both neighbors and strangers – look down on her mother for her single lifestyle. Their social status isolates Ehwa and her mother from the rest of the people in their quiet country village. But as she gets older and sees her mother fall in love again, Ehwa slowly begins to open up to the possibility of love in her life.”
Banned/Challenged by: Multiple institutions according to the American Library Association, as it’s on their “Top Ten most Challenged Books of 2011.” This for reasons on nudity and sexual content. Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
Writer/Artist: Craig Thompson
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions, 2003
“…A rarity: a first-love story so well remembered and honest that it reminds you what falling in love feels like. …achingly beautiful.” – Time magazine Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, Blankets explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated country and the budding romance of two coming-of-age lovers. A tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith.”
Banned/Challenged by: The Marshall Public Library, Missouri (2006), challenged for “obscene illustrations.” Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
A fantastic multi-dimensional read with powerful story developments and emotional themes. Also, a long read for a graphic novel at 562 pages..something to take time with, as the artwork is beautiful.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
Writer/Artist: Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill
Publisher: DC Comics, 2008
Part of a series, as the full story calls for the reading of Volume 1 and 2 of the series, while this is placed before Volume 3 and the Nemo sub-series (printed by Top Shelf).
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen returns in this amazing new Absolute Edition! England in the mid 1950s is not the same as it was. The powers that be have instituted…some changes. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has been disbanded and disavowed, and the country is under the control of an iron-fisted regime. Now, after many years, the still youthful Mina Murray and a rejuvenated Allan Quatermain return and are in search of some answers. Answers that can only be found in a book buried deep in the vaults of their old headquarters, a book that holds the key to the hidden history of the League throughout the ages:”
Banned/Challenged by: Denied checkout to an 11-year old girl by two employees of the Jessamine County Public Library in Kentucky (who were fired shortly after), on grounds of “pornographic” content. Click here for the CBLDF Case Study.
The work of Alan Moore has been challenged multiple times from Watchmen to Neonomicon. But what sets this book apart is Alan Moore’s unique interpretation of classic characters and events. While there are nudity and sexual references, I feel it is especially important that any profound interpretation of classic literature be kept in the open to anyone, regardless of content. Plus, the series as a whole, is fun.
That’s all for now. I hope you added some here to your reading list. Your thoughts or maybe some missed for this list, are welcome in the comments below.