Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Graphic Novel Censorship Storm

I've had a lot of interesting conversations lately with librarians who are catching some heat for stocking graphic novels, some of which deal with sexually-themed material. Here's an article on a recent controversy:
In a separate incident, the Marshall, Mo., library board of trustees will meet this week to decide whether two autobiographical comics works—Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and Craig Thompson's Blankets—should be removed from the public library because of sexually explicit graphics. Amy Crump, director of the Marshall Public Library, said a public hearing was held last week and the board will decide this week. Crump said this is the first time books have been challenged at her library.

Svetlana Mintcheva, arts advocacy coordinator at the National Coalition Against Censorship, compared Bechdel's Fun Home, the story of growing up lesbian with a closeted gay father, to the novels of Dorothy Allison. "The challenge is to educate the public that comics are a valid means of artistic expression," said Mintcheva.
I think there are two reasons why graphic novels are controversial: (1) they are comics, which, even today, some people mistakenly think are only for kids and can't ever be serious or "legitimate" literature, (2) they are occasionally sexually graphic--scenes that are even easier to find in a comic book than in a novel.

One form of graphic novel is Manga, or anime, a highly stylized form from Japan. I agree that stocking such titles in high school libraries or in the "teen" sections of public libraries can be complicated; while students love them, many are quite graphic and clearly not appropriate for younger teens. Fortunately, they're always clearly labeled for "adult," "teen," or "all" audiences.

But to ban all graphic novels, even explicit ones, from a public library? This is just pure prejudice against a new, and important, art form. And it's not only not okay, it's absolutely outrageous.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a selector for Graphic Novels for youth in a public library, I encounter many different kinds of issues when I order a new item. Unfortunately, the pictorial nature of this genre lends itself to censorship and complaint. I have found that reliable reviews are few and far between, even though this is clearly a burgeoning collection for libraries in most locations. The problem with the age/level labeling you mentioned, if I understood correctly, is that it is self-imposed by the publisher. I wish I could say that these can be good guidelines, but I have found that publishers (understandably, coming from a different angle) tend to have broad and fluctuating definitions of what constitutes material for one age group or another. In short, I would just like to provide a caveat to librarians out there: please do not rely solely on the publishers or unknown review sources to give an adequate picture of what the content may be in a given graphic novel. Please do your homework and look through books when they arrive from your vendor before they go out to the floor for patrons to check out...and, better still, befriend local persons in the know (unless that's already you!) such as comic shop owners and enthusiasts, and (as always) try to get a feel for what the patrons are reading and interested in.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the Oct. 13 PW Daily, I read another article on the graphic novel censorship case. Both books are being temporarily removed until the library produces a written selection procedure, at which time they will be treated as if they were new acquisitions. Blanket was shelved in YA; Fun Home was in adult nonfiction.

That the library had no written policy is annoying but not as surprising as would be nice. That someone challenged a book in adult nonfiction is a little shocking. The nature of the category is such that censors hardly ever target it; the only safer place is Reference.

These are deep waters.

4:16 PM  
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6:13 PM  

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