This year’s Banned Books Week, occurring September 21-27, will focus on comics and graphic novels. The announcement came from the Banned Books Week National Committee and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). This focus will help bring attention to a problem that goes unnoticed by the general public, as comics are generally considered appropriate for all ages. Also, the CBLDF points out on its website that “comics are uniquely vulnerable to challenges because of the medium’s visual nature and because comics still carry the stigma of low-value speech.”
“This year we spotlight graphic novels because, despite their serious literary merit and popularity as a genre, they are often subject to censorship,” Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee, said.
Excluding underground comix and alternative comics, it seems that mainstream comics were focused on all-ages entertainment until the mid-80s. Then they grew up with “Watchmen” and “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.” In the years since, some mainstream and most independent comics have been created for an aging audience. With the industry becoming more mature, comics have also grown in literary merit, losing the image of being low-value speech. Instead of just focusing on men in tights punching other men in tights or on anthropomorphized animals, comics have featured higher pursuits. This has received some recognition by schools, colleges and libraries to include comics and graphic novels in their curriculum or on their shelves.
With this somewhat recent literary reach, a problem occurs where a few people don’t understand that not all comics are for kids. Either they or their child check out a mature graphic novel and later find that it’s not appropriate. Then the challenges come.
Luckily, there is the CBLDF to help. According to their website, they are “a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers.”
“The CBLDF is pleased to be a part of the coalition that makes Banned Books Week such a vital time to celebrate the freedom to read,” CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein said. “It’s shocking that books are still banned and challenged. Comics are especially vulnerable to those challenges. With this year’s Banned Books Week focus, we welcome the opportunity to engage the public in a vital dialogue about intellectual freedom and the powerful role comics serve.”
Last year’s American Library Association’s (ALA) Top 10 List of Frequently Challenged Books included two comics: “Captain Underpants” at #1 and “Bone” at #10. “Captain Underpants,” by Dav Pilkey, has been challenged for offensive language, unsuited for age group and violence. “Bone,” by Jeff Smith, has faced challenges for political viewpoint, racism and violence.
So, what can you do to help those who have been affected by comic book censorship? Become a member of the CBLDF or purchase signed books or comics, prints, posters, art, and T-shirts on their premiums website.