Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Defending Banned Comics During Banned Books Week

While browsing Powell's recently, I came across a book by David Hajdu. It was The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America.
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Smartly positioned on an end display in the comics section of the bookstore, Hajdu's book documents the rise in popularity of comic books after World War II and the subsequent backlash at the local and national levels against their supposedly lurid content and corruptible influence on American youth. This backlash reached a fever pitch in the mid-1950s, with congressional hearings, book burnings, and the censorship of comic books and their artists and writers.

Today, comic books are still at the center of censorship battles. The fight to keep titles such as Maus by Art Spiegelman out of schools and libraries is ongoing, due to parents or other local figures deeming their content unsuitable for children. However, these books continue to be available (as they should be), thus ensuring they will continue to be challenged by "concerned" parties in the future.

In addition to Maus, a number of other comic books have been challenged because of their content. Robert Tutton lists just a few of these comic books in his Paste Magazine article, titled "In Defense of Banned Comics: 10 of Our Favorite Challenged Works." Spiegelman's Maus is among them. "The simple fact is that Maus is important — not just as a great comic, but as a cultural artifact," Tutton says. "Maus paints an eternally compelling portrait of the toll the Holocaust took on those who endure it. If the image of a gestapo officer bashing children into a brick wall is unsettling, that's because it's supposed to be." I didn't read Maus until I was in college; maybe that's when educators thought we could handle the book.

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Other comic books that Tutton mentions are Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland; Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley; Bone by Jeff Smith; Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (congrats to Bechdel for being one of this year's recipients of the MacArthur Foundation genius grant); Tank Girl by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett; Stuck in the Middle by Ariel Schrag; Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse; Ice Haven (formerly Eightball #22) by Daniel Clowes; and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.  

Persepolis happens to be one of my all-time favorites; I'll admit to reading it after having watched the award-winning 2007 film adaptation, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud. Initially, I read Persepolis during my morning and evening commutes. But then I got so wrapped up in the story of Satrapi's coming of age during the revolution in Iran that I continued to read it in any spare moment I got. I didn't expect to be as moved by the story as I was, and there are certain parts that I can't forget. Yes, the story isn't pretty, but neither is revolution. "The people who challenged Persepolis were right," says Tutton in his Paste article. "There is violence in this book, and it's there for a reason. The image of a theater full of people set on fire is meant to be haunting. This is a war-time memoir at its most candid."

For more of Robert Tutton's straightforward "Defense of Banned Comics," you can read the Paste Magazine article by clicking on THIS LINK.

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