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Banned Books Week: Graphic Novels

Banned Books Week this year runs from September 22nd- 28th, and I’d like to take this time to shine some light on how many graphic novels have been challenged over the years. The site Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is an outstanding resource on how to fight censorship and this particular page guides you through specific cases of challenged comics and graphic novels.

As a librarian, it is important that we provide books on ALL topics for ALL people. While sometimes we might choose not to order a book or to place a book in a location that we feel is age-appropriate, patrons should have full access to books that they wish to read. I have read many challenged books, in all genres, over the years and am a better person for it. The following five graphic novels are but a few that have been challenged over the years.

Batman: The Killing Joke by  Alan Moore and  Brian Bolland

Reason challenged: Advocates rape and violence

This graphic novel about the Joker’s possible origin is considered a DC  classic, but it’s extreme violence and implied rape has put it on several banned lists.  The ambiguous ending between Joker and Batman can be interpreted in many different ways. This draw your own conclusion setup is what elevates this story and changed the way graphic novels are written and illustrated.

 

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Reason challenged: Sexual content

So what exactly is so controversial in this boldly colored YA book that it has been on the Top 10 banned list multiple times, considering it was nominated for a Harvey Award and was a Stonewall Honor Book? Well, Callie meets twin brothers who get involved in the musical, and one is gay and the other is questioning. While their level of coming out to the other students is part of the narrative, this tween-friendly book is very accepting of their identity. Author Telgemeier said, “that while she and her editors at Scholastic were very careful to make the book age-appropriate, they never considered omitting the gay characters because ‘finding your identity, whether gay or straight, is a huge part of middle school‘.” Hell yeah, it is!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Reason challenged: Nudity, sexual content, and unsuited to age group

Author and illustrator Bechdel chronicles her childhood through her early years of college, in a non-linear memoir. The Bechdel family lived in her father’s small hometown of Beech Creek in Pennsylvania, and her father helped run the family funeral parlor. Alison and her younger brothers named the funeral parlor, Fun Home, hence the name of the novel. Her parents were trapped in a loveless marriage, with the father hiding his homosexuality, although as the years wore on his affairs became less and less discreet. Bechdel’s raw autobiography was turned into a musical play that showed on Broadway. That this book, and perhaps the play, can affect people deeply is a testament to the power of family and how it shapes us.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Reason challenged: Profanity, violent content

I first read this intimate memoir, written in graphic novel form about the author’s experience of growing up in 1980’s Iran, soon after the Paris bombings in late 2015. I felt it timely, for although the terrorists had not been from Iran, much of the Middle East was getting a bad rap. This book humanizes another culture and shows how extremism in any culture or religion is done by the few radicals against the many who suffer because of it and should be read widely for the message it conveys.

Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Reason challenged: Sexual content, anti-family, nudity, offensive language, and unsuited for age group.

An epic sci-fi adventure with liberal doses of violence and sex! We learn that the main character’s two species are at war, and their secret marriage and birth of a hybrid child are strictly forbidden.  That this love blossomed among enemies must be kept from the public, and the book’s message of enduring love is more nuanced than you would think.

Celebrating free expression is important, for “Censorship leaves us in the dark. Keep the light on!”

-Nancy

Top 5 Wednesday: Books You Thought You’d Hate But Ended Up Loving

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme from Goodreads, created by Lainey from Gingerreadslainey and now moderated by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes.  This week’s topic is: Books you though you’d hate but ended up loving.

Manifest Destiny

I hated this first volume that re-imaged the Lewis & Clark Expedition by Chris Dingess. I said “So Image Comics takes history, government conspiracies, and re-images (get my pun?) the events by shaking it all together into what I consider a convoluted mess.” It took me two years to reluctantly pick up the second volume and then I quickly read through the sixth volume. I then said ” I have discovered that I should not always give up on a series when the first volume rubs me the wrong way, as this recently happened in Northlanders (hint for my next book!) too. Yes, I still have issues with some of the depictions of the characters but the way that history, colonization and government conspiracies are shaken up together have made for some interesting stories. And the art- well, that’s what has truly made the series. Matthew Roberts has done his research on the era and regions in which they are traveling through. His creatures rival Lovecraft’s with detail and imagination. I admit, I will be picking up future volumes and read it to the end of their journey.”

Northlanders

I am big fan of author Brian Wood and his historical fiction graphic novels, but I have to admit if this was the first time I read his work, I would have stopped here.  The main character Sven is not likable in the least from his childhood on, and the tired trope of a good woman taming a bad boy is used here. The artwork was a mixed bag for me, but I really liked Enna, the woman Sven eventually marries. I only picked up the next volume when I knew Enna was in it, but the other standalone Viking tales in the second volume were good, and I ended up really enjoying the entire seven book series.

My Friend Dahmer

I heard that this graphic novel gave a unique take on serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, but I was skeptical. I felt weird reading it and the art style took some getting used to, so it took me awhile to read it in it’s entirety.  But this disturbing book about a serial killer’s youth was heartbreaking, as the book makes us witness to Jeffrey Dahmer’s slide into madness, from the viewpoint of a former classmate and “friend” of his. Derf Backderf, the author and illustrator, gave a nuanced take on the background of Dahmer, so I ended up pitying Dahmer and wondering if tragedy could have been diverted if just someone had noticed his problems and stepped in to help. Worth a read!

Fun Home

I picked up this book, read a bit, and put it back down a dozen times. Not because it isn’t excellent- it most definitely is- but the author’s relationship with her unhappy and distant father is much too similar to mine. This book breaks my heart, and brings up many painful memories for me. But I persisted, and am glad I did. Author and illustrator Alison Bechdel chronicles her childhood through her early years of college, plus her coming out, in a non-linear memoir. Bechdel’s raw autobiography was turned into a musical play that showed on Broadway, and she shared her feelings on that representation of her family in this enlightening nine-panel drawing Play Therapy.  That this book, and perhaps the play, can affect people deeply is a testament to the power of family and how it shapes us.

Transcendence

I typically am not a romance fan. Sure I don’t mind some romance in a novel, but as a genre- no thanks.  But a co-worker and fellow book lover told me this book was a combination of Clan of the Cave Bear and Outlander, so I had to give it a try based off that review. I ended up loving this book- I devoured the book in 24 hours, and then started over and re-read it again. Usually I stay away from romance novels that are historically inaccurate (admitted by the author Shay Savage), but I could not get enough of Ehd and his devotion to Beh. I loved his perspective of everything that was happening and what he thought of Beh’s habits. Beh was able to resist this sexy caveman much longer than I ever would have! I dearly hope the author writes a book from Beh’s perspective, so we can see what she was thinking during their time together.

So the moral of the story is- don’t give up! Just because you didn’t connect with a book right away, or that it’s not your typical genre, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a second try. You might just be glad you read it after all.

-Nancy

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. 2006.

I have picked up this book, read a bit, and put it back down a dozen times in the last year. Not because it isn’t excellent- it most definitely is- but the author’s relationship with her unhappy and distant father is much too similar to mine. This book breaks my heart, and brings up many painful memories for me. But I persisted, and am glad I did.

Author and illustrator Alison Bechdel chronicles her childhood through her early years of college, in a non-linear memoir. The Bechdel family lived in her father’s small hometown of Beech Creek in Pennsylvania, and her father helped run the family funeral parlor. Alison and her younger brothers named the funeral parlor, Fun Home, hence the name of the novel. Her parents were trapped in a loveless marriage, with the father hiding his homosexuality, although as the years wore on his affairs became less and less discreet.

This hiding of his true self shaped him into a bitter perfectionist, whose moods turned his wife into a shell of her former self, and the three children had to forever tiptoe around his outbursts and expectations.  When Bechdel enters college, she herself comes out as a lesbian, but has precious little time for her relationship with her father to change and grow with this realization, for her father died soon afterwards in what she suspected was a suicide.

A thread that ran through this book was her father’s love of literature, in addition to Bechdel’s own awakening of her sexuality, that ran parallel to her father’s. References to books such as Ulysses made connections between her and her father, with some overt symbolism that was dark and honest, but a bit forced at times.

The emotionally engaging illustrations were in black and white, and really captured the 1970’s era. Her parent’s grim marriage was subtlety represented, but she also was able to share times of humor and the joys of discovery in her drawings. Some of the illustrations were very graphic, with a sex act and a dead body being drawn in realistic detail, so this book is geared for mature audiences.

Bechdel’s raw autobiography was turned into a musical play that showed on Broadway, and she shared her feelings on that representation of her family in this enlightening nine-panel drawing Play Therapy.  That this book, and perhaps the play, can affect people deeply is a testament to the power of family and how it shapes us.

-Nancy

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