Graphic Novelty²


Marjane Satrapi

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!”


The Complete Persepolis

Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. 2007.

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.

The first half is about Majane Satrapi’s childhood. She is the only child of elite, well-to-do parents who have progressive ideals.  The book balances the innocence of her childhood with the greater social-political unrest that was swirling around her. As a child she did not understand all that was happening and only knew of the Iran of her present circumstances than the more liberal Iran of the past. But yet, she was aware of friends and loved ones being taken away, and sometimes killed by the Islamic Revolutionists, because of their different political beliefs.

As she became a teen, Marjane’s upbringing led her to start questioning and rebelling against the fundamentalism of the era. This put her and her family in peril, due to her lack of restraint. The last pages show her parents sending her to Europe to further her education, for her safety and theirs. While she needed to escape, for her rebellious attitude certainly would have brought ruin to her family, sending her away to boarding school in another country was heartbreaking to the whole family.

The second half of the book covers her teen years through her early 20’s. Marjane wasn’t always likable and made some terrible choices in Austria, some of her own doing, and some due to lack of an adult support system there. Eventually, she heads back to Iran after her schooling. Having felt unmoored away from home, Marjane is glad to be back home, although her time there is still tenuous due to the continuing political climate. She immerses herself back into her family and culture, and at this time collects the stories she will share in the book, Embroideries, about the secret lives of women in Iran. She has an unhappy first marriage while home, and knows that her future will need to be elsewhere if she is to lead an authentic and safe life as an adult.

I was interested in Marjane’s childhood and her teen years, as they correlate roughly to the time I was growing up. As a mother myself now, I was also interested in the perspective she had of her mother and father, for the book seemed to be a valentine to her parents and culture.  The black and white illustrations are deceptively simple, but convey so much feeling, mood and history to the reader. Bravo to the author who shared this beautiful memoir about her beloved family and society with the outside world.




Satrapi, Marjane. Embroideries. 2003.

“To speak behind other’s backs is the ventilator of the heart”

Written by Marjane Satrapi, the author of Persepolis, so begins a frank discussion by a group of women about their sex lives. Set in Tehran, Iran, in the 1990’s after the revolution, this book gives an uncensored glimpse into how women from a different culture cope in a patriarchal society.

Some of the stories shared…

A woman recounts how she was married off at age 13 to a 69 year old man and how she escaped this arranged marriage.

An impressionable young woman marries a rich émigré just to have him run off with the wedding gifts.

A woman marries for love just to have her husband leave her after their wedding night to immigrate, promising to send for her. When she finally rejoins him a year later, she discovers he has been lying to her and cheats often.

An older woman undergoes plastic surgery to keep her husband from straying.

A bride needs to fake her virginity on her wedding night with disastrous results. This relates to the title Embroideries, for this term is explained as a medical procedure to tighten a woman’s vagina, as some women feel they need to do so to fool (or keep) men.

At my first read through I thought this was a breezy book about women bonding together in solidarity, but as I thought on it and re-read it, it actually proved to be very depressing. Not a single woman shared a positive story. All the men were portrayed as tyrants or imbeciles. Marjane’s grandmother seemed to have a good marriage, but she then talked down to her husband; while the woman who had plastic surgery made sure to make jokes at her husband’s expense. The only woman in this group who choose not to share a story was Marjane’s mother, whose marriage in the book Persepolis was portrayed as loving.

This made me think of a group of friends I have had since college, and the talks we have with one another. All of us are married, with no divorces. For a group of ten women, statistically speaking, this is rare. What do we all have in common (besides being fabulous)? For starters, we all love our husbands, and do not trash talk them in front of others. Not to say we haven’t had our complaints over the years and we share our ups and downs with one another, but we respect our marriages and families we have created together, and act accordingly.  That Marjane’s mother didn’t share a negative story about her husband, was a good sign of a healthy marriage.

No matter if you look at this book lightly for the sex and secrets, or look at it more deeply for the commentary on relationships between men and women, it is an eye-opening book on friendships and how woman can support one another.


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