Banned Books Week

Bobby Karmi | Contributing Writer

This year marks the 32nd anniversary of the opposition of banned books in our school systems. In celebration, the national Banned Book Week Planning Committee has decided to highlight graphic novels and comic books. This has lead to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to create some events in order to bring greater awareness of the issue. I have mixed feelings towards the whole situation, but like the lapsed English Major I am, I tend to view banning books on a case-by-case basis and lean towards freedom of expression.

I would first like to say that I love graphic novels. I love them to death. They offer a way for people to enjoy reading that is unique and full of artistry. From the poetic autobiography found in titles like “Blankets” by Craig Thompson and “Fun Home” by Alsion Becdl, to the challenging and intellectual “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and “Notes for a War Story” by Gipi, graphic novels have evolved into a genre that has garnered serious critical acclaim and artistic respect. So, why do we still see so many graphic novels being banned?

If I had to state my opinion on the matter, I would say that comics tend to still be viewed as immature or a cheap, disposable material unworthy of serious artistic analysis. Without dragging up the argument that people tend to think of any new artistic medium as unworthy of critical thought, comics have been praised as a serious artistic endeavor for decades now. “Maus”, Art Spiegelman’s meta-fiction narrative of his father’s survival of the Holocaust, won the Special Citation Pulitzer Prize in 1992. That’s right, doubters in the audience- a comic book won arguably the greatest award in human history before the existence of George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, Ray Bradbury, and Bob Dylan.

Like anything that has an artistic element and is banned, a good chunk of why certain books are banned is the entire point of the books. I am continually shocked by how often biographies have been banned due to their graphic nature, when the books themselves are about genocide or persecution. These works detail a recent past that still has repercussions today, and have important lessons for our own and future generations, and people are trying to ban them for illustrating what was wrong in those situations.

Yet, most items on banned booklists aren’t banned by adults, for adults, are they? Instead, most books are banned so that children won’t be able to read them. While in theory this isn’t a bad idea, not every book is meant to be read by children. The banning of most of these books does more harm to their cause than good. “Stuck Rubber Baby” by Howard Cruse, often considered one of the finest accomplishments in the medium for its depiction of both racial and gay civil rights movements, has been challenged simply for depicting LGBT characters. So, all the violence that the characters suffer because of racism and homophobia is okay to show, but two women or two men in love is not? Glad to know where you stand on that issue, various banners.

This is the part of the argument that both I and others who fight bans on books really don’t like to admit, but there is a bit of truth to why certain books are banned. Say a recent book has troubling gender/racial/sexual politics, to the point that you could accuse the author of sexism, racism, or homophobia. Or, the book itself is not actually about any of those themes, and just happens to include support for them. Finally, imagine if the book was not important, something that besides those troubling themes, wasn’t a historically important piece of that mediums history. Take for example “Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again” by Frank Miller, which was banned for, among other things, sexism. Someone banning a book that has troubling gender politics when the book itself is not about gender politics is something I can get behind. It also helps that this book is not its more prestigious precursor, “The Dark Knight Returns”, which is a historically important work to the medium. In an ideal world, that is how book banning should be done.

There are a lot of different aspects to consider in the argument for banning any art form selectively. Certainly much more than can fit into a single eight hundred word article. So I would like to leave you with one thought as you go through this week; please be more critical when thinking about art, in any form, otherwise we might lose a bit