Recently a college student at Crafton Hills College called for a ban on several comic books she found lewd or offensive. Fortunately, this challenge was defeated. But it serves as a reminder that we must be ever vigilant against the threat of censorship. So, in the spirit of appreciating daring writers and illustrators who are willing to push boundaries, here are several comics that risked have repercussions for their risqué material.
Sandman Goes for Broke
Neil Gaiman’s definitive series not only won awards, but helped to bridge the gap between traditional comics and the literary world. Of course, comic book readers have always understood the value of a quality work of sequential art, but Sandman’s distinctive style and impeccable writing made it a crossover hit and helped usher comic books into the mainstream. In turn, this World Fantasy Award Winner has resisted several attempts at banishment, typically due to age-inappropriate material which now has it categorized into the adult book section of your local library.
Persepolis Faces Persecution
Marjane Satrapi’s moving and hopeful—as well as critically lauded—graphic novel depicts life under before, during, and after the Iranian Revolution. A recent animated adaption was also a success, winning the Jury Prize at Cannes. Since its release, there hasn’t been any significant public outcry about the book, save for some in a few conservative Middle Eastern countries. That’s why it came as a shock when the Chicago Public School District pulled it from a handful of libraries and classrooms a couple years ago. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed when many, including the students of that district, noted that the “graphic images” were no less disturbing than those in most history books.
The Joke is on Batman: the Killing Joke
Alan Moor is no stranger to challenged comics. His stories often buck the status quo and flip comic book concepts on their heads—a la Watchmen and V for Vendetta. So it’s only par for the course that his take on one of the archetypal four color hero-villain duos would raise more than a few eyebrows. In 2013, a Nebraskan library-goer tried to ban the book, citing its encouragement of torture and rape. Once again, the voices of reason prevailed, and the book was seen not as an incitement to violence, but as a satirical and thought-provoking reaction to our modern culture of violence and, hence, suitable for most audiences.
Dragon Ball Gets Blackballed
Responsible for spawning a virtual Manga empire, one which is extremely popular with children, Akira Toriyama’s archetypal graphic novel might be the last comic you’d think would face down the censors. The original series is about a boy named Goku growing into manhood and martial arts discipline while trying to summon a wish-fulfilling dragon via the eponymous dragon balls. Although based on Chinese lore, the series does feature some violence and brief nudity. Because of this, in 2009, it came under scrutiny in Maryland. Auspiciously, the local libraries still found it suitable for young adult readers.
A Maus to Squeak No More
While the content of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel is by necessity dark and disturbing, it is also a story of survival and reconnection. Taken from his estranged father’s heart-wrenching tales of experiences during the Holocaust, Maus is one man’s perspective and attempt to make sense of horrors around him—horrors that will continue to darken our collective history indefinitely. In the story, different races are portrayed by different animals: Germans as cats, Jews as mice, Americans are Dogs, etc. Apparently, one Polish-American took offense to being portrayed as a pig. The anthropomorphic representations in the book are a tool of narrative symbolism and not meant to be a definitive ethnic categorization. They’re merely representative of the characters in the book, and a poor reason to censor a book. And this is why, thankfully, Maus remains readily available.
Watchmen on the Watch List
Alan Moore may feel a special pride at having so many comics on the challenged list–a sense of “guess I must be doing something right.” Watchmen was one of his first to make it on the list, thanks to its lurid depiction of a more realistic clutch of superheroes and their all too human violence. The series trade paperback, a Hugo Award-recipient, has come under fire on several occasions, but thus far remains available for all to read.
Tank Girl, No Thanks
Set in a parched post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by a ruthless corporation, Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett’s raunchy and hyperviolent dystopian epic may not be a paragon of virtue, but it’s a poignant exaggeration of a world gone mad with consumerism and the rise of oligarchy as a domineering political force. Clearly the female empowerment and subtle philosophical jabs are often lost beneath Tank Girl’s drinking, sexual liberation, drug use, and occasional nudity. Most of all, it’s just a lot of fun to read. Although challenged most recently in 2009, the queen of mobile artillery has maintained her slot in the local library’s adult graphic novel section in spite of its detractors.
Stuck on Themes in Stuck Rubber Baby
With themes delving into homosexuality and racial discrimination, it’s comes as little surprise that Howard Cruze’s graphic novel has been under the gun of some uptight would-be repressors. Examining racism, homophobia, and gender identification in the Deep South circa 1960, the book is also a moving portrayal of coming of age, accepting yourself, and accepting the wide array of human possibilities. Apparently it also tripped the triggers of some concerned citizens (read right-wing crusaders) in Texas. Despite some objections, the book remains in the town’s library system, although it’s now classified as an adult graphic novel rather than residing in the Young Adult section.
If you’re concerned about censorship issues or would like to support those who fight the good fight for free speech, please feel free to visit one of their sites, including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) or the Intellectual Freedom Center of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
(Originally published on GeekSnack)