Banned Books Week shines the spotlight on comics

This is Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of all the books that someone, somewhere, thought was objectionable — which usually means they make good reading. This year, the focus is on comics and graphic novels, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is working with the other sponsors, including the American Library Association, to produce a number of resources for librarians and others, including a Banned Books Week Handbook; the organization has also posted a handy list of Banned Book Week events across the country (including this panel discussion, which I'll be part of).

Bone creator Jeff Smith spoke last week with The Guardian about what it's like to be the author of one of the 10 most challenged books of 2013. The cartoonist said his reaction when he heard his book was being attacked was twofold: "First, that I was being attacked and I didn’t know why. Then a thought like: hey, this isn’t the worst thing that can happen. A lot of my heroes are on this list. Mark Twain, Melville, Bradbury, Steinbeck, Vonnegut; authors whose work is about something – that do the kind of writing I aspire to." And he points out that the people who challenge books are not necessarily malicious—quite the contrary: "They have a concern which to them is legitimate. But that isn’t the point. The point is that they are trying to take away someone else’s ability to choose what they want to read, and you can’t do that."

Entertainment Weekly cuts right to the chase with a reading list of "ten essential banned and challenged graphic novels." A note on terminology: A "challenge" is a request that a school or library remove a book from its shelves. Most libraries have a process in place for reviewing challenges and deciding whether to remove or retain the book.

If you're interested in the history of comics censorship, check out the CBLDF's series as well as my coverage of the Comic-Con panel about making comics under the Comics Code, which included testimony from an actual Comics Code reviewer as well as former DC Comics President Paul Levitz, and Prof. Carol Tilley's fascinating NYCC panel last year on the flaws in anti-comics crusader Fredric Wertham's research, the personal grudges behind that crusade, and the letters young readers wrote to Wertham, explaining where he went wrong.

And in case you think this stuff is ancient history, here's a reminder: It just happened again last week.

(Top photo via Neil Gaiman's Facebook page)

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