30 September 2010

Shocked, Shocked at Violence in Comics

For Banned Books Week, the Huffington Post ran an article (a slide show really) about the books in comics form most often challenged in public and school libraries.

Here are the titles and the reasons provided for the challenges.

  • Absolute Sandman, by Neil Gaiman – Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
  • Blankets, by Craig Thompson – Sexually Explicit content, Other (unspecified)
  • Bone (series), by Jeff Smith – Sexually Explicit content, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs
  • Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel – Sexually Explicit Content
  • Maus, by Art Spiegelman – Anti Ethnic
  • Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughn – Sexually Explicit Content
  • Tank Girl, by Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlitt – Nudity, Violence
  • The Dark Knight Strikes Again, by Frank Miller – Sexually Explicit Content [not to mention an Evil Robin]
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill – Nudity, Sexually Explicit Content, Unsuited to Age Group
  • Watchmen, by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons – Unsuited to Age Group
The only comic on the list dinged for “Violence” is Tank Girl.

Maus involves little things called World War 2 and the Holocaust. Pride of Baghdad takes place during the US invasion of Iraq, and includes animals killing, eating, and raping each other. But perhaps, readers might say, we can’t complain about historical and biological violence.

So what about fantasy violence? Bone ends in a war. The superhero comics—Dark Knight Strikes Again, Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen—include everything from fist fights to futuristic weapons. That volume of Sandman depicts a convention of serial killers, among other horrors.

The only comics of this list that don’t include significant violence are the two coming-of-age memoirs, Blankets and Fun Home. Both involve sex, for natural reasons. Sex is more “graphic” in a graphic novel, or at least easier to find. And since our culture perceives anything in comics form as meant for younger readers, it’s not surprising that some parents might find those stories about young adults unsuited for younger kids.

But back to Tank Girl, the only comic on this list challenged as too violent. Is it actually more violent than all the rest? Or is it simply the only action comic with a female in the central role?


Sam said...

Wow! That is crazy.

However, I have to say that a "unsuitable to age group" complaint doesn't really seem like Book Banning to me.

I keep meaning to ask my local library to reshelve Nexus. It's my all-time favorite somic book, but it doesn't belong with Babymouse and Amelia Rules.

J. L. Bell said...

I agree that “Unsuitable to Age Group” needn’t add up to banning if it’s an issue of placing a book in the proper section of a library. But some challenges demand that such a book be removed from the library (particularly a school library), or put under restrictions for all readers. Also, I suspect “Unsuitable to Age Group” is often a euphemism for the sex issues that come up in some many other complaints.

I myself have questioned whether Moore and Campbell’s From Hell, with its pictures of sexual intercourse and grisly dismemberment, belongs in my local library’s YA Graphic Novels collection. I’ve heard hints that it’s there because the YA librarian was more interested in good cutting-edge comics than her adult counterparts, and thought a copy belonged in the library somehow. I’m grateful to have read it, but don’t expect to be sharing that one with Godson for many years, if at all.

Gail Gauthier said...

My favorite complaint is "anti-family" followed by "anti-ethnic."