In a recent news story, a California college student protested the inclusion of several books that were part of her English class curriculum. The books in question were four graphic novels — “Persepolis,” “Fun Home,” “Y: The Last Man Vol. 1” and “The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House” — that the student referred to as “garbage” and “pornography” because they include graphic sex and violence.
These books in question do contain very adult themes, but doso to challenge and educate the reader. “Persepolis” is an autobiographical story depicting the author’s childhood up to her early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution. “Fun Home” recounts the author’s strained relationship with her father after coming out as a lesbian. While the content and subject matter may be disagreeable to some, labeling them as garbage prohibits art’s ability to defy social norms and open up readers to alternate viewpoints that exist within our world.
The most telling statement from the student that strikes straight to the heart of the matter was, “I didn’t expect to open the book and see that graphic material within. I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” This quote highlights the all too prevalent misconception that comic books and graphic novels are nothing but “funny books” and throw-away kiddie reading that is not meant to challenge or inform the reader. This mindset israrely found in other artistic mediums. Adult and graphic themes are perfectly acceptable in film and other forms of literature. Why is the comic medium not afforded the same respect?
Thankfully, this student’s protests fizzled out as quickly as they were sparked, hopefully because the majority of fellow student saw the ridiculousness of it all. However, there are too many similar examples of comic book retailers and creators being victimized because of the work they sell or create.
A current case involves an American comic book creator who was arrested at the Canadian border for having obscene material on his laptop. The material was digital copies of horror and fantasy comics that the Canadian government erroneously labeled child pornography. If convicted, the creator could face up to a year in jail and be forced to register as a sex offender in both Canada and the United States. Again, this goes back to the outdated fallacy that comic books are children’s reading material. Unfortunately, this fallacy has forced too many within the comic book community to have to defend themselves in court with severe consequences if they lose.
It’s sad that people all over the world are getting in trouble for simply creating or selling comic books, but it’s reassuring to know that there is help out there. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit organization that works tirelessly to protect the First Amendment rights of comic book retailers, creators and publishers. More information about them can be found online at their website, and I strongly recommend supporting them if you value art and your freedoms to create and read it. On their site you’ll also find a long list of graphic novels that are being challenged by schools, libraries and activist group to be banned. There’s no greater blow to these people than to buy and read these books and support their authors.
The freedoms that we enjoy in this country are absolute. They are not just for the artistic material that we find agreeable, but also extent to literature that makes us uncomfortable and forces us to look at what we may not agree with. So exercise that freedom and read a good book!