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Removing FUN HOME and BLANKETS

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Yesterday we told you about an attempt in Marshall, MO to remove FUN HOME and BLANKETS from the shelves of the library. Now via comments and email, the followup report on a library board hearing. The room was packed, and people talked for TWO HOURS. Reporter Zach Sims gives a very thorough account on the hearing and what was said, saying that only one quarter of the speakers were in favor of keeping the books. Part of the worry was that public funds should not be spent on the kind of material that would draw the wrong element:

“I don’t want seedy people coming into the library and moving into our community,” Aulgur said.

Some of the speakers requested removal of the books in question, others suggested a special section for books with what may be deemed “adult” material. Some suggested the books be kept behind the library counter or someplace else where they would not be within the reach of children.

“This is a clear-cut case of common sense,” said Mark Mills, husband of Louise Mills.


Some were more positive about the material.

A small number of citizens at the meeting spoke in support of the library, including Claudia Milstead. Milstead said that there are people who want to read the books in question.

“I want to thank the Marshall Public Library for acquiring these two books and I hope that you find a way to keep the two books without offending the people who have expressed what I think are some very heartfelt concerns,” Milstead said.


Well, we’ve all been waiting for something like this. Obviously, it’s still small at this point. As one of our commenters pointed out, imagine if Mills had come across a REALLY explicit comic, like Crumb or S. Clay Wilson. Or Phoebe Gloeckner or Gilbert Hernandez. Or LOST GIRLS.

It’s not just comics, of course. At this very moment, parents are trying to ban Fahrenheit 451 (for bible burning and foul language) and Harry Potter. In fact, Harry Potter is the most banned — and popular — book of the 21st century. Here’s the complete Top 10:

1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

3. Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

4. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

6. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

7. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris

8. Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz

9. Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey

10. Forever by Judy Blume


Thus far, comics have come under remarkably little attack in libraries and elsewhere. There have been a few worries over manga, but parental concerns have stayed local for the most part, with nothing gaining much traction. Is this just luck? Maybe. Watchdog pressure groups are really good at mustering support, and mobilizing phone calls and letter writing campaigns. It’s probably only a matter of time before some national crusader gets wind of yaoi and gets a grassroots campaign under way. And then, all hell will break loose.

Libraries are the first best defense of keeping a free flow of ideas. Librarians and library boards in America have a pretty decent track record of defending their right to shelve controversial material. Some battles are lost, of course. And America right now is losing endless battles of common sense on a depressingly daily basis.

Is this a tempest in a teapot? Yes and no. It’s a small town library board meeting, after all. Defending award-winning, best selling books like BLANKETS and FUN HOME is easy. Other books aren’t going to have that critical back-up. They’re more like the slow moving wildebeest in the herd: vulnerable.

Comics and graphic novels may continue their free ride of approval for quite some time. Or the storm cloud we’ve feared may bust wide open at any time. I no longer believe that common sense will prevail in America, so there may be tough battles, if they come. There may be casualties. I think we’ll win in the end, but…don’t take any of this lightly. Be mindful.

  1. Excellent, thoughtful analysis Heidi, thanks.

    I don’t know if I’m so discouraged as to think that common sense will not prevail in America, but I’m no longer absolutlely certain I’ll live to see the day when the cultural pendulum swings back in that direction…

    In reaction to Sims’ coverage:

    (1) I’m most stunned at that only a quarter of those attending spoke in favor of keeping the books in the library. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to believe that those support-mustering watchdog groups managed to stack the deck as it were, but the realist in me suspects that that’s probably an adequate representation of this community’s feelings;

    (2) Assuming the description is accurate, I’m encouraged to think that this board meeting was indeed calm and rational and civilized. So many of these sorts of things, well, aren’t.

    (3) Indulge me in a moment of snark. To the comment: “I don’t want seedy people coming into the library and moving into our community” I am amused at the implication that the existence of library-available pornography is a large factor people’s choices to move into a particular area. I’ve usually based my moving decisions on things like job opportunities, housing availability, the local economy, etc.; I guess I just don’t think like some people–or that I don’t think like some people think some people think…

    All that aside, yeah, I think this is an interesting time for comics and comics-philes. Be vigilant, be involved, read a banned book, help out the CBLDF and ABFFE, and be mindful. Best advice there is, in a way…

  2. People want “Of Mice and Men” pulled from shelves? Really? Why? I can at least understand why people might object to the other titles because they mostly deal with heathen magic and the sex (I don’t AGREE with it, but I can at least understand it). But “Of Mice and Men”?

    And CAPTAIN FREAKIN’ UNDERPANTS??!? Yeah, boy, banning Dav Pilkey will fix EVERYTHING going wrong with America nowadays, won’t it?

  3. If you hear of something like this happening in your neighbourhood get involved and support the books against the censors. Don’t assume someone else will sort it out because they probably won’t. Support your local library, get involved.

    And remember, any one getting any sort of prurient satisfaction from works like these has probably been living in the woods for the last 50 years.

  4. I’m still stunned that Of Mice and Men is banned. I never knew that.

    Now that I’ve overcome my shock, I should be able to post a more thoughtful post of how there’s something called the freedom of speech and press, etc., and that the mere thought of banning books should be abolished. It’s like people who complain about certain television shows. Learn how to change the channel. If you don’t want your children watching them, then tell them not to watch it, and take steps to prevent them from watching it. Same with books. Just because you don’t want your child to read a book like Blankets, doesn’t mean another parent would be against that.

    On top of that, this is a public library. Why should the opinions of a few people have more weight over those who would like these books since they’re considered to be literature in the comics world, and are now seeping into literature classes in college? Sure, 75% of the crowd at the meeting last night were against it, but I’m more inclined to think that it’s because of the fact that those who enjoy the material don’t get in the frenzy that these people do who’re all about the Christian Right. It’s just sickening to see that these people have nothing better to do with their time then to protest a book like Blankets or try to claim that J.K. Rowling is trying to turn their children into Wiccans through a book.

    Craig

  5. It always amazes me when people who consider themselves Americans participate in one of the most un-American activities I can think of, the suppression of free speech and ideas. Unbelievable.

  6. Heidi: well-written. Kudos.

    I agree with Mr. Maloof, above. I’m reprinting something here that I submitted to Tom Spurgeon’s site over a year ago, in reference to the comic strip BC:

    “I think you are correct in ascribing this issue to a permissiveness of expression among liberals. In my experience, conservatives are much more likely to ‘mobilize’ when they feel threatened by something in the media. Liberals tend towards tolerance of other viewpoints, even those of conservatives.”

  7. Although the whole liberal-permissiveness vs. conservative-mobilization phenomenon may well be true, I don’t think it’s tremendously useful to characterize these sorts of censorious movements in a black vs. white; red state vs. blue state; liberal vs. conservative light.

    If nothing else, to do so is to so simplify the issue as to overlook the number of conservatives who do believe in free expression and anti-censorship (those of Libertarian philosophy, for example) and to overlook that some of the most “won’t-someone-think-about-the-children!” censorious movements have come from Democrats (like Estes Kefauver, for an example close to our comics-loving hearts.)

  8. Let me just note for those unfamiliar with it that the Captain Underpants series is not only a superhero series of a sort, but it contains comics. The two volumes in the Captain Underpants Book O’ Fun series both have substantial comics content, and the spin-off The Adventures Of Super Diaper Baby is a graphic novel.

    I think one would have a hard time depicting Fun Home or Blankets as stroke books, and similar material in prose in the general section of the library would not likely see such response. This seems clearly anticomicsism.

  9. I know that Louise Mills and her homies are just folks who haven’t gotten the word that “Hey, comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” ™, but it’s really frustrating to hear those two books, particularly Fun Home, reduced to being described as “pornography,” as if all the stuff between the sexual content, which in both cases constitutes the majority of the books, was no more interesting, artful or well-crafted than the plot of Debbie Does Dallas.

  10. Tommy Raiko: Thanks for your well thought-out reponse to my post. Certainly you have a point that stereotypes aren’t ultimately useful in determining which way an individual will lean on a particular issue.

    That said, I would still argue that recognizing major cultural trends re. political affiliation and civic action is not only feasible, but just plain smart. While I don’t think we need to bog ourselves down with some sort of bristly, “let’s arm ourselves” attitude in the culture war, it’s just good ol’ common sense to be prepared for what we will say and do when our values, priorities, and pretty picture books are challenged.

  11. As a librarian, let me say that this kind of battle has unfortunately grown over the years. Even our “commemorating” Banned Books Week has come under fire; at least one library has had to dismantle its display because the administrator didn’t want teens reading the books for the “wrong reason.” Graphic novels and comics have faced challenges for years; they just never made the news. I was lucky where I worked (in Hawaii and in Indiana) that my administrators allowed me to respond to challengers in a more pre-emptive manner that seemed to have satisfied the complainants enough that they didn’t pursue their challenges as far as this one in Missouri went. I have defended Batman: Son of the Demon (mother of a 14-year-old boy didn’t want him reading a comic that “promoted violence against women” based on one scene – we told her to read the whole thing, if she turned the page, she would have seen Batman protecting the pregnant woman against her attackers), John Constantine: Hellblazer, Ranma 1/2.

    What we in the library world know for damn sure is you NEVER attack the complainant’s beliefs. Our defense of the books must remain focused on the value of the books. I never had to deal with a challenge that went into the public forum of a meeting, so I can’t really know just how I would react personally. But I do know that we can never attack our opponents, we have to remain on the moral high ground in our defense of all library materials.

  12. [I]“I am amused at the implication that the existence of library-available pornography is a large factor people’s choices to move into a particular area.â€? – Ali T. Kokmen[/I]

    What I’m amused by is the implication that Blankets and Fun House could be considered pornography. I know that’s probably not the implication you’re making, Ali, but it sure seems to be the implication of those people protesting the books. Yeah, I know that both books deal with sexuality, but I really can’t imagine anyone wanking off to either book! As I recall, Fun House talks about Alison Bechtel (sp?) and her father’s homosexuality, but doesn’t really depict anything in anything near an explicit or titillating way, and Blankets does have some drawings of female nudity, but in a very romanticized and decidedly non-pornographic way.

    It does make one wonder if the offended parents really have any real idea what’s in these two books. Moreover, I wonder if they merely have the old “comics are meant for kidsâ€? knee-jerk reaction. I will say this: I live in New York City, and the NYC public library system does have a pretty good selection of graphic novels. At some branches, there’s a separate section of gn’s in the adult section, and at others, they’re all in the children/youth section. Just today, I was in the children’s section of the 58th St. branch (which is a mite embarrassing for a 35-year-old!) looking at their graphic novel stock. I saw Spiegelman’s “In The Shadow Of No Towersâ€? there, which, while not “inappropriateâ€? per se, would not be of any interest to children, in my opinion. I have been in other branches where I’ve seen comics that I really wouldn’t want shelved in the children’s section, and have winced at the thought of some child checking it out, a parent seeing it, and subsequently seeing a headline in the New York Post: “Public Library Funds Smut Comics!!!!â€? (At the same time, I think it’s a bit strange that both Maus and Jimmy Corrigan and Owly and various teen manga would be on the same graphic novel shelf in the Adult section.)

    I think most of us in the comics-sphere have long taken for granted that comics aren’t just for kids, to the extent that we forget that that perception is not universally shared, and that in addition to getting the word out that comics aren’t just for kids, there’s also the need to let people know that there are now comics for ALL ages. A library should have Sin City, Love and Rockets, and Lost Girls, AS WELL as Donald Duck and Electric Girl, and those librarians should all know enough to be able to shelf those books in appropriate places for their patrons. The one parent’s suggestion that Blankets and Fun Home would attract pedophiles is based on ignorance and stupidity; the other parent’s suggestion that common sense dictates those books be shelved in the adult section is not.

    In my own snarky commentary, let mesay that I think it is hilarious that on Heidi’s blog, this appears under the categoires of “Literacy” and “They hate us,” which reads as “Literacy, they hate us!”

    Thus concludes the end of my essay.

  13. I sent the Houstonist article to Ray Bradbury, and his comment was “I don’t pay attention to them anymore. They will eventually get tired and go away. And my book will still be there.” Enlightenment at 86 years old.

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