Banned Books Week 2014: Graphic Novels

BBW14_300x250Captain Underpants wins again. In fact, what may seem like a fairly innocuous graphic novel series about a couple of fourth graders defying authority has been the most frequently banned/challenged book for the past two years. According to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, here are the top ten most challenged books for 2013:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons:  Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons:  Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons:  Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons:  Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons:  Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons:  Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons:  Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons:  Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons:  Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

I’m not the first person to notice Dav Pilkey’s repeat performance. The folks behind Banned Books Week (September 21-27, 2014) have it on their radar, too…so much so that this year’s event focuses on banned and challenged graphic novels and comic books.

I’ve been a comic book/graphic novel fan since college, when I met a few artists and writers who would go on to work for DC and Marvel. Without the awareness of the talent that goes into an art form that some write off as kid stuff, I might not have read beautiful and compelling graphic novels like Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

Both of which have faced bans from schools and libraries and are among the most frequently challenged graphic novels in history.

Why even have comic books and graphic novels in schools and libraries, you may wonder? Sometimes they are used to promote literacy as well as being an inspiring, creative art form in their own right. But according a Library Journal interview with Charles Brownstein, executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, many who seek to have them removed see them as a “low art form” and therefore don’t consider that the creators are entitled to the benefits of free speech that other works enjoy. The College of Charleston even had some of their funding cut for including Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, an Eisner award-winning, coming-of-age graphic memoir, in one of their reading programs.

In fact, there have been so many high-profile challenges to graphic novels and comics lately that the CBLDF has taken action: they have created a handbook for librarians to help them better understand the craft and culture of the medium. This handbook includes some background on manga, a Japanese-inspired graphic novel/comic book form that has been misunderstood and taken out of context by some Western-hemisphere readers, therefore at times making it a target for censorship and legal action.

The organizers of Banned Books Week are leaving the choice of activities up to individual communities. You might want to pay a visit to your friendly neighborhood comic book store (or library) to see some of this powerful work for yourself.

No matter the mode of expression, censorship is censorship. It’s the driving force behind the Banned Books Week program that while families get the right to decide what their own kids will read, none should get the right to deny those rights to others.

Have you read a banned book lately?

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

9 thoughts on “Banned Books Week 2014: Graphic Novels”

  1. If parents and teachers educate themselves in a way that helps them pass this on, via open discussion, to their children then they will self-censor – for the right reasons. That also means that when they do read a questionable book they will be able to see beyond dogma and prejudice and decide for themselves if it has value. There are books I will not read, for reasons I need not go into here, but I would have open discussions with my children about those reasons. Beyond a certain age, like monitoring what they see on TV, etc. there is no need for external control.

    1. Great points, Yvonne. My parents trusted that my brothers and I could make our own decisions about what we wanted to read. Yes, a sort of self-selecting process based on what we could comprehend at a particular age level. I guess if we understood it enough to ask questions about it, they thought we were ready.

  2. Here is the ridiculous thing about book banning, in this day and age: Parents only think they can control what their kids are reading. If the kids have access to the internet — and most of ’em do — they can read more explicit stuff at and Archive of Our Own than they will ever find in their school library.

    My primary complaint about manga was that each book cost upwards of $15 and my kids would blow through one in half an hour. 😀

  3. Some of the books on that list should be banned for being so badly written, but apart from that I don’t believe banning does anything except raise the profile of the book in question. Banned books often become best sellers after they are banned.

    Good post, Laurie.

  4. I can’t remember my parents “banning” any book when I was growing up. But honest discussions about age appropriate reading material (and movies, TV shows, graphic novels, etc.) should be a kid-by-kid, family-by-family series of decisions. Banning a book from a library, school or bookstore is just an inducement to a curious kid. Right?

    1. Hi, Candy. Sure…we want what we can’t have. I don’t remember having anything “banned” by my parents, but there were definitely some books that my teachers discouraged. And yes, we scrambled to get copies.

  5. Oh, my goodness, talk of censorship takes me back to my very early teens when John Braine’s Room at the Top was on my English reading list and my mother nearly had a fit. She was horrified I was expected to read ‘such filth’ but was of the generation who didn’t complain as teachers knew best. A film was made and it was shown on television and she insisted I watch it with her – much to my squirming embarrassment. I don’t know if anyone even remembers that book now? The central character seduces one woman with whom he also has an intellectual relationship but at the same time seduces and gets pregnant the daughter of a wealthy businessman so he can marry the girl and move upwards socially and economically. Very much an ‘angry young man’ post WW2 book. I haven’t thought about it for years (46 years to be precise!). It wasn’t a banned book – at least not by anyone but my mother. And now I’m wondering when she read it to know so much about it!
    Probably gone quite of the point of your article, Laurie, but thank you for jogging my memory in such an unlikely way.

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