Monday, September 22, 2014

Banned Books Week 2014 Celebrates Graphic Novels

September 21st - 27th is Banned Books Week, an event that celebrates the freedom to read by bringing attention to written works that have been banned, censored, or otherwise challenged in academic and library settings. The focus for this year’s celebration is the graphic novel and comics form. The choice to emphasize comics and other graphic narrative works represents an important recognition of the medium as a legitimate mode of speech and intellectual engagement. This year LITS will organize several activities to recognize Banned Books Week including a display in the Library courtyard of challenged graphic novels and other related works, as well as a Stimson Room event on Wednesday the  24th from 4-5PM.

Graphic novels are more popular among readers today than ever before and are appreciated by a broader audience than in the past. Although comics have had a place in pop culture for decades and have attracted a dedicated readership from the early 20th century onward, they have only recently found a place in libraries and academia. Where librarians once hesitated to include comics in their collections, in little more than the last decade many libraries have responded to a rapid rise in demand among their patrons for graphic storytelling by increasing their graphic novel holdings. In addition the graphic novel has found its place in many classrooms as an effective teaching tool, with curricula ranging from literature and film studies, history, and even science incorporating examples of the medium into their reading.

There have been a significant number of challenges to the inclusion of particular comics series in library collections, but given the short history of comics in libraries in general the number of banned and challenged comics still remains relatively small compared to literature and YA novels. Even with the limited number of challenges to graphic novels in libraries and classrooms, the artform has a long history of struggle with censorship and of comics creators defending their intellectual rights. For nearly sixty years, mainstream comics were created under a regimen of self-censorship as a result of the infamous Comics Code Authority.
After the earliest examples of popular and pulp comics met with moral panic from parents and concerned adults, comics industry leaders were left with a choice between allowing the federal government to regulate their content or instituting their own censorship code. From 1954 through the early 2000s, the Comics Code limited the mainstream sale and distribution of comics to only those that met its stringent qualifications. Regardless, throughout the reign of  the Code underground and independent creators produced some of the most vibrant and important work in the medium, pushing the boundaries of what was possible with sequential art and graphic storytelling.

If you are looking to learn more about the history of censorship and the comics medium there are many links around the web. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization created to help comics creators stand up for their intellectual and First Amendment rights, has put together several comprehensive pages on this not-so-secret history of comics:
Some of the works that will be on display
Join LITS in celebrating Banned Book Week by visiting the display of incredible / fantastic / spectacular/ [insert hyperbolic adjective] comics and graphic novel resources that are available right here in our library. If you want to learn more and share more about how great graphic novels really are, come to the Stimson Room at 4PM on Wednesday the 24th for button and zine making, snacks, and discussion.


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