With Banned Books Week almost at its close, we're running out of time to talk about one of the most challenged book categories. According to the American Library Association (ALA), three of the 10 most frequently challenged books are graphic novels. The comics tally jumps to four if you count Robie Harris' popular sex-ed title It's Perfectly Normal.
If you're surprised to see these titles among the likes of deliciously infamous novels, such as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Bluest Eye, you shouldn't be. With comics rising in popularity, traditional novels — such as Stephen King's Dark Tower series and, most recently, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book — are becoming increasingly more likely to get the graphic treatment. Given the fact that the U.S. at large still considers comics to be a form of children's entertainment, and the possible origins of parents' nudity- and violence-inspired ire come into focus.
But don't think I'm making excuses. I don't support book bans as a general rule, and most challengers' reasons to petition a library or school in the hopes of removing a book are silly, at best. If you read banned books and want to support some great graphic novels, check out this list of 12 fantastic TBR contenders.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Describing Saga, io9 put it best. It's a "space opera series about alien parents from opposite sides of warring factions attempting to raise their newborn child together while on the run from authorities." But, and you're gonna love this part, allegations of being "anti-family" top the ALA's list of Saga challenge issues. Although Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples' series is by no means child-friendly, a comic centered on a loving father and — breastfeeding! — mother trying to keep their new little nuclear unit safe doesn't deserve to be called "anti-family."
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Last week, Drama was one of five New York Times bestselling graphic novels Raina Telgemeier authored. It's wildly popular, but also frequently opposed. This middle-grades graphic novel about a theater nerd who can't sing, but who really wants to be in her school's next stage production, brings up the rear on the ALA's list under charges of being "sexually explicit." The issue for Drama's detractors is not that the characters are having sex — they aren't — but that some of them are gay.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis came in second only to Sherman Alexie's notably-challenged novel this year. Opponents highlight depictions of "gambling, offensive language, [and] political viewpoint" as reasons for limiting the work's availability. Although Persepolis is undoubtedly a political work, trying to ban an adult memoir because it recounts the author's experiences during the Islamic Revolution in Iran is pretty irrational, to say the least.
This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
This One Summer didn't make the ALA's most recent list, but The Washington Post notes that it "may well appear next year." Despite winning multiple awards for children's literature, the graphic novel has already been challenged for its "discussion of miscarriage, teen pregnancy, and use of profanity," according to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund executive director, Charles Brownstein. It's a charming tale of two young "summer friends" who spend their time spying on local teens and trying to figure out what this whole growing up thing is all about.
Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa
With many book-challengers targeting LGBT themes in graphic novels, it's no surprise that Barefoot Gen hasn't been the subject of much controversy these days. Of course, it helps that it's a Japanese manga, as well. Barefoot Gen is a fictionalized retelling of author Keiji Nakazawa's experiences as a child orphaned by the Hiroshima bombing. It's been frequently challenged in Japan, but most readers agree its realistic depictions of A-bomb victims and the grim aftermath are instrumental in understanding that particular time and place in history.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Although it didn't make the ALA's list this year, Fun Home made headlines nonetheless after Duke University freshmen objected to the graphic novel on moral grounds. Alison Bechdel's memoir explores her father's experiences as a closeted gay man alongside her own coming out as a lesbian in her teens. Set against the backdrop of a family-run mortuary, Fun Home is great gallows humor that, while inappropriate for young children, is a wise pick for adult readers.
The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
Back in 2011, The Color of Earth took the #2 spot on the ALA's list, just behind Lauren Myracle's Internet Girls series. Korean author Kim Dong Hwa's first manhwa to be translated into English centers on Ehwa, whose widowed mother runs a tavern. Ostracized from most of society due to their unconventional situation, Ehwa and her mother must navigate love and sex when new men enter their lives. Charges of nudity and sexual content are those most-often lobbed at The Color of Earth, but this bildungsroman is worth the shelf-space for young adult readers.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
In Maus, Art Spiegelman retells his father's story of life as a Polish Jew in hiding, on the run, and in Auschwitz. Charges of anti-ethnic sentiment stem from Spiegelman's decision to portray Jews, Germans, gentile Poles, and Americans as different animal species, but the author's decision is dictated by the political climate of 1930s and '40s Europe, when Nazi eugenics divided families along arbitrary concepts of "race." Maus is dark and gut-wrenching, detailing the horrors of the Holocaust with only minor degrees of detachment, and reading it is an excellent way to bring Banned Books Week to a close.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Since it was first collected into graphic novel format in the early 1990s, Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic has been the target of many challenges, the majority of which occur when its volumes are shelved with young adult materials. Most recently, Gaiman's work was among the four books a 20-year-old student at Crafton Hills College campaigned to have "eradicated from the system" after encountering them in a graphic novel-themed English course. For his part, the Sandman author believes measures to ban his novels only generate more interest in them among curious youth.
Tank Girl by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett
Tank Girl is a wholly irreverent, post-apocalyptic, punk-rock comedy. The series follows the eponymous Tank Girl and boyfriend Booga as they romp, murder, and drink their way across a barren and perilous landscape in which nothing is sacred. Tank Girl is obviously unsuitable for children, but that didn't stop an Indiana library patron from trying to have the graphic novels stripped from the shelves back in 2009, due to their adult-oriented nudity and violence. No word as to whether said patron was offended by the frequent use of potty humor, but the library opted to keep the comic in circulation, nevertheless.
Stuck in the Middle by Ariel Schrag, editor
Stuck in the Middle might not have made the ALA's list this year, but the Ariel Schrag-edited anthology of 17 teen- and preteen-oriented vignettes has met with its fair share of controversy over its sexual content, cursing, and depictions of substance use among middle schoolers. Defending one challenge, Schrag wrote: "[A]ll the authors strove to present the teens and pre-teens in a realistic light. [I]f we sanitize their speech and behavior in our stories, our characters won’t be authentic." Couldn't have said it better myself.
Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
OK, I hope Captain Underpants' inclusion on this list at least made you crack a smile. Dav Pilkey's juvenile comics use plenty of potty humor to tell the story of two class clowns who reimagine their cantankerous principal as a mostly-naked superhero, the eponymous Captain Underpants, who does battle with Professor Poopypants and the Wicked Wedgie Woman. The series' child-friendly irreverence has earned it the honor of being the ALA's most-challenged book two years running, outpacing Fifty Shades of Grey by three spots, if you can believe it. The good Captain was dethroned this year by a host of other novels, but that doesn't make Pilkey's work any less subversive or important.