Since the national focus of this year’s Banned Books Week is awareness of challenges toward graphic novels, today we’re featuring thoughts from some comics and graphic creators.
Ted Rall is a comics creator whose graphic novel works include To Afghanistan and Back and the new After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan. As an outspoken political comics creator, Rall is no stranger to controversy and challenges to freedom of speech and expression. He shared with us his thoughts on the matter of censorship.
Censorship comes in many forms. Editing is censorship – you can look it up! Refusing to hire a writer or artist is economic censorship. What matters isn’t censorship…it’s bad censorship. Bad censorship occurs when ideas that are worthy of discussion don’t get talked about. We’re not talking about good ideas, but worthy ideas, ideas that matter for whatever reason that ideas can matter. In America in 2014, as in every society at any given time, bad censorship is exceedingly common. In fact, more worthy ideas get quashed than printed or broadcast.
Ariel Schrag is a comics creator whose works include the high school graphic memoir Awkward and Definition. She is also the author of the new novel Adam. Ariel has personal experience with the issue of censorship, as the graphic novel anthology she edited, Stuck in the Middle: Seventeen Comics From an Unpleasant Age, has been subject to several school library challenges, including the school libraries in Dixfield, Maine, and a successful challenge in the school system of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Ariel shared with us an open letter she wrote in response to the controversy and challenges to Stuck in the Middle.
Stuck in the Middle is an anthology of comics about middle school, featuring comics by seventeen different authors, that I edited.
Many people are upset because they read that Stuck in the Middle is being marketed toward 3rd graders. This is not true. The book (as stated on the jacket) is for ages 12 and up.
Every parent has the right to monitor his or her child’s reading (or TV watching, or movie watching, etc.), and if you don’t want your child reading Stuck in the Middle, I completely respect that choice. But my intent in editing this book was to help children who might be experiencing some of the things the characters in the book experience–bullying, rejection, acne, depression, etc.–feel less alone. The goal was also to let kids who aren’t experiencing these things, but who might be engaging in some of these negative behaviors (i.e., the bullies) read the book and think about how kids who are dealing with these problems might feel. These ‘messages’ are expressed through art and humor to make them more accessible and fun. I really believe there is something in Stuck in the Middle for everyone.
In terms of foul language, sexual content, and teen smoking in this book, all the authors strove to present the teens and pre-teens in a realistic light. We may not like all of the decisions teenagers make, but if we sanitize their speech and behavior in our stories, our characters won’t be authentic. Real teens and pre-teens sometimes use these words and say and do these things. A book like this can present a good opportunity for dialogue between children and parents. Banning the book isn’t going to change children’s behavior or somehow save them from the hard truths of teenage life–I find it very hard to believe that a child would hear a swear word for the very first time in the book, or that he or she would be made aware that teenagers sometimes have sexual relationships or smoke cigarettes. The only thing that can make an impact in the way children act is communication, and this book provides a platform for that.
The bottom line, to me, is that it’s good for parents to be aware of what their children are reading, but they should trust that other parents can make the same judgments about their children’s readiness for such a book. There’s a big difference in saying, ‘This book isn’t right for my child’ and ‘This book isn’t right for any child.’ I don’t think it’s up to any one individual parent to make that decision for all children.
Thanks so much, Ted and Ariel!