Monday, December 11, 2006
Graphic Novels - Too Hot for Old Policies?
Marshall Public Library, Missouri [corrected from Michigan]has been building up what the International Herald Tribune article describes as the "literary world's hot new thing." Graphic novels which use a comic book format to portray sophisticated stories are the publishing industry's fastest-growing sectors.
Many graphic novels are geared for young adults and as such, contain themes that are much more mature than typical comic books. Parents are becoming concerned that children may be attracted to the format and read books that have too adult a theme for them.
Blankets by Craig Thompson and Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel have set off the first challenge in the library's history. Both books deal with mature themes of turbulent childhoods, strict religious upbringings, and homosexuality. The books contain pictures of a naked couple, albeit in cartoon form.
Parents are mostly concerned with the illustrations and that they may be accessible to children. Louise Mills, a Marshall resident, asks, "Does this community want our public library to continue to use tax dollars to purchase pornography?"
The library board has removed the books until it can develop a policy to determine how it collects materials in the future.
While the perception might be that comics are only for children, the comic book has grown up and taken on some mature themes but also established itself as a legitimate form of literature over the past few years. Maus, a Holocaust memoir by Art Spiegelman, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Maus and Maus II were challenged in 2005 in Oregon as anti-ethnic and unsuitable for younger readers. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang became the first graphic novel to be nominated for the National Book Award in the US.
The American Library Association (ALA) reports 14 challenges relating to graphic novels in U.S. libraries over the few years, including The Watchmen by Alan Moore, which by the way, joins regular novels on Time's list of 100 Best Novels since 1923 (while you are there, see which other banned or challenged books appear), Akira, Volume 2 by Katsuhiro Otomo, New X-Men Imperial by Grant Morrison, and Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics. In the wake of these challenges, the ALA has developed "Graphic Novels: A Guide for Librarians" which includes information on choosing books, cataloguing them, and dealing with challenges.