This past week the comic strip syndicate Andrews McNeel pulled five strips of creator Stephan Pastis’s “Pearls Before Swine” comic, effectively removing it from 850 newspapers nationwide. A set of five replacement strips, also by Pastis, were run in their place. The strips were pulled because they dealt with a coup at the capital and would have appeared shortly after the attempted coup at our own Capitol Building. It may seem like censorship at first but, it is, in fact, an example of editorial discretion.
One of the key factors in this difference is that the strips were written well in advance on the events of January 6. Prior to the announcement of the removal of the strips, Pastis remarked in a Teet, “They were all created at least a month in advance of yesterdays events and are not a commentary on them.” Pastis later added that some of the strips were written as far back as 2017.
Something that needs to be considered as an editor is what you are releasing and to whom? Chief Executive Officer of Andrews McNeel, Andy Sareyan, remarked,
“. . . to run them now just seemed like bad timing. They were about to come out at the time when tensions are running so high in the country.”
“They are known for defending their creators against angry editors, readers, etc. But the country right now is at such a delicate inflection point. No one knows what’s going to happen.”
If we look at censorship as an act that denies information and/or the expression of ideas, we see that is not the case in the “Pearls before Swine” instance. The pulled strips are not necessarily buried. Pastis remarked they may be ready to run as soon as six months from now when there has been some distance from recent events. There is also no suppression of ideas; the strips, having been written well before the events of January 6, had no intention to become a commentary on them. The strips may resonate with recent events in a way that was not intended by the creator. This is not a case of censorship but a great example of editorial discretion.
If you are a comics art creator who needs help or advice in regards to censorship, you can reach out to CBLDF at firstname.lastname@example.org.