Back to School with Comic Books: CBLDF Discussion Guides

cbldf_logoGiven their visual nature, comics are easy targets for would-be censors. CBLDF Discussion Guides are tools that can be used to lead conversations about challenged graphic novels and to help allay misconceptions about comics.

CBLDF Discussion Guides can be used by librarians, educators, retailers, or anyone who wants to lead a conversation about a graphic novel. In each guide, you will find the following:

  • Synopsis: A brief summary of the major plot points in the graphic novel
  • Themes: The overarching ideas that the creator(s) express in the graphic novel
  • Reasons Challenged: The reasons why people have tried to censor the book
  • Suggested Age Range: The age group for which the book is most likely suitable
  • Discussion Questions: Tiered questions organized by cognitive complexity, from basic recall to higher-order thinking
  • Activities: Projects and activities to take the conversation about graphic novels beyond the library or classroom and to encourage greater engagement with comics

We’ll be adding more discussion guides in the future, so be sure to check back for updates. In the meantime, you can use to following to lead amazing discussions about comics books!

Batman: The Killing Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke is a touchstone in the Batman universe. It begins with Batman discovering that his long-time nemesis, the Joker, has escaped from Arkham Asylum. Joker, on a mission to prove that “one bad day” could lead to insanity, shoots and paralyzes Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon and kidnaps her father, Gotham City’s Police Commissioner James Gordon. The Joker then humiliates and terrorizes Commissioner Gordon in an debilitated former amusement park, hoping to drive him mad. Batman ultimately faces off with the Joker, and flashbacks of the Joker’s past are woven throughout the story.

Download a PDF of The Killing Joke discussion guide here.


Blankets tells the story of Craig, a painfully shy Christian teenager who lives in a very small town in Wisconsin. He is awkward and has few close friendships outside of his relationship with his brother Pete. The two were close when they were growing up, but drifted apart in Craig’s teenage years. During Bible camp, Craig meets and shares an almost immediate bond with Raina, a girl from Michigan. As the two correspond after camp, their friendship deepens. Craig convinces his parents to let him stay at Raina’s house for two weeks, during which time Craig wrestles with his faith, his desire for Raina, and the knowledge that his time with her short.

Download a PDF of the Blankets discussion guide here.

Dragon Ball

Dragon Ball follows the adventures of Son Goku and his friends as they embark on a quest for seven mystical orbs called Dragon Balls, each of which summons a wish-granting dragon when gathered. Loosely based on traditional Chinese storytelling and myth, this story is strictly played for laughs.

Download a PDF of the Dragon Ball discussion guide here.

Fun Home

Fun Home is Alison Bechdel’s memoir about growing up in a small town, where her father was a high school English teacher and also ran the family business: a funeral home. Bechdel’s father projected a carefully cultivated image as a dedicated family man, but as Bechdel comes of age and accepts her own sexuality, she discovers her father is a closeted gay man. Soon thereafter, her father dies by what many believe to be suicide, leaving Bechdel and her family to cope with their family secrets and the reality of her father’s life and choices.

Download a PDF of the Fun Home discussion guide here.

Ice Haven

In the fictional town of Ice Haven, a young boy goes missing, a poet seethes with envy, a self-conscious teen pines for love, a pair of married detectives drift further apart, and a giant blue rabbit returns to town after his recent release from prison. Through an artful weaving of vignettes, Clowes captures the apathy and angst of a small town.

Download a PDF of the Ice Haven discussion guide here.


Maus, art spiegelman’s two-part graphic memoir, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, details his family’s survival of World War II as Polish Jews, including time in death camps, while also exploring spiegelman’s troubled relationship with his father and coping with the suicide of his mother. spiegelman’s technique of depicting different ethnicities as animals — for example Jews are mice and Germans are cats — is a profound and deeply effective metaphor for racism.

Download a PDF of the Maus discussion guide here.


In Persepolis, author Marjane Satrapi tells of her experience growing up during the Iranian Revolution, the subsequent war between Iran and Iraq, and the rise of the Islamic Republic. Against these tumultuous events, readers get a glimpse of Satrapi’s teenage angst and her struggles to express herself under the burgeoning social repression of the new regime.

Download a PDF of the Persepolis discussion guide here.

Pride of Baghdad

During an American bombing of Baghdad in 2003, several lions escaped from the Baghdad Zoo. Pride of Baghdad is the fictionalized account of the pride roaming through the city before finally being shot by American soldiers. While yearning for freedom within their enclosure, the lions find that the outside world is far from simple as they seek food and safety while bickering amongst themselves. This story can easily be read as an allegory about the effects ofwar upon noncombatants.

Download a PDF of the Pride of Baghdad discussion guide here.


SideScrollers recounts the adventures of three teenaged slacker geeks who are roused to action when a female friend becomes romantically involved with loutish quarterback Dick. Along the way, the trio engages in mildly vulgar but realistic teenage banter and vandalizes Dick’s car with anatomically correct graffiti.

Download a PDF of the SideScrollers discussion guide here.


Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen is an alternate history in which a group of retired crimefighters investigates the murder of one of their own during an era in which costumed vigilantes have been outlawed. The graphic novel incorporates Cold War-era anxieties and non-linear storytelling to function as commentary on both the superhero genre and American society. It received a Hugo Award in 1988 and was instrumental in garnering more respect and shelf space for comics and graphic novels in libraries and mainstream bookstores.

Download a PDF of the Watchmen discussion guide here.

We need your help to keep fighting for the right to read! Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zone, making a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!