A few months back, we told you about NPR Books’ monumental quest to compile 100 favorite comics from an open-ended reader survey for their annual summer reading lists. The results are in, and we’re happy to spot several of our own favorites as well as many books we’ve defended from censorship attempts. (These categories often overlap, of course!)
Comics are a popular medium, entertaining and challenging readers of all ages and backgrounds across the world. They also continue to be an important medium for both artistic expression and social commentary, touching on sensitive issues in both personal and public spheres. Unfortunately, this means that many comics come under fire from groups intent on limiting access to these works. Here’s a list of comics on NPR’s list that CBLDF has covered or defended from censorship.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Nimona follows the eponymous character Nimona, a shapeshifter in service of supervillain and former knight, Lord Ballister. In the course of this comic we follow this pair’s battle with the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, and with Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, though we soon find out that the line between good and evil in this setting is ambiguous at best.
We’ve covered Nimona before as part of our series on Using Graphic Novels in Education.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Maus is a seminal work in comics, released during the 1986 alongside two other important graphic novels, Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. The story, told with animal representations of humans, shifts between past and present to tell both Spiegelman’s father’s story of survival as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust, and his own attempts to understand and come to terms with his father’s experiences and their family relationship.
Despite its accolades and critical praise, Maus has been challenged for being “anti-ethnic” and “unsuitable for younger readers.” It was challenged once in Pasadena by a Polish-American who was offended by its portrayal of Poles, and once in Russia for its depiction of swastikas (despite the work containing anti-Nazi sentiments).
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Simultaneously an alternate history, a murder mystery, and a meta-commentary on super heroes, Watchmen is regarded as an important work of literature in its own right. In the course of its narrative, Watchmen examines many social institutions, psychological realities, and philosophical questions, making it instrumental in garnering more respect and shelf space for comics and graphic novels in libraries and mainstream bookstores.
Its adult themes have also led to challenges in schools by parents who have argued that the book is inappropriate for their children.
This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
This One Summer follows two tween girls, local townie teens, and one set of parents as they deal with the delicate balances of friendships and relationships, grapple with the pains of growing up, and with the torments of depression and of wanted and unwanted pregnancies. This One Summer also broke boundaries by becoming the first graphic novel to win the Caldecott Honor for children’s books.
Those unfamiliar with the Caldecott Honor and This One Summer have challenged this book on the grounds that it covers topics (including sex and teen pregnancy) that are inappropriate for younger readers. However, the Caldecott Honor is given to books targeted towards readers up to age 14, and This One Summer is recommended for ages 12 and up.
CBLDF has joined in defense of This One Summer after the Henning School District in Minnesota temporarily banned the book for being “pervasively vulgar.”
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: This One Summer
- Case Study: This One Summer
- CBLDF Joins Defense of This One Summer in MN School
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Blankets is the semi-autobiographical story of Thompson’s upbringing in a religious family, his first love, and how he came to terms with his religious beliefs. The primary narrative in the book describes main character Craig’s relationship with Raina, a young woman he meets at a Christian youth camp. We get glimpses into Craig’s childhood and his relationship with his younger brother through flashbacks, as he wrestles with his views of religion and his relationship with God.
In 2006, the Marshall Public Library Board of Trustees in Missouri held a hearing to determine whether or not they would ban Blankets from their shelves after a complaint was filed due to images contained within, which one reader declared “pornographic.” CBLDF came to the book’s defense, drumming up community support against censorship, which led the board to decide in favor of keeping the graphic novel on their shelves.
The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
The second most challenged book on the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom’s list of frequently challenged books in 2011, The Color of Earth is a graphic novel which follows a young girl, Ehwa, as she grows up in a small village, helping her mother run a local tavern.
This coming of age story, which includes nudity and sexual content as an examination of growing up, has been frequently challenged as being unsuitable for its age group.
Sex Criminals, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Sex Criminals follows a man and woman who, after discovering they have the ability to freeze time when they orgasm, decide to rob a bank in order to save a library.
The series, which is acclaimed for its dissection of sexual taboo and frank (and frequently comedic) examination of sexuality, has run into issues before. In 2013, the second issue of the series was banned from comiXology’s iOS app due to Apple’s content policies. In 2016, the collection Big Hard Sex Criminals landed on ALA’s Top Ten Frequently Challenged List, but OIF kept the details of the challenges confidential at the request of library staff and administrators who feared losing their jobs.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir of growing up during the Iranian Revolution, has received international acclaim since its initial publication in French. It has been included in many college reading lists for its insights into this time period from a citizen’s perspective.
Due to its sensitive content, including references to violence and torture, Persepolis has been banned or challenged numerous times across the country, even at the post-secondary level. CBLDF, along with ACLU and the National Coalition Against Censorship, has protested these challenges to academic freedom.
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: Persepolis
- Case Study: Persepolis
- College Student Wants Four Graphic Novels “Eradicated from the System”
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a graphic novel memoir of the author’s childhood, particularly focused on her relationship with her closeted gay father Bruce. As Alison grows older and realizes that she is a lesbian, she and Bruce are both forced to confront how his repression may have affected her own self-image and the way that she dealt with her sexuality.
Due to Fun Home‘s examination of sexuality, it has been challenged many times in schools and libraries for “obscenity.” CBLDF joined a coalition of free speech advocates led by the National Coalition Against Censorship and the ACLU of South Carolina to protest proposed budget cuts to the College of Charleston, which was being targeted because they included Fun Home in a voluntary summer reading program.
Bechdel’s work is featured twice in NPR’s top 100 list; both Fun Home and her comic Dykes to Watch Out For are included.
- Case Study: Fun Home
- A Month of Women Who Changed Free Expression
- Adding Fun Home to Your Library or Classroom Collection
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
March: Book One recounts Congressman Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama and provides a window into what life was like for Black families in the 1940s and 1950s under Jim Crow and segregation laws. This work introduces Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words and speeches, and the birth of the Nashville Student Movement and their non-violent struggle to eliminate segregation through their lunch counter sit-ins and their trips to prison and City Hall.
March: Book Two continues with events that took place in the South between 1960 -1963, culminating with the March on Washington on August 28, 1963.
- Using Graphic Novels in education: March: Book One
- Using Graphic Novels in education: March: Book Two
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Saga is an epic space opera/fantasy comic book series created by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, published monthly by Image Comics. The series is heavily influenced by Star Wars, and based on ideas Vaughan conceived both as a child and as a parent. It depicts two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series.
Saga has received frequent challenges for sexual content,”anti-family” content, nudity, offensive language, and unsuitability for its recommended age group.
Elfquest by Wendy Pini and Richard Pini
Elfquest is a long running comics series with fantastical and science fiction elements, following the struggles of elves and other species on a fictional world with two moons.
Because Elfquest tackles adult subject matter such as violence, sexuality, and social issues, it has come under fire and attempts have been made to censor it. In 1999, a social worker was arrested for distributing obscene materials to a minor after giving a boy an issue of Elfquest: New Blood. The social worker contacted CBLDF for assistance and CBLDF legal counsel Burton Joseph was able to get the charges dismissed.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists
Sandman is a fantasy series of comics, following a group of beings known as the Endless which personify certain abstract concepts such as Dream, Death, and Desire. The series, rich in literary and mythological references, has won many awards for both comics and literature.
The comic series and graphic novel have been occasionally challenged and banned in libraries since its publication because of “anti-family themes,” “offensive language,” and for being “unsuited for age group.”
Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze
The Black Panther comics follow the adventures of T’Challa, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and his alter ego the Black Panther—a super hero with enhanced abilities from mythical and technological sources. The current run of Black Panther is headed by author Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze. In 2016 Stelfreeze was a guest on the CBLDF podcast, where he talked about his experience on the title and about working with Coates.
Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Ms. Marvel: No Normal features Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Jersey City, New Jersey who becomes the new Ms. Marvel. The series follows standard super hero adventures alongside Kamala Khan’s unique struggles as a teenage Muslim girl in America.
- Using Graphic Novels in education: Ms Marvel
- Now Available: CBLDF Defender Vol. 2 #1, Featuring G. Willow Wilson!
- She Changed Comics: Modern Age and Manga
Ernie Pook’s Comeek by Lynda Barry
Ernie Pook’s Comeek is a series of underground comic strips, following the lives of character Ernie Pook and Marlys Mullen, which was featured in many alternative newspapers throughout its run.
Lynda Barry’s work was covered in CBLDF’s book, She Changed Comics.
Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Hark! A Vagrant is a humorous comic strip (originally webcomic) by Kate Beaton, with numerous references to literature, history, and her life in Canada. The strips frequently feature spoofs of historical events or scenes from famous literature, presented in an absurdist fashion.
Kate Beaton’s work was covered in CBLDF’s book, She Changed Comics.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
In this multiple-award winning work, Yang skillfully weaves three seemingly independent stories of Chinese folklore, a teenager’s need to fit in, and adolescents’ balancing of their Chinese American heritage. One character, Chin-Kee, has been called inappropriate by some due to Yang’s intentional choice to make him a collection of stereotypes in order to examine the effects of said stereotypes.
- Using Graphic Novels in Education: American Born Chinese
- NOW AVAILABLE: CBLDF Defender Vol. 2 #2, Featuring Marc Andreyko & Gene Luen Yang!
- Reading Without Walls: A Conversation with Gene Luen Yang
- Gene Luen Yang: Comics Belong in Classrooms
- Gene Luen Yang: Diverse Books Break Down Barriers
- National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Luen Yang Names Recommended Reading List
- Gene Yang Encourages “Reading Without Walls” in New Short Comic
- Yang’s “Reading Without Walls” to Become Annual Program
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
Amulet is an award-winning graphic novel series about Emily and her brother Navin who, through extenuating circumstances, find themselves battling for the freedom of a parallel world and face mounting dangers with newfound friends. The series has won a number of awards throughout its run including the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
El Deafo is a graphic memoir examining life growing up with hearing loss, and the inherent difficulties in learning, interacting with the world, and forming social bonds. Bell’s stand-in, rendered as an anthropomorphic rabbit, goes through life with a mechanical hearing aid, which she first resents but comes to regard as a sort of super power.
Bone by Jeff Smith
Bone tells of three creatures known as the Bones, who are outcast from their home village of Boneville and lost in a human land called The Valley. Smith’s epic follows Fone Bone and his two cousins, Smiley and Phoney, as they meet the valley’s strange denizens, become embroiled in their society, and discover their own heroism in confrontation with the rat creatures and their mystical master, the Lord of Locusts.
Bone has received numerous challenges in school libraries, mainly under the argument that it is “unsuited to the students’ age group.” A few parents have challenged the comics on the grounds that references to smoking or drinking serve to promote these practices.
This is still only a small portion of all the books included on NPR’s 100 Favorite Comics And Graphic Novels. Check out the full list here!
Contributing Editor Charles Howitt is a writer and artist currently melting in the summer heat.