Case Study: Sandman

Despite its many accolades, Neil Gaiman’s Absolute Sandman has been listed as one of the top banned and challenged graphic novels by the American Library Association.

Sandman was 75 issue series launched in 1989 that chronicled the misadventures, struggles and complex relationships among seven mystical siblings. The series was released by DC Comics, becoming the flagship title for DC’s Vertigo line. The series earned nine Eisner awards, three Harvey awards, and it was the first graphic novel to win a literary award, the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story. Since its release as a comic book, the series has experienced ongoing popularity in the graphic novel format, including the oversized and recolored Absolute edition.

The comic series and graphic novel have been challenged and banned in libraries since its publication. Gaiman’s graphic novel has been challenged and removed from some libraries because of “anti-family themes,” “offensive language,” and for being “unsuited for age group.” Most often, opposition to the series has arisen when it has been shelved in the young adult section of the library.

In 2003, an unnamed inquirer recalled an experience involving the graphic novel’s suppression at his or her library on Gaiman’s website. In the article “Links and libraries. And… Where’s Waldo?” Gaiman responds to the fan, who, upon finding her library only shelved one volume of the series and refused to purchase more of them for the YA section of the library, asked him how he felt about Sandman being considered “unsuitable for teens” in many libraries:

I suspect that having a reputation as adult material that’s unsuitable for teens will probably do more to get teens to read Sandman than having the books ready and waiting on the YA shelves would ever do.

I’m perfectly happy for Sandman to be on adult shelves. And if they aren’t on any shelves, due to fearful or underbudgeted librarians, there’s always an Interlibrary Loan…

In addition to writing Sandman, Gaiman is the author of children’s books, young adult novels, and bestsellers for adults. Even with works such as Sandman being challenged, Gaiman has always seen libraries as a positive entity for learning and librarians as the facilitators. From Gaiman’s website:

I wouldn’t be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans.

In June 2015, The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House was one of four graphic novels that a 20-year-old college student and her parents said should be “eradicated from the system” at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California. After completing an English course on graphic novels, Tara Shultz publicly raised objections to Persepolis, Fun Home, Y: The Last Man Vol. 1, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House as “pornography” and “garbage,” saying that Associate Professor Ryan Bartlett “should have stood up the first day of class and warned us.” Crafton Hills administrators responded with a strong statement in support of academic freedom, although President Cheryl Marshall did note that future syllabi for the graphic novel course will include a disclaimer “so students have a better understanding of the course content.” CBLDF joined the National Coalition Against Censorship to protest this attack on academic freedom, and the district backed away from the proposed disclaimer plan.

As of late June 2015, Tara’s father Greg Shultz said he plans to speak to the San Bernardino Community College District Board of Directors which oversees Crafton Hills, and he also contacted state lawmakers. He has since stopped responding to media inquiries.

Additional resources:

Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes here.

Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Volume 2: The Doll’s House here.

Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Volume 3: Dream Country here.

Download a PDF of the discussion guide for Volume 4: Season of Mists here.