Case Study: Watchmen

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen series likely needs little introduction to CBLDF blog readers. The alternate history in which a group of retired crimefighters investigate and attempt to stop a plot to murder them has been praised by critics and fans alike since its 1986 debut. 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.

The inclusion of the compiled Watchmen in school library collections has been challenged by parents at least twice, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. There is no media coverage of these challenges to be found online, but OIF helpfully provided us with a few more details from their database. The first Watchmen complaint, at a high school in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was reported in October of 2001. OIF removes specific identifying details from the information it releases to the public, but the high school library in Harrisonburg holds a copy of the book, so it appears the challenge was unsuccessful. The second challenge, from May of 2004, took place at a school serving grades 6-12 in Florida, but the city and outcome are unknown.

As a frequently challenged author (see Neonomicon and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier) and a staunch defender of free speech, Moore has a few choice words for parents who push for literary sanitization rather than simply monitoring what their own children read. In a 1987 interview with The Comics Journal’s Gary Groth on a proposed system of comic book content ratings, Moore opined:

If parents are making the decisions that their children can or cannot read this sort of book in the home, that’s fair enough. The parents can take the consequences of that. It won’t necessarily stop the children reading it, but at least it’s a transaction between the child and the parent and it’s the parent taking responsibility for their children, which is fair enough….They shouldn’t hand over that responsibility to an outside body, and along with it, hand over the responsibility of all those other parents who have been finding it quite easy to take an actual personal interest in what their children are reading and to monitor their reading habits themselves.

Additional resources:

Download a PDF of the Watchmen discussion guide here.

Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.