“Badly drawn, badly written and badly printed – a strain on young eyes and young nervous systems.” – Sterling North, Literary Editor, Chicago Daily News, 1940
Challenged from the Start
From the beginning, comics and graphic novels have had fans and detractors. To critics, comics were at a minimum second-rate and low-brow while at the extreme end, a corrupting force leading to juvenile delinquency. In 1954, Frederic Wertham published the now infamous Seduction of the Innocent, linking juvenile delinquency to comics which led to a de facto censorship system which lasted for decades.
Fast forward to today, graphic novels, fiction and non-fiction works in comic-strip format, are frequent targets for challenges and bans. Though the majority of challenges come from parents and other concerned citizens, state officials have often lodged complaints. North Carolina’s own Lt. Governor, Mark Robinson, vehemently protested the inclusion of the graphic novel, Gender Queer, in school library collections, calling for its immediate removal.
Why graphic novels?
Expanding beyond superheroes, authors and illustrators are connecting with their audiences on a variety of topics and issues through text and images. The combination of subject matter and static images makes graphic novels uniquely vulnerable to challenges.
Since 2013, graphic novels have made frequent appearances on the American Library Association’s yearly “Top 10 Most Challenged Books.” In addition, the numerous challenges faced by publishers, libraries, retailers, and even readers over comics and graphics gave rise in 1986 to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit whose mission is the protection of the “First Amendment rights of the comics art form.”
Below are some titles in our collection that have been frequent targets of these challenges (click on the images for library location information).
In 1954, Frederic Wertham published the now infamous Seduction of the Innocent, linking juvenile delinquency to comics. Testifying before Congress in 1954, Wertham stated emphatically that “it is my opinion, without any reasonable doubt, and without any reservation, that comic books are an important contributing factor in many cases of juvenile delinquency.” The ensuing uproar on comics’ deleterious effects on the nation’s youth led to the creation of the Comics Magazine Association of American which in turn issued the Comics Code Authority (CCA).
While the adoption of the code by publishers was voluntary, comics without the CCA logo faced an uphill battle in terms of distribution. This de facto censorship system was wide-ranging, touching on such things as how persons in authority could be portrayed, how crimes could be presented, directives on illustrations, and the portrayals of marriage and sex.
The CCA had a long-term chilling effect on the portrayal of LGBTQIA+ characters in mainstream comics; However, its creation led to the vibrant underground comix movement where artists and authors ignored the strict code. Though the CCA was revised several times in the 1970s, loosening some restrictions, it wasn’t until 1992 in Alpha Flight #106 that Marvel’s Northstar stated, “I am gay.” The CCA was totally abandoned in the early 2000s.
Today, though there is still progress to be made, LGBTQIA+ persons and characters are found in graphic novels from superhero-themed to memoirs. The Lilly Graphic Novel Collection is a great place to begin your exploration. Below are a few highlights from our vast collection. Enjoy!
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. In this award winning graphic memoir, Bechdel chronicles her relationship with her distant father, an English teacher and director of the town’s funeral home, “Fun Home” to the Bechdel family. From childhood through her coming out to her parents, Fun Home explores Bechdel’s fraught relationship with her father, the exploration of her sexuality, and a tragedy that leaves her much to reckon with. Fun Home was adapted for Broadway and has the distinction of being the first Broadway musical featuring a lesbian protagonist. It won the Tony award for Best Musical in 2015. Bechdel is also the author of the critically acclaimed Dykes to Watch Out For series.
Bingo Love by Tee Franklin (author) and Jenn St.-Onge and Joy San (artists). In 1963, Hazel and Mari meet at church bingo, and their friendship grows into love. This new found love, however, is unacceptable to their families and their community, and Mari’s family moves away. Many years later, after Hazel and Mari each married and raised children, they reconnect at a bingo hall and realize that their feelings are unchanged. Fifty years later, through strength and determination, they claim the life that they always wanted. Bingo Love started as a Kickstarter project until it was picked up by Image Comics.
Our Work is Everywhere by Syan Rose. This graphic non-fiction work highlights the diverse voices in the queer and trans communities. Rose has a broad definition of work, not just what we do in our professional careers but also the ways that we improve ourselves, our communities, and our world. Interviews with queer and trans organizers, health justice activists, martial artists, and more are included, accompanied by Rose’s beautiful and expressive illustrations.
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (author) and Phoebe Kobabe (colorist). Both a memoir and an introduction to eir family and readers on what it means to be non-binary, Kobabe (e/em/eir pronouns) chronicles eir journey of self-identity. Kobabe’s touching and honest story is a useful guide on gender identity for everyone.
HeartstopperbyAlice Oseman. Begun as a serial webcomic in 2016, Heartstopper, available now in two printed volumes, introduces readers to Charlie and Nick who meet and develop a friendship at a British all-boys grammar school. The friendship grows into love. Optioned by Netflix, Heartstopper is slated for live-action adaptation in the near future.
These influential and impactful works are among the hundreds of titles in the Lilly Graphic Novel Collection, located in the first floor Carpenter Room.
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