A California college student wants to save you from comic books.
“I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.” The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund reported Saturday that a student at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California and her parents were floored to find adult situations in the books from her Fiction course. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: The Doll’s House. 4 books (out of 10) the student and her parents were shocked to find a part of the course and ones they wish to see “eradicated.” Never mind that they are on the syllabus. Never mind the two weeks after the start of class that serve as a grace period to transfer or drop classes. She’s out for blood:
“I don’t want them taught anymore. I don’t want anyone else to have to read this garbage.”
Ryan Bartlett, who has taught the class for years, said this:
”I chose several highly acclaimed, award-winning graphic novels in my English 250 course not because they are purportedly racy but because each speaks to the struggles of the human condition. As Faulkner states, ‘The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.’ The same may be said about reading literature. The characters in the chosen graphic novels are all struggling with issues of morality, self discovery, heart break”
Her parents are out for blood, too, having already convinced the school to attach a trigger warning to the class in the future, and now driving for taking the books out of the campus bookstore- because minors have access to it as well as students. Which is actually a fairly on-point reaction to the situation they have created. As Neil Gaiman put it the last time The Sandman was under fire:
“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.”
Sadly, this is not the first attack on Persepolis, either. Two years ago, same situation. A person flipping through a book they haven’t read stumbles across something graphic and is compelled to save the world from having to go through the same experience. Orders from the head of Chicago Public Schools to remove the book were met with student protest at Lane-Tech High School. According to one student, Persepolis “sheds light on a different country and religion. It cancels out the stereotypes and changes your perspective.” Another inspired student said this: “I think it depends on how it’s taught. That’s the difference between education and exposure.”
Earlier this year the Chicago Reader broke a story that revealed the spineless powers that be at CPS did indeed institute a citywide “book recall” that was upset by librarians who refused to pull books from their shelves and students who stood up for the integrity of their city.
So I say fuck ‘em. Instead of eradicating the garbage, let’s take a quick look at what California can’t handle.
Marjane Satrapi tells the story of her youth, during the Islamic revolution in Iran. Cool parents and good books fuel an anti-authoritarian streak fit for any teenager in the late 1980s. Only Marjane’s world was also one where you or your loved ones could disappear without warning. It’s a book of hard truths told straight. It’s a book celebrating real life individuality. The movie adaptation by Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud is equally lauded and reviled. Both versions have been banned in Iran.
Once Alison Bechdel was most famous for the Bechdel Test, but times have changed. Fun Home was turned into a Broadway musical that just won Tony Awards for best musical, best director, best actor, best book and best original score. You have to work on missing Fun Home, but why would you? It is a stunning work, one that captures the way memories change with the passage of time, something that conveys the complexity of real relationships. People who are both bad and good, the shifting absolutes of real life.
Y: The Last Man
Brian K. Vaughn is another name in comics who has written books one simply cannot avoid. Saga is a heady brew of philosophizin’ on war, on love, family, sex, pop culture, a book that has had its share of censorship, as well. Y: The Last Man is also far-reaching in its topics, but in a very different way. Everything male on the planet has suddenly passed away except for one man, Yorick, and a monkey, Ampersand. Y handles things with far less grace than either Fun Home or Persepolis, but it still produces hearty food for thought.
Sandman: The Doll’s House
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is a comic in which a god learns compassion at a serial killer convention. The Dream King spent most of the 20th century in prison, and a series of strange events teach him to value life when before he only cared for his own. A nightmare let loose on the world during Dream’s imprisonment is the guest speaker at a panel of maniac killers. There’s plenty to be shocked by in this book- in any of these books. They are challenging.
And who doesn’t love a challenge? In that spirit, feel free to post some YA suggestions for Yucaipa to blacklist.
I’m going with MT Anderson’s chilling vision of our future, Feed. A fantastic, tragic read on what happens when we’ve got all of the information in the world but no wisdom regarding what to do with it.