5 Challenged Graphic Novels You Should Read

September 23, 2016









Between the Lines is a series of posts focused on better understanding books, trends in writing, and the labels associated with these.

banned-books-featured-imageTo prepare you for Banned Books Week, let’s address some frequently challenged books that are worth your time. Specifically: graphic novels.

The popularity of graphic novels has risen significantly in the last decade. They share more than just superhero stories now. In fact, none of the graphic novels listed below are superhero stories:

1 — Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples


What is it? Saga certainly falls into the epic space opera genre. But, at the same time, it’s nothing like your typical space opera. It has been described as “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones” and compared to The Lord of the Rings and Romeo and Juliet. The story of Alana and Marko, a husband and wife from opposing races and sides of a generations-long war. They just want to live in peace and protect their daughter Hazel who is the first interspecies child between their races. After all, now that the world knows Hazel exists, they need to kill her to prevent the war from ending.

Why is it challenged? Sadly, Saga has been challenged for sexually explicit content, language, being anti-family, and for being unsuited to the reader’s age.

Why should I read it? Saga has won Eisner, Harvey, and Hugo awards. It tells a diverse tale challenging our notions of ethnicity, sexuality, gender social roles, and the treatment of war. It’s also absolutely gorgeous!

Note: This series is not yet complete! You have been warned.

2 — Bone by Jeff Smith


What is it? A 1300-page epic fantasy story written over the course of 13 years with beautifully composed black-and-white panels. One of the leaders in creator-owned books that came out of corporation-driven material in the 1980’s, Bone explored new ideas. Their world is falling apart and terrible things are happening, yet Bone and his compatriates still provide a bastion of joy and laughter.

Why is it challenged? For portraying political viewpoints, violence, and for being unsuited to the reader’s age.

Why should I read it? Yes, 1300 pages is quite a lot. But Bone is brilliant and worth your time. The first graphic novel I read where I encountered expressive, well-developed characters. Each character, even the villains, are unique and engrossing. Plus, the story keeps the reader on their toes jumping from adventure to mystery to romance back to adventure. Funny and gripping, I strongly recommend this to anyone who is looking for a few adventure.

Bonus Fact: Jeff Smith grew up in my hometown. His senior thesis, a short graphic novel about the Trojan horse, still hangs up in the school today.

3 — This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki


What is it? This One Summer was both a Caldecott Honor as well as Printz Honor Medalist in 2015. It tells the tale of two pre-teen friends who spend a summer together in a small beach town. A coming-of-age tale, these young girls explore their interest in boys and begin to emotionally engage with the adults around them.

Why is it challenged? For inappropriate inclusion and pervasive vulgarity. Which, if we read between the lines, means someone believes this is unsuited to the reader’s age.

Why should I read it?  Gritty and intense, this book is instantly relatable. Two friends who only see each other over the summer, it’s obvious when they meet this summer they have both changed significantly. No longer interested in what they were last summer, they two need to find new ways to keep their friendship intact. Unexpectedly bringing in sexuality, body image, misogyny, sexism, and depression, this contemporary graphic novel is gorgeous and clearly helps illustrate how challenging the transition from childhood to adulthood can truly be.

4 — The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The complete Persepolis

What is it? Winner of many awards, The Complete Persepolis is a memoir recounting what it was like growing up in Iran during the Iranian Revolution and how it changed the author forever. Receiving critical acclaim, the graphic novel was translated into numerous languages from the original French and is now a full-length feature film.

Why is it challenged? For violence and being unsuited to the reader’s age.

Why should I read it? At the core of this book everyone can find something both alien and familiar to latch onto. Never have I experienced a book, let alone a graphic novel (though Satrapi considers this a comic), that has so clearly explained something so complex. Satrapi is unafraid to be direct in her writing. Contrasted with stark black and white drawings, it’s easy to comprehend the complex topics of identity, religion, feminism, war, and freedom through her eyes. Check out my review here.

5 — Maus by Art Spiegelman


What is it? One of the most highly regarded graphic novels of all time, and the first graphic novel to receive the Pulitzer Prize (1992).

Maus tells the biography of Spiegelman’s father, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust, through the device of anthropomorphic mice and cats. The story bounces back and forth between “current day” in an interview between father and son and the experiences his father had in pre-war Poland, in hiding from the Nazis, living in Auschwitz, and his eventual liberation.

Why is it challenged? For being anti-ethnic and unsuitable to the reader’s age. It’s also been banned for displaying Nazi propaganda. (…Have they read this book?)

Why should I read it? An incredibly powerful book, this story encompasses so many different aspects seamlessly– it is at once a story of Holocaust survival, a son’s struggle to relate to his father, and a commentary on how we understand art and relate to the past. This book is certainly a masterwork that stands apart in the graphic novel medium.

Need to understand more about banned and challenged books? Check out this post.

What do you think?

  • Do you read graphic novels?
  • Have you read any of these books before? If so, what do you think of the reasons they were challenged?
  • Are you interested in reading any of these now? If so, why?
  • Any additional suggestions for challenged graphic novels?


  • Brendon September 25, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Fantastic list! I have read Persepolis, Bone, and Maus -> all very good! I am very excited to start Saga soon! (Hopefully)

    • Jackie B September 25, 2016 at 9:05 pm

      I can’t wait to hear what you think of it, Brendon! I hope you get to it soon.

  • M @ A Blog Of One's Own September 26, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    Great list! Persepolis and Maus are both on my to-read list.

    • Jackie B September 27, 2016 at 8:45 am

      Thanks!! I haven’t read Maus in over a decade; I look forward to seeing how my focus and understanding has changed as I’ve grown.

  • berryvillelibrary September 26, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    Thanks for this list! I’ve read and loved Maus but have been looking for other graphic novels to read.

    On a banned books note, the reasons for banning Maus made me roll my eyes VERY hard.

    • Jackie B September 27, 2016 at 9:56 am

      There so many reasons to roll our eyes on these, and others. It makes me so sad that people feel like these are justifiable reasons for preventing people from reading these books.
      I hope that you enjoy reading some of these! They are all a ton of fun… though some are obviously less of a commitment than others. 😉

      • berryvillelibrary September 27, 2016 at 8:23 pm

        Agreed! I work in a library, and every so often, we have people register complaints about books and movies. Some of the reasons given are truly mind-boggling.

        Thanks! I’m looking forward to them! 🙂

        • Jackie B September 28, 2016 at 10:38 am

          Are complains the same as challenging a book? I’m not super familiar with the process, but I know I want to help the ALA get more data around what books are challenged/banned each year. Does your library reach out to them to share challenge information?

          • berryvillelibrary September 28, 2016 at 11:13 am

            That’s a good question!

            A complaint is not necessarily the same as a challenge. We have formal paperwork they have to fill out to challenge a book. That gets reported to the ALA. But in my experience, I don’t think any of our patrons in the eight years I’ve worked here have ever actually done this.

            What we get every few weeks is people who come to the desk and complain informally about the content in books and movies (or even what other people are doing on the internet in the library). We’re a public library, so I think we deal with this less than a school library would. They are given an option to file a formal challenge, but they usually want to vent more than anything, I’ve found, and don’t bother with it, so it’s never reported to the ALA.

            My favorite I’ve personally dealt with was the patron who complained to me about the graphic violence in an unrated horror movie. I very politely pointed out that it was clearly rated for graphic violence in the ratings section on the back of the cover. I honestly don’t think she knew about ratings, so we talked about how she could use those to determine what she selected to watch. She wasn’t interested in following up with a formal complaint, and she seems to steer clear of the horror movies now. 🙂

            One thing that I find interesting is how all of the people I have fielded complaints from seem genuinely unaware of how strongly libraries and librarians are against censorship and book-banning. They expect us to be just as flabbergasted as they are by whatever it is they’re objecting to, and even though we try to be courteous and neutral in responding to them, we also try to use it as a teaching moment about what our actual purpose is in the community. And if that doesn’t work, then we refer them to the formal challenge paperwork, But usually after we explain to them our policies about circulating books, they tend to be understanding and don’t want to pursue anything more formal, even if they don’t agree. The handful who have still seemed mad then just didn’t bother to finish the paperwork, perhaps because they had some time to cool off and think about it.

            My boss also recently started using these moments as a good time to also redirect patrons to our readers’ advisory services. That provides them with a personalized reading recommendation list, and if they request avoiding certain content, like sex or violence or profanity, we take that into consideration and research titles and authors they might enjoy. I think it helps soothe some of the anger by demonstrating them that we’re willing to work with them on finding something they like without depriving other people of the things they like.

            • Jackie B September 28, 2016 at 1:42 pm

              Wow! This is a magnificent response– I appreciate how articulate you are on this topic, but I suppose that comes with the territory of being a librarian. You more or less wrote another blog post right here. I love it.
              I am so glad you are using these moments to teach people about the importance of literature and not censoring materials. It never occurred to me that people might just be ignorant that their views are not universal. I also had no idea that libraries offered reader advisory services! I should ask my local library if that’s something they offer. I could really use some more pointed recommendations.
              Thanks for enlightening me! This has been really informative.

              • berryvillelibrary September 28, 2016 at 2:55 pm

                Thank you! Happy to help! 🙂

                Yes, it was eye-opening for me, too. It’s kind of pitiful, in a way, because they usually know me because I wait on them all the time, and I can tell they have this look on their face like, “I know you’ll understand! We talk about the weather with each other every Monday night! Of course, you’ll share my views on this!” But knowing them personally might also make them more receptive to us explaining to them why we don’t feel the same way.

                Yes, definitely ask them! A lot of libraries offer those services, and even if they don’t, there are some good websites they can steer you toward.

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