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