Last month, my housemate handed me a book she said I must read. One of those books you wished had been around when you were in high school so you’d know other people have emotionally unavailable fathers, sexual identity issues, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies, too. But later, they can turn them into highly imaginative and entertaining reading material and make a lot of money.
It was comforting to me even at the age of 30 as I curled up with Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home, consuming the pages of cartoon-like illustrations and sophisticated literary references that frame an extremely personal autobiography of Bechdel’s relationship with her father.
Bechdel’s “tragicomic” also deals with her coming out as a lesbian while in college, and – as a graphic novel – contains some graphic illustrations (just a few images on its 240 pages) that made my housemate and I a little uncomfortable when we arrived at that page while riding the rush hour subway.
Now the Washington Post reports that a Missouri library is the target of complaints and a challenge to its acquisition of two graphic novels – Bechdel’s Fun Home, and Blankets, by Craig Thompson. Marshall Public Library has responded by removing the books from circulation until it develops a library policy about collecting such materials.
“My concern does not lie with the content of the novels. Rather my concern is with the illustrations and their availability to children and the community,” said resident Louise Mills, during a recent public hearing. “Does this community want our public library to continue to use tax dollars to purchase pornography?”
The Post reports that the American Library Association has heard of at least 14 challenges to graphic novels in libraries over the past 2-3 years. The organization has joined with the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to issues guidelines for librarians that want to collect these books but also avoid controversy.
In the same spirit, I’ve developed a guideline for the literate public (admittedly a limited pool at this point): Open your wallet, flip past that plastic money, and get out your (hopefully) well-worn library card. You don’t have to pay to play. Kick back and enjoy a graphic novel; and thank your local librarian for keeping the shelves well-stocked with exciting and provocative new narrative forms.
Jess in Philly