Episode 97: Context around the Censorship of Comics with Jeet Heer and Jeff Trexler

This week Henry and Colin are joined by writer and comics critic Jeet Heer and Jeff Trexler, Interim Director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, to discuss the broader context for the censorship of graphic novels in schools. Jumping off from the recent censorship of Art Spiegelman’s Maus by a TN school board, we review the long history and reasoning of censorship, policing, gatekeeping of comics – from early newspaper strips, to the first magazine books sold to kids in drug stores, the Senate investigation and self-censorship code of the 50s, and on to the Underground comics movement for adults and the independent comics of the 80s. Recently, we’ve seen the same concerns arise anew as equal protection laws have brought things that were once considered private into the public sphere, and the pandemic brought the classroom and its educational use of graphic novels into the home. We point out the changes that have led teachers and librarians to “switch sides” in this argument and become proponents of comics as literature, and talk about the role comics can play in engaging readers of all ages, as well as helping to express the full diversity of American culture. We end with some thoughts about how individuals can respond to the challenges comics are once again coming under and support their role in this dialogue.

A full transcript of this episode will be available soon!

Here are some of the references from this episode, for those who want to dig a little deeper:

Jeet Heer, columns in The Nation, The New Republic

books: Arguing Comics, A Comic Studies Reader, The Superhero Reader, In Love with Art

Jeff Trexler, Interim Director, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

McMinn, TN Education board censorship of Maus; Jeet’s writing immediately after
Leander, TX school district banning of graphic novel versions of The Handmaid’s Tale & The Lottery

Early newspaper comics: Katzenjammer Kids, Mutt & Jeff

Comics for older youth:
Duck Comics, Carl Barks
Crime Does Not Pay, Charles Biro
EC Horror comics, William Gaines
For more about the history of horror comics, see Episode 74: Horror, Social Change, and
Experimentation with Michael Monello and Qiana Whitted
Frederic Wertham and Moral Panic around Horror and Crime Comics
Frederick Wertham speech
The Comics Code

Underground Comics and the origins of the CBLDF:
Friendly Franks comics shop
Dennis Kitchen, comics publisher
Zap Comix, Robert Crumb
Raw, Art Spiegelman & Françoise Mouly
Film, Comic Book Confidential

Independent comics of the 80s aimed at adults:
The Dark Knight

The new wave of graphic novels aimed at youth again:
Bone, Jeff Smith
TOON Books, Françoise Mouly
Books By Raina Telgemeier

Other critically-acclaimed yet controversial graphic novels:
Gender Queer, Maia Kobabe

Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

Fun Home, Alison Bechdel

Early proponent of comics for children Josette Frank
And today: Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table of the American Library Association

Henry’s book Comics and Stuff

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“In Time” by Dylan Emmett and “Spaceship” by Lesion X.
In Time (Instrumental) by Dylan Emmet  
Spaceship by Lesion X 
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