June 16, 2015

College student calls for graphic books ban on campus


A California college student apparently thought this was the kind of material that would be covered in a class on graphic novels. © DC Comics / via Wikipedia

A California college student apparently thought this was the kind of material that would be covered in a class on graphic novels.
© DC Comics / via Wikipedia

A college student in California has lodged a rather baffling complaint against her school and a professor there, calling for a ban on certain graphic novels being taught in courses. Sandra Emerson reports for the Redlands Daily Facts that Tara Schultz, a student at Crafton Hills College, is protesting the inclusion of graphic novels such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis in the syllabus of one of her English classes.

The books that Schultz describes as “pornographic” and “garbage” are so acclaimed in other circles that her protest seems especially absurd. Persepolis was one of TIME’s Best Comics of 2003, and was adapted into an animated film that won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar. The other three titles that she deems inappropriate for college students are Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, which received rave reviews and landed on several Best Books of 2006 lists (and whose Broadway adaptation recently cleaned up at the Tonys); Brian Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, nominated for the first Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story; and a volume in The Sandman series by the almost preposterously beloved Neil Gaiman.

Schultz takes issues with these graphic novels for their depiction of nudity, sex, violence, torture, and obscenities, and complains that she wouldn’t have taken the English 250 course if she had known the nature of the titles in question: “At least get a warning on the books. At most I would like the books eradicated from the system. I don’t want them taught anymore. I don’t want anyone else to have to read this garbage.”

She further states, “I didn’t expect to open the book and see that graphic material within. I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography,” betraying her own ignorance twice over, first about her lack of awareness of what a graphic novel is, second about how porn-y Batman and Robin can be (a point delightfully hammered home by Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing, also writing about this story).

Associate professor Ryan Bartlett says that he’s taught this syllabus three times now, and this is the first time a student has complained about the texts. He defends their inclusion in an email:

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, etc. The course in question has also been supported by the faculty, administration and approved by the board.

That kind of common sense apparently holds no water, though, with Schultz or her father Greg, who apparently want a disclaimer on any literature that includes material any darker or more subversive than your average Marmaduke comic. He tells the Daily Facts, “If they (had) put a disclaimer on this, we [author’s note: “we”?] wouldn’t have taken the course,” and that while college administrators have “said they will do that…at the same time we haven’t gotten into the issue of these books being sold in the bookstore and there are under-aged kids here at this campus.”

Reporting for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Maren Williams points out how silly this is: “One must wonder if he knows what is in the library and on the Internet for free!” She aptly characterizes Crafton Hills’ concession to warn future students about the content of these graphic novels as “disappointing,” and promises that the CBLDF will be keeping a close eye on the story to report any further developments.



Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.