San Diego Central Library panelists discuss the era of comic book censorship

By Ani Bundel

In January 2022, a school board in Tennessee voted to retire the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, Maus. It was a highly publicized example of a renewed war in an attempt to censor the comics and graphic novels that have dominated the art form since its inception. The concern of this movement led to the San Diego Comic-Con partnership with the San Diego Central Library panel, moderated by the Jordan Smith of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund“Defending Comics in Library Schools.”


Librarian and author jack phoenix began the panel with an overview of what is a complex and convoluted story. The first movement to curb comics began in the 1930s as an art form for children that was not “approved” by educators. In the 1950s, a study published as Seduction of the Innocent linked the art form to juvenile delinquency, which led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority, a self-regulatory body. Their rules (seen as responsible for comic books being limited to teen high school dramas and superheroes for decades) weren’t repealed until this century. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was established around this time and continues today.

Part of the problem is the visual medium, like the chair of the Graphic Novels and Comics Roundtable Moni Barrette pointed out that the individual panels can be easily taken out of context. Additionally, comics are usually political, making them an easy target to focus on. Barrette, who has also been bullied online for hosting a children’s Drag Queen hour at her local library, pointed out that there are easy things to do to stop these witch hunts before they start.

She and Phoenix argued that attention should be paid to local elections and who would end up in these small elected bodies and could use it to stand out and gain points. Also, while it sounds boring, making sure there are strict rules prevents people from monopolizing and moralizing meetings where they can stir up hysteria. If the pressure is coming from those at the top of the food chain, this is where getting buy-in from the local community and your school/library stakeholders is vital.

Phoenix also recommends killing patrons with kindness if they attempt to “disappear” (check and steal) books they wish to remove from educational institutions and local libraries. (Digital copies can also be useful in this case.) Unfortunately, sometimes it is necessary to choose your battles, and with legislation in place in some states to fine or even imprison those who distribute banned books, it is essential to monitor what is happening in your premises. level.


Having the support of national groups is also crucial when things start to reach higher levels. As Smith said, using social media and going viral with a story (like the Maus incident) is sometimes the only option.

One of the issues Smith is watching is the new rating system that some private groups, like Moms For Liberty, have created and pushed local communities to adopt. As an in-house librarian for a book seller, Barrette pointed out that these classifications work both ways, and conservative books can also be classified as not for children. Also, a rating system can help defend the books that groups are trying to research. But Phoenix argued that the ratings should be guidelines, not the end of the world.

Ultimately, the decision must rest with the individual. And that can be difficult, especially if sometimes people can’t agree on what is or is not acceptable for children and adolescents. But while this issue won’t be fixed anytime soon, we can all help to stay aware of the comic book ban.

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