Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tintin in the Land of Potential Censorship

I'm a pretty big Tintin and Hergé fan. I first read the comics as a child, and I even remember going to libraries to borrow the comics. The first one I owned was Prisoner's of the Sun, and I think that its use of in media res (as the second book in a two part story) has influenced my enjoyment of creating stories that start in the middle.

I've read all the Tintin comics (and several of Hergé's other comics), read the novel, own several of the pastiches that have been created, have read or watched comics, books, and documentaries about Tintin and Hergé, watched the various animated shows (and will watch those weird old live action movies at some point), went to Belgium just so that I could go to the Hergé Museum, have owned pieces of the merchandise (including rad standees when I was a kid, and a watch I wore until it broke), had Tintin's haircut for years, and in some ways feel that my life as a globe trotting, occasional journalist that wants to have adventures was influenced by Tintin.

So I say this as someone who really loves the character: Tintin in the Congo is a racist book that should not be in children's sections of libraries (or bookstores for that matter).

Now, I've seen this book in children's sections before (that's where I first read it a few years ago), but I'm writing this post because of this article about a library that refuses to move the book out of the children's section after parents complained.

First a bit of background. Tintin in the Congo was the second Tintin adventure after Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. It was originally published from 1930 to 1931, but this version doesn't really look much like what most people expect Tintin to look like. Hergé was still a fairly young and inexperienced artist at this point in his career so the art isn't as developed as it would later be, plus the books were published in black and white. Later he redrew and colourized his earliest books (excluding Tintin in the Land of the Soviets), and this revamped version was released in 1946. Later revisions (to remove a rhino being blown up) where made in the 1970s at the request of publishers in other countries.

Despite those changes the colour version of this book was not published in English until 2005. (A reproduction of the original black and white version was published in the early 1990s, but that was aimed a collectors.)

Now I could go into all the problems with the book, but there are other articles written by people who have read it more recently than I have (and I'm not that interested in rereading it). So try this one or this one.

I'm not saying Tintin in the Congo shouldn't be in libraries, but putting it in a children's section seems misguided and ignorant at best, and malicious at worst. Honestly, there aren't enough portrayals of people of colour in any comics, let alone in comics aimed at kids, and so having one that is super racist against Africans seems like a terrible, terrible idea.

The head librarian at the library in question apparently said that moving the books was the same as censoring them, which seems kind of strange to me. They quote the ALA definition of censorship as a "change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives", while saying that “If the Jones Library does nothing else, we protect everyone’s constitutional right to read anything he or she wants. Our mission does not include censorship.”

How does moving this book to the adult graphic novel or 741.5 section change the access status? Children can still find it (and in fact more people overall would see that the book exists). I have to wonder what this library would do if a book was miscatalogued. If Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie was in the kid's section at the library (it's a crossover between Peter Pan, the Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland!) would it just stay there forever?

When it comes down to it I think the only reason that Tintin in the Congo is shelved in the kids section anywhere is because most cataloguers don't know that much about comic books (I see miscatalogued comics all the time), and so they just put it where all the other Tintin comics go. It's kind of funny that I'm complaining about that this time, as usually I'm upset because a series has been split into multiple different sections, but I think this shows that for librarians knowledge of material and context is important.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

YALSA top ten 2008: After School Nightmare

After School Nightmare (Volumes 1-5)
Written and illustrated by Setona Mizushiro.
Published by Go! Comi (Volume 1, 2006; Volumes 2-5, 2007)

When I read a comic (or a book, or watch a TV show, etc.) and I really have problems with it I tend to go and read reviews to see if other people had similar problems or if they could justify their experience in a way that made sense to me. (I also do this with media I really enjoy, except then I read reviews of people who hated whatever I liked.) However, when the opinion I have is not only not reflected in any other review I can find, but not even mentioned, I guess I feel as though I'm not reading the comic "right". That's really the case with After School Nightmare: I have multiple problems with it, but nobody else even talks about what I think are sorta serious issues. Now, this is a ten volume series, and the first five were all listed (as one item) on the top ten list, but I only read the first book. (The copy I borrowed was also missing a page at the beginning, that was actually kind of important, but I read it online.)

First of all I admit, and this is going to come up multiple times as I read the comics on these YALSA lists, that I am not a teenage girl and, in fact, have never been one. Thus, shojo comics (Japanese comics aimed at teenage girls) are not something I enjoy very often. I haven't read that much, but other than like Sailor Moon and Magic Knight Rayearth (both of which I read back in the '90s), I'm not sure if I've actually enjoyed any shojo comics at all. So why is this? I mean, I've read and enjoyed the Baby-sitters Club graphic novel that Raina Telegemeier did, so I'm clearly not _that_ averse to comics aimed at young females (though there are lots of western ones that I also don't care for), but clearly something about these titles hasn't clicked with me. However, even saying something like that is unfair, as shojo isn't a genre, and the titles published under that title can be anything from sports to science fiction. But of the ones I've read, the overly dramatic characters and focus on absurd "romances" have left me cold.

After School Nightmare is set in a bizarre school where students have to attend a "class" where they are put to sleep and must reveal their true selves/darkest secrets to other students. In order to graduate they have to find a "key" which is hidden inside the body of another student. This is kind of weird, though I'd be more okay with it if there wasn't so much non-consent involved. The mysterious "nurse" who tells the main character that they have to do this doesn't tell them what it is they have to do or what's going to happen beforehand (or even afterwards!), instead they just drug them with some weird type of tea, and another student eventually explains what this "class" is about. After the main character has unwillingly entered a dream world where students get to repeatedly relive horrible experiences like sexual and physical assault.

But that's not even my real problem with this comic, and we'll get to that in a second after I give a brief plot overview. The main character Ichijo Mashiro's "upper half is male" and their "lower half is female", and a major element of the plot is them trying to come to terms with their own gender identity. This is fine, good even! Teenagers frequently struggle with elements of sexual orientation and gender identity (amongst other aspects of their personal identities), and providing media about that probably helps them understand that they're not alone in how they feel.

However, my problem with this comic is the way the nurse, who is basically the only adult/person in a position of power/supposed role model in the entire comic, acts. Upon meeting Ichijo this character says "I know everything about you. After all, I am your teacher". When Ichijo says "I'm a guy" the nurse says "No, you're merely wear a man's clothing and hope to be believed". Similarly, other characters repeatedly say that Ichijo's "true self" is female, because that's how they show up in the dreams (whereas other students appear as a suit of armour, a person with huge holes were their face and chests are, a disembodied arm, and so forth). It just seems super transphobic to me to have almost everyone refuse to accept this character as the gender they identify as, but nobody else discussing the comic seems to have ever mentioned this, so maybe I'm just reading it wrong.

Thankfully, it isn't all like that. One of the characters (a love interest) actually says "I prefer you being a boy". There's a reasonable story to be told in characters trying to figure out if they're gay or not when they don't identify with their physical gender, and it seems as though later volumes of the series discuss that more. But those aspects didn't really click with me until I read reviews of the series, and then reread this volume (and geeze guys, I just reread a comic I disliked in order to properly say why I disliked it.).

Ignoring any positive or negative thoughts regarding the plot of the book, I found the romance aspects of this incredibly boring. Like there are pages of dialogue that I cannot believe I read as they are just so banal. This is clearly my personal opinion and I'm not saying that _this_ part of the comic is bad, just that it's not something that I generally enjoy, and based solely on that (but also for other reasons) I won't be seeking out any more of this title.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What do you get when you cross a shy librarian with a demon warrior?

Recently while looking through a 1994 issue of Previews (yes, I am that lame) I came across this ad and solicitation for the first issue of this (terrible looking) comic by Sean Shaw. 

Here's the solicitation text:
"What do you get when [you] cross a shy librarian with a demon warrior? Find out in these adventures of a mild-mannered woman caught in the wrong place at the wrong time." has a plot description of the first issue:
"When Rachel tries to help a woman in trouble, she accidentally interferes with a cult summoning a demon and the demon enters her body by mistake."

But more importantly they have cover scans of issues 1, 3, and 4, and has a scan of issue 2.

And believe it or not, but Shaw actually had a career for a fair few years, got to work on an Alan Moore comic (in however minor a capacity), was still drawing covers within the last five-six years, and even attended a con in 2010 with a bio that still promoted his connection to Wicked.

You can even get the first three issues on ebay, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted. If you want to get them for me I'd be happy to read (and review!) them for your enjoyment, cause I'm guessing I won't get much out of reading them : )

Friday, January 3, 2014

Readers' Advisory for Graphic Novels for Adults

Here's the Readers' Advisory presentation I did about graphic novels for adults at RA in a Half Day. I haven't watched this video. Terrified of seeing myself speak.

Here's the resources handout I created, and the Powerpoint presentation.