During Banned Books Week, we bring attention to banned and challenged books in libraries and schools. This is a time to celebrate the freedom to read and the value of free and open access to information and stories by showcasing books that have been banned for multiple reasons. This year, I wanted to bring attention to banned comics.

What is interesting about the rise in comics being banned is that this is a modern trend. Sure, in the 1950s, comics became censored by the creation of the Comics Code Authority, but for the most part, comics were seen as childish and unimportant. However, since the 1980s, many writers and artists began to evolve the comic into more than just pulp fiction, superheroes and science fiction and used the medium to tell stories about real issues.

To best see the overall picture of how much comics have changed over the last few decades, take a look at the American Library Association’s banned book lists from 2000-2009. There were zero comics in the top 100 most challenged titles. Compare that to the 2010-2019 lists where you can see comics as high as the number two spot with Captain Underpants.  Here is my list of the must-read comics banned in different parts of the world but whose stories and images are important and should be read by all who enjoy comics and graphic novels.

Banned Books Week: Comics

Barefoot Gen by Keji Nakazawa

Key Challenge: Japan

Reason: Violence, Discrimination

Barefoot Gen depicts the atrocities of the war. The story is closely based on Nakazawa’s own experience during and after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima where his father, two sisters and brother were killed by the bomb when he was 7 years old. It also talks about the Japanese army’s atrocities in other Asian countries, like the Rape of Nanking, which got the books challenged in Japan.

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Banned Books Week: Comics

Blankets by Craig Thompson

Key Challenge: Marshall, Missouri Public library, 2006

Reason: Obscene images

Blankets is a semiautobiographical story of the author’s upbringing in a religious family.  It talks about his first love and his struggle with his relationship with God and his views of religion.

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Banned Books Week: Comics

Bone by Jeff Smith

Key Challenge: Rosemount, Minnesota

Reason: Smoking, Drinking

A group of outcasts must leave their village of Boneville and become lost in a land of humans where they find their courage and heroism as they face monsters, dragons and other magical misadventures. Bone is one of the most challenged books in American schools.

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Banned Books Week: Comics

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Key Challenge: Chicago Public Schools

Reason: Graphic images, Inappropriate language

Persepolis is an autobiographical novel about the author’s life in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.

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Banned Books Week: Comics

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Key Challenge: Pasadena Public Library, California

Reason: Not suitable for children

The story is inspired by Art Spiegelman’s father and his story of how he survived as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust.

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Banned Books Week: Comics

Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe

Key Challenge: Wake County, North Carolina

Reason: Not suitable for children, Graphic images

Gender Queer was the most challenged book in 2021. It is the author’s tale about how they learned to understand eirself in a binary world. Kobabe said the reason they wrote the book was to “help other nonbinary kids who are struggling to understand themselves and the world around them so they can have something to relate to and not feel so alone.”

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Other banned comics to check out: