Blankets, Censorship, and a Teacher’s Plea…

Hey, everyone! Sorry for the delay in this post. I was originally going to review Dark Horse’s, Eisner Award nominated, The Black Beetle, an awesome book by Francesco Francavilla; however, in the time between reading The Black Beetle, and the writing of my review on it, I decided to take time and finish Craig Thompson’s Blankets, a book that I had started at the end of last school year.

First of all, I have no idea how or why I did not finish the book; I guess the end of the school year got the best of me, and I was working steadily on some grad work. Whatever, I was dumb, and now I’m not because this book is amazing, and while this will not be a usual review, and I will make sure that my next review is on The (amazing) Black Beetle, I have some questions and comments that I did not want to wait to discuss.

Blankets_cover

I already mentioned that I think that Blankets is amazing. It is one of the most beautiful, real graphic novels that I have ever read. Thompson captures the immensity of young love in such an organic, unique way that it’s difficult not to relate to the story on some level. When I finished the book, I closed it and held it, lost in my thoughts. It’s a tremendous feeling when you finish a book, and right after, all you want to do is discuss it with a friend, loved-one, or total stranger. I then flipped through it thinking about all the things I would want to bring to the classroom from this book, but there is no way I ever could…the book has nudity.

A while back, the school that I worked for had a “One Book, One School” program to promote reading in the building for teachers and students outside of the classroom. We’d all meet up after school from 3:30-4:30 about three times during the course of two months to discuss the book over snacks and soda. It was great, and I was one of the teachers heading it up. I remember one year there was a title on the table with a rather abundant use of the “N” word. Members of the faculty and administration were torn as to whether or not to use the book because of the possible controversy. When educators are dealing with the idea of using a title that contains something that scares them in some way, and that fear is usually always in response to possible parental reactions to said titles, the titles get swapped out for another title that is not as parental reaction-y. And I completely understand, there are thousands of books out there that would make excellent substitutions, and honestly, maybe those more arguable titles belong in adult book clubs and college classrooms. But what about graphic novels such as Blankets? After all images are difficult to un-see. You can turn to a page in a comic and point to a half-nude woman, and without looking at one other panel of the comic, make the case (and a good one) that the book should have no place in the classroom.

Now, I have no answer here. Blankets is a tremendous book, and if I ever teach college, it’s going into my syllabus (unless I get told not to teach it). But this notion of not being able to teach a title because of content intrigues me. I mean, we teach Brave new World to sophomores, and that book contains orgies and a dude hanging himself (spoiler alert). We teach Of Mice and Men to freshmen, and George puts one in the back of Lennie’s head, after Lennie kills a bunch of stuff (another spoiler alert…damn, too late). These are great books, and I love to teach them, but what are the lines, and where do they come from? And come on, Craig Thompson! Talk to your publishers about using a few black-out lines or even better, have classroom edits of your books so that THOUSANDS of teachers can use your book in the classroom! It’s all a win/win: artists and publishers make money, we get to teach Blankets.

Is that fair of me to even ask the author? Edit your poetry so that I can teach it…it may be selfish, but I’m doing my best to get comics out there for kids to read, and four pages of an immense, beautiful book force me to not teach it. This blog post is not only a question to readers as to what is and what is not right to teach or censor, but this is also a plea for artists and writers to be cognizant that there are many teachers out here, in the trenches, that would love to use their books in the classroom but can’t because of a couple artistic decisions.

I’d really love to hear from you all about anything that appears in this post. What are your feelings on censorship in the classroom? Should artists and writers of graphic novels and comics alter their works to reach a greater audience? Do these alterations affect the work in any great way? Do artists know how much more MONEY THEY WOULD MAKE if they did make a classroom version of their books?? What responsibility does the publishing company have in getting the works out to the schools? Many people do not seek books after they finish school, so what is the comics’ community doing to get those hooks into readers?

I’ll shut up now. I’m interested in what you have to say. Happy reading! The Black Beetle review coming within the week; I promise.

3 comments

  1. I think instead of looking for ways to censor/alter existing works or asking artist to be conscious about images or dialogue that could be perceived as unsuitable for the classroom when creating new ones, educators should figure out how to sell controversial works. How to explain that a discussion about sex is not the endorsement of it. That novels with “vulgar” language are not meant to corrupt students but enlighten them on how and why we choose to use certain words. That covering material that contains characters who live unconventional lifestyles or adhere to a less than mainstream philosophy on life is not an endorsement of that lifestyle/philosophy, but a tool in which to teach students acceptance and humility. We don’t need to alter works, we just need to alter how they are perceived.

  2. There are times when avoiding controversy is important because the conflict surrounding it can detract from larger goals. But there are other times that are not so simple. Blankets is such a touching story that does not even come close to “vulgar.” I often wonder if our fears detract us from utilizing resources that would really help students? Our students are dealing with pretty serious stuff that could impact the rest of their lives (drugs, sex, abusive relationships, religious beliefs, family dynamics, etc). I love Of Mice and Men and I love Brave New World, but let’s face it, they are so removed from our real worlds that they are nonthreatening. They make us feel like we are dealing with real issues while we are ignoring many of the things that really impact students. A text like Blankets hits closer to home. It deals with the same kinds of things our students deal with. This is often more threatening.

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