A Tennessee school board has voted to remove copies of Art Spiegelman’s classic Maus, the latest comic to be challenged in public schools.
Shockwaves were made earlier in the week when Art Spiegelman’s classic comic Maus found itself at the center of a controversial firestorm. The McMinn County School Board in Tennesse voted to remove copies of the book from its schools, citing it as inappropriate for students. The removal has triggered a wave of objections across the world, with many decrying the move as censorship.
Maus originally appeared in Art Spiegelman’s underground comix publication Raw before eventually being collected and published by Pantheon Books. Largely centered around the story of Spiegelman’s father’s experience during the Holocaust, the comic is a mix of fiction, autobiography, history and several other genres. The book also uses the narrative convention of depicting various groups of people as animals, such as Jews as mice and Germans as cats. Maus was the first and, so far, only comic to win a Pulitzer prize and is seen as a literary achievement for the medium.
Despite its laurels, Maus received some of the most attention it has had in years when a school board voted in a landslide 10-0 decision to remove the graphic novel from the McMinn County School District. In a statement released by the McMinn County School Board, they claim Maus’s removal was “because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide“. The statement also describes Maus as “simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools” and that they “simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.” The announcement came merely one day before International Holocaust Memorial Day.
It cannot be understated how important a work like Maus is. Aside from the influential role it played in bringing comics to a larger, more adult audience in the 1980s, the themes and content remain timely and relevant. It’s a raw, honest look at a dark chapter in human history and touches on themes such as guilt and people’s tendency to make their fellow man an “other.” The decision has led to a vocal pushback from fans, comic creators, academic professionals and others who see the move from the board as politically motivated. Unfortunately, Maus is just the latest in a series of graphic novels to be challenged and ultimately removed from schools. But the attention has also brought awareness to the book and caused it to sell out on Amazon. Censorship often has an unintentional opposite reaction, and while the book remains unavailable for the students in the McMinn County School Board, the book has now been exposed to a greater audience because of the effort to suppress it.
In a world increasingly seeing events similar to what happened to Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, it’s important to recognize the artistic merits of such comics. They may have a tougher time getting into the hands of students, but what books like Maus can teach younger generations is invaluable.
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