Last month the director of Greenville County Library in South Carolina made the decision to ban Alan Moore and Jacen Burrow’s graphic novel Neonomicon from the library system. The book, which was released in 2011, was challenged in June by library patron Carrie Gaske after her 14-year-old daughter borrowed the book from the adult section of the Hughes Main Library.
Neonomicon is a horror comic about FBI agents investigating cult murders that are connected to writing of HP Lovecraft. The comic, which was the first recipient of the graphic novel prize within the Bram Stoker Awards, contains violent sexual imagery, including a women being raped by a fish-man.
In a letter of support written by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the organizations defend the position of the book in a library collection stating “Removing it because of sexual content not only fails to consider the indisputable value of the book as a whole, but also ignores the library’s obligation to serve all readers, without regards to individual tastes and sensibilities.” The groups defended the disturbing sexual content as a commentary on how such subject matter is handled in the horror genre. They also caution that the removal of books based on violent sexual content could potentially see the loss of books such as Aeschylus’ Oresteia or Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
Many libraries solve the problem of questionable content by keeping challenged books in specific parts of the library that will keep them out of the hands of children. A classic example is Herge’s Tintin in the Congo which is often kept in adult or special collections because of its stereotyped depictions of the Congolese. However, in the case of Neonomicon in Greenville, the book was already kept in the adult collection.
What compounds free speech groups’ frustration with this decision is that the committee who reviewed the book for the challenge decided it should be kept in the collection. It was library director, Beverly James, who overruled the decision and removed the book, calling it “disgusting.”
Moore is an award-winning graphic novel author (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Batman: The Killing Joke) and a vocal defender of libraries. During the 2011 campaign to save the St. James Library in Northampton, England, Moore spoke at rallies and made a video about the value of libraries. “I am very concerned about the kids today who may grow up without this access [to libraries]. I am very against taking literacy away from people,” he said during a rally for the library.
“If my work means anything to anybody out there then they shouldn’t thank me for it, they should thank the institution of the libraries that created me.”