The Shmooze

Comic Artist at Center of Library Battle

By Michael Kaminer

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Not many works on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books — a distinguished roster including “The Great Gatsby,” “Catcher in the Rye,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Beloved” — include cartoons. But “Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics From an Unpleasant Age”, an acclaimed compilation whose clear-eyed, candid cartoons confront adolescent traumas, is at the center of a battle between a Maine parent and her local school board, the state’s Sun-Journal newspaper reported this week.

“There’s sexual content and foul language. I want the correct approach to this book. (Having it in the library) is a very lazy way to teach criminal behavior,” said Becky Patterson, the parent who objected to the book’s availability in the Buckfield Junior-Senior High School library. “It’s very demoralizing to little girls.”

The book’s editor, Eisner-nominated cartoonist Ariel Schrag, is one of 18 artists featured in the Yeshiva University Museum exhibit “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women”, which I curated and the Forward is sponsoring.

“I’ve received many e-mails from both adults and teens whom the book really resonated with. One mom told me that her pre-teen son always asked to read ‘Stuck in the Middle’ for his bedtime reading. A lot of pre-teens especially relate to Eric Enright’s piece, ‘ANXIETY,’ about depression and alienation,” Schrag told the Forward.

Booklist, in a starred review, hailed “Stuck in the Middle” as an “honest, acutely perceptive compendium” whose comics “hit the mark in terms of emotional content.” Its contributors include award-winning cartoonists Daniel Clowes, Joe Matt and Lauren Weinstein, another “Graphic Details” artist.

In a statement to the Sun-Journal, Schrag said, “My intent in editing this book was to help children who may be experiencing some of the things the characters in the book experience — bullying, rejection, acne, depression, etc. — to feel less alone… In terms of foul language, sexual content, and teen smoking in this book, all the authors strove to present teens and pre-teens in a realistic light.” Schrag also told the paper she’s aware of two other challenges to the book, both in North Dakota.

While the Buckfield school board will issue a final ruling on January 9, a committee charged with reviewing the situation this week “recommended to the RSU 10 board Monday night that the book remain in the library. A student may take it out with parental permission,” the Sun-Journal said.


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