Something that’s come up in the wake of this MAUS controversy (which is totally manufactured, BTW), is my stance on not just books and graphic novels, but my own work in particular. If you’re not familiar, I came up in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s comic scene, doing books that were labelled: Underground and extreme. I have a great clip of David J. Schow (The Crow, John Carpenter’s HELL) introducing me at a Chiller Con as “One of the godfathers of splatterpunk.”
But…my titles? What about them? Should Cry For Dawn have been available to middle-schoolers, like the kids the Tennessee censorship feud is about? In a word: No.
I can picture the reactions. Huh? WTF? But Joe—you’re anti-censorship! You oppose bans! What gives?!
It’s pretty simple. While I wholeheartedly oppose censorship (demands to silence Joe Rogan, for instance), Cry For Dawn was not for 12-and-13 year olds. There is nothing wrong with that. Our comics contained subject matter Diamond Comics required labeling as ‘Mature Readers’. We had nudity, we had profanity, we had rape. We had a vagina with teeth. We bent every rule we couldn’t break, telling stories designed to make people think, and to get a reaction.
Doesn’t mean we had to hand it to middle schoolers, though. Here I am, 30 years later, talking about my interview with Art Spiegelman and discussing why there is no censorship going on in TN, because the truth is: there isn’t. Making a kid wait until he/she’s 16 to read a Mature Readers comic title? That’s no different than keeping that same kid out of an R-or-X-rated film. Preventing kids from seeing Cannibal Holocaust? Think about it. No kid’s being robbed or denied the opp to see that flick, there’s just a restriction on when. That we’re talking a Pulitzer prize winning graphic novel or a comic that broke new ground matters not. Good content being temporarily withheld from a reader is no crime, and it certainly doesn’t qualify as censorship.
My new comic is filled with graphic imagery and subject matter. It’s basically Cry For Dawn 10, or what it could have been had we continued in the 1990s. It is rough stuff. Am I concerned that I may not snag as many teen readers as were sneaking into comic shops to grab Cry For Dawn in 1992? No. I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’m going to keep writing comic stories. I’m going to keep writing prose stories. Some are going to flip people out. Some are going to have people up in arms, like with Kids Meal in 1990 and BIRTHMARKS in ’91. Because, that’s what I do. If a kid needs another year or so to catch up? So be it. I am content to wait, rather than rush an audience into material they’re not ready for. Average 12-and-13 year old kid shouldn’t have access to Caligula, either. Doesn’t mean there’s anything ‘banned’ or being ‘censored’. I refuse to play victim simply because there are some rules in place for age-appropriate material, which is why I stand with the school board in Tennessee.
Not that I’m gonna bitch if a kid like me skirts the rules and finds a way. Hell, that the kid is reading in the first place is impressive enough… I just hope he or she’s ready. The hard truth is, plenty won’t be, and I don’t think it’s worth the risk simply because a few whiners are screeching about something that hasn’t happened.