Beware of Comics! Banned Book Weeks Conversation with Scott McCloud and Larry Marder
As part of the Banned Book Weeks celebration (Sept. 21-27), Comic-Con International, in conjunction with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) and the San Diego Central Library, sponsored a special conversation between comic creators Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, the upcoming The Sculptor) and Larry Marder (Tales of the Beanworld). The event was held at the San Diego Central Library’s Auditorium in downtown San Diego, on Thursday, Sept. 25. The focus of Banned Books Week this year was comics and graphic novels.
Charles Brownstein, executive director of the CBLDF, started out the discussion with an overview of censorship in comics, including the Comics Code Authority, started by the comics industry in 1954 after a series of Senate sub-committee hearings created a climate of fear and censorship in the comics of that era. The Code survived—with a slow chipping away of some of its rules—until 2011, when Archie Comics, the last participant, resigned.
Scott McCloud and Larry Marder, comic creators who participated in the formation of a creators’ Bill of Rights in the late 1980s, then held an informal yet informative and anecdote-filled discussion on their own thoughts and experiences of censorship in comics, before taking questions from the audience. McCloud talked about Art Spiegleman and Francoise Mouly’s RAW Magazine, and its troubles finding a printer for a particularly graphic image on a two-page spread, and their creative solution: Publish a version with dotted lines around each of the images and offer readers the chance to send in for stickers to complete the image (which McCloud did!). Marder talked about how he was singled out at an early age in school for drawing Batman and told he would never amount to anything, which probably made him want to be a cartoonist even more.
A quick, “lightning-round” look at forbidden items on the Comics Code list ended with the observation (by McCloud) that 15 or so years after the Code was enacted, the underground comix movement began, jump-starting an era of creativity and self-publishing in comics that continues to this day. Marder added that the bridge between the Code and the undergrounds was the magazine-sized MAD, created by Harvey Kurtzman. Ironically, one of the reasons MAD became a magazine was to avoid the Code.
In response to an audience member’s question, both Marder and McCloud agreed that NOW is the best time to be both a comics fan and a creator. The freedom available to create what you want, along with funding abilities such as Kickstarter, plus different distribution outlets such as the Internet, make right now the real Golden Age of Comics.
Special thanks to both Scott and Larry for their participation in this event, along with Charles Brownstein of the CBLDF and Erwin Magbanua of the San Diego Public Library. Thanks also to First Second Books for the brand-new posters promoting Scott’s upcoming book, The Sculptor (out in Feb. 2015) for each of our attendees.