As Maus recently illustrated, the banning of books can be good business. The controversy surrounding a Tennessee school district’s decision to ban the seminal literary graphic novel helped it surge on Amazon’s charts, with different volumes occupying the #1 spot in multiple categories. It’s good to see any comic book break through to the mainstream, given the Big Two’s struggles to capitalize on the superhero movie boom.
The increased attention paid to creator Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece has given the comics community an opportunity. It might be possible to grow interest in the medium as a whole with Maus as an entry point, for at least the second time. Some comics retailers are looking beyond their bottom line in an attempt to make that happen. Comic book retailer Ryan Higgins, owner of Comics Conspiracy in Sunnyvale, California, is advertising pre-orders of the Complete Maus on his store’s website. He’s also offered to donate “up to 100” copies of Maus to families in McMinn County, Tennessee after the local school board banned it.
Higgins’ tweet featuring the offer went viral, gaining interest from CNN’s Jake Tapper and The L.A. Times along the way. Higgins told CBR that he was “blown away” by the fact that new readers were showing interest in Maus, even as he was discouraged by the fact that it took the book being banned to generate it.
Part of Higgins’ dismay about Maus’s banning could be that this isn’t the first time he’s made this kind of offer. He did the same thing when a Texas school board banned genre classics like Y: The Last Man and V For Vendetta last spring, among other books. Higgins isn’t the only one handing out copies of Maus to anyone who asks for one. Creators like comic book artist Mitch Gerards (Human Target, Batman) and screenwriter Gary Whitta (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) also extended offers to donate copies of Maus to interested parties. Whitta said he donated “about 25 copies” of The Complete Maus, both for new readers and people who wanted a copy to give away themselves.
This grassroots effort to counteract a school board’s decision to limit access to a beloved literary graphic novel is more than good counter-programming to the increasingly censorious actions of school districts across the country. It offers a blueprint for outreach on behalf of the comics as a whole. Free is everyone’s favorite price. Anyone who was the resources to donate multiple copies of banned graphic novels like Maus or My Friend Dahmer to people who have yet to experience them is doing the medium a service.
Platforms like Comixology have offered greater access to comics than previous generations enjoyed. So have libraries that stock graphic novels. Both of those outlets are subject to the whims of corporations and bureaucrats that can leave comic readers out in the cold.
Comic book fans and creators can react to these moves by voting with their wallets when they get burned by a company like Amazon or getting involved in local politics when government bodies ban comics. Those actions require a sacrifice of convenience in the form of finding a new way to consume comics and the time commitment to take part in local government. The latter is an especially big thing fans can do to advocate for the medium.
Donating graphic novels is a smaller, random act of kindness way of advocating for comics. Finding gateways for new comic book readers has been a topic of conversation among fans for decades. While great strides have been made over the year, book bannings are an example that things could always be better and can often get worse. Capitalizing on book bans by offering free comics, in bulk or even single copies from a personal collection, is a good way of proving that controversy can create more than cash. It can also foster a love for an art form that remains unappreciated.
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