Tokyo Memories Day 10: Tebori Handpoke Tattoo with Horimitsu

A month ago Dustin and I began our trip in Tokyo! So, as with our last trip, I’ve decided to copy out each day of my travel journal into my blog. Each day for the next 18 days I will share a post of what we did in Tokyo a month prior.

So, let’s get into it! (Or, start with day 1 here)

From Shauna’s Journal

Day 10, December 23rd, 2019

My tattoo with Horimitsu started at 12, and was at his studio in Ikebukuro within walking distance from Sunshine City. As such, I left at 11:30 to give myself plenty of time- even still, when I reached the tagged spot on Google Maps, I couldn’t tell which building was Horimitsu’s. I found a wooden structure with some signage and a doorbell, but Google Translate didn’t really tell me what it said. I thought, well, this is mainly a residential area, so maybe it’s Horimitsu, or a business that can direct me to him.

Street-view from a skywalk

I rang the buzzer and waited. A hunched, tired looking old man answered, standing in his dark entrance, and I knew right away this was not Horimitsu’s studio… I blurted “Horimitsu desu…ka…?” and the man sort of smiled and said “ah… Horimitsu…san…” and beckoned me to follow him. He hobbled along with his back bent at an improbable angle, heaving himself up the couple of steps to the building across the street. Tucked there in a corner was a door covered in cool stickers. He told me to knock. Soon, Horimitsu answered amidst my desperate apologies to this kind old man: “Doumo sumimasen! Gomennasai! Totemo gomennasai, doumo arigatou gozaimashita!!!” The man told Horimitsu something, probably like “she knocked on my door so I took her to you” with a bit of a smile (likely translation? “another damn gaijin mistook my business for your tattoo place, jeez…!”)

After apologies from Horimitsu, I entered, and he bid me sit on his couch, where a coffee table sat covered in tattoo magazines, including the one featuring John Mayer on the cover with his Horimitsu tattoo on full display.

Master Horimitsu was quiet, charming, and knew quite a lot of English. We decided on the placement of my tattoo and he began with the linework, which is done with a regular tattoo gun. Right before starting he said “Okay… starting… prepare… my tattoo hurts more than other tattoos!” ok thanks, got it… ^-^’

His linework was indeed thick and a tad painful at times, but I think I did okay aside from a few grimaces. As he worked on my arm, we listened to Christmas jazz & chill music, and I gazed up at his impressive wall of stencils from previous tattoo designs.

After a while, maybe 45 minutes, he said “Hai. Tebori ne” and started tebori (hand-poke) method just like that. Amazingly, it didn’t hurt any more than any other tattoo I’ve had! I could hear the needles puncturing my skin again and again, but it wasn’t bad.

We chatted on and off through my tattoo- about Japanesed tattoo laws and the current court cases, Japanese food, Canadian weather and seasons, our pets, Dustin, teaching English in Japan, onsen etiquette, all kinds of things. He is a very accomplished and impressive man, but also very humble and kind. ❤ I gave him some maple candies, a card, and a magnet with my designs, and he thanked me.

The tattoo was over in just 2 hours! It really does capture the energy and cuteness of Tegan!

You can see my arm was breaking out- I think I was a bit too liberal with applying the creams to my other new tattoos >.<

I said my goodbyes to Horimitsu, and as I was standing outsite setting up my GPS directions he dashed out of the studio, patted my shoulder and said farewell once more, and ran across the road towards the old man’s house/business. I feel certain he was giving the man a gift (he had something in his hand) in apology for my earlier intrusion!

I walked a bit to the Ikebukuro Ichiran Ramen, where I enjoyed another bowl of delicious tonkatsu (no waiting in line this time!) and laughed at the bathroom that had something like 12 toilet paper dispensers mounted to the wall- you won’t run out of TP at this Ichiran!

I took a couple of detours before heading back to the hotel, spending a considerable amount of time browsing at Animate, where I bought some vampire comics and BluRay musicals. I also stopped at the Gakuen cafe for a drink or two and met a couple of nice girls from New Zealand, and chatted for a bit.

Later on, back at the hotel, Dusty and I enjoyed a great assortment at the buffet on the basement floor. The dinner spread was elegant and fancy, but my favorite was the dessert- cakes, squares, and soft-serve ice cream, plus a chocolate fountain!

Now I am doing laundry on the 6th floor and tidying up our hotel room -_- zzZZZzzzZZZ

Check out day 11, A Christmas-Eve Date at Robot Restaurant, here!

On the Hypersexualization of Female Characters in Superhero Comics

I just finished up a really awesome uni course for my MLIS, and we were recently discussing portrayals of women in comics.

This is a touchy subject for sure, and as with anything I try to keep an open mind and consider the many shades of gray. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying erotic art and comics (I do!) but I’m talking about something different here outside of the context of erotica.

To be clear before I get into it, I don’t believe in the censorship of artistic work⁠— Neil Gaiman helped shape my perspective on this topic with his blog post Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech?, which I totally recommend reading if you haven’t yet. I’m not interested in participating in witch hunts of particular artists because they draw or write thoughtlessly sexy women⁠—I’m more interested in the big-picture phenomenon.

When it comes to hypersexualized portrayals of women in comics, the thing that irks me is the ubiquitous nature of it- it’s OK for characters to be sexy, but when the default has been that women and girls in Western comics are contorted and accentuated regardless of their personality or the context of the scene, it becomes a tiresome, dehumanizing trope.

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Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of comics in general, including many that feature these sorts of female characters, and I will defend any author’s right to write or draw their characters however they see fit. It’s your story, knock yourself out. Artistic freedom doesn’t mean you can’t be criticized for your choices, though, so I too have the freedom as a comic consumer to call you out and roll my eyes if you unleash yet another barely covered bombshell babe whose story takes a backseat to her… well, backseat.

So why does a female character drinking coffee at home alone in her pyjamas sit in a spine-cracking posture with her butt extended,  lips pouting,  and shine highlighting the curves of her inexplicably exposed underboob? Why does a powerful heroine need to bend her body in such an anatomically impossible way that we can see both her bum AND her boobs on display when she’s mid-action?

Why is this the standard way that women are portrayed? Traditionally comics were considered a masculine space, and as such these depictions aimed to appeal to the male gaze⁠— yet, I wonder how much of that historic imbalance in demographic is because of the aforementioned ways women have been depicted in comics and other media (when they’re depicted at all)?

“My feeling was never that the industry was that vile, my feeling was that there just hadn’t been any feeling that females were interested, and so all the content skewed that way, to that imagined audience. Which becomes self-fulfilling.” (Simone, 2014).

Just go to any con nowadays and you will see that women love comics- they’re a valid format for us just as much as anyone else, albeit with a long history of objectifying us unnecessarily.

“A woman’s sexuality is one of her many facets that she is allowed to express, however she likes. The problem is that our media landscape shows, values, and celebrates women’s sex appeal more than any of their other qualities, opinions, or accomplishments… when you grow up as a girl surrounded by sexualized images of women, it changes the way you build your identity.” (Rees, 2019, p.45).

Comics have a history of hypersexualizing women that goes back many decades, and people have been discussing the phenomenon for just as long. One more recent(ish) project that has really provoked discussion about ridiculously hypersexualized poses of female characters is The Hawkeye Initiative, in which people redraw sexy female poses with Hawkeye. I gave it a quick shot below…

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Drawing Hawkeye like this might seem like taking “an eye for an eye”, but his portrayal it doesn’t have the same weight- besides the fact that my awkward rendering isn’t nearly as stylistic and professionally done as the original, the sexualization of male characters is certainly not omnipresent like that of female characters, and men don’t have the troubled past of systematic and oppressive objectification tailing them. The result is a cheeky satire that points out the absurdity of how female characters are so often portrayed.

Some comic fans will point out that lots of superheroes have bulging muscles that are larger than life, aiming to equate this with sexualized femme characters, but ridiculously strong male characters are different than pointlessly sexualized female characters for a few reasons:

  • generally there is an arguably valid reason that the man might have huge muscles (for example, he’s a superhero); over-sized muscles are certainly an unrealistic ideal, but they usually don’t come with the baggage of being totally pointless- they’re a boon to the character and part of his superpower
  • these muscled male characters aren’t created for the female gaze- they’ve been included in traditionally male-focused comics and could perhaps be seen as a male wish fulfillment fantasy or an exaggerated style
  • even when male characters have huge muscles or accentuated features, they aren’t habitually highlighted to the same cumulative extremes that the female anatomy is often subject to: protruding, glistening, tugging at skimpy fabric, peeking through non-functional viewing holes, angled awkwardly to be shown off at every possible opportunity, etc…

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Not sure if Mary Jane or a blowup doll…

Taking it to a further and more upsetting level, a female character’s assuredly ample physical assets are very often contrasted with an underdeveloped backstory, nonexistent character arc, or her being used as a throwaway plot element or means to the ends of a violent trope, as pointed out in Gail Simone’s “women in refrigerators” movement born in the late 90’s.

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“At the time, you know, female readership was low, female con attendance at comic cons was low, morale for female readers was low. And I kept seeing guys ask, “Why don’t women read comics?” And for me, it felt that there was a connection between that and the fact that if you loved female superheroes, you had this endless parade of stories where the women were killed or de-powered, and they were never the focus of the story.

It felt symbolic, it felt textural. It felt like they were saying, okay, no one cares about Supergirl, no one cares about Batgirl, and so their stories rarely became about survival, they became about some dude getting revenge on their behalf.” (Simone, 2014).

Again, drawing sexy female characters in and of itself isn’t a bad thing – a sexy woman is empowering when she’s owning it – but it’s the nonchalant routine of the industry expecting this uber-sexed up default paired with otherwise forgettable, tragic, or underdeveloped characterization that doesn’t sit well with me.

To conclude, I don’t think we should be trying to ban works or shame those who read them – let the creators create what they will, and let consumers enjoy what they want in peace- but I hope more creators and publishers are beginning to realize that mindless routine portrayals are alienating a potentially huge reader base who are rolling their eyes at yet another pointlessly and predictably titillating femme fatale.

Today, although hypersexualized female characters are still common, both indie and mainstream comics are being published with much more diverse characters and successfully appealing to more demographics, which is wonderful to see.

 

 

References

Claremont, C., & Buscema, J. (2005). Marvel comics presents: Wolverine. New York: Marvel Comics.
Gaiman, N. (2008). Why defend freedom of icky speech? Retrieved from http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/12/why-defend-freedom-of-icky-speech.html
The Hawkeye Initiative. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from https://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/
Houser, J., Portela, F., Sauvage, M., & Dalhouse, A. (2016). Faith. New York, NY: Valiant Entertainment LLC.
Loeb, J., Kelly, J., Churchill, I., & Rapmund, N. (2016). Supergirl: The girl of steel. Burbank, CA: DC Comics.
Marz, R. (n.d.). Green Lantern #54 (1994).
Montclare, B., Hadley, A. R., Bustos, N., Height, R., Bonvillain, T., Lanham, T., & Kirk, L. (2017). Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. New York, NY: Marvel Worldwide.
Nelson, Kyra (2015) “Women in Refrigerators: The Objectification of Women in Comics,” AWE (A Woman’s Experience): Vol. 2 , Article 9.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/awe/vol2/iss2/9
Pak, G., Parker, J., Frank, G., Kirk, L., Pagulayan, C., & Sibal, J. (2008). World War Hulk the Incredible Hercules. New York: Marvel.
Rees, A., & Esmeraldo, M. (2019). Beyond beautiful: A practical guide to being happy, confident, and you in a looks-obsessed world/ Anuschka Rees ; illustrations by Marina Esmeraldo. New York: Ten Speed Press.
Simone, G. (2014, December 01). Gail Simone: The Comics Alliance Interview, Part One. Retrieved from https://comicsalliance.com/gail-simone-the-comics-alliance-interview-part-one-batgirl-birds-of-prey-and-women-in-refrigerators/
Thompson, R. (2016). Silk Volume 1. Panini UK.
Wilson, G. W., Alphona, A., & Herring, I. (2014). Ms. Marvel: No normal. New York, NY: Marvel Worldwide, a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, LLC.

Saga: Quick Spoiler-free Review

It’s been a while since I read Saga Vol 1, but I’m discussing it in my comic course so I gave it a reread and remembered afresh why I love this series so much. The plentiful fantasy and sci-fi elements, plus a beautiful forbidden love story between two complex and flawed badass characters, sprinkled with startling imagery and unexpected humour, makes for a really compelling tale.

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Vaughan’s dialogue throughout feels so raw and real, especially with Alana who pulls no punches beginning with the memorable first page. The world, too, feels very attached to our own despite the whimsical fantasy of it. The story takes itself seriously at its core, depicting the brutal cruelties of life and war, as well as more tender moments. There are some very messed up things happening in Saga’s universe, but these atrocities are closer to the realities of our Earth than we’d like to think.

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It wasn’t until after reading a few volumes of Saga that I learned the amazing and award-winning artist Fiona Staples was Canadian. Today that I learned she was born in Calgary- so cool! Staples’ art impresses me a lot- I really appreciate it when artists show you the nitty-gritty and go all in instead of making something watered down for wider consumption.

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Saga doesn’t cater to the widest possible audience, but instead presents itself authentically, unabashedly, and in-your-face, no holds barred. It’s got action, emotion, diverse characters, strange creatures, and an epic feel. It’s totally earned a spot in my top favorite comic series.

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Nope, not lying!

Earth Anxiety

***Scroll down for comic if this is tldr for you***

This is not my usual geeky post, but something more personal and heavy—something that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

Do you ever read the news and think, man, this sounds like the beginning of a movie about the end of the world…? I do, increasingly lately. The headlines keep coming with words and phrases like scientists warn…  tipping point… dire warning…  catastrophe… and yet the world keeps on turning and for the most part people in developed nations go about their days much the same as they always have.

I’m generally a pretty positive person who lives by whatever will be will be, and I will make the best of it while I’m here, but I’m unable to shake the anxiety that comes from worrying about the future of earth- not just for myself, but more especially for my nieces and nephew, and potential children and grandchildren.

I’m nearing 30 years old and I still don’t know if I want to have kids- part of this indecisiveness is prompted because it seems like earth is on a very swift and dangerous trajectory.

Bringing up these kinds of things often makes people defensive, but I don’t mean to imply that any particular individual should feel personally ashamed for the state of the earth or the way they live; our problems are huge and systematic. Eco-perfection is a dangerous notion that discourages people from even trying—nobody is perfect, and living a 0 impact lifestyle isn’t immediately practical, affordable, or possible for many people. Rather than being discouraged, we need to take what steps we can on personal, community, national and global levels- and fast.

I am a lucky person who lives a good life, and I’m grateful for it every day, but my visions of the not-so-distant future are becoming bleak. In the last few years I’ve implemented some more earth-friendly changes in the way I live, but I am also very aware that I have a privileged life, that I can be wasteful, that I enjoy my creature comforts. I love to travel (and have to travel if I want to visit my family across the country), I buy too many cute plastic knick-knacks, and sometimes shower longer than I should. I could go on. I live in an oil boom-town where big-industry employs many of my friends and loved ones- it’s a diverse community of people who are seizing opportunity where they can, and who can blame them?

The cost of living is climbing, taxes are relentless, and people will go where they need to and do what they have to do to make a living and provide for their families. We can and must do what we can personally to live sustainably, but we also need to make our corporations, industries, and governments listen and take BIG actions, make BIG changes- right now we’re acting too little too late. If we keep deterring action because of whataboutism, aversion to change, and all-or-nothing perfection aspirations, we’ll be really sorry in 10, 20, 30 years.

It always comes down to money, what about the economy, but what good will our money do when our systems collapse? The doomsday-preppers will be in their element for a while, and the uber-rich-and-powerful will head to their swanky underground resource shelters… and then what?


When it comes to climate change, positive feedback loops are scary. I was thinking about this and decided to make a comic about it, since I believe comics are a great way of sharing information.

It’s not fun information by any means- it’s sobering- but I’m worried that the world is sticking its head in the sand and we’re about to reach a point of no return. And so, I do the only thing I can think to do- research and draw.

P.S.- I’m no scientist; I’m explaining this through my own understanding of personal research, but check out some credible sources— there’s a lot out there, and I’ve included a few studies at the bottom of my comic.

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Your Friendly Neighborhood Comic Shop

Do you have a comic shop in your life?

When I was a kid, we didn’t get out for spur-of-the-moment shopping trips much since my Dad did shift work and my Mom, who also worked, was a homebody who would plan driving routes and trips carefully in advance with some anxiety. She would stress the need to be home within a couple of hours lest the dogs spontaneously combust in her absence. My parents are totally wonderful and I had a happy childhood filled with books and comics, but it didn’t really include comic shops.

In my teen years, I would sometimes visit the Chow’s Variety shop that was a 20 minute walk from my house, but it was more of a specialty magazine shop that just so happened to have some comics (alongside plastic-wrapped nudie mags, fish bait, and baseball cards), so the pickings were slim.

Today I’ve finally become familiar with my local comic shop, Nerdvana- it’s a little gem in Fort McMurray with comics, manga, graphic novels, figurines, and kind, attentive staff.

Nerdvana staff teamed up with some local filmmakers and friends in the last couple years to create a really cool web series that recently won an award for Best Ensemble Cast at the Miami Web Fest! The first season has been completed and hopefully a second season is forthcoming…

I even helped out as an extra a couple times (you can see my 0.5 second of fame at 7:35 during the flashback scene on the pilot episode and at 1:13 on the series finale...)

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I’ve got a couple of ongoing comic subscriptions at Nerdvana right now (Snotgirl, The Crow, Isola, Lady Mechanika) and it’s fun to pick them up and chat with the staff about nerdy things. I also enjoy the serendipity of browsing a physical store, and I’m happy to support a small local shop run by friendly people who do cool stuff in our community!

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Long live our comic shops!

Bill Maher Needs to Read Comics

Brace yourselves, this is something I’m realllllllly passionate about, so here comes another one of my blog posts that is pounded out in an uncontrollable flurry.

Bill Maher knows how to kick up a firestorm online- his recent blog post disses the recently deceased legendary Smilin’ Stan Lee and challenges the legitimacy of comics as a format. It closes by laughably implying that the people who view comic books as important are the ones who voted for Trump. Sure, Bill… yeah no.

Firstly, on dissing Stan Lee- even if you don’t appreciate comics, Bill, there’s no need for that low blow (other than shoehorning it into an intro for a controversial blog post that will get you lots of views, I guess?). It’s undeniable that Mr. Lee’s creative genius has touched the lives of many people, and suggesting that art, literature, and entertainment are not vital to life paints a false picture. Bill writes:

“Someone on Reddit posted, “I’m so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee.” Personally, I’m grateful I lived in a world that included oxygen and trees, but to each his own”

What exactly is your point here? I don’t know about you Mr. Maher, but I don’t want to live my life fulfilling only the lower rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 

Ok, on to comics. Here’s what he has to say on that topic:

“Twenty years or so ago, something happened – adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature.”

As an educator and an MLIS student, you really awaken the fire in me with this one, Bill. Who is to say what constitutes “sophisticated literature”? Is it a word count? Is it a certain vocabulary? Is it one of those “i’ll know it when I see it” things? I call bullshit.

Comics are a format, not a genre. I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know comics in my 10+ years working in bookstores and at my public library. At my library they call me the Comic Queen because i’m so passionate about spreading the word about the versatility of comics (and graphic novels, and webcomics, and manga, which are all forms of sequential art)

So, again, what makes something “sophisticated literature”, exactly? Does the use of sequential art immediately reduce something to junk reading for kids?

Hell no!

Comics are just a format, Bill. They can be used to address any kind of information, and can be tailored to suit the needs of readers of any age. They are increasingly diverse and inclusive as more artists, authors and publishers jump on board. Comics are especially wonderful because they are approachable and lots of readers, even reluctant readers, may be enticed to read a comic because of the pictures.

Yet, unfortunately, Bill, you have joined the masses of people who mistakenly believe that the comics format = kid stuff, as if the format somehow dictates what kinds of content can be delivered in a comic.

There are comics that:

These are just some examples, but comics can be about ANYTHING. More and more comics are coming out every day on all kinds of different topics.

And yes, comics also include superheroes sometimes- what’s wrong with that, Mr. Maher? The world of superhero and fantasy comics is gigantic and diverse in its own right, and has been and continues to be entertaining, inspirational, and motivational for many people all across the world.

At the risk of triggering Bill Maher, i’d like to finish here with one last sentiment:

Rest in Peace, Mr. Smilin’ Stan Lee.

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Fit Your Material to Your Audience (Not the Other Way Around…)

Sometimes you try something and it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you look at your creations so much that you can’t see them the way others would see them. I can be really hard on myself for these kinds of things, but I am trying to learn from my mistakes and “get back on the horse” when they happen so I don’t lose confidence.

This past couple of weeks my colleague and I have been giving tours of the library and informational presentations to grade 7 students. We still have more to go- there are 7 tours in total. My manager asked if I could give the students a mini-version of my “There’s a Graphic Novel For Everyone- Yes, Even You!” presentation since the teachers had been asking about it, to which I of course said YES!!!

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So each day, my colleague starts out the tour, bringing the group around both floors of the library, doing a scavenger hunt, exploring some online resources, and then she hands them over to me for the final half of their visit.

I altered my original presentation for the grade 7 students, shortening it and changing some of the language and content to be a bit more suitable for their age. I was excited to present it, but as I was going through it with the students on the first tour and they were reading out the character cards i’d designed, I really began to realize how advanced some of the vocabulary I had used was. I also noticed that some of the titles featured, while perhaps acceptable for their age group, were not really as thrilling to the grade 7 kids as they were to me. Oof, gr. 7 is a Tough crowd, I couldn’t help thinking for a moment as many of them sat staring at me with glazed faces, picking at their shoes.

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(Examples the slides from the original presentation)

On the second day, after our second tour, my colleague asked if she could talk to me- “I don’t want you to be sad…” she said kindly, “…but the teacher who organized the tours called me, and she said the presentation is too advanced for the grade 7 kids.”

Although I had also been thinking that the altered presentation might still be too in-depth, to hear it coming from the teachers gave me a sinking feeling of anxiety and reminded me suddenly of my hell practicum . 

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However, as soon as I heard the feedback the teachers had given, it became very clear to me what the problem was with my presentation- I was trying to make the kids fit into my presentation and not the other way around. I put a lot of time and effort into the first version of the presentation, including original characters and artwork, and because of my attachment to those pieces I didn’t truly consider them through the eyes of a grade 7 kid like I should have.

Sure, lots of people in other situations enjoyed the creativity of my original presentation, but it was made for an audience of adult library conference goers! Yes, there were a few kids who answered my questions eagerly and were genuinely interested in what I had to say, but those were the kids like me who already loved books in grade 7- if the point of my presentation is that comics are for everyone, I needed to convince the OTHER kids. Yes, I had already edited my presentation a bit for the classroom tours, but it was clear I had to start fresh.

I assured my colleague that I could whip up something different that would be much better suited for the grade 7’s. “Are you sure? The next tour is Monday afternoon…” (this being Friday merely half an hour before our work day was ending). Yes, I knew what I needed to do.


 

So, I put together a completely different presentation- shorter, simpler, with a bright new PowerPoint style and carefully selected title recommendations. I planned a group activity with the help of my colleague that would get the kids’ energy out a bit before they sat down again for my presentation.

I’ve gone through this new presentation and activity with 4 tour groups so far, and I’m very glad to say it is working out much better. The teachers complimented some of the changes we made to tidy up the flow of the tour, as well as the changes to my presentation about graphic novels. Overall the groups have been more engaged. More kids have started coming up to me after presentations to ask about certain books that were featured.

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I’m glad the teachers reached out with their concerns instead of letting me stumble through all of the tours- it’s not often I work with kids in that age group, and the teachers know their students’ interests and capabilities best. I’m also glad that they gave me a chance to alter the presentation and give it another try. Once again my respect for teachers grows, because although I enjoy doing the tours, being in charge of a large group of tweens for only one hour is extremely draining on me- and teachers have them all day for the whole school year!

 

 

 

Challenged in Canada: Tracking Attempts at Censorship

Banned Books week is next month, and right now I am working with my department on a presentation about censorship in Canada to share with our coworkers.

I made a collage of some of the titles that we currently have in our library which have been challenged in Canada in the past:

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The diversity in even this small representation shows that challenges are submitted on titles from a wide range of subjects, authors, formats, and intended age ranges. Maybe you see some of your favorites up there? These are only a small portion of books that have been challenged in Canada in recent years.

I’m sure there are tons more challenges that aren’t ever submitted for record-keeping. It’s important that we keep records like this of materials that are challenged, because it serves as a real-life reminder and example of how everyone’s standards are different. If we start censoring information, each act of censorship may be perceived as a precedent, and since one person’s treasure is another person’s trash… I know it’s overused, but the term “slippery slope” definitely comes to mind.

Access is vital. Even titles that contain extremely problematic information and views can serve as reminders of past atrocities, case studies for learning, and material for developing informed criticism. How can you knowledgeably criticize or condemn something if you don’t have access to the source material?

Freedomtoread.ca offers a book list keeping track of Canadian challenges, each of which “sought to limit public access to the works in schools, libraries, or bookstores.”

Freedom to Read week is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, and is celebrated annually in February.

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Here are the details of some recent challenges as recorded by the Freedom to Read website.

 

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

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2016-In January, a patron of a public library in Ontario challenged this novel for young adults.

Objections: “The book is age inappropriate… because it contains a bi-sexual sex scene not alluded to on the cover.” The complainant requested that all books with homosexual content be located “in a special area reserved for adults 18+” and put on a shelf marked with a rainbow. The complainant wanted the books labelled “so that children, as well as adults, do not happen upon [them] unwillingly.”

Result: The library decided that labeling LGBTQ content would be an example of expurging library resources and, therefore, would violate the Library Bill of Rights… The Scorpion Rules remained unlabelled in its usual location.

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

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2016- In May, a parent in a public library in Ontario challenged this graphic novel for children.

Objection: The parent disliked depictions of violence and the book’s “poor attitude toward women’.

Result: In June, the library resolved the challenge. The library moved this book from the children’s section to the teens’ graphic-novel section.

The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel, Volumes 1 & 2) by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

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2015/16- In December 2015, a parent challenged this children’s picture book in a public library in Ontario.

Objection: the mother didn’t specify what action she wanted, but she used the complaint form to complain about the book’s illustrations. her 10-year old son was crying because of the illustrations.

Result: After evaluating The Graveyard Book by checking other libraries’ collections and book reviews, the library retained the books in its collection.

 

Adult Magazines

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2015- A patron in a public library in British Columbia challenged the collection of electronic magazines (from the Zinio distribution service) and paper magazines. The challenge affected a minimum of 17 titles: Cosmopolitan, Details, Esquire, Glamour, GQ, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Redbook, Rolling Stone, SELF, Seventeen, Shape, Sports Illustrated, Teen Vogue, US Weekly, and Women’s Health.

Objections: Sexism, insensitivity, inaccuracy, depiction of bodies that are “negatively objectified”. The patron demanded that all subscriptions be cancelled.

Result: The library kept the magazines and the subscriptions. They were popular with other readers.

 

Young Adult LGBTQ Publications

prideheart

2016- In July, a female parent in the St. Albert Library in Alberta challenged all young-adult LGBTQ publications in a teen summer reading program

The library displayed pamphlets that listed the young-adult LGBTQ book titles in the summer reading program.

Objection: The parent was offended by the inclusion of queer lit as one of the book category choices in a turn of the library’s Teen Summer Reading Game.

“There is a difference between showing respect for all peoples and using the summer reading program as a place to further LGBTQ propaganda,” the woman wrote. “My son recognizes that there are people who choose to live this lifestyle; however, it is not a healthy lifestyle to promote to our youth, and it is contrary to God’s plan for human sexuality, love and marriage.”

Result: The Teen Librarian inferred that the patron wanted the queer lit category removed from the Teen Summer Reading Game book category choices and that she may have wanted the queer lit booklist removed from the brochure display in the teen area of the library.

After reading the parent’s comments, the Teen Librarian wrote a letter which was given directly to the patron when she brought her child back to play the reading game. The Teen Librarian informed her supervisors of the challenge and consulted with them on the content of the letter before it was delivered. The queer lit category remained a choice for one turn of the 2016 Teen Summer Reading Game, and the queer lit booklist remained on display with the other booklists in the teen area of the library.

*Note from Shauna: How awesome, informative, and professional is this letter!? Amazing.

Here is the body of the letter:

“Thank you for expressing your concerns about the inclusion of the Queer Lit category in the St. Albert Public Library’s Teen Summer Reading Game. As stated in the Guidelines for the 2016 Teen Summer Reading Game on the player dossier:

‘There are multiple categories listed for each turn of the game. Choose just one of those categories to select your reading material from.’In other words, players are not required to read from any one book category to advance to the next turn of the game.
“For the Mission Nighthawk turn of the game, three categories are provided for
players to choose a book from: In Real Life (realistic fiction), Romance, or Queer Lit. Players can select a book that fits into any of these three categories. Librarians
recognize that not all books are suited to all readers. Library patrons have a choice in what they read.
“As the Teen Librarian, I am responsible for creating a reading program for teen
participants that encourages them to read over the summer, for selecting books for the Young Adult collections, and for making booklists to help teen patrons discover books of interest to them. The St. Albert Public Library serves all members of the community, regardless of age, race, faith, education level, income, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic background, or language spoken. We serve LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) youth, and the Library is a safe public space for them to visit.
“Many of these young people, as part of an invisible minority, have learned to be
secretive about their sexual identity or gender identity for fear of rejection from their peers or their own families. They experience isolation and are often victims of bullying. For these youth, a realization that there are library materials available to them which address LGBTQ identities and issues can help them to become more resilient and to feel that they have a place in society.
“Including the Queer Lit category in the Teen Summer Reading Game is a way to
raise awareness of the existence of LGBTQ materials in the Young Adult Collection, and it communicates to our patrons that the library is a welcoming place for all people. Having LGBTQ material available in the Young Adult collections and on book displays alongside other materials, not hidden away, helps to create an atmosphere of acceptance.
“If you would like further information on the importance of LGBTQ Collections
in public libraries, I can direct you to some journal articles on the topic. Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions.”
After receiving the letter, the mother did not contact the Teen Librarian or take
any further action regarding her challenge. Her son did complete the Teen Summer Reading Game and received a book prize. The family continues to regularly participate in programs at the St. Albert Library.

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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2014- In Camloops, B.C., Dean Audet demanded the removal of this coming-of-age novel from his son’s high school and other schools in the Kamloops/Thompson school district.

Objection: Audet described the novel as “pornographic, offensive and vulgar”.

Result: Audet’s son was given a different book to study. A committee of teachers, a parent and librarians reviewed the novel and approved it for continued use. Audet considered taking legal action to remove the novel from schools.

 

Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman

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2014- In August, a patron of a public library in Alberta objected to this children’s picture book.

Objection: The patron disliked the theme of same-sex marriage.

Result: On the same day, the library resolved the dispute and kept the book in the collection.

 

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett

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2014- in May a parent complained about this children’s picture book in a library in Quebec.

Objections: The parent disliked the depictions of violence and didn’t think the book was funny. Her 10-year-old child was “traumatised” by the bunny’s “exceedingly violent” actions, she said. Many parents would share her opinion, she added, and she asked the library to remove the book from its collection.

Result: Librarians evaluated the book. They agreed that it was a work of humour and satire. They thought Battle Bunny could appeal to reluctant readers. The librarians also noted that professional book reviews were positive and that four previous borrowers of the book had made no complaints. Battle Bunny remained in the library’s collection.

 

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

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2014- In November, a patron of a public library in Alberta said this audiobook needed a warning label on the cover.

Objection: This book has dark, adult content.

Result: The library kept the book in the collection.

 

Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss

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Toronto

Objection: Violence. In this children’s book, children hop on their father. The complainant argued that children are being “encouraged to use wanton violence against their fathers.”

Result: The library kept the book in its collection. In an e-mailed message to the complaining parent, the library explained that its collection aims to reflect the reading needs of diverse individuals and communities (cultural, ethnic, or religious). The library relied on parents to involve themselves in their children’s use of the library and their children’s reading choices.

 

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore

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2013- In Strathmore, Alta, a parent complained about the inclusion of this graphic novel in the library at Crowther Memorial Junior High School.

Objection: The parent objected to “extreme violence and swearing” in the text.

Result: A committee reviewed The Walking Dead and deemed it inappropriate for use in a junior high school. The book was withdrawn from the collection.