A Millard, Nebraska woman is fighting for Spider-Man to be banned from her son’s elementary school library. According to KETV, Physha Svendsen is arguing that a Spider-man graphic novel her 6-year old son brought home from the Norris Elementary School is sexually explicit and should be removed from library shelves. And for once, the mom is right!
Svendsen claims that when her son brought the book home he found an image of a woman in a bathing suit and went, as 6- year olds normally do, “Ohhhh!” The images about which Svendsen are protesting show a very shapely redhead in various states of undress. This woman is quite possibly Mary Jane Watson, long-time love interest to Spider-Man’s alter ego, Peter Parker. Lending credence to this idea is the fact that in one scene, the woman is being photographed on the beach during a photo-shoot.
After reviewing the book, the mother confiscated it and filed a complaint with the school the next day, questioning the graphic novel’s literary value and moral compass. “I think having it in your school, you’re still accountable for what’s in there,” Svendsen said.
The Spider-Man book in question is reported to be part of a new series of graphic novels added to the Nebraska school district that has been quite popular with other students. Donna Helvering, head librarian for the district, told reporters that before any book hits a school library’s shelf, the book goes through a careful selection process. “We look at books, as far as age-appropriateness, we look at books for readability and we make sure that we’re buying books that are appropriate for all our kids,” Helvering said. However, this time, the school got it wrong!
After watching the news story on Omaha’s KETV Channel 7 website, I did some research into the title of the book, since it’s never mentioned but the cover appears on air. The graphic novel is Spider-man Volume 2: Revelations. Written by J. Michael Straczynski, with luscious curves provided by John Romita, Jr., Revelations was published in 2002 in hardback. Both Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and the Marvel Comics website do not list the book as having been published within the last 6 years, so I don’t know why the book was reported as being new, other than the fact that it was apparently new to that library’s collection.
Now here’s where the school district might have dropped the ball in a big time way. On the copies I have been able to find, the book says in big white letters “Rated PG, Ages 12+.” This book would have been fine in middle or high school, just not in the hands of a 6-year old! Whoever reviewed this book didn’t do their job. Mrs. Svendsen has a right to complain.
The next step in the complaint process will be for the school to form a committee and to review the graphic novel and complaint within 30 days. Afterwards, the committee will decide if the book stays on library shelves.
Such a censorship issue like this couldn’t come at a worse time for publishers. Should Norris Elementary rule that the book is offensive, other public school and community libraries could follow suit and begin to remove comics from their shelves. This would result in the institutions eventually not ordering future titles. Such a move could hurt publishers who are seeing a dip in comic book sales during the economic crisis. Librarians fearful of upsetting parents like Svendsen would in turn also hurt fans of comic books who have had to rely on libraries to help supplement a tighter budget.
This whole scenario I painted could be thanks to an unassuming school district member who probably thought that since there are 12 year olds in the 5th grade, it’s ok to put this in the elementary school’s library. As someone who falls under the tight budget category, I rely on my library for some of the latest graphic novels. However, when it comes to knowing whether a book is age appropriate, I would have to say many librarians don’t know the difference between Marvel Adventures Spider-Man and Marvel Knights Spider-man. (The answer is about 12 years.) I am constantly praising my librarians that the books they choose are great, but I am also having to explain to them that Watchmen doesn’t belong in the Young Adult Section. In order to keep episodes like this from happening again and risk losing our graphic novels, we who are avid comic book fans should help our friendly neighborhood librarians by perusing the kids and young adult sections and help make them more age appropriate.