Spotlight on Censorship: ‘Big Hard Sex Criminals’

ALA Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books, Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship, National Library Week

By: Ellie Diaz

Although the back cover of Big Hard Sex Criminals boasts in shiny letters “for mature readers, duh,” this graphic novel is listed as No. 7 on the American Library Association’s Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016 list.

Back cover of Big Hard Sex Criminals: For Mature Readers DUHAs the title and back cover suggest, the graphic novel is about two people who have the power to stop time when they orgasm. When the two meet and discover each other’s powers, they start a relationship that eventually leads to a formulated plan to rob a bank.

The hardcover compilation of the first 10 issues, written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky, was deemed sexually explicit by library staff and administrators, leading it to be threatened with removal on library shelves.

The book doesn’t tiptoe around sex. Body parts are exposed, sex toys are shown, and birth control options are explained with cartoon sperm. But confiscating the book from the hands of all readers with the rallying cry of “sexually explicit” downplays its plot, characters and theme. For instance, Suzie decides to steal money from the bank to save her library from being foreclosed. It’s also the same bank where her father was murdered. Her other half, Jon, was diagnosed with ADHD and  oppositional defiant disorder, which affects how he deals with situations. The compilation of comics follows their attempted heist, as well as documents the romantic quirks that occur in many other relationships.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF), a nonprofit that protects the First Amendment rights of comics, states that some people think comics are created exclusively for children or are low value speech. These misconceptions fuel graphic novel challenges in libraries.

A scene from Big Hard Sex CriminalsThe censorship cases surrounding Big Hard Sex Criminals in 2016 are marked confidential, as library staff and administrators fear losing their jobs. The series did face controversy in 2013, when the second issue was banned from comiXology’s iOS app because of Apple’s content policies.

In an interview with CBLDF, Fraction said Apple can determine what to sell and what not to sell, but notes that other, more sexually explicit material, is sold on the app, iTunes store and iBooks.

Zdarsky thinks the app ban of their issue will affect creators.

“Some consciously, but most subconsciously,” Zdarsky told CBLDF. “Art will be self-censored, scenes will be re-written. How could they not? Creators naturally want their product to reach as many people as possible!”

Fraction urges artists to reconsider.

“Suppression always aims to inspire fear and intimidation,” said Fraction to CBLDF. “I hope no one changes a word or a single pixel because of this. It’s the only way to fight back. Don’t change a thing.”

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