During the course of the first age of Harry Potter (which would be roughly be Book Four to the final film being released next month), the book series quickly became a poster child for book banning. Where others saw an engaging story of good versus evil, others… okay, let’s be totally honest here—fundamentalist Christians saw the books as promoting witchcraft and drug use, and tried to ban the books. The most visible among them is Laura Mallory, whom Melissa Anelli interviewed for her book Harry, a History. Book banning has always been a problem, but the combination of the fervor and devotion of the Harry Potter generation and the fandom in general made it a particularly heated debate, especially since the content being objected to was a bit more abstract than the usual objections to violent, sexual, or queer content; as any fantasy fan or practicing Wiccan can tell you, the magic presented in the Harry Potter series is not related to any modern pagan practices. This sadly familiar situation makes up much of the foundation of Americus, a graphic novel scheduled for release in August that’s currently being serialized online.
Americus takes place in a small town in Oklahoma and focuses, more or less, on Neil Barton, a freshman in high school and total geek. He can survive it, though, if he has his best friend Danny Burns, his new discovery of punk rock, and, of course, his favorite book series in the entire world—The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde, the Huntress Wytche. But when Danny’s fundamentalist Christian mother discovers Danny reading the eighth book (and a further revelation that shakes her to her bitter core), she sends him to military school and sets out on a course to ban the Apathea Ravenchilde books from the local library. Soon, the community is divided down the middle, with Mrs. Burns leading one side and the local youth services librarian, Charlotte Murphy, leading the other… with Neil as her reluctant but passionate second in command.
Written by MK Reed and illustrated by Jonathan Hill, Americus has been a long time in coming—the first chapter was serialized back in 2008. I’m not sure how much of it was actually completed at the time, but in the lead-up to the graphic novel’s publication, the two decided to put it online, which is a fantastic move. I doubt I would have ever heard about it had it simply gone to print. The art is expressive, and the format allows us to see how Neil and Danny enjoy the books—it takes them away from their flat, boring, discriminated existence in Americus. At one point, Neil’s mother, a newly single mom who wants the best for her child but isn’t quite sure how to connect with him, tells Neil that he has to go to college and get out of this place. The library—and books, of course—are one of the few places they can escape to and actually learn from, because their teachers are often hogtied by the fundamentalist religious community in town or part of that community themselves. Which isn’t to say there aren’t bright spots—one of my favorite moments is when two girls in the shop class question the teacher’s use of “learning to be men”; he gruffly returns that they’ll learn that they don’t need men. But it’s not a healthy and nurturing environment for geeky readers.
It can be a little too heavy on vilifying the fundamentalists against the books—but then again, I believe everyone is a rational creature capable of tolerance who believes in their own agency, so I’m clearly a cock-eyed optimist. While it’s fun to see Mrs. Burns doing horrible things, like suggesting her son should accuse Ms. Murphy of molestation to get back at her for daring to rent out such a wicked text, she can feel flat. Hopefully, that will improve; at one point, we do get a glimpse into her motivation, as she declares that all this pain and trouble will be worth it when she and her family are safely in Heaven. But it’s still a fascinating and fun look into the freedom books provide and the fear that freedom can strike into the hearts of those who believe in shielding their children from, well, everything. Check it out while it’s still free to read.
Well, I’ve finished my Éowyn costume and attended the first of the The Lord of the Rings Extended Editions showings—I’ll talk about that in the first Sunday Salon for July, in order to cover all three events. I finished Among Others and picked up The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, which I’m still working through.
The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!