Re-post: Dav Pilkey’s Short Video on Intellectual Freedom

Pilkey intellectual freedom

Video screen image retrieved from

During a recent class lecture/discussion on censorship issues related to comics, I was reminded of a video from Dav Pilkey, creator of the Captain Underpants series.

Pilkey offers three practical ways to express personal concerns without infringing on the rights of others.

I posted about the two-minute video in December 2014, and here is the link again:

Click here (then scroll to the right, through the ‘Author Updates,’ to the last video).

Trying Owly’s Flying Lessons


Flying Lessons (Runton, 2005), the third comic in the Owly series, is a meaningful story for all ages.  It involves the friendship of Owly (who cannot fly) and Wormy (who helps Owly experience the joy of flight).  Another key character is a flying squirrel who is afraid of owls.  A Booklist review notes that the author “hits the mark” in a tale about “confronting and overcoming fears” (Booklist reviews, n.d.).

I tried to enjoy Flying Lessons, but never took flight.  I am a slow reader with most of my experience in text-based literature and picture books (wherein images usually support text), and my reading kept stopping and stalling to the point of losing the story along the way.

The features of this comic that caused my frustrating response involve visual literacy.  I was challenged by the salience of Owly’s round shape which overshadowed the masterfully drawn, expressive eyes.  The gazes of characters bridged many gutters and prevented me from delineating panels and benefiting from pensive ‘breathing space.’  In the conversation- and thought-balloons, the use of images instead of text often brought me to a full stop in order to decipher meaning.  Because my already-slow reading slowed further, the black-and-white pages became monotonous and homogenized.

As a library science student with a background in literacy development, I realize that the features that frustrated me might very well be features that support other readers. Those with more comics experience are likely to fly through this title at a speed which supports comprehension of the story line.  Readers with strong spatial intelligence (as per Howard Gardner and explained in Lyga, 2004, p. 2) are likely to enjoy decoding images in the balloons.  Those who might be distracted by color variances are likely to benefit from the use of black-and-white pages.


Booklist reviews. (n.d.). Retrieved on May 7, 2016 from the online catalog of the Comsewogue Public Library [] at

Lyga, A. A. W. (2004). Graphic novels in your media center: A definitive guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Runton, A. (2005). Flying Lessons. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf.

Fighting Censorship Requires More Than Policy and Procedures


Critchfield and Powell’s account (2012) of a censorship ‘battle’ at the Jessamine County Public Library (JCPL) is a wake-up call for any librarian or library school student who assumes that policies and procedures provide all the support needed when faced with censorship attempts.  Highly effective suggestions are made by Critchfield and Powell, especially on page 12 of their article, concerning spokesperson(s), confidentiality, publicity, “spread[ing] the truth,” and “remaining above the fray.”  After reviewing these suggestions, other practical efforts and approaches come to mind and are listed below.

First, however, it is important to applaud the work of the JCPL circulation manager who promptly referred a concerned library staff person to a collection development committee when she believed that The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Black Dossier (Moore, 2008) was pornographic and should not be available at JCPL.  Also commendable is the work of the committee who responded, and the astute and professional efforts of the library director who monitored an unfolding censorship scheme by employees who were eventually terminated.

Next, it is important to look squarely in the face of various individual or group perspectives.  Religious individuals can be sincere in their efforts to follow the mandates of their faith. Others may feel they have no choice but to “protect” children and others. Media outlets are (hopefully) dedicated to bringing news to their communities.

Given that the rights of all community individuals must be protected, careful and thorough policies, materials-challenge procedures, and follow-up are part of the foundation of library service. The following proactive efforts and approaches can be practiced as well by librarians and other library personnel:

  • Take the time and effort to listen intently to patrons’ concerns and opinions regarding all library matters, even if they seem minor or inconsequential.
  • Encourage library users to make suggestions or deliver complaints to the library.
  • Keep one’s superiors aware of patron concerns that become known.
  • Insist on library security procedures that immediately address the  development of  verbal or physical attacks on patrons or staff.
  • Keep current on local, regional, national, and international censorship issues.
  • Regularly review intellectual freedom materials.


Critchfield, R., & Powell, D. M. (2012). Well-intentioned censorship is still censorship: The challenge of public library employees.  In Nye, V., & Barco, K. (Eds.), True stories of censorship battles in America’s Libraries (pp.8-13). Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.

Moore, A. (2008). The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black dossier. La Jolla, CA: America’s Best Comics.

The Journey Is The Prize: Captivating History for Teens


Among teens who need non-fiction titles for school assignments, there are students who would rather read anything but a history book.  They open their Social Studies textbooks and cringe at seemingly dry and endless assemblages of names, dates, maps, and charts.  This is the type of reader that I have in mind for Nick Bertozzi’s Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey (2014).

This comics title presents an account of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s failed quest to walk across Antarctica in 1914-1916.  This bold and resilient leader started out with a ship, a captain, 26 crewmen, 34 dogs, a cat, and a fearless plan.  The expedition encountered brutal elements, constant challenges, and an unforgiving expanse of harsh territory.  Astonishingly, all of Shackleton’s men survived.

To introduce this title to my disinterested teen, I would address its inimitable topic.  This is not your typical exploration story.  Shackleton could not revel in being the first person to complete an Antarctic walk.  He did not bask in a hero’s life of fame and fortune.  Instead, his ‘prize’ was an extraordinary adventure through danger, cold, and wonder at the bitter-cold southern end of the world.  His ship was devoured by ice; he blinked for just a moment after a hungry “widow-maker” wave plunged down; and he rallied his exhausted men over a glacier in the dark.  Shackleton also allowed his crew a banjo, hot cocoa, and a soccer game in the wilderness.

I would also explain that this is not your typical history book.  Wide, friendly charts have conversation balloons, mini-images in panels, and clever labels which make sense of many facts.  Within the book, reality rules; there are images of slip-sliding down a mountain, frostbitten toes, and a fart in the night.  The comics panels are large, small, neat, or chaotic, and always changing.  The faces are plentiful and detailed, but there is room for readers to form their own mental images and think for themselves.  Sharp maps appear when needed.  Best of all, there are juicy ‘sound effects’ and full-blooded remarks, including the eerie “KRRRACK” of ice fields, and Mr. Worsely’s “Oh, the smell!” (p. 105).

Finally, I would provide another book for my teen: Ice Story: Shackleton’s Lost Expedition (Kimmel, 1999).  It includes 44 photos taken by Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photographer.  After my teen reads Bertozzi’s Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey, Hurley’s photos will confirm the exciting history and value of Bertozzi’s comics account.


Bertozzi, N. (2014). Shackleton: Antarctic odyssey. New York, NY: First Second.

Kimmel, E. C. (1999). Ice story: Shackleton’s lost expedition. New York, NY: Clarion.


Sequential Art Enables Trinity to Provide History and Readers to Share Questions


J. Robert Oppenheimer was an academic prodigy, a central figure in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and eventually an anguished scientist.  On the front cover of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012), Oppenheimer’s eyes stare at the reader.  An atomic-bomb cloud glares above.  Readers of this title will stare as well; the visual energy on each page will rivet their eyes and minds on science, history, and the formidable powers inherent in ‘The Manhattan Project’ that created the first atomic bomb.  Readers will be held in an imagistic grip, and will surely feel compelled to look at other comics and related media.

There are 152 rich and efficient pages in Fetter-Vorm’s comic about the development and use of the atomic bomb by the United States during a secretive, deadly campaign to force Japan’s World War II surrender.  The sequential art makes many facets of this history accessible, and it includes images, terms, and historical figures that readers have likely encountered before in academia or in popular culture.  These include ‘atomic fission,’ ‘nuclear chain reactions,’ Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, U. S. President Harry S. Truman, U. S. General Leslie Groves, Trinity, Los Alamos, and Hiroshima.

A particularly effective use of graphic panels, layout, and text boxes appears on page 49, where essential processes jigsaw together and the essence of “criticality” is explained:

Trinity page

Broad expanses of black and white on several pages of Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb represent the profundity of science and its ability to destroy peoples at war.  The predominance of ashen gray backgrounds, however, illustrates the involvement of moral, ethical, and philosophical questions and uncertainties (i.e., ‘gray areas’).  Two examples are “Does the need to end a war justify the propagation of phenomenal destruction?” and “How do common folk participate unknowingly in massive violence or other aggressions?”

It’s hard to look away from the science, history, possibilities, dilemmas, revelations, and cautionary tales in Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic BombFor further exploration in several media formats, start with these titles:

Bird, K. (2011). American Prometheus: The triumph and tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer [Electronic resource eBook]. New York, NY: Random House; available electronically via Overdrive.

Chute, H. L. (2016). Disaster drawn: Visual witness, comics, and documentary form [Comics format]. Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University.

Gonick, L. (1991). The cartoon guide to physics [Comics format]. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

O’Neal, M. (1990). President Truman and the atomic bomb: Opposing viewpoints [Print]. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven.

Pellegrino, C. R. (2014). The last train from Hiroshima: The survivors look back [Audiobook on CD]. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor.

Wells, H. G. (1914). The world set free: A story of mankind [Print]. New York, NY: E. P. Dutton. [This title is described on page 6 in Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb.]

World War II [Videorecording DVD]. (2005). [Place of publication not identified]: Komax Licensing.


Fetter-Vorm, J. (2012). Trinity: A graphic history of the first atomic bomb. New York, NY: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Reacting and/or Romping Through Manga and Manwha


 color of earth    Naruto 1    Ranma One Half vol 1    Ranma One Half vol 2


Manga and manwha comics offer a variety of features that evoke reactions in the reader.  [Such features appear in two preliminary examples here, and a third title is discussed in more detail.]  In Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth (manwha; 2003), for example, the fine lines, careful textures, and contrasts in visual tone evoke feelings of fascination and compassion.  This first comic in a trilogy tells a poignant story about coming of age, young love, and yearning.  Perhaps less subtle artistically, Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto (manga) series presents the story of Uzumaki Naruto, a rascally young ninja with secret power and a spirited goal.  In Volume 1 (1999), there are varied facial expressions, full-body action, and depictions of struggle within adventure.  Such features evoke empathy (Eisner, 2008, p. 47) for Uzumaki’s no-holds-barred approach, and anticipation and excitement about his actions and reactions.

In Rumiko Takahashi’s Ranma 1/2, Volumes 1 and 2 (manga; 1993), the main character (Ranma) is a spunky young man whose body hosts the spirit of a girl.  He navigates through martial arts and sports training, arrangements for a bride, high school bullies, fights, sports contests . . . and sex-changes dependent on douses of cold water (instant girl, breasts and all!) or hot (a guy again!).

In the Ranma 1/2 volumes, there are features that evoke reader reactions more conspicuously than do the features in The Color of Earth and Naruto, Volume 1.  Ranma’s hairstyle, for example, is always the same – a fluffy ‘do’ with a distinct braid in the back – regardless of the moment’s gender.  This consistency evokes an “Ahh, there you are!” reaction, and the reader can continue without having to backtrack through Ranma’s transformations.  The prominence of characters with black hair also catches the eye; the reader can effortlessly note their presence and involvement in the story.

Other features in Ranma 1/2 include the books’ endpapers and inside covers; circles of sarcastic pandas introduce comedy and elicit chuckles, and expectations of action ‘literally’ result from a  page devoted to the definition of “action.”  Within the books, predictable panel layouts and black-and-white images are easy to examine (McCloud, 1993, p. 192), supporting expectations for a friendly, unruffled read.

Onomatopoeia is the most provoking feature in the first two volumes of Ranma 1/2.  A plethora of action/sound words appear in a variety of lettering (Eisner, 2008, p. 61), from petite examples (“SNFF SNFF”) to moderate (“TUMP TUMP TUMP”) to bulbous (“PADAPADAPADAPADA”) to page-filling (“YAAAAAA! SHRAKKKKK”).  The reader swirls effortlessly into the story and stays there to ‘hear’ the scuffles and feel the fun of wild, fast-paced action.  The literary ‘icing on the cake’ consists of silly sights here and there, such as a silent panda holding up a sign that says, “Uh-Oh!”

Put together these features of Ranma 1/2, Volumes 1 and 2, and these “madcap” manga comics (Ranma 1/2, n.d., page title) render the reader helpless to resist moving quickly through the pages feeling entertained, amused . . . and wide awake!


Eisner, W. (2008). Graphic storytelling and visual narrative: Principles and practices from the legendary cartoonist. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Kim, D. H. (2003); Na, L. (Translator). The color of earth. New York, NY: First Second.

Kishimoto, M. (1999). Naruto, Volume 1: The tests of the ninja. San Francisco, CA: VIZ.

McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York, NY: William Morrow/HarperCollins.

Ranma 1/2: The all-time classic hit series of gender-swapping, species-bending, madcap martial arts mayhem! (n.d.).  Retrieved from the website of VIZ Media at

Takahashi, R. (2002). Ranma 1/2, Volume 1. San Francisco, CA: VIZ.

Takahashi, R.; Jones, G. & Thorn, M. [Adaptors]. (2003). Ranma 1/2, Volume 2, Action Edition. San Francisco, CA: VIZ.