Comic Book Guy Sends Free Copies Of 'Maus' To TN Kids. That's How You Beat Nazis!
Ryan Higgins in his shop, Comics Conspiracy. Photo: Ryan Higgins, in Washington Post

The fascist wave of book banning in public schools is depressing and dangerous, but let's also take Mr. Rogers's advice and look for the helpers, like Ryan Higgins, owner of the Comics Conspiracy comics shop in Sunnyvale, California. When Mr. Higgins heard last week that the McMinn County School Board had banned Art Spiegelman's graphic Holocaust memoir Mausfrom its eighth-grade language arts curriculum, he rush-ordered 100 copies of The Complete Maus, because he had a feeling the book would very soon be hard to find.

Read More: Now The School Censors Have Come For Maus

No, this is not a story of eBay profiteering. Higgins wanted to have at least 100 copies to give away free to anyone who wanted one in McMinn County. As Higgins told the Washington Post, the comic book memoir — in which Spiegelman tells the story of his father's survival of Auschwitz as well as the story of his own painful relationship with his father, Vladek — changed the way he thought about comics and what they can be, and how he understood the Holocaust.

Reading Maus opened my eyes. I remember thinking, "This is about more than superheroes fighting bad guys." It was heartbreaking and emotional, and it brought a whole new window to something I had little knowledge about. [...]

It’s a brilliant piece of work that gets across its message to readers of all ages. That’s the thing about comic books — they’re great for every age bracket. It’s crazy that anyone would want to remove Maus.

In the 16 years Higgins has owned the Comics Conspiracy, he's made a point of never letting Maus go out of stock, he said. So it was natural that right after he ordered the books from his distributor, Higgins took to Twitter with an offer:

As I've offered before with other banned comics, I'll donate up to 100 copies of The Complete Maus to any family in the Mcminn County area in Tennessee. Just DM me your address!

He's also paying for the shipping. So far, he tells the Post, he's heard back from about 60 students and parents from the area, and he plans to ship the books out later this week when they arrive at his shop.

One kid he heard from was 15-year-old Malachi Cates, who asked his mom to reply to the tweet.

Malachi said he felt embarrassed when he looked at his cellphone last week and saw the school board’s decision-making worldwide headlines.

“I was shocked — I couldn’t believe what they had done,” he said. “I hadn’t ever read the novel, but when I heard about it being banned, I knew I had to read it.”

Malachi did some searching about the comic and the international controversy his community's dumbass school board has kicked up. He found Higgins's offer, and his mom, Cindy Cates, gladly sent along the request for a copy. She told the Post,

“Malachi came home from school really upset about the school board banning the book,” she said. “Neither of us wanted what they did representing where we're from. They were offended by the language? Are you kidding me? These kids have heard every [swear] word out there.”

One wonders whether the brackets were for clarification of what type of words kids have heard, or if, as we'd like to think, Ms. Cates said the kids had "heard every fuckin' word out there."

Malachi, sure to turn out a good troublemaker because he loves books and history, also said that he'd already learned about the Holocaust in history class, but that he wanted to see this comic book that depicts Jews as mice and Germans as cats, and which has generated so much passion from its defenders.

From what I’ve seen online, it’s an influential piece of work that shows what actually happened. [...] History shouldn’t be sugarcoated — kids need to learn about this stuff.

We like the cut of this kid's jib, and we'd bet that the majority of eighth-graders in McMinn County are similarly rolling their eyes at the idea that they need to be protected from great literature.

This isn't the first time Higgins has offered to send out free comics following a school censorship incident, either. Recently, when the school board in Leander, Texas, voted to remove 11 books form classroom libraries, where they were among several options kids could use for assignments, Higgins noticed two very popular comics among them, Alan Moore's V for Vendettaand Brian K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man, Book One. Higgins offered free copies of those books, but told WaPo he only received a few replies.

Read More: Texas School Book Purge Heating Up, Almost To Fahrenheit 451

He figured that, with a book of Maus's critical standing and popularity, it might be a good idea to order plenty. Guy knows his comics.

At the risk of giving the book-banners any credit at all, the controversy over their small-minded move is sure to introduce Maus to tens of thousands of new readers — various editions of both the two-volumeoriginal and the complete, one-volume edition spent the weekend at or near the top of Amazon's best seller list, and Crom knows I reread my copies as well.

Mr. Higgins is a mensch, and we couldn't agree more with his opinion about the Tennessee school board's decision:

This is all just mind-boggling and makes no sense. Maus should be mandatory for all schoolchildren to read — not taken away.

We're so glad to see this book going where it's needed that we're almost willing to forgive WaPo's glaring error about the "nudity" that freaked out the censors of McMinn County: No, this was not about "naked mice." The school board meeting minutes make clear they were bothered by a tiny drawing depicting the naked corpse of Spiegelman's mother, Anja Spiegelman, in a 1972 comic about how her suicide had wrecked him emotionally. It's reprinted in Maus, but the characters are all human. Get out of here with all your clever "aren't all mice naked?" japery. Yes, of course freaking out about tiny cartoon breasts is insane either way, but for some reason, it really annoys me that even the Post gets it wrong and describes the image as an "illustration of a naked, lifeless mouse in a bathtub."

That just really triggers our fannish otaku OCD/ADHD. Read the damn book.

[WaPo / Maus Vol. 1 / Maus Vol. 2 / The Complete Maus (includes both volumes)]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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