SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
BY: ALISON FLOOD
A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library, a controversial new comic that has been described as “wilfully fear-mongering and spreading harmful stereotypes”, has been pulled from publication following a barrage of criticism.
The graphic novel, written by the Newbery medal-winning author Jack Gantos and illustrated by Sandman artist Dave McKean, follows a young, brown-skinned would-be terrorist. It was due to be released in May 2019.
“When a young boy enters a library wearing an explosive vest hidden underneath his lovely new red jacket, he has only one plan on his mind. But as he observes those around him becoming captivated by the books they are reading, the boy can’t help but question his reason for being there,” reads a description from its publisher, Abrams.
Comics publisher Zainab Akhtar described the comic on Twitter last week as dealing with “an illiterate brown Muslim boy who goes into a library with a suicide bomb only to start having second thoughts because people seem so into the world of books and if only he could read”.
“Because reading will help the ignorant brown Muslim boy question/renounce his beliefs, you see, in addition to being some vague kumbaya about how a specific interpretation of culture will save the barbarian,” she wrote.
An open letter to Abrams from the Asian Author Alliance, signed by more than 1,000 writers, teachers and readers, called the book “steeped in Islamophobia and profound ignorance”.
The letter continued: “The simple fact is that today, the biggest terrorist threat in the US is white supremacy. In publishing A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library, Abrams is wilfully fear-mongering and spreading harmful stereotypes in a failed attempt to show the power of story.”
Gantos’s story was originally part of Here I Stand, a 2016 young adult anthology for Amnesty International, which said at the time that Gantos’s story “celebrates the power of books to transform lives”.
As criticism of the comic spread online, McKean, one of the UK’s most acclaimed comics illustrators, responded, saying that the book was “firmly on the side of literacy, empathy and non-violence”.
“The premise of the book is that a boy uses his mind and faith to decide for himself that violence is not the right course,” he tweeted. Responding to a reader who had said the story was about “a brown boy basically learning all this from a white space”, McKean said that he had “had just this anxiety when the script came to me. I just hoped we’d moved beyond each of us only being able to talk to and from our own little cultural bubble. My responsibility was to research, talk to consultants.”
On Monday, McKean told the Guardian he felt it was “absolutely the right decision to bin the book”. “A few factors changed from the initiation of the project until now, and I’m sure we all have our own thoughts to take away from all this. I already had my doubts that a story like this should come from outside the community involved, and the arguments on Twitter convinced me that it shouldn’t,” he said. “I’ve listened and learned a hard but valuable lesson.”
Abrams announced the cancellation of the comic on Saturday, saying in a statement that it had decided to withdraw it, with the support of McKean and Gantos: “While the intention of the book was to help broaden a discussion about the power of literature to change lives for the better, we recognise the harm and offence felt by many at a time when stereotypes breed division, rather than discourse.”
In response, the Asian Author Alliance said that Abrams still “has far to go in addressing the internal processes that allowed such a book to be green-lit … We hope they’ll somehow show the public that they are working to be better (for example a public pledge to have more inclusive hiring practices) so such problematic stories can be flagged before they cause harm to the community.”