I got an email earlier today that at first I had intended to politely ignore, but then I couldn't stop thinking about it. I thought I'd post my response here, in case anyone else had been wondering about this.

Subject: Relish

I love this book but am wondering why you felt it necessary to make the pornography so graphic (excuse the pun!).  I hate to censor books but I’ve had complaints in my school library that it is “inappropriate” and I have to agree. The storyline around the porn is great but why the raunchy pictures in a kid’s book?

Below are the "raunchy pictures" the person is referring to:

IMG_3399.jpg

And here is my response:

Hi ____,

 

I don’t usually feel like it is my job to field emails like this, but I found myself considering your accusation and thought I’d take the time to try to make myself clear. My answer won’t necessarily help out when disgruntled parents come to you with complaints, but I hope it will give you a better understanding of my point of view.

 

Leaving aside the fact that this book is “all ages,” not “a kid's book,” and therefore not specifically geared towards children’s sensibilities, I find that there is nothing raunchier in the drawings than there is in the text.

 

In your email, you mention that you enjoyed the actual story, so the idea of a 12 year old boy reading porn is fine, but cartoon drawings of the porn itself (again, in a graphic novel) is obscene? Your opinion can certainly be carried out in how you censor the book to your patrons and children of your acquaintance, but I don’t feel that it is my responsibility to be that arbiter, as your email suggests. I wrote and drew a story that happened to me, to my own tastes and in the hope that it would reach readers of all ages who found it amusing— end of my responsibility. 

 

The hope of including this story as it is in my book is that when 12-year-old readers are confronted with such materials in their life, as they will be and I was, they will be able to see it as something that is normalized and perhaps a little ridiculous, rather than scary and menacing, or a source of shame. I am proud that images of naked bodies exist in an all-ages book, as they exist in all ages of life. The refusal to include such things buys into the societally imposed idea that images of naked bodies, especially in sexual context, must be hidden and restricted as immoral and obscene. I do not agree, necessarily. I certainly wouldn’t offer pornography to a child, but my book is not pornographic in nature— not meant to titillate or arouse. It does contain references to material that exists for this purpose, and I don’t find the images to be presented in an obscene fashion. My book is usually listed as “grade 6 and up.” I think it’s important within the book that this story exist, to try to illustrate to younger readers at this age that these interests are natural and can be funny, rather than implying with obvious censorship that looking at such images should make you feel shame.

 

Perhaps it will provoke younger readers to talk about it and understand it with an adult, rather than hiding their knowledge of such things and pretending they are not a part of life. In the story, Drew’s fascination with pornography brings him shame and embarrassment. He feels alone in his interest. The truth is that almost any 12-year-old would be fascinated, sexually or just because it is new and taboo, and with porn being easier to access than ever, it’s important to make sure that kids understand what it is and how it impacts them. 

 

Believe me, my drawings are considerably more modest than the reality of what I saw in his magazines at the time. I wish I’d had a little more context for what I was seeing back then— though it was certainly not the first time I’d been confronted with such things. I wish I’d been able to see it as I do now— to better understand the industry, and the power such things can have over people, and that it is perfectly natural to show an interest in porn, at puberty or any age. To have seen cartoonish images of sex would have certainly helped my reading comprehension, to know what sex looked like, as I was reading any book with even the vaguest reference to sex, and picturing all manner of inaccurate things. 

 

It’s important to consider why the story is held to less strident standards of censorship than the image— why is that, when as a reader, I’m sure you can attest the power of the written word?

 

In short: it’s a graphic novel, and images are a part of the story. If you don’t approve, perhaps one of the many MANY books without pictures would be better suited to the disgruntled parents with whom you agree.

 

But I’m glad you enjoyed the book otherwise. It’s kind of you to take the time to write an author to compliment them on their work.

 

--Lucy