A previous version of this article referred to a nude mouse depicted in Art Spiegelman's graphic novel “Maus.” The illustration in the book actually shows partial female nudity. The article has been corrected.
“Reading ‘Maus’ opened my eyes,” Higgins said. “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.”
When Higgins bought the Comics Conspiracy shop in Sunnyvale, Calif., near San Jose, he decided to make sure that the shelves were always well-stocked with cartoonist Art Spiegelman’s story detailing his father Vladek Spiegelman’s experiences, and the resulting trauma. For 16 years, that’s been the case.
When Higgins learned Jan. 26 that the McMinn County School Board in Athens, Tenn., had voted unanimously to ban the graphic novel in middle school classes because of the board’s objection over profanity and nudity, he was stunned.
“It’s just so bizarre — the actual images of the Holocaust are the most graphic, nightmare-inducing images in the world,” he added. “Why take ‘Maus’ out of the curriculum when it makes this horror more teachable to a wider and younger audience?”
Higgins, 42, said he knew he had to do something.
“I’ll donate up to 100 copies of The Complete Maus to any family in the McMinn County in Tennessee,” he wrote on Twitter. “Just DM me your address!”
He would also pay for the shipping.
About 60 students and parents who reside in the McMinn County school district have contacted him wanting copies, he said, and he plans to ship them later this week as soon as his book shipment arrives. His tweet has gotten more than 12,000 likes.
In December, when a Texas school district banned the graphic novel “V for Vendetta” and comic book series “Y: The Last Man,” Higgins did the same, offering on Twitter to send copies to anyone in the district who wanted them.
“I didn’t get a huge response, but a couple of people reached out and were happy to get copies,” he said.
But he figured “Maus” might be different.
One of the people Higgins heard from was Malachi Cates, a 15-year-old sophomore at McMinn County High School, asking for a copy through his mother.
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.”
When Malachi did a search on Twitter about the controversy and came across Higgins’s offer, he went home and asked his mom to request a free copy of “Maus,” he said.
Cindy Cates, 44, was happy to ask.
“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.”
Malachi said he learned about the Holocaust in history class, but he looks forward to reading the personal story told in “Maus.”
“From what I’ve seen online, it’s an influential piece of work that shows what actually happened,” he said. “History shouldn’t be sugarcoated — kids need to learn about this stuff.”
Hundreds of people have left comments on Higgins’s post, some expressing disgust and dismay over the school board’s decision, while others have thanked Higgins for helping to get the book in students’ hands.
“If you need it, I’ll kick in some funds for this,” a commenter offered.
Another said banning books should be the least of a school district’s worries: “School shootings, lacking infrastructures, lead in water, underpaid teachers fleeing the profession, outdated curriculum and tech, large class sizes [and] the best we can do is ban a Holocaust book with a nude mouse.”
“Let there be no hiding place for those who don’t want children to read that the Holocaust was in fact a bad thing,” wrote another.
Higgins said he shares that sentiment.
“When thought-provoking comic books and graphic novels are banned, this hits my world,” he said. “Sending out free copies of ‘Maus’ is something I can do. If even one kid reads it and it changes their world, that’s a wonderful thing.”
While growing up in Andover, Mass., Higgins said he enjoyed reading Superman and Spider-Man comics and was thrilled in his teens to discover graphic novels for an older audience.
After his family moved to Northern California in 1993, he took a job at the comics store he now owns and developed a deeper appreciation for real-life stories such as “Maus.”
“It’s a brilliant piece of work that gets across its message to readers of all ages,” he said. “That’s the thing about comic books — they’re great for every age bracket. It’s crazy that anyone would want to remove ‘Maus.’ ”
Spiegelman, in an interview with The Washington Post, said the problem is much bigger than his books.
“This is a red alert. It’s not just: ‘How dare they deny the Holocaust?' ” said Spiegelman, 73. “They’ll deny anything.”
With schools increasingly banning books, he said he viewed the Tennessee school board’s vote as another “harbinger of things to come.”
The school board objected to Spiegelman’s illustration of a naked, lifeless woman in a bathtub. The image depicted how his mother, Anna Spiegelman — also a Holocaust survivor — died of suicide in 1968.
Higgins said he’ll send as many graphic novels as he can to students and parents in districts where they have been banned, but he hopes for a day when he won’t feel he has to.
“This is all just mind-boggling and makes no sense,” he said. “ 'Maus’ should be mandatory for all schoolchildren to read — not taken away.”
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