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Comic book store owner offers to ship 100 free 'Maus' novels to Tennesseans after controversial ban

''Maus' should be mandatory for all schoolchildren to read—not taken away,' said Ryan Higgins, the owner of Comics Conspiracy in California.

Comic book store owner offers to ship 100 free 'Maus' novels to Tennesseans after controversial ban
Cover Image Source: Twitter/@RyanHigginsRyan

Comic book store owner Ryan Higgins was stunned when he learned that a Tennessee school board had voted unanimously to ban the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel 'Maus' in middle school classes. The McMinn County School Board in Athens said in a statement that it objected to the novel's "unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide" and that the work "was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools." Written by Art Spiegelman, the 1986 narrative and its sequel tell the harrowing story of the author's parents during the Holocaust, with Jewish prisoners depicted as wide-eyed mice and Nazi oppressors drawn as menacing cats.


"Reading 'Maus' opened my eyes," Higgins, who owns Comics Conspiracy in Sunnyvale, California, told The Washington Post. "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." The 42-year-old revealed that he first read the graphic novel as a teenager and that it soon became one of his favorites. So when he heard of the McMinn County School Board ban, Higgins knew he had to do something.


"It's just so bizarre—the actual images of the Holocaust are the most graphic, nightmare-inducing images in the world," he said. "Why take 'Maus' out of the curriculum when it makes this horror more teachable to a wider and younger audience?" On January 26, a day before Holocaust Remembrance Day, Higgins tweeted that he would "donate up to 100 copies of 'The Complete Maus' to any family in the Mcminn County area in Tennessee." Higgins said he had a hunch that sales of the graphic novel would surge due to the controversy surrounding the ban, so he quickly ordered 100 copies of 'The Complete Maus' to give away.


"This is not a book that's all about pornography and violence," he told CNN. "It teaches these kids about the horrors of the Holocaust in a more palatable way than some pictures that are just horrific." So far, about 60 students and parents who reside in the McMinn County school district have reached out to him for copies, he revealed. Higgins plans to ship them later this week as soon as his book shipment arrives. Malachi Cates, a 15-year-old sophomore at McMinn County High School, was one of those who responded to the now-viral tweet. The teen said he felt embarrassed when he looked at his cellphone last week and saw the school board making worldwide headlines for all the wrong reasons.


"I was shocked—I couldn't believe what they had done," Cates said. "I hadn't ever read the novel, but when I heard about it being banned, I knew I had to read it." He came across Higgins's offer while reading about the controversy on Twitter and asked his mom to request a free copy of 'Maus,' he said. His mother, Cindy Cates, was more than happy to oblige. "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."


Cates said that while he did learn about the Holocaust in history class, 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." Higgins shares the 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."


"It's a brilliant piece of work that gets across its message to readers of all ages," Higgins said of the graphic novel. "That's the thing about comic books—they're great for every age bracket. It's crazy that anyone would want to remove 'Maus.'" Meanwhile, the acclaimed novel's author, Spiegelman, believes that the problem is much bigger than his books. "This is a red alert. It's not just: 'How dare they deny the Holocaust?'" the 73-year-old said. "They'll deny anything." This isn't the first time Higgins has tried to help out faraway students. He tweeted out a similar offer in December when a Texas school district banned the novel 'V for Vendetta' and the series 'Y: The Last Man.' The comic book store owner said that while he'll do his best to send as many graphic novels as he can to readers in districts where they have been banned, he hopes for a day when he won't feel he has to. "This is all just mind-boggling and makes no sense," Higgins said. "'Maus' should be mandatory for all schoolchildren to read—not taken away."

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