Given the First Amendment and its enumerated rights and freedoms (religion, the press, speech, free assembly, petitioning of government, etc.), censorship, particularly as it exists in the United States, is less a question of legality than of obscenity, and thereby of morality. Which is itself an amorphous, malleable, and all-too-personal code of conduct with precious little in the way of legal traction.
As such, the challenging and banning of printed material on the grounds of obscenity is an inherently subjective, contentious, and public issue. One which just so happens to be the focus of M.K. Reed and Jonathan Hill’s Americus.
Centered on nascent high school freshman Neil Barton—a round peg in the square hole of a small Oklahoma town—Americus follows young Neil as he struggles to define himself as an individual and to defend his favourite fantasy novels, The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde, from the self-righteous indignation and public complaints of a coterie of anxious parents.
Serving as a heartfelt celebration of civil liberties, public libraries, and literature in general (as well as a less-than-charitable condemnation of the religious right), Americus coats its numerous social issues with just the right amount of teenaged rebellion and comedic angst to keep things from becoming overly serious or wincingly preachy. After all, this is light fiction, not a nuanced analysis of obscenity laws and First Amendment rights. For all the hurdles which Neil & co. must surmount in defense of the Ravenchilde series, there’s little doubt as to who is in the right, and even less reason to sympathize with the perverted theology and galling small-mindedness of Americus’s principle villain.
While relatively simple, Jonathan Hill’s bold lines and grayscale shading—the latter intentionally limited to scenes pulled from the Ravenchilde books—are an excellent match for M.K. Reed’s pitch-perfect script, with the aforementioned Ravenchilde excerpts both illuminating Neil’s struggles in the real world and serving as entertainment in their own right. (Really, the story within the story is intriguing enough to make one wish that the Ravenchilde series actually existed in the real world.)
Fan Art: Charlotte Murphy is the ideal librarian: passionate, kindhearted, open-minded, and unafraid to stand up to those obnoxious patrons who somehow convince themselves that it is their God-given Right and Sworn Parental Duty to impose their personal convictions upon an entire community. As for Apathea Ravenchilde… well, if you couldn’t tell, she’s pretty bad-ass. And apparently an excellent role model.