Molly Crabapple (right) is an artist and illustrator based in New York City. Her graphic novel Scarlett Takes Manhattan, which is full of sex, drama, and glamour, was published last year by Fugu Press. However, as she prepared to do press for the book, including an appearance at South By Southwest, she found out that Barnes & Noble – the country’s largest retail book chain – wouldn’t carry the title, deeming it “too pornographic.” While in the airport about to board a plane to Austin, she spoke with TheGloss about her next steps.
Can you tell us a little bit about what “Scarlett” is about? Obviously, you don’t have to spoil the whole storyline.
Scarlett Takes Manhattan is the story of how Shifra Helfgott rises from the slums of Old New York to become the premier fire eater of her age, taking on Tammany Hall in the process.
How did you find out that Barnes & Noble had banned your book? Did the company tell you or did you find out another way?
I’m a panelist at South by Southwest Interactive (ironically, speaking about “Selling Subculture Without Selling Out”). Barnes and Noble runs a pop-up bookstore inside the convention center selling panelists’ books, and SXSW sets up signings. SXSW told me that Barnes and Noble refused to carry my book because it was “too pornographic,” though I could still sell the book myself.
Did the store cite any specific pages/sections/drawings as reasons why they considered the book pornographic?
Have you had any other issues with stores not carrying your books?
Diamond Distribution, the epic villain at the heart of the comics industry, initially rated my book mature (the same category as Lost Girls), before, at the last minute, plunking it into the much-worse-for-distribution “adult” section.
I’ve definitely seen other books at B&N that someone would describe as pornographic – the Marquis de Sade’s writings, the Kama Sutra, etc. If there isn’t a problem carrying those books, why should there be a problem with yours?
There’s a long history of comics being seen as more essentially corrupting than other sorts of books. “Seduction of the Innocent” was a classic tome that blamed comics for everything from juvenile delinquency to “turning kids gay.”
Then again, maybe B&N had a problem with a strap-on wielding domme menacing a banker.
How hard is it to get a graphic novel – any graphic novel, even when there aren’t drawings of naked people in it – sold at a chain bookstore?
It depends on the publisher. Barnes and Noble sells trades by Marvel and DC, as well as graphic novels put out by major publishers. But small press books like mine are always a harder fit for chains.
What percentage of graphic novelists are women? Have you been welcomed in the industry, or have you had any problems getting your work noticed?
While there are staggeringly talented, high profile women in comics (Marjene Sartrapi! Allison Bechdel! Annie Nocenti!) the majority of creators are still men. However, that doesn’t mean publishers aren’t welcoming to women (they always were to me)- just that women, who read less comics in their formative years, tend to have less desire to get into the often brutal and low-paying scene.
What is your next step with B&N? Will you petition them to carry the book, or will you just bypass them entirely?
When I tweeted about B&N banning Scarlett, my fans were outraged. My audience, like me, has a rebellious streak, and doesn’t like to be told what they can’t read. I love the amazing supporters who spread the word on Twitter and wrote to Barnes and Noble demanding to know why my book was nixed.
At the same time, with so many indie bookstores struggling to survive, a part of me just wants to say “To hell with The Man. Buy Scarlett from your local bookseller.”
I’ll definitely be talking about it during my panel at SXSW.