Michael Cavna in The Washington Post.
The battles over which books get taught is an ongoing national debate, but for Clay Bennett, the fresh skirmish in Tennessee especially hit home.
“This particular episode was a local story for me,” says Bennett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, meaning that the epicenter of last month’s controversy over the graphic novel “Maus” was “just up the road” from him in McMinn County.
That is where the school board unanimously voted Jan. 10 to remove “Maus” from its eighth-grade language arts curriculum, citing profanity, nudity and violence — eventually sparking a national conversation over why the seminal graphic memoir centered on the Holocaust was being removed from the classroom.
“The fact that the censors in this case were the members of the McMinn County School Board,” Bennett says, “and the book being censored was Art Spiegelman’s classic graphic novel 'Maus,’ put this story at the top of my cartoon to-do list.”
Political cartoonists are trained to find the irony, and Bennett asked himself: “What’s next for the McMinn County School Board: burning the book ‘Fahrenheit 451’?”
The cartoonist, though, gradually chose to take a more straightforward visual approach to satirize the story.
“My first idea was to represent the school board in the same manner that the Nazis were represented in the novel itself — as cats,” he says.
“After a few sketches, however, I abandoned that theme, concluding that my first idea was also probably the most obvious idea.
It was then that I began playing around with some ideas that included the second-most dreaded fate for any ‘maus’: a mousetrap.
Once I went that route, the cartoon drew itself.”