An Archie comic book depicting a same-sex marriage has been barred from sale in Singapore after a complaint from a member of the public, and the National Library Board (NLB) is reviewing its available copies.
Mr Sonny Liew, 39, a graphic novelist based in Singapore, uncovered this after writing to bookseller Kinokuniya last week.
He had searched for the book in vain on the bookstore's website after the recent controversy over NLB's withdrawal of three children's titles with homosexual themes due to customer feedback.
"I'd wondered if there were similar pressures being brought to bear against other book sources, namely commercial bookstores," said Mr Liew.
Kinokuniya said in an e-mail reply to him: "We regret that (the comic book) is deemed to breach the Content Guidelines for Imported Publications and removed from sale by notice of the Media Development Authority (MDA). We are not able to sell this title."
The comic book, Archie: The Married Life Book Three, was published in February last year and depicts the marriage of Kevin Keller, the iconic series' first openly gay character. Kinokuniya's website has Book 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 available for sale or pre-order, while checks on NLB's catalogue turned up only the offending third book.
When asked, the MDA said it had assessed the comic in March after receiving a complaint and found it breached the guidelines with "its depiction of the same-sex marriage of two characters". It then told the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets. The comic can still be bought overseas and brought into Singapore.
The MDA added: "The Publications Consultative Panel, which comprises a cross-section of Singapore society, was consulted. Its members advised that the theme of the comic was not in line with social norms and is in breach of existing content guidelines." The panel's chairman Edward D'Silva told The Straits Times that the members had been briefed on the complaint earlier this year, before the NLB controversy, and a "majority" of them had voted against the book.
He added that the panel, which has 28 members, usually meets four times a year but few books with homosexual themes had come to its attention. "Magazines and other periodicals with such content have been disallowed in the past, but books are a more recent trend. It's a new landscape."
The MDA said the importing and distribution of publications is largely self-regulated, with book retailers referring to the guidelines on its website.
"MDA reviews public feedback or complaints and takes action on a case-by-case basis if there are breaches of its guidelines," it said. Checks on the NLB's website last night showed it had four copies for borrowing, from the Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Cheng San and Yishun libraries. As of last night, all four were on loan.
When asked, the NLB said it had bought the comic book before MDA found it in breach. "We will be reviewing the book in the light of MDA's decision," said a spokesman. It added that the comic was acquired for its adult collection. "NLB takes a broader approach for (this) collection than it does for its children's collection."
This article was first published on July 17, 2014.
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