Graphic Novels in Collection Development: Two Kinds of Equality

– tylerdnns

Webinar Title: “Comics and Libraries: A No-Fear Graphic Novel Reader’s advisory.

This webinar, hosted by Krista King and Cathy Crum, took place in February of this year. King and Crum begin with a brief overview of comic books and their history. This means the format’s trajectory from merely popular and “cheap” to one that is taken seriously. This reminded me of the ways in which technology went from a humble, small subset to something for everyone. Listening to this webinar, I noticed several ways in which technology and graphic novels seem to have direct parallels–one of which is a historical habit of excluding women.

King begins by explaining the difference between comic and graphic novel. This section of the webinar is for an older set of librarians. The hosts explain that they often get asked by librarians if graphic novels are “explicit or taboo” books. This presentation is for people who don’t know what a graphic novel is, but it is also skillfully informative enough to appeal to someone with more knowledge as well. A lot of ground is covered.

“Graphic novels are a natural extension of the comic book,” King defines. “They tell a story using pictures and sequence panels, speech bubbles, and other conventions of the comic book format.”

Much of the webinar is Cook and King discussing the variety of ways in which graphic novels are effective learning tools. They often bolstered this continued theme with lesser-known insider “fan” knowledge (related, in one instance, to the evolution of the paper-thickness). As a fellow comic fan, I appreciated this marriage of “scholarly info” that both hosts threw in with “cool facts.” This webinar allowed the hosts to speak effectively both as educators and fans.

A third into the webinar’s 90 minutes, the speakers went into an age-based break-down of the genre. In the last five years, we are informed, graphic novels have begun to be marketed towards even the earliest readers. The youth coordinators monitoring the talk discuss how educators help publishers make sure language in these books is appropriate for “nurturing minds.” We are recommended ALA-approved titles for readers as young as four to adult readers who read Alan Moore.

Graphic novels are described in depth as being a helpful tool to bridge a literacy gap; for example, someone who is not a strong a reader can be “met halfway” by images in a panel. Following this general idea, the webinar also combines word and text to give listeners a comprehensive overview of their topic. Throughout the talk, numerous slides were devoted to picturing notable graphic novels for each audiences. Other slides linked to relevant book lists and awards for the genre. There really is no excuse for coming away from this webinar without a laundry list of great titles.

Graphic novels, our hosts explain, are a well-established format in their own right. They work well in an adult collection, a teen collection, or a children’s collection. Graphic novels can be gritty with adult themes or they can cater to children making the leap from picture book to chapter book.

A continued thread throughout the webinar is discussion of inequity in the comic industry. Our hosts explain that the genre is historically created by, about, and marketed towards males. Female representations are often sexist–back in the day, they mostly were, I’d surmise.

An interesting paint was made about how modern franchises like Spiderman and Thor re-brand their titles using female characters. The hosts bring up various female comic creators throughout the talk, so there is definite cause to hope for progress in this matter. Also, the recent crop of female superheroes with hopefully get more girls into graphic novels. This, I’m confident, can only lead to the next generation having more female comic creators.

A lot of firsts seem to be happening as far as social issues in comics. Cook and King describe many of these. But there is still a ways to go. The ratio of male-to-female creators or title/main characters is still overwhelmingly male. All the ways in which females are marginalized in the tech world eerily apply to the comic world, both on and behind the pages. The hierarchy of exclusion that exists in both worlds are similar, just short of identical.

Which is why this webinar was so refreshing. Both an overview of comics was given, but also the context of the comic book industry, particulars that reflect where we are socially. Many of our readings have been about the importance of understanding an object, but also it’s social and historical context. This webinar’s creators understand the importance of this as well.

Finally I loved all the ways in which the hosts were inclusive. For example, mangas are treated as something akin to the cheap Harlequin romance novels by the high brow. In this presentation, though, graphic novels are literature. The implication coming away from this webinar is that librarians should have Watchmen just as high on the shelf as David Copperfield. This presentation was all about equalizing all aspects of the genre. How many people, for example, would by thoughtful enough to call a graphic novelization of Twilight a learning tool? I appreciated how inclusive and informed the hosts were in this way. I agree with them.

As long as you’re reading something, isn’t that all that matters?

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