Anonymously Visiting Comic Collections

For this anonymous comparison, I visited two sites with comic collections. The first was in an independent bookstore in an upscale shopping district. It has a website featuring upcoming events and a searchable catalog of books. The space was small with colorful, carefully curated displays of art books and new releases. Most people in the store were white, despite the neighborhood’s proximity to communities of color. At this location there were actually two comic collections: one in the children’s section, and one near the front of the store near the cookbooks. I stopped by the latter first, and spent twenty minutes looking over their collection. As with much of the rest of the store, it was a tight, heavily curated space, sorted by author. The shelves held mostly art comics, with a fairly large number of European comics and a shelf of recent work about comics and their history such as How To Read Nancy; their superhero section was limited to a few titles that seemed selected based on social relevance or popularity (Ms. Marvel, Black Panther, Wonder Woman and Batgirl featured prominently).

The children’s comic section was oddly sequestered in a corner of the children’s area, with no seating near it and with its shelves made less easy to reach by another bookcase perpendicular to it. In addition to Babymouse and Bone serial books, the books featured included Moomin comics and collections of Calvin and Hobbes, as well as more middle-grade matter like Smile and Drama, Tomboy, Spinning, and a new book by Jen Wang, The Prince and the Dressmaker, which was facing out on the shelf. There were no action comics besides Bone and no manga.

A salesperson came over to ask me if I needed help, and I said I was looking for more volumes of Saga and also hoping to find more work by Guy Delisle and Jen Wang. The salesperson took me to the counter and searched each title in the catalog, before letting me know that while they did not have more Saga but did have a new book by Jen Wang in the back. She told me that someone who knew more about comics would be here in an hour, if I wanted to wait.

The public library I visited was a large branch with heavy traffic. The library has a website that is moderately easy to navigate and also has an app so patrons can check out books on tablets (though no comic books are available via this app). In this branch, the comic and graphic novel section was on the first floor, near the back, next to a display of magazines and adjacent to the cookbook and gardening section. The comics were all arranged alphabetically by title, which was useful for browsing the Marvel and DC shelves, but which was less helpful when trying to check to see how many works by Bechdel or Sacco or Vaughan the area had. The shelf space took up an area about ten feet wide and six feet tall. The books at this branch reflected an effort to get a range of interesting, unique comics. were a mix of older well-known work like American Elf with newer releases, like two copies of The Beautiful Darkness.

I asked a library information assistant at a help desk far away from the comic section whether I could place a request for Volume 3 of Saga and if she could tell me whether the system had any of Guy DeLisle’s work besides Jerusalem. She was courteous and helped me place a request for Burma Chronicles, though when I asked if there were any librarians around who could tell me about what I might read next if I liked journalistic comics, she said that she didn’t know. The librarians on duty seemed mainly engaged with a job training program happening in the tech center.

I wasn’t sure if there was a special area for comics in the children’s wing, but the teen area had a display of mainly action and superhero serials, and I saw both adults and teens selecting titles to browse. There were no librarians nearby.

Both places I visited had a relatively accessible collection of relatively diverse kinds of comics. I felt that the cataloging choices at the library weren’t the best but were functional, and the location of the comics section for adults far away from the display of serial comics for teens made it hard for anyone to naturally find their way from one place to another. Ultimately neither location had people on hand who could tell me about the material on the shelf. However, I also disliked the positioning of comics within the children’s section in the bookstore as marginal.


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