by Hal Schrieve and Michelle Nitto
This post is targeted at library patrons who might ask what role comics and graphic novels have in a library.
Sometimes, people misunderstand graphic novels as a kind of literacy that is less demanding, less valuable, and less educational than traditional forms of literature. As librarians, we believe that this literary medium itself has enormous value, so we want to address the primary concerns many comic-nervous patrons may have.
One concern people have is that comics are inherently fluffy and vapid.
It’s true that many comics, like many popular fiction books and many picture books, are light, easy to read, and avoid hard-hitting content. Some superhero comics can be wildly ridiculous, and some popular manga, like Naruto, One Piece, or Dragon Ball, can appear to be narrowly focused on action, humor, and slapstick.
While not all comics are intellectual, the story arcs and personal development of the characters can still be compelling and full of emotional depth for readers of all ages. Comics may encourage people to read more fiction and take interest in the lives of others. Comics can connect youth with exciting, relevant stories that keep them reading, and the world of graphic novels for children is only expanding.
Libraries stock light popular fiction and have for decades, and comics of all kinds also belong in the library. It isn’t a librarian’s business to judge people for what they choose to read. All reading helps develop linguistic skills, self-expression, and avenues for self-reflection.
Additionally, for every light graphic novel, there are dozens of more items for kids, teens, and adults that deals with serious or important content in a library collection.
Graphic novels can be a way of reading that is more accessible, but they simultaneously offer more for the reader to interpret. As Scott McCloud eloquently summarizes, “comic panels fracture both time and space, offering a jagged, staccato rhythm of unconnected moments” (pg. 67). This can help readers navigate narrative and stay engaged.
Another serious concern people have is that many popular comics are full of violent and sexual/sexist imagery.
It’s true that comics has long been a white and male-dominated profession, and classic comics in the U.S reflect this even as the medium changes. As librarians, we try to ensure that plenty of alternatives to classic, sexist comics are present in the library. Part of this work comes from finding work by women creators.
Some super-popular works like Saga are complex and engaging for adults but have gore and sexual content unsuitable for children, and some works of memoir or history, like Persepolis or Boxers/Saints, may discuss and depict war and death in a way that alarms parents. But this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be in the library.
The key thing is to think of graphic novels a medium to tell many different kinds of stories. There are graphic novels for all audiences. As librarians, we want to allow people to read and talk about whatever topics they wish to, and to help provide guidance. At the library, our job is to provide access to reading materials and to organize them in a way that makes sure the best audience for each work is able to find it. We don’t censor work, though good librarians open space for programming that can take on how complicated, problematic and unsettling some works can be.
We think that graphic novels are part of a healthy collection.
Diversity in YA tagged/graphic novels
English, Melanie (October 22, 2014). Raising super readers: the benefits of comics and graphic novels. Scholastic Parents: Raise a Reader (blog). Retrieved from:
Riggs, Ben (Feb 05, 2016). Why reading comics makes you smarter. Geek & Sundry. Retrieved from https://geekandsundry.com/science-proves-reading-comics-makes-you-smarter/
Staples, Brent (March 29, 1998). Why Comics are as Important as Shakespeare. New York Times: Opinion. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/29/opinion/editorial-observer-why-comics-are-as-important-as-shakespeare.html
Wenjen, Mia (June 15, 2015). 16 Diversity Graphic Novels for Kids and Teens. PragmaticMom (blog). Retrieved from: https://www.pragmaticmom.com/2015/06/diversity-graphic-novels/
“There are Stories that Need to be Told” (interview with Lion Forge)
Just for Fun
Bricken, Rob (January 24, 2014). “10 comics Marvel would desperately like to forget they published.” GizModo: Comics. Retrieved from https://io9.gizmodo.com/10-comics-marvel-would-desperately-like-to-forget-they-1508292020