Pro-Comics Statement

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.

 

 

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“Beauty Pop”, a manga about makeovers for unhappy teenagers which puts a high premium on physical beauty.

 

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.

 

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A panel from One Piece. Readers of these bestselling series often find deep meaning in them, but perusing 60 or more volumes can make this challenging for non-fans to understand.

 

 

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.

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a fanmade image of One Piece characters with their signature punch, captioned with a translation of a Japanese word for best friend. This image conveys the positive messages fans can take away from comics that appear light or shallow.

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.

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Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin is an example of  a new comic targeting a young audience that does something new for the genre by featuring a young heroine of color.

 

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.

americanchinese
American Born Chinese by Gene Yang deals with issues of racism and cultural heritage/identity.

 

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Fun Home by Alison Bechdel follows the arc of the author’s adolescence in a dysfunctional home, her discovery of her own lesbianism, and her closeted father’s death.
The Property by Rutu Modan Books Reviews rutu modan Paste
The Property by Rutu Modan follows a grandmother and granddaughter as they look for answers on what happened to the grandmother’s property in Poland after WWII.

 

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.

 

Watchmen 2009 Some Arguments about Design at the Amoeblog
Panels from Alan Moore’s 1987 work Watchmen, which parodied superhero comics and which contains multiple scenes of violence against women.

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.

 

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panels from Nimona, a comic by Noelle Stevenson about a punk girl antihero and her well-meaning supervillain best friend)

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.

 

References

 

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Comics and graphic novels have long taken on a diverse array of topics and genres, from crime to racial tension to fantasy epic to history to memoir, and have proven a durable, popular art form across the world. In the last two decades, there has been an enormous boom in the variety of graphic novels being brought into the world by major publishers, and the number of subjects graphic novels and comics engage with have continued to expand. These are some resources for adults and youth interested in learning about how comics and graphic novels look today.

 

Diversity in YA tagged/graphic novels

http://www.diversityinya.com/tag/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:

http://www.scholastic.com/parents/blogs/scholastic-parents-raise-reader/raising-super-readers-benefits-comic-books-and-graphic-novels

 

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)

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/09/business/stories-need-to-be-told.html

 

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

 

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