Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What Are Comics Doing In a Library?

With MCPL’s first Comic-Con coming later this month, people of all ages—including many library staff members—are excited about the crafts, panels, and workshops involving comic books, superhero movies, and related topics. Other people are likely thinking: “Why is a library promoting comics and graphic novels? Libraries used to be about providing real books, with words.”

At top: Banner with flags and "Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales." Main art: Portrayal of Harriet Tubman in woods with a lantern. Text at bottom: "The Underground Abductor".
Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales:
a comics series about historical events
Comics in various forms, including the graphic novels we have in the library, have gotten more
respect over the last twenty years or so. One reason is the more serious content, as mentioned in a recent Shout Out post. Another is that they can help children and teens (and adults) who have reading difficulties. Children and teens who are reluctant readers or have reading disabilities, as well as anyone learning to read a new language, find comic books a bit easier to understand than regular books.  The pictures in a graphic novel provide context: through showing action, emotions expressed on characters’ faces, and objects, they help the reader understand the words and the story. Graphic novels can also provide insight into another culture or time period—just as books do, only with visual information as well.
 "Extraordinary XMEN" at top; art of six superheroes flying in sky in action poses.
Extraordinary X-Men: a
 new X-men series at MCPL

Then there’s the fun factor: people are attracted to comics because of the pictures. The artwork is beautiful or silly or edgy or grim according to the artist’s style and the type of story. Readers usually choose a comic that has both a story and artwork style that fits their interests, although I have occasionally broken out of my taste for “pretty” art to read something like classic comics creator R. Crumb’s adult-level interpretation of the Book of Genesis.

Drawings are not only shorthand for part of the story but are part of it—they set the scene, let you know exactly what characters look like without going into paragraphs of description, and show whether a character is sincere or is being sarcastic or dishonest.  The sense of action of superhero comics such as The X-Men, the intricacy of Kaoru Mori’s A Bride’s Story, and the retro, frequently-in-your-face art of Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor add to the creativity of the work in a way words do not, and add to the reader’s enjoyment as well.

 Title "Glue & Go Costumes for Kids" with pictures of kids in variety of costumes.
“But the pictures mean readers don't use their imagination!” you might think. That may be true in some cases, but graphic novels do inspire creativity. Fans who use graphic-novel characters as a basis for their costumes put effort into creating a character’s clothing and appearance using fabric, glue, makeup and other material. They find innovative ways to portray a character while working with a much smaller budget than movies and TV shows have. Then there are the fans who are inspired to create their own comic books, on their own or collaborating with a friend or two. And as a manga and anime fan, I’ve known many fellow fans who decide to start learning Japanese, either in school or on their own. (I’m one of the latter myself.) 

If you stop by Silver Spring during the Comic-Con, or visit other branches for related activities, you may see some of this creativity—drawings of original superheroes, people in homemade costumes, aspiring writers, and professionals in the comics field.  Perhaps you’ll be inspired yourself to join in, or at least try, a graphic novel for the first time.

Beth C.

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