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What is an Adult Graphic Novel?

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on January 29, 2015

We recently added an adult graphic novel collection to our library. We have had young adult graphic novels since the early 2000s. Tween and beginning reader graphic novels were added in 2008. Yet nothing was available for adults. The implied argument was adults didn’t read graphic novels, and if they did, it was generally the superhero books available in the young adult section. Were we doing a disservice to our patrons? The answer, yes! We needed to fix that.

Define “Young Adult Graphic Novel.” – We started by looking at the young adult graphic novel collection, and we decided we were going to pull some of the series that were showing up on “Best Adult Graphic Novels” lists. That should bring a built-in audience to our new adult graphic novel area. Out of the young adult collection came Sandman, Spawn, and Watchman. The young adult collection thus became the bastion of the superheroes of DC and Marvel with a strong Star Wars presence. It’s not that adults didn’t read these books voraciously, but it brought the content of the graphic novels more in line with the content of the young adult novels we had.

Where are the compilations of newspaper comics going? – Libraries put these books in all different places, including non-fiction and young adult sections. Not that it doesn’t happen, but when did you see a high schooler reading Doonesbury? And many people like Dilbert, but searching in the 700s is a daunting task. We rescued the newspaper comics compilation books from 741.5 and put them in the adult graphic novel collection. As soon as we did, they started circulating quite a bit more than they had before.

Where do the graphic novels go that students may be assigned for class? Maus and Persepolis are good examples of books that teachers frequently incorporate into their curriculum. These books had been living in the young adult section, but unfortunately no one was reading them. However, we had an eighth grade English teacher ask us about other books similar to these, including some of Gene Luen Yang’s books and A Game for Swallows. Would we be getting additional similar titles, he wondered, because he’d like to assign his class to read some of these types of books? To give these titles more cache and also to entice adults who would also be interested in these books but never find them in youth materials, these books were moved. All “literary graphic novels” now live in the adult graphic novel collection.

How is this section not a repository for unloved books? – Given the more conservative view our community has about books for youth, there were a number of graphic novels we didn’t have in the library’s collection. We now have the graphic novel versions of titles by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Janet Evanovich sharing shelf space with the Walking Dead. We have Sin City and Hellraiser. Without this section of adult graphic novels, we couldn’t adequately accommodate many popular titles that appeal to a quiet minority of our community who never requested we purchase these books but seems to be checking them out regularly.

How do you evaluate success? – Obviously, circulation is one way, and the graphic novels have only been their own section for six months or so. It seems like people are reading the books, even if it’s only the staff who are grudgingly admitting that “there might be something to these graphic novels.” Every time we talk to an adult about Maus, Persepolis, or American Born Chinese and he or she decides to check out the book, we have success. However, overhearing that a 24 year-old male patron said to his friends via social media, “You have to come to the Madison Public Library. They have really great comics [referring to our adult graphic novel section].” That is the best sign of success ever.

You know your patrons best. What do they want in their adult graphic novels? You may decide what makes up our adult graphic novels section does not work for you. Use this as a guide, and no matter what you decide, we hope your section is popular with the patrons of your community.

Cover Photo Creditcarmichaellibrary (CC BY 2.0)

Melanie A. Lyttle is the Head of Public Services Madison Public Library. You can watch her YouTube channel, Crabby Librarian, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Rv5GLWsUow. Shawn D. Walsh is the Emerging Services and Technologies Librarian at Madison Public Library.


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  1. […] 3Lyttle, M.A. & Walsh, S.D. (2015). What is an adult graphic novel? Public Libraries Online. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2015/01/what-is-an-adult-graphic-novel/ […]

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