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Not Your Grandpa’s Comic Books

by on December 3, 2012

Comics have come a long way since Superman made his first appearance in 1938. No longer are the days of “biff,” “pow,” and “bam” ending the treacherous reign of some half-wit excuse for a villain. The future of comics and graphic novels is here and now and they deserve a spot in your library. For the purpose of this blog, “graphic novels” are any collection of comic strips, a story arc in individual issues, or first-run collected graphic novels. A graphic novel can run the gamut from the collected Fantastic Four (Issues #1-#7) or an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. So what makes graphic novels so exceptional that they could be considered worthy of a library shelf?

Graphic novels have changed since the 1930s. The characters have gotten more complex, the stories are more detailed, and the art has gotten more diverse. Graphic novels deal with more difficult topics from being lost in a foreign land to serial killers to eating disorders. People from every age can find and connect with one story or another found in a graphic novel. Simple comics like Owly or Korgi are great for young kids just bridging the gap from picture books to chapter books while older folks may find sympathy in Welcome To Tranquility: a graphic novel about retired superheroes.

While on the topic of kids reading, groups like Reading With Pictures1 and people like Nathan Hale are constantly pushing the boundaries on how beneficial graphic novels really are. Nathan Hale (the author, not the historical figure) wrote a pair of books giving the comic treatment to historical events and figures like Nathan Hale (the Revolutionary War spy, not the author). Reading With Pictures advocates the use of comics in classrooms and libraries as a teaching tool for kids who find themselves uninterested in or have difficulty with lengthy textbooks. Many kids who have difficulty with reading comprehension find solace in connecting pictures they see to words they read. Kids who are also learning English as a second language find it easier to identify and connect words and symbols than to procure images from their minds based on a string of descriptive words. Reading With Pictures was recently funded for their very first graphic textbook, which they hope will breach the standard for classroom texts.

Sure, they’re good for kids, but the majority of people who read comics are men and women from ages 18 to 452 Maybe you have to read Pride and Prejudice for a class but you find Austen’s writing too overdrawn and stuffy. Why not try the graphic novel adaptation? It’s not a verbatim transcription but you’ll have an easier time understanding what’s going on. Some people enjoy the quick-yet-compelling stories found inside graphic novels of all types. It’s important to keep graphic novels in libraries because they are such a joy to read but many people can’t afford to go out and buy a comic or graphic novel every week. Do you know a child who comes in with his parents and is afraid to take the step up from reader books to chapter books? Give him Bone. What about a teenager who has to write a report on the Gold Rush but doesn’t quite understand all the words in her textbook? Recommend the Graphic Library series. Or maybe there’s that patron who wants to read a biography on someone who has lost a lot of weight. Try Fat Free: Amazing All-True Adventures of a Supersize Woman!

You don’t have to want to read about superheroes to enjoy a graphic novel. You can continue reading stories about your favorite TV show that was canceled or get a shorter version of that book that the New York Times won’t stop raving about. Graphic novels are a bridge between art and literature. Libraries are haven of art and literature. It only makes sense that libraries would serve as a platform for the new era of graphic novels.

1. Josh Elder, Reading With Pictures, “About Us.” Last modified 2012. Accessed November 17, 2012. http://readingwithpictures.org/about-us/.
2. Brett Schenker, “Who Are The Comic Book Fans On Facebook?,” Graphic Policy (blog), April 27, 2011, http://graphicpolicy.com/2011/04/27/who-are-the-comic-fans-on-facebook/.