Friday, May 8, 2009

Graphic Novels 101

Presentation by John Shableski, Sales Manager for Diamond Book Distributors and Robin Brenner, teen librarian – Brookline Public Library

John Shableski, who became misty-eyed when talking about how libraries have helped the comic book industry, provided a brief history of comic books and graphic novels. Robin Brenner gave him cat ears to wear for the presentation because apparently cat ears are popular in conferences and in manga culture.

Colonial Era. Ben Franklin communicates through pictures and words (i.e. “Join or Die.”)

Late 1800s Literacy in America. Mark Twain publishes: The Innocents Abroad

1895 Yellow Journalism and New Kind of Literacy. “Yellow Kid” character wore a t-shirt that featured social commentary

1920-1930 Comic Books and Superheroes. Comic strips and comic books took off; Dick Tracy emerged.

1938 Action Comics. Birth of Superman.

1940 The Cold War, Manga and the Library Bill of Rights. Sci-fi and horror comics gain momemtum while superhero comics become not as popular. Manga emerges with elements of Disney and western influence. In 1948, the Library Bill of Rights was written.

1950s The Seduction of the Innocent and the CCA. Dr. Federic Werham, who wrote the book The Seduction of the Innocent, is credited for the comic book industry’s decline. He blamed the industry as a contributing factor to juvenile delinquency. The industry counteredwith the Comics Code Authority in 1957. DC and Marvel Comics wrote the code which advocated for less violence and gore. Self serving because they were promoting their comics (i.e. superheroes rather than vampire storylines).

1960 Mad Gets Even. Stan Lee (creator of many comics like X-Men ) wrote comics when he was 19. Mad Magazine was created. Other comic emerge outside of the Marvel stable and go underground. These alternative comics sold at head shops.

1980s Great expectations. The industry rebounds with critically acclaimed Watchmen, Sandman, Maus, The Dark Knight Returns.

1990s A Collectors Paradise, Bone, Emerging Voices and the Arrival of Manga. More of an industry for collectors emerged where limited edition runs of comics with sophisticated artwork and high glossy paper dominated the landscape. Superman got killed. Manga got traction with the Internet withPokemon and Naruto helping.

2000 New Age and the Library Market. Not quite a mature industry. Comic book industry is evolving with support from libraries, popular culture. It’s finding a new audience. Web comics become popular.

Robin Brenner, teen librarian, took over the second half of the session. She wore a beautiful kimono and said that it is a customary to dress up in costumes when attending mango conferences. Her half of the session was to address basic issues concerning graphic novels encountered by librarians. Brenner organized the graphic novel track - kudos!

Graphic novels are a type of format not a genre. Within that format are various genres. In her library, graphic novels represent 45% of circulating titles within her teen collection.

To understand the relevance of comics books and graphic novels, Brenner advocates reading manga. She acknowledges that reading manga takes some time to understand the format.

Fortunately there are many venues for librarians to read reviews of graphic novels: Booklist, Library Journal, Voice of Youth Advocates, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, LJ Graphic Novel Xpress Online, Good Comics for Kids (blog) on School Library Journal, and Graphic Novel Reporter. She also also reads many Internet sites because some don’t have word count restricion and also provide value.

Age ratings/age range assigned by publishers areproblematic. No standards and consistency to the way publishers assign age ranges. Contrary to western publishers, manga publishers do a better job of rating.
Brenner advocates working with cataloguers to make it easier for patrons to find books. She recommends grouping by titles and by style (i.e. manga, western). These titles you need to generally reinforce binding. These titles you can label by color to group via age range. Brenner organizes non-fiction graphic novels by Dewey call numbers.

Millie Gonzalez, Reference and Electronic Resources Librarian, Framingham State College

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