Graphic novels at the library

Graphic novel cover

Cover of Bloodstar (1976) by Robert E. Howard and Richard Corbin. One of the first graphic novels.

The graphic novel is a strange beast in a way. It looks just like a comic book, except it usually has a stronger cover. Where a novel is definitely a form of fiction, a graphic novel can be any kind of narrative, even non-fiction. Oh well, “comic” books, which are really magazines, can have dramatic stories. The English language never has really made any sense, so why should we expect it to when it comes to graphic novels. The reason for this post is that libraries are collecting them seriously.

Consider how many movies and TV shows have been based on comic book characters: Superman, Batman, Spider Man, Dick Tracy, and many more. The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, two of the big box office winners in Summer 2012, are based on comic book characters.

I confess that I loved my comic books as a kid, but I would rather listen to music or work puzzles in my leisure time than read fiction. My only recent experience with a graphic novel was when someone lent me some Asterix the Gaul books in German to help me learn to read German. I figured out just enough to figure that I’d really enjoy them in English. My ability to read German is still terrible.

If it makes anyone gag to call comic books or graphic novels an art form, they are certainly an important and influential part of popular culture. As such they deserve inclusion in library collections every bit as much as popular fiction, music, movies, etc.

My old Superman comics probably appealed mostly to children or very young adults. Asterix the Gaul, on the other hand, depends for its effect on a fairly sophisticated knowledge of late-Roman history and language gags. Sometimes (for example 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente by Wilfred Santiago) straight biography takes the form of a graphic novel.

In other words, graphic novels appeal to people of all ages, people of all levels of education, and all or practically all tastes in literature. Aside from the fact that they take the form of sequential panels of drawings with dialog, they are no different from any other narratives in the library.

Educational value

I suspect some people have viewed comic books with alarm from the very beginning of their history. After all, the pictures carry nearly every aspect of the story except the dialog. Won’t that hinder the development of children’s’ reading ability? It certainly didn’t hinder mine.

In fact, if I had had the time to stay with it, my friend’s Asterix the Gaul books could have given me a basic working German vocabulary and grammar that would have made it possible for me to read more sophisticated German writings. That is, actually read them instead of juggling an article, a dictionary, and a grammar book–and still not getting it right.

Graphic novels at the library a variety of needs: for information, entertainment, and educational materials. If you’re into graphic novels, your local library probably has an excellent collection. If you don’t care for the whole concept of graphic novels and hear that a children’s librarian uses them at story time, don’t worry. They won’t get in the way of anyone’s reading ability. At least some of the children will even become better readers.

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Photo credit: Public domain, from Wikimedia

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