Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for...

Graphic novels are a familiar sight at most public libraries. And I’m sure we’ve all heard the debates over their merit as great literary material (Neil Gaiman, anyone?). Regardless of our personal views, graphic novels are here to stay. I’ve found that most librarians have had little, if any, interaction with comic books. Those funny little books with words and pictures that are perfect for children and the semi-literate? Those monstrous series with the people with small noses and big eyes that the teens are always asking about? I wouldn’t ask anyone to read these books, but I would ask them to change their views of them. I would recommend reading Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. In the 1990s, comic book artist Scott McCloud (check out his Zot! graphic novel) set out to explain the comic book phenomenon and what makes the art form unique. He traces the combination of words and pictures through history, touching on the sequential art of the Egyptians and the Mayans. He discusses how universal images of a happy or sad face can be read across cultural and generational divides. Comic creators control the timing and pacing of a story through panel size and page structure. He acknowledges how the reading of a comic book is a symbiotic experience between the creator and the reader. The creator relies on the reader to “follow the rules” and read the page in the intended order and fill in the action that takes place in the “gutters” between the panels. I know this sounds like I’m trying to apply a greater importance to graphic novels than most people would give them, but there is no denying their importance to our core users. The least we could do is try to understand them. And if you really want to dive into the medium, here's a list of great writers whose work puts them at the top of the field.

Most librarians have heard of Neil Gaiman's comic book masterpiece Sandman, but take the time to check out some of his other work like The Books of Magic (an inspiration for Harry Potter?). As far as I'm concerned, Alan Moore is the best writer in comics. Pick up and read anything with his name on it and you will not be disappointed. This is the man that brought us Watchmen and V for Vendetta, but don't miss his run on Swamp Thing, Promethea, and Top 10. My last big name is Grant Morrison. He is currently writing the Batman comics and his past works include Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and the epic The Invisibles. If you take the time to read these layered, compelling stories you will find that not all comics are sock 'em up superhero yarns.