December 20, 2012

Breaking Out Part 1: Who do you think you are?

Welcome to Breaking Out, a series of posts exploring the process of creating a standalone graphic novel collection in the public library.  (Apologies for the delay in picking the series back up!)

Today, Part 1: Who do you think you are?

You may already have had several conversations about moving your comics collection, whether formal or informal, and many of you may have been working on this challenge in your minds without external input.  But before you go much further, take a step back and have a good look at yourselves.  Whether you're working in a team or on your own you'll thank yourself later for getting a better understanding of who you are and what that identity brings to the table.  While this may be a good idea for any project, comics brings a peculiar kind of baggage (more on which later) that makes this self-reflection even more vital.

So who are you?  I bet you'll find that more than one apply...

Non-reader?  You may feel a bit out of your depth, but you have at least two valuable perspectives to offer right away: that of a library user with little to no assumptions or specific expectations, and that of the librarian without a personal investment in the project.  You may have to fight an instinct to "do it the way we've always done it", but you'll be excellent at challenging the assumptions of those with more experience.  Take advantage of the opportunity to introduce yourself to the medium, and don't hesitate to ask "why" when the more experienced team members are talking over your head.

Lifelong comics reader?  You probably have insight that's hard to come by among folks who are new to the medium, and that is very helpful in the process.  Keep in mind, though, that your understanding of comics may be so natural that it all feels like common sense, which can be very hard to explain to someone who doesn't share your background.  Keep a close watch of your assumptions (especially those assumptions that feel like objective truth!), and be sensitive to teammates who do not share them, but also watch for opportunities to speak up when you see misunderstanding or confusion. 

Fan?  Your passion for the medium can't be simulated, and this can be a great motivator for everyone on the project.  The intensity of your specific interests (e.g. superheroes, manga, indie/art comics) is a boon to promoting comics in the library, but in this context it may narrow your focus a bit, so check in with other folks on your committee occasionally to make sure you're tempering the specificity and keeping your eye on the bigger picture.  Don't forget, though, that your experience of comics may be the closest to that of the comics-oriented library patron, and be sure to point out (gently) when you'd feel under-served by a given idea.

Academic?  You probably have some fascinating views on the subject (and, frankly, I'd love to hear them!), but you may find that most of your knowledge is out of the scope of the conversation.  Resist discussions that are likely to leave others in the dust, and instead use the extensive information that you've accrued to keep the solutions cohesive from the broad perspective that your research has afforded you.  Your understanding may make you exactly the right person to break down misconceptions and explain why the comics world is this way or that, as long as it's relevant to finding the right solution to the problem at hand.

I'm sure there are many other ways to break down the "types" that will be involved in putting comics in their right place, not to mention the usual personalities that are involved in any team project.  Of course, if you're working alone, you'll only have yourself to deal with, though you'll find lots of information by talking with folks (both readers and owners) at comic shops, bookshops that sell comics, and of course other libraries.  Gathering thoughts from them will provide you with a makeshift team that will no doubt be happy to bounce ideas off each other and brainstorm all day. 

December 13, 2012

NextReads Newsletter, December 2012

This month's NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available!  This month, along with new releases and a title for new readers, I've selected some science fiction comics that aren't the usual spaceships-and-aliens affairs (not that there's too much of that in comics anyway).

Read this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page.  To subscribe, select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

November 8, 2012

Elsewhere: Funky Winkerbean vs. Comics History

This past Sunday, Tom Batiuk's comic strip Funky Winkerbean started a lecture on the history of comics.  I think the Comics Curmudgeon put it best: "WE ARE APPROACHING FUNKY WINKERBEAN SMUG LEVEL ALPHA, REPEAT, SMUG LEVEL ALPHA"... If you're up for it, start here.

November 1, 2012

NextReads Newsletter, November 2012

This month's NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available!  This month I've selected some wordless comics to give your alphabetical mind a break.  Read this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page.  To subscribe, select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

October 28, 2012

New Shelf: Of Comics And Men

Regrettable title aside, Jean-Paul Gabilliet's Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books is an excellent book that I heartily recommend. It was first brought to my attention by Will Hansen and Ben Bolling during their talk at NC Comicon last year and again during their panel discussion at this year's Comics Fest. Because it's definitely an academic title, I ordered a copy through interlibrary loan, but there were plenty of libraries with a copy, so that shouldn't be too difficult a prospect for anyone in particular.

Besides Will and Ben's recommendations, I was drawn to the book by its explicit acknowledgement that it covers only American comics. Perhaps I've gotten a bad sample, but I'm used to books and documentary films claiming to be histories of comics in general but covering only American works, as if they're the only comics worth mentioning. It made me skeptical at first, but, as the author demonstrates, the US really has historically dominated the medium, for better and/or worse, making this kind of treatment justified. As Tintin cartoonist Hergé said, "One of the essential qualities of the American comics, like the American cinema, seems to me to be its great clarity. In general, the Americans know how to tell a story, even if that story is twaddle." (Quoted on page 277.)

The book frames itself as a cultural history, which is to say it is an examination of the place of the comic book within American culture. The first and largest section retells the general timeline of events, from their "invention" with plagiarized European imports in the 1840s, through various ups and downs (popularity, profitability, hype, content scope, etc.), to today.  Next, Gabilliet looks at historical developments in the production, business, authorship, and readership of comics. Finally, he looks at comics' journey toward internal and external legitimacy, including the misunderstood history of comics censorship, one of the most enlightening portions of the book.

That the book consists exclusively of prose is noteworthy only because its subject is a visual medium. If it were not an academic work, I'd say that it suffers from its lack of illustrations; instead I'll just suggest that it shouldn't be anyone's introduction to the history of comics. I benefited heavily from my exposure to the books and stories it mentions, and I think the ability to call up images at will is pretty essential to keeping the book from being an abstract catalog of events and names. The only other downside (though it's related) is that it doesn't address changes in comics's artwork. I understand why Gabilliet would draw the line at this massive topic, but, if visual art is part of culture, it is a logical expectation to see this addressed in the discussion. Change in narrative (the other "half" of comics) is covered somewhat it the form of notes on genre, theme, and tone, but this aspect of the history is also mostly missing. Or maybe I misunderstand what "cultural history" is supposed to mean. Either way, I'd love to see books that address these aspects of comics as they've changed through time.

This notable but forgivable gap aside, the book is as thorough a history of American comics as you could want. I was fascinated to learn how the studio system worked, why credited authorship had been resisted by publishers and artists alike, and that censorship of comics was a much more complicated situation than is conventionally understood. Finally, I was happy to find the goldmine at the end: a bibliographic essay that presents "an overview of the main bibliographic sources enabling an approach to the study of comic books from a cultural history perspective." (So good I photocopied it for later!)

I highly recommend  Of Comics and Men for anyone interested in the history of American comics, even if they think, as I had, that they already know the whole story.  I'd even go so far as to call it required reading for aspiring comics librarians (like me).  Skip it for now if you haven't had a look at less academic books and films, but definitely keep it on your list for later.

October 15, 2012

Elsewhere: Google Doodle Motion Comics

Today's Google Doodle, those fun re-worked logos that Google uses on its search page, commemorates the 107th birthday of Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland. The strip remains one of the finest examples of the comics medium, notable for its incredible draftsmanship and its wonderfully fantastic world-building. Briefly, it's the story of Nemo, who goes on adventures in his dreams with a wacky cast of characters accompanying him (including the very regrettable racial caricature, The Imp), only to wake up at the end of each strip.

The Google Doodle is an excellent tribute to the strip, and it does a great job of getting across what's so enjoyable and enthralling about the strip: the fantasy, the imagery, the adventure, and the reliably goofy punchline at the end.  It's also an example of a phenomenon called "motion comics" (unless there's a more specific definition I'm not aware of), which is a relatively new form of narrative in which comics are presented on a screen -- so, web comics, basically -- with at least some animation incorporated into some or all of the panels.  The motion can be constant and repetitive, although I believe it is more common to have the motion unfold panel-by-panel (and also click-by-click), much like the anticipated movement of the reader's eye across the page with the direction of the narrative.

It's definitely an interesting development in the comics medium, especially considering that comics are already a transitional medium.  Motion comics bring up questions of the relationship between the cartoonist and the reader, including the tension of "controlling" the pace of the narrative.  It also fits into the ongoing question of how comics do and do not relate to film, since it's essentially an average of the two mediums.

With admittedly little experience or extended thought, I'm not a fan of motion comics.  For now, they seem like a gimmick (these Dark Horse "motion comics" are just regular old animation made with the comic book art), though it's true that gimmicks have a way of surprising curmudgeons like me with their longevity.  Considering them as a librarian, I doubt they'll be incorporated into anyone's collection budget anytime soon, if only because I don't believe they're for sale as such.  I bet they'll show up first as part of magazines' web/tablet editions and then maybe on their own as a subscription like any other e-periodical.  But, considering we're only recently getting to see still e-comics as a product that people are willing to buy, I have a feeling it'll take a while to consider the motion kind, maybe even long enough to see their demise altogether.

By the way, check out this great essay on Little Nemo at by Douglas Wolk.

Google image copyright

September 30, 2012

A Heppy Land Fur, Fur Away

Taking a break to visit Krazy Kat kountry...

(Image source:

September 12, 2012

Will Hansen Interview

Some of the mind-blowing treasures from the Murray Collection.

If you were in the audience at this year's Durham County Library Comics Fest, you were lucky enough to see a conversation among four scholars and librarians who make use of comics at in academic settings, including Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections at Duke's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  I recently visited the library to learn more about Will's background and about the comics in these archives and special collections, and my mind is still reeling from what I saw there.


741.5 and then some: How did you first get into reading comics?

Will Hansen: Like many people, I was a big fan of comics as a kid.  I probably started reading comics when I was six or seven, taking after my older brother.  At first I was mostly a DC fan -- Superman and The Flash, especially -- but later got into X-Factor and X-Men at the end of the Claremont/Lee years.  I grew up in a small town in Nebraska; we didn't have a comics shop, so my first sources were the town's two bookstores, grocery store magazine sections, and a newsstand downtown.  My brother and I also sometimes saved allowance or birthday money to order back issues from Mile High Comics or the other mail-order businesses that advertised in comics.  And occasionally we would make a trip to Omaha, Lincoln, or another city that had a comics shop.  This was always a big treat for us.

Also like a lot of people, especially those who grew up in the 1980s, playing with toys and watching cartoons fed into reading comics (and vice versa).  I loved the "Super Powers" DC action figures, and the similarly sized GI Joe toys, and I played with these, watched the cartoons, and read the comics.  In fact, my brother and I talked our older sister into writing and drawing some homemade issues of GI Joe for us so we could create storylines that weren't included in the real comics! 

741: Were comics part of your journey to librarianship, or is it just a lucky coincidence that they are among your responsibilities now?

WH: It's a very lucky coincidence.  By the time I enrolled in the Library and Information Science program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I was no longer reading comics regularly, just when something caught my interest (some examples: Astro City, Sandman, anything by Alan Moore).  I was working at the Newberry Library, a great humanities research library in Chicago, and focused on preparing for a career in a special collections library or archives.  I never suspected I'd have the opportunity to work with comics in that setting.

However, since coming to Duke in 2007, my duties have included collection development, library instruction, and outreach for our literary collections, among which we count our comic book collections.  I was thrilled to see that Duke had such a great collection of comics, and working with the collection has really rekindled my love of the medium.  It's been fascinating to learn about and share their history through the collections.

741: Most of the comics in the Rubenstein Library were donated by brothers Edwin and Terry Murray.  Who are the Murray brothers, and how did their collection come to reside at Duke Libraries?  

WH: Edwin and Terry Murray are somewhat legendary in the fan community in North Carolina and the surrounding area, and were instrumental in creating that community in the 1960s and '70s, by organizing some of the area's first mini-cons and through other activities.  Edwin also published two fanzines, Vertigo! and Trefoil, from the late 1960s through the mid 1980s.  Terry published an important reference work, Science Fiction Magazine Story Index, 1926-1995, in 1999.  They live in Durham and continue to study and collect many forms of "pulp culture," a term that encompasses the many genres of story and varieties of media that traced parts of their origins to the pulp magazines and comics of the early twentieth century.

Edwin (right) and Terry Murray speak with
Rubenstein Library Director Naomi Nelson.
Edwin is a Duke alumnus, and the brothers have deep roots at Duke: their father worked at Duke for decades, and their uncle was Wallace Wade, Duke's legendary football coach! Edwin and Terry have deep affection for the university, and when their collection outgrew their home, they contacted Duke about donating it to the Libraries.  The majority of the collection came to Duke in 2002, in over 900 boxes.  It filled five tractor-trailer containers!  The collection goes far beyond comics to encompass a wide range of pulp culture materials: with additions since 2002, the collection now includes approximately 65,000 comic books, a role-playing game collection covering over 250 linear feet (the largest institutional collection of its kind), thousands of fanzines, and thousands of cataloged books and periodical runs.

More classics from the collection.

741: What kinds of comics are in the collection?

WH: The Edwin and Terry Murray Comic Book Collection includes a good overview of Golden Age comics, with samples of most publishers' productions, and a thorough and nearly comprehensive collection of major publishers' comics for the Silver and Bronze Ages.  Superhero comics certainly form the majority of the collection, but the Murrays also collected other genres.  Science fiction, fantasy, adventure, and "funny animal" comics are well represented, as are genres such as crime, western, war, horror, jungle, educational, romance, and humor.  They also collected samples of underground comics, including some of the most famous comics by R. Crumb and others.

Duke has continued to add to the Murrays' collection by forming an additional Comic Book and Graphic Novel Collection of around 10,000 items.  This includes international examples of comics from Europe, South America, Mexico, and other locales, as well as many alternative comics from the 1980s-2000s.

Spanish-language comics from the Murray Collection.2
741: What do researchers gain from first-hand exposure that they couldn't from, say, reprints or online viewing?  

WH: As a special collections librarian and archivist, I believe that it is essential to preserve primary sources in their original format whenever possible to ensure that researchers have as clear and unmediated a view of their subject as possible.  Something is always lost, added, or changed in the transition from an original comic to reprint or digital version.  These differences can include the removal of advertisements, letters pages, or other paratextual materials in the original comics; different paper qualities; editorial changes or censoring of controversial material; covers changed from their original presentation by removal of logos, or ads, or the substitution of entirely different covers; enhancements such as storyboards, sketches, or scripts; and, in the case of digital comics, addition of animations or interactive elements.  In the case of digital comics, especially, this is an entirely different experience than reading an original comic, as the layout and presentation of the comic is entirely dependent on varying screen sizes, resolutions, and strategies for scanning by individual readers.  For in-depth research into comics history or the reception of particular issues or characters, originals need to be consulted to ensure the credibility of the scholarship, as changes in the experience of reading always occur in the transition to reprint or digital version.

Online comics are a fascinating problem; as with ebooks, publishers can often "enhance" digital comics after original publication, thereby fundamentally changing the comic and leaving the reader without access to the earlier version.  Archivists and librarians are struggling with the problem of securing long-term access to electronic publications in their original formats, and how to preserve and provide access to the various manifestations of these works for future generations.

741: Comics are historically ephemeral: printed on poor-quality paper, printed imprecisely, and generally intended to be thrown away.  How do you address the challenges of preservation and conservation when it comes to such materials?  And just what is the difference between conservation and preservation?

WH: In libraries and archives, my understanding is that "preservation" generally connotes a broader field of principles and practices for ensuring the long-term survival and access to materials, while "conservation" generally means the more specific practices of repairing and ensuring access to individual items that have incurred damage, contain dangerous physical materials such as mold, or otherwise require treatment to facilitate their use.  For comics, the largest part of both battles is storing the comics in a stable environment that is fairly cool, fairly dry, and dark.  The use of acid-free boxes, bags, and boards is also an important component.  Because of the massive size of the collection and the expense of archival materials for comics, not all of the comics at Duke have bags and boards as yet, but all are stored in acid-free boxes, in excellent climate conditions.

The collection in its "natural" state.
We have dealt with conservation of a few important individual issues that had specific needs, such as tears or fragmented pages, but have not applied many other specific conservation treatments to the collection.  Deacidification treatment is possible for comics on pulpy newsprint and other cheap paper, but this is an expensive process, especially at the scale of tens of thousands of issues.  In general, we have taken the approach of slowing the decay of the comics as much as possible by climate measures and careful monitoring of use in our research room.

741: Are there any items in the collection that you like to show off?  What are some of your personal favorites?

WH: I find new comics to love every time I pull out a box of the collection.  I love showing comics fans some of the truly iconic issues in the collection: Batman #1, Amazing Fantasy #15 (Spider-Man's first appearance), the Murrays' copy of Fantastic Four #1 which they had signed by Stan Lee on a visit to Durham.  These are always a thrill for me to see: as a kid, I never thought I'd have the experience of touching these issues, much less getting to work with them and show them to people who enjoy seeing them!

Personally, I also love that we have a very early printing of what's most often cited as the first American comic book, The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck by Rodolphe Topffer, from the 1840s.  I'm a big fan of pre-Comics Code horror comics, so I love showing the EC issues that we have; these are great tools for talking about American culture in the 1950s, as well as having among the most eye-catching covers in the collection.  My other EC favorite is one of their "New Direction" attempts to jump-start their business after their horror comics came under attack: Psychoanalysis #1.  This always gets students talking.

Duke's copy of Rodolphe Topffer's The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck. Like most copies of this work that were published in the U.S., this edition was actually plagiarized and attributed to one "Timothy Crayon" -- a bad omen for creator rights in the American comics industry if ever there was one!

741: How do researchers make use of the Murray Collection, and what's your role in the process?  What should a researcher do in order to get access to these items?

WH: A variety of researchers use the collection.  Fans and independent researchers contact us via phone or email, or use the collection in our reading room to find details about our holdings or contents of specific, hard-to-find issues.  I and other staff members have introduced Duke undergraduate classes on creating comic books, women and comics, serial forms of narrative, and other topics to the collections, and many of these undergraduates have used the collection to create final projects (such as creating their own zine/comic based on a favorite character, artist, or topic in the collection) or write research papers for their classes.  Other groups, such as classes from area high schools and the annual Governor's School held in Raleigh, have also come to Duke to learn more about the history of comic books through an introduction to the materials in the collection.

To use the collection, researchers can use the inventories linked above to find the specific materials they would like to see, and then contact me or the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to explain what they are looking for.  Because of its massive size, the collection is stored in our offsite facility, the Library Service Center, so researchers should contact us at least 48 hours in advance to request materials if they plan to visit the collection in person.  Researchers can consult the comic book collections in the Rubenstein Library's research room during our hours of operation.  No materials can be checked out or removed from the library, but digital cameras or scanners are allowed in the research room if images are needed by the researcher.

741: What else does the Duke Library system offer in the way of comics and graphic novels?

WH: Duke Libraries as a whole have terrific resources for comics and graphic novels even outside of the Murray collections in the Rubenstein.  There are thousands of graphic novels and reprints available at the Lilly Library on Duke's East Campus.  The East Asian Collection in Perkins Library has a great collection of manga.  There's also a large collection of zines by women and girls in the Rubenstein's Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture, many of which include comics.  The Library also subscribes to many of the most important scholarly sources for researching comics, like the electronic backfile of Comics Journal.  For an overview of resources in the Libraries related to comic books and graphic novels, see the guide at


Photographs of Will and the Murray brothers © Duke University Libraries; all others by me.  Works photograph © their respective owners and/or publishers.

September 6, 2012

NextReads Newsletter, September 2012

This month's NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available!  This month I've selected some titles written by folks whose day job is writing prose fiction.  Subscribe to this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page.  Select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

This month's titles:

New @ Durham County Library
Metro: A Story of Cairo - Magdy El Shafi and Chip Rossetti
Esperanza: A Love and Rockets Book - Jaime Hernandez
Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery - Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
The Graphic Canon, Volume 1 - edited by Russ Kick  

New to comics? Start here!
French Milk - Lucy Knisley
Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story - Frederik Peeters 

Cross-Over Acts: Novelists Writing Comics
Omega: The Unknown - Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple
The Alcoholic - Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel
Wonder Woman: Love and Murder - Jodi Picoult, Drew Johnson and William Moulton Marston
The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist - Michael Chabon and others  

September 2, 2012

New Shelf: The Lexicon of Comicana

One of my most recent interlibrary loans (a necessary resource in the pursuit of comics libarianship) is The Lexicon of Comicana by Mort Walker, the creator of Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois, and many other less well-known strips.  The book is, somewhat confusingly, both a satire of the building blocks of comics and also a genuinely helpful encyclopedia of cartooning vocabulary.  It is unclear how much of the book is the invention of Walker and how much is derived from real cartooning culture.

A selection of "fumetti".
He describes, for example, speech balloons or "fumetti", the Italian word for "little puffs of smoke" (as well as the Italian word for comics and the English nickname for photo-comics).  It's a real concept with significant historical precedent, which Walker mentions in passing by way of reprints of 16th-, 17th-, and 18th-century like the ones here at Mercurius Politics, but the idea of cartoonists using "cumulous fumetti" as a named concept for thought clouds strikes me as dubious.  This has to be fake fancy-talk, right?  I guess I can't be sure, but it's still pretty dang effective: "emanata", "plewds", and "grawlixes" are a lot more concise than "luminosity lines", "flying sweat beads", or "those squiggly lines that mean you're swearing", even if they are silly.  Whether or not these words were "real" before Walker made the crypto-satirical claim that they are, seeing them laid out systematically makes a compelling case that they should be.

And this is why I recommend this book for librarians, especially those who aren't very comfortable with them or who have trouble talking about.  Even if the vocabulary presented in The Lexicon of Comicana isn't necessarily genuine (and, incidentally, requires the reader to tolerate or ignore occasional semi-satirical sexism), it successfully communicates the idea of comics as a visual language that is read rather than simply observed.  The book also presents a number of familiar conventions -- characters, scenes, sound effects and so on -- that, regardless of Walker's exact intent, serve to reveal how comics can be constructed from existing pieces of symbolism to create a new work.

Some of Walker's visual conventions

Of course, these conventions are usually found in the realm newspaper gag strips, but many cartoonists of long-form comics also use these or similar techniques, such as Jaime Hernandez and Stan Sakai, not to mention the vast majority of manga cartoonists who use a visual language that is almost completely unrelated to that of the West. 

Scenes from Hernandez' Love and Rockets1 and Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo2

So, check it out!3  It's a quick, easy read that's an excellent introduction to a major ingredient in the comics medium.

All images © Comicana unless otherwise noted.
1. Image © Jaime Hernandez.
2. Image © Stan Sakai.
3. Like I said at the top, I got my copy through interlibrary loan, and it happens to be the 1980 edition, but Amazon has a 2000 edition that may or may not include additional information.  At the risk of ruining the mystery, I'd like to see an essay about Walker's intentions, but I'm not sure if such a thing exists.

August 22, 2012

Elsewhere: The Aomushi Showa Manga Library at

For more the past year-and-a-half, The Comics Journal's Ryan Holmberg has been writing a column by the name of "What Was Alternative Manga?"  This series of articles (found here, in reverse chronological order) looks at the history of Japan's equivalent of America's underground/indy/art comics movements.  I must admit (if I haven't already) that manga is a notable blind spot for me, so I look forward to reading this column to get my foot in the door.

Most exciting, however, is Holmberg's most recent post on the Aomushi Showa Manga Library in Tadami (western Fukushima Prefecture).  Although it is only one of many cultural institutions devoted to manga, it is Holmberg's favorite for the quantity of kashihon (rental books) of certain periods and styles of manga.  If this strikes you as odd, it may help to know that (as I understand it) Japan has long had a culture of book rental, whereas it has been largely absent here in the U.S.  In any case, this impressive library houses thousands of jewels of the "alternative manga" that is relatively unknown outside Japan.  Interesting stuff!

August 4, 2012

Breaking Out: Creating a standalone graphic novel collection in the public library

One of the biggest comics-related questions facing public librarians is: Where do we put these things?  As part of an excellent committee at Durham County Library last year focusing on just exactly that, I was lucky enough to witness and engage in the process for answering this question.  Of course, there are many possible answers with different strengths and weaknesses, and it's too early to know if there is a universally acceptable best answer, or even one that's universally "close enough".

Nevertheless, participating in the reorganization process allowed me a glimpse into the possibilities this challenge has to offer, and I'm excited to announce that this post marks the start of a series of posts covering this topic.  Rather than giving a prescription for one approach to creating a standalone graphic novel collection, I'll discuss the range of issues to consider when taking on the task. My goal is to make the journey smoother than it might be if starting from scratch, and I also hope that my ideas will someday be part of a larger best-practices approach.  I will offer my opinions on issues and occasionally explain the way we did it here in Durham, but these will only be illustrations of a given possibility rather than a declaration of universal merit.

Many, many thanks to the Durham County Library graphic novel committee for inviting me to participate, particularly to collection development librarians Lisa Dendy, Donna Hausmann, and Stephen Zibrat, whose foresight and hard work tackling the issue have been immeasurable and, I believe, have put our library system in the vanguard of public libraries when it comes to graphic novel collections.

So stick around, and please offer any comments, criticisms or questions you may have.

DCL Staff: Autumn Winters

This month's NextReads newsletter features young teen titles that adults will find worthwhile reads as well.  Because young adult literature isn't my specialty, I asked Autumn Winters, young adult librarian at Southwest Regional, to weigh in.


741.5 and then some: Have you always read comics?

Autumn Winters: As soon as I could read, I was reading comics. I grew up in a rural area with no bookstores, but our grocery stores (and even our country store) carried Archie comics. I read those pretty voraciously for years and traded them with my friends. I remember really loving the way the art style and the fashions changed in the archival stories that were anthologized in the digests. In the mid-80s, I read a ton of Mad and Cracked. I really loved the Uggly Family in Cracked and I was delighted to figure out years later that Dan Clowes had drawn them. I didn’t really have access to comics in high school, sadly. When I got to college, I found a comics shop, but I didn’t know how to get the things I wanted there. It was mostly superheroes. Eventually, a roommate turned me on to Sandman and The Invisibles and I was back in the game.  

741: You and I have spoken before about what might be called the golden age of indie comics -- Eightball, Optic Nerve, Hate, Love & Rockets and so on.  How has your experience of being a comics reader changed since then? 

AW: The sad thing is that I was barely even reading comics during that golden age. So I would say that my experience has radically improved. Chapel Hill Comics really fixed my comics reading life, but I didn’t get there until 1999.  Then I read all those people in retrospect, after they had been collected.  

741: I have the impression that the world of comics today is much more welcoming place for girls and women, as both readers and creators, than it was even just 15 or 20 years ago.  Do you find this to be true, or is my male privilege blinding me a bit?

Characters from Minx's The P.L.A.I.N. Janes
AW: Yeah, I think it’s tons better. I mean, it’s not perfect because both Shojo Beat and the Minx line from D.C. both died quickly. But I don’t think that girls and women who want to read or create comics are wandering in the wilderness the way I did, gripping a single issue of the romance comic Angel Love that my cousin in Florida sent me. The global rise of manga and anime has helped a lot, because they are so much more appealing to ladies than superhero comics. And mainstream acceptance of graphic novels means that ladies can find appealing stuff even if they don’t consider themselves a member of fandom or geek culture.

741: As I've said here before, my focus as a comics librarian is with adult readers. That being said I've found many comics on the young adult shelves that appeal to me, and not in a "my teenaged self would love this" way.  Is there a reliable way to determine what's a young adult title and what's an adult title?  And should it matter to an adult reader like me?

AW: The line between kids’ comics and teen comics is slightly more well defined than the line between teen and adult. You can look at the age ratings that some manga publishers use. And certain publishers or imprints tend to publish work for certain ages – I think of First Second as doing really high quality books that usually appeal to teens, for instance. But in the end, I don’t think it really matters. In general, teen fiction is about somebody growing up. If you like that kind of story, go ahead and read it, even if you are already grown up yourself.

741:"Kids these days" are into manga, a school of comics I am largely mystified by.  Do you have any suggestions on how to start reading them?  (And don't say "from the right"!) 

AW: I think Osamu Tezuka’s work is a good bridge for people who want to start reading manga. He’s such a genius and he worked in so many different genres. I like his Buddha series in particular. Or if you are used to reading serious and artsy comics, try Barefoot Gen. You can’t get more serious than a memoir about surviving the atomic bomb in Japan.

Other than those, just try something in a genre you like. Try Death Note if you like horror/suspense. There are TONS of romantic comedy titles. Nana is good if you like chick lit. Azumanga Daioh is a four panel strip about kids, kind of like Peanuts. It’s very user friendly.


741: How do you feel about the term "graphic novel"?  How do your teens feel about it? 

AW: I prefer the term comics or comic book, but my teens seem to prefer to say graphic novel. I think librarians spend WAY too much time arguing over this terminology. And I think it’s funny that we had to invent an entirely new word for comics in order to legitimize them. But the term seems to be sticking.

741: Are there any titles or creators for any audience you're particularly into these days?  Any young adult comics you think we grown-ups should read too?

AW: I have some recommendations for books about young people that may or may not be considered young adult.

I adore the Blue Monday series by Chynna Clugston-Major. They are like foul-mouthed mod Archies  crossed with John Hughes movies, with some Buster Keaton-y slapstick thrown in.

I am also a big fan of the Mary Perkins On Stage newspaper strip collections by Leonard Starr. The art is beautiful and the soapy storylines are very satisfying. Mary is in her early 20s when the series starts, so it could definitely appeal to a teenage girl who likes vintage stuff.

I wish more teens would read the Aya books by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie. These are gorgeous books about a girl growing up in Cote d’Ivoire in the late 70s. They are really funny and full of excellent characters. It’s a slice of life from a place we don’t often get to see.  

Along those lines, I also recommend Kampung Boy and Town Boy by Lat. These are hilarious books about a naughty boy growing up in a village in Malaysia. The drawing is so energetic it basically jumps off the page. 


Durham County Library patrons may find most of the works mentioned in this post at the library: Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Daniel Clowes' Eightball, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets, Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve, Peter Bagge's Hate, Osamu Tezuka's Buddha, Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen, Ōba, Tsugumi's Death Note, Kijokiko Azuma's Azumanga Daioh, MargueriteAbouet and Clement Oubrerie's Aya, and Lat's Kampung Boy and Town Boy.  Many First Second and Minx titles are available as well.

August 2, 2012

NextReads Newsletter, August 2012

This month's NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available!  This month I've selected some young adult comics that adults should read too. Bonus: I'll soon be posting an interview with Autumn Winters, teen librarian at Durham County's Southwest Regional Library.  Watch this space!  It's up!  I've also started a new feature, suggestions on what to read if you're new to the medium.

Subscribe to this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page. Select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

This month's titles:

New @ Durham County Library
Batwoman: Hydrology by J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman
Wonder Woman: Blood by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins
The Mighty Alice by Richard Thompson
Journalism by Joe Sacco

New to comics? Start here!
The Best American Comics 2007 edited by Chris Ware

Young Adult Reads for Grown-Up Readers
21: The Story of Roberto Clemente by Wilfred Santiago
Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim 
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi
The Zabime Sisters by Aristophane  

July 24, 2012

Elsewhere: Comics and ... Medicine???

By way of the illustration and cartooning blog Drawn,1 I learned that I just missed a conference in Toronto with the intriguing name of "Comics & Medicine: Navigating the Margins".  This unexpected pairing resulted in appearances by Joyce Brabner (wife of Harvey Pekar and co-writer of Our Cancer Year) and Joyce Farmer (cartoonist of Special Exits and contributor to Wimmin's Comics). Conference sessions, panel discussions and workshops included:
  • "Setting the context: Developments in graphic medicine" with Paul Gravett
  • "Communicating vessels and discursive virulence in Black Hole" with J. Ryan Marks
  • "Re-signifying disability in popular culture: Mental illness as magic realism narrative in Love and Rockets" with Catherine Duchastel
  • "Fact and confliction: The psychodynamics of creating a comic memoir" with Neil Phillips 
  • "Aging, Memory, and the Body in Jeff Lemire's Essex County" with Katie Mullins 
...and much more.  I'm no doctor, but I would love to have sat in on these lectures.  Bonus: there's a whole Comics in Medicine blog! Fascinating stuff.

Durham County Library patrons may find most of the works mentioned in this post at the library: Joyce Farmer's Special Exits, Charles Burns' Black Hole, Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets books, works by Jeff Lemire (Essex County).

Image © Tom Ferrer
1. Thanks to Tom Harris for the referral to Drawn!

July 13, 2012

Elsewhere: Cartoonists @ ALA!

I have yet to attend an American Library Association (ALA) conference for handful of reasons, but this video from ALA 2012 by Derek Kirk Kim (cartoonist of Maybe Later) has me scheming ways to get there next time around!

If you didn't catch it, the video features cartoonists:
Cecil Castellucci
Jerzy Drodz
Keith Knight
Thein Pham
Dave Roman
Jason Shiga
Mark Siegel
Christina Strain
Raina Telegmaier
Gene Luen Yang
...and a few swell librarians too.  Those stories at the end make me cringe, though... Yeesh!

July 8, 2012

NextReads Newsletter, July 2012

This month's NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available!  This month I've got write-ups of some new books plus some cold weather reads to get you through the unbearable heat.

Subscribe to this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page. Select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

This month's titles:

New @ Durham County Library
Baby's in Black by Arne Bellstorf
Sparko by Karl Stephan
MonsterMen and Other Scary Stories by Gary Gianni
Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot

Winter Reading for a Summer's Day
Glacial Period by Nicolas de Crécy
The Call of the Wild by Neil Kleid, Alex Niño and Jack London
It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken by Seth
Whiteout by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber

June 27, 2012

Comics Fest 2012 Report-Back

 Phew! It's already been more than a month since this year's Comics Fest, and I think I'm finally starting to recover from all the excitement. If you're unfamiliar, it was Durham County Library's second (annual?) celebration of comics and graphic novels, organized by Amy Godfrey, Southwest Regional's Youth Services Manager and the talent behind The Lyrabrary, and me.

This year's event was a two-day affair, and Saturday's goings-on focused on children and teens. For this we brought in Mark Crilley, writer and artist of a number of series including Akiko, Miki Falls and his newest creation Brody's Ghost. Mark works in a manga style that's about halfway between "cartooney" and realistic, and he led a workshop on effective storytelling and page design. It did my heart good to hear (I was attending to freebie tables) that kids came with big drawing pads and tried out his layout techniques during the talk. So great!

Also in attendance was Willow Dawson, cartoonist of Lila & Ecco's Do-It-Yourself Comics Club, No Girls Allowed and  Hyenas in Petticoats, as well as the illustrator of many other excellent books. Willow's own specialty is nonfiction comics and comics based on true stories and real people, and this was the subject of her workshop as well. Audience members received advice and practical tips on creating fictional and nonfictional characters from actual history, and using them as a means to well-rounded storytelling.  (Willow's own account of the Fest may be found here.)

From left: Mark Crilley, me, Willow Dawson, Amy Godfrey.

One other amazing thing to come out of the children's end of Comics Fest is the establishment of The DCL Kids Comics Blob, Durham County Library's official blog on comics for kids and teens. Amy is the blogger-in-chief, but it features reviews by other library staff and comics by participants in Amy's excellent mini-comics workshops. THESE THINGS ARE AWESOME and you should definitely have a look, even if children's literature isn't your scene. (P.S. I created the mascot art, the "Blob" in "Comics Blob", which is also used in the Comics Fest banner above. Self promotion!)

Sunday was geared more toward an adult audience, and, thusly, "my" day. The main event was a talk by much-awarded cartoonist Nate Powell, whose works include Swallow Me Whole, Any Empire, The Silence of Our Friends (written by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos) and The Year of the Beasts (written by Cecil Castellucci). Nate gave a talk about how he got into the comics business, from growing up with naive ideas about the cartooning process to creating critically acclaimed graphic novels alone and with collaborators.  Nate was hosted by Rob Clough, Durham-based comics critic and writer for The Comics Journal, who had an engaging conversation/interview about the themes of Nate's work and his motives for creating such stories.

Nate Powell (left) and Rob Clough.

Following Nate's talk was a panel discussion about the various ways comics are being incorporated into higher learning. "Comics Go To College" featured participants Sara Appel (doctoral candidate in Duke University's Program in Literature), Will Hansen (librarian and archivist at Duke's Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Collection) and Kirill Tolpygo (librarian at UNC Chapel Hill's Savine Collection of Russian and East European materials), along with host Ben Bolling (doctoral student in UNC's English Department). The panel shed light on the surprisingly diverse challenges and joys of working with an oft-slighted medium, and I, for one, could  have listened for another hour.

The "Comics Go To College" panel: (from left) Ben Bolling, Will Hansen, Kirill Tolpygo, Sara Appel

It was, all in all, a great time and an overwhelming success. Many thanks to our patrons for coming to this program and making it all worthwhile, to the guests for providing such enthralling programs, to local businesses and newspapers for their generous coverage and support, to Amy for getting the whole thing rolling, and most of all to the Friends of the Durham Library and the Durham Library Foundation for making it possible in the first place. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Durham County Library patrons may find these authors' many works on the library catalog: Mark Crilley, Willow Dawson, Nate Powell.

All images courtesy Durham County Library.

June 17, 2012

Elsewhere: Ray Bradbury's EC Comics

Imprint, the blog of Print Magazine, recently posted an introduction to EC Comics' adaptations of Ray Bradbury short stories, including all the splash pages.  Neat!

June 6, 2012

NextReads Newsletter, June 2012

This month's NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available!  This month I've got write-ups of some new books plus some superhero reading that's out of the norm.

Subscribe to this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page. Select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

This month's titles:

New @ Durham County Library
My Friend Dahmer by Derf
Wolverine Vs. the X-Men by Jason Aaron, Daniel Acuña and Jefte Palo
Gone to Amerikay by Roderick Mccullough and Colleen Doran
Unterzahkn by Leela Corman 

Not-So-Super Heroes
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley
The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes
Saga of the Swamp Thing, Vol. 4 by Alan Moore and others
Madman Vol. 1 by Michael Allred

May 30, 2012

...And we're back!

I only just now realized that it's been nearly a month since posting anything -- yikes!  The Comics Fest pretty well took over my life for a while there, so I'll be getting back to my semi-regular schedule soon, including a Comics Fest report back.

In the meantime, though, I'm proud to announce that I've inspired a fellow blogging librarian to read and review her first graphic novel!  Megan Lawson, marketing and development intern at Durham County Library and recent graduate of NC Central University's library science program, has started a blog entitled Reading, Writing, and Recipes to keep her, well, reading, writing and creating (food and otherwise). She was an early subscriber to my NextReads newsletter and followed my recommendation to pick up Comics Fest guest Nate Powell's award-winning Swallow Me Whole. I'm still trying to grasp how to recommend comics to folks who are new to the medium, so it's good to know that Megan found this to be "a great graphic novel to begin with".

Thanks, Megan!

May 3, 2012

NextReads Newsletter, May 2012

The second monthly NextReads graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available!  This month I've got write-ups of some new books, Nate Powell's oeuvre (in honor of his being a Comics Fest guest this year), plus some travel fiction and memoir on account of the approaching summer months

Subscribe to this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page. Select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you, then scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

This month's titles:

New @ Durham County Library
Athos in America by Jason
Tale of Sand by Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl and Ramon Perez
Hellboy Vol. 12: The Storm and the Fury by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo and Dave Stewart
One Soul by Ray Fawkes

Nate Powell, Guest at Comics Fest 2012! 
The Silence of Our Friends with Mark Long and Jim Demonakos
Swallow Me Whole
Any Empire

Travel Memoir and Fiction 
La Perdida by Jessica Abel
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
The Adventures of Blanche by Rick Geary
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden

May 2, 2012

Jason Lutes Interview

As I've already mentioned, Durham County Library's second (annual?) Comics Fest is fast approaching (May 19-20!). Making those plans has got me thinking about last year's Fest, specifically the presentation by guest Jason Lutes. Lutes is the writer and artist behind Jar of Fools and Berlin (book 1, City of Stones, and book 2, City of Smoke), and he's the writer of Houdini: The Handcuff King (art by Nick Bertozzi). Jason was kind enough to answer a few questions lately about his work and the world of comics generally.  (Note: to the extent possible and relevant, links in this interview are directed to the Durham County Library online catalog.)


741.5 and then some: What are your favorite comics or cartoonists of the moment?

Jason Lutes: For the past year or so I've been in love with the work of Christophe Blain, a French cartoonist who has a couple of books -- Isaac the Pirate, and the must-read Western Gus and His Gang -- currently in translation. His stories are playful but grounded, built on real history and extensive research, but full of life and whimsy. My other favorite cartoonists are my students at the Center for Cartoon Studies, who amaze and inspire me on a regular basis.

741: You wrote the script for Houdini: The Handcuff King, for which Nick Bertozzi created the art. What's it like writing scripts for someone else to cartoon?  Have you ever done the reverse?

JL: I love writing for other people, because drawing is the hardest and most time-consuming part. That being said, a successful collaboration requires that both participants share a way of thinking about sequential narrative, or at the very least an open mind and willingness to learn from one another. Working with Nick was great, because while for the most part he followed my very specific instructions on how to lay out pages and panels, every addition or change that he made improved the final product.

I have drawn scripts written by other people, small things for DC Comics and some lesser-known indie stuff. For the most part they were unsatisfying experiences because I the writers and I had different approaches to the medium. However, The Fall, a crime story written by my old friend Ed Brubaker, drawn by me, and published by Drawn & Quarterly, was a satisfying collaboration in every respect. Sadly, it's currently out of print.

741: Berlin, like many comics, is a serial work that is also being collected into trade paperbacks along the way.  Do you think there's any benefit to reading the work in one format or another: isssue-by-issue or in collections?

JL: I personally prefer reading a collected work. I enjoy being able to consume a story uninterrupted, and I like when that experience is reinforced by the whole thing being contained in a single physical package. The serialization of narrative is for the most part a product of the marketplace, and has its own incidental pleasures, but I like to read and write stories that have a finite form.

741: Berlin is coming to a close in the not-too-distant future.  Do you have any projects in the queue?

JL: I have tons of stories to tell, and am always trying to find ways to tell them outside of writing and drawing them myself. I am currently editing an experimental secret project that will hopefully see the light of day in the fall of 2012, and have several other things in the hopper. Berlin will continue to consume 90% of my studio time until it is complete, but I have  hundreds of more pages of comics waiting in the wings of my brain.

741: During your talk at our Comics Fest last year, you mentioned that Herge's Tintin books have been a great inspiration.  What other cartoonists and comics have influenced you?

JL: My biggest, earliest influences were Herge and Marvel Comics of the 1970s. Later, in my twenties, my ideas about comics were profoundly impacted by the work of Art Spiegelman, Chester Brown, David Mazzuchelli and Ben Katchor. Art showed me how to bridge my childhood love of the medium with my adult concerns as an artist, and Chester showed me how to achieve subtlety and nuance with comics.

741: You've been teaching at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) for some time now.  What subjects do you teach there?

JL: I teach Cartooning Studio (our signature "boot camp," Comics 101 class), a writing class, and the senor thesis seminar. My approach is to take what I have found useful about my own practice, and find a way to make it useful to my students. For each class session, I try to follow a three-part recipe: one part didactic, one part experiment, and one part entertainment. The classes I teach are publication-based, which is fun, because that means everyone gets copies of everyone else's assignments. By the end of the spring semester I literally have a stack of 100 different comics -- from 8-page minicomics to 32-page, full-color comic books -- all produced during the previous nine months.

741: Any rising stars from CCS that we should keep an eye on?

JL: Yes! To choose just three examples, Hyperion/Scholastic just published an amazing book by Joseph Lambert (class of 2008) called Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller; Melissa Mendes (class of 2010) recently self-published her amazing Freddy Stories with a grant from the Xeric Foundation, and Katherine Roy (class of 2010) is nearing completion on her job illustrating The Expeditioners: The Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon, by Sarah Stewart Taylor, the first young-adult novel to be published by McSweeney's McMullens.

741: Do you have any suggestions for those of us who are just getting started making comics?  Any advice you'd give, for example, for someone working toward admission to CCS?

JL: Draw lots of comics! But, more importantly, cultivate a life outside of comics. Comics is a subculture, and its inhabitants are prone to creative laziness and navel-gazing. Get out of your comfort zone! Don't base your ideas for comics on generic, hand-me-down video game ideas -- they were generic when you discovered them! Read only the best comics (it'll take you 3 months, tops). Spend the rest of your free time reading great books, seeing great movies, connecting with real people, living a life outside of comics. Don't "write what you know" -- write about something that interests you, something you don't know that much about. Then you'll know that thing, and yourself, a little bit better, and your art will become part of your process of understanding.

Portrait source: