August 4, 2012

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.

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