Getting Started with Graphic Novels: A Guide for the Beginner

Article excerpt

Graphic novels are an incredibly popular format in all types of libraries. Popular movies such as Batman, Spider-Man, V for Vendetta, and Sin City are all based on graphic novels or comics and underscore the growing appreciation for the medium. Readers are leading the way, demanding these titles and teaching us the joys of the graphic form. Yet despite our patrons' call for these items in our collections, it is often hard to know what to buy, what is useful and popular in a sea of seemingly odd titles and collections, and how to approach the question of suitability and classification. An academic librarian undertaking a collection-building effort at her university wrote this Alert Collector column. The fact that academic librarians are paying attention to the form simply strengthens the argument that this particular type of reading experience has far exceeded its day as a boyhood pastime (if indeed that perception was ever true).

Anne Behler is a reference librarian at The Pennsylvania State University who works in the Maps and Gateway Libraries specifically, and in the instructional programs department (which runs the services of the library that are geared primarily toward meeting undergraduate and first-time user needs). She is the selector in charge of contemporary topics, which led her to developing Penn State's graphic novel collection. Demonstrating her commitment to student outreach, she is the co-chair of the libraries' annual open house, an event that welcomes more than four thousand students to the libraries each year, and is involved in the library's pilot effort at providing remote reference services in the university's student union building (the HUB). She is an active member of the ALA and the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), serving on the Reference Services Section's Education and Professional Development for Reference Committee, as well as serving as intern for the RUSA Thomson Gale Award for Excellence in Reference and Adult Services Committee.--Editor.

The graphic novel format, like all forms of narrative, includes many different types of stories. For example, the superhero story is intriguingly told in Mark Waid's Kingdom Come. In this graphic novel, a slew of well-known DC Comic superheroes, such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, confront the challenges of their new generation, and not so moral, successors. The teen-interest novel, those sly and moody books that explore the angst of approaching adulthood, finds particularly rich expression in the graphic format, as exemplified by Ghost World by Daniel Clowes. Satire is also a common form, best represented by Robert Crumb's work. Takehiko Inoue's Vagabond is an excellent introduction to manga, which is an extension of Japanese anime and an art form in and of itself. These works often have strong appeal with teenage girls, proving yet again that stereotypes of the format are pointless. Graphic works include nonfiction as well and cover such topics as true crime, history, science, biography, and memoir. A good example of this is the stellar work Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies, which poignantly captures the story of his mother's battle with lung cancer. Finally, adaptations such as Jerry Bingham's Beowulf take well-known stories and recreate them in a graphic format, making accessible to some readers works that would otherwise be off-putting. This rich range of reading choices not only answers our patrons' calls for titles, it adds a richness and depth to our collections and helps encourage a love of reading.

The graphic novel represents a format that has come into its own in the last three decades. In the words of Will Eisner, the man credited with writing the first graphic novel and coining the term for the format, "The manner of [comics] creation has evolved from a work written and drawn by a single individual to a wedding between writer and artist. This has established a creative process that employs the skills of an accomplished writer and an artist of great sophistication. …