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Second Generation Librarian.

Today was the first day of the Toronto Comics Arts Festival (TCAF) – “Hooray!” says I and hundreds of other people who crowded into the Toronto Reference Library. I went to TCAF for the first time last year and was kind overwhelmed by everything to see (and buy!) during the second day of the festival. In the intervening year I’ve learned much more about the comic book world here in Toronto and this year I had An Agenda. On Saturday I went to a few panel discussions one of the “Perils of Autobiography” (featuring Tory Woollcott, Erika Moen, Marc Ellerby, Adam Cadwell, and Adam Bourret – awesome type people) and the other on the future of comics for kids called “Comics for Kids: What’s Next?” One of my professional goals for the year 2010 is to improve the scope and marketing of the graphic novel collection in my branch, so I felt like this would be an interesting place to get some new titles and selection guidelines.  The panel itself included: Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Frank Cammuso (Knights of the Lunch Table), Clayton Hamner (CTON’s Super A-maze-ing Year of Crazy Comics!), Karen Li (Editor, Kids Can Press),Eva Volin (Librarian), and Diana Maliszewski (Teacher), and moderated by Scott Robins, who blogs for the School Library Journal “Good Comics for Kids” blog. I did get some good suggestions for titles (despite my consumption of comics, most of them aren’t meant for kids… I need to read more!) but also some excellent points about promoting the comic book to parents, teachers and librarians and the future of the kids graphic novel. Here are some of the ones that stuck with me…

The creators say that we are in need of YA graphic novels! Non-superhero esque, that is. Eva Volin (the librarian on the panel) has the answers… of course the librarian has the answers. Check her out!

Even though it seems like graphic novels have generally been accepted into the greater canon of literary works in their own right, (see graphic novels receiving literary awards previously won by text-only books and a graphic novel presence on recommended reading lists), really we have to get more people to hop on the bandwagon

When your colleagues and customers are hopping on the bandwagon sometimes they do so with skewed views of comics. Graphic novels are NOT just a “gateway to ‘real reading'” as so many people think – they are a valid reading experience in and of themselves. Volin says that she’s actually counted the number of words in a graphic novel and a text-only novel of the same length and found them to be more or less of the same word count. Not to mention the visual literacy involved in reading graphic novels. Some panelists argued, truthfully, that people have no problem with kids reading picture books, which are essentially the same thing, so why all this resistance to comics books? Pictures help readers decode language so to integrate images and words for readers of a certain level, it does a lot more for them in terms of success in reading, rather than a text-only format. I would also argue that graphic novels do what picture books are meant to do, but on visual steroids. Yes – they also provide visual clues to what is going on in the text, but picture books have one image to illustrate what is being described in the text on that page. Graphic novels have, or should have, all sorts of imagery from which the reader can extrapolate meaning from the image alone. This is a wholly different skill that we need to cultivate in our readers.

Graphic novels, especially for children, are at risk of not being published as frequently because they are extremely expensive to publish and also because of scanlation, they are being ripped off via the internet so while they may have a lot of readership, it may have nothing to do with how many copies they actually sell. Stacy King, a YA novelist who also works as the marketing manager for Udon Publishing, (and a friend of mine), actually had to explain this phenomenon to me after the panel was over.  (And I apologize if I mess it up, now…) In the history of manga publishing, it used to be that you had these manga pages in Japanese that people would scan post online and then also have a translated file for each panel so you could read, look, and laugh along.  This became such a big thing with such a dedicated following that now manga lovers have the option of reading pre-translated works (put out by people like Udon). Hooray, right? Well, as the technology has advanced, so has the amount of scanned works that are ripped off as bit torrents and downloaded by children (and everyone else) everywhere! This is problematic for publishers, obviously, but it also is problematic for the creators who are sometimes contracted to write or draw a certain series of graphic novels, but because of the scanlation phenomenon, publishers may choose not continue to produce the work.  I think, this is very obviously where the library comes in. We need to advocate the true value of graphic novels to parents, teachers, and yes, other librarians in our community. We need to make sure we have a wide selection of graphic novels from the commercially popular to the quality (and yes, sometimes they are one and the same). We need to continue to market ourselves as a free service and tell our customers that they don’t need to be dependent on downloading to get what they want to read for free, because … we have it! We also need to teach our customers that downloading is illegal, and hurts a lot of people in the industry of creation. So, in conclusion – Hooray graphic novels! And I will get down off my soapbox, now.

(A big thanks to Toronto Comics Arts Festival (Christopher Butcher in particular), the panelists and moderator for making this possible.) 🙂

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