It’s certainly safe to say – comic book heroes are currently a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Especially considering the frequent production of movies and TV shows in recent years centered around these iconic characters. Although now we get to see them fighting on the big screen, these heroes first appeared as drawings on the pages of comic books. There is where Batman, Iron Man, Spider-Man and many others made their debut.
This blog will discuss the history, value and benefits of comics and if they should belong in libraries.
The beginning of comics in libraries
The first notable example of comics in libraries comes from way back to the beginning of the 20th century. The moment The Sunday Times newspaper was delivered, librarians immediately cut out the comic strip section before making the paper available to the public. It may sound like a strange tactic, but the intention behind it was to protect children from being exposed to any vulgar or suggestive language.
The period after the 2nd World War brought more comics to the public, and as they rose in popularity, the craft caught the attention of scholars. In 1954, Dr. Frederic Wertham authored Seduction of the Innocent a piece which led to the formation of the Comics Code Authority (CCA), a self-regulatory body who would screen comics for any depiction of crime, sexual innuendos and violence before green lighting them for publishing.
While the CCA’s censorship led to more wholesome plots and characters choosing to do the right thing, it also forced comics to address moral issues in a positive way. It was in the late 1980s that another significant paradigm shift took place in relation to how comics were perceived by mass audiences. Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Art Spiegelman’s Maus are just a few examples of what challenged the idea of comics being more than silly cartoons with text bubbles next to them – they were recognized as a form of art.
To put it into perspective, it’s been 30 years since Michael Keaton donned the cape and cowl and changed the role of the comic book hero in films. This came at a time when Batman started to rise in popularity, giving us some of his best story arcs – such as The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns and The Long Halloween.
The artform has only grown in popularity through the 1990’s and early 2000’s. In 2015, there were 167,000 attendees at Comic-Con International, the comic book convention held annually in San Diego, CA. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for schools to have an established comic book club. If the library had a welcoming section of these materials on their shelves it could encourage these groups to meet in the library during the summer or to continue coming together after graduation.
What makes comic books and graphic novels special? Is it their artwork, their stories? Perhaps the characters, their moral values and superpowers? A short answer would be all of the above.
Ever since the 1960s, comics have looked to spread awareness about important topics, such as the prevention of drug use, racism and health issues, as a way to educate children. Furthermore, these messages became embedded in the very fabric of particular super heroes, and their creators took time to correspond with their readers.
As with all fiction, the reader has the opportunity to live in the world built around them by the author, transform through the character arcs and hold tight to the wild plot twists. As a child, reading a comic book represents a safe space to imagine being the hero. Becoming part of the action and relating to what the hero does, feels and thinks. The reader becomes the hero. Later on, as a teenager, still attached to these heroes and following their stories. While at the same time, discovering new stories, new heroes, becoming completely immersed in these fictional realities.
There are many ways in which children can use comics and graphic novels to help with their studies. One example is the Reading With Pictures association, who advocates for the use of comic books and graphic novels in learning environments, such as schools and libraries.
A benefit of comics becoming part of the curriculum is to help kids with reading difficulties have an easier time understanding the topics of the course. By reinforcing the story with images and easy language, pupils are more likely to develop a passion for reading and find the school subjects more entertaining.
Therefore, having access to a library that offers a varied comic book collection can attract young minds to spend time learning at their own pace, while being present in a safe and encouraging environment. But there is more to having comics and graphic novels on library shelves.
The cultural craze
The graphic novel’s popularity and influence worldwide has exploded in the last three decades. Part of this boom is due to the movie industry releasing a higher volume of superhero films and tv shows. Despite the transition to the big screens, comic books still represent the origins of these characters and they are of interest to many fans: by reading through their original stories one can understand more about their world.
Adding a graphic novel section to your library can generate more visits among children and adults. The more popular heroes would be of general interest, but there are many ‘underground’ or less mainstream characters which would attract the interest of comic lovers and ensure a rich and steady stream of material.
Additionally, the library’s participation in conventions, either by having a booth or attending panels, could be a great way to generate awareness about the library but also a way to bring like-minded individuals together and discover insights into what might attract comic lovers to the library. To get started, check out conventions nearby and contact the organizers to find out how to contribute.
The insight gathered will prove to be valuable and will help the library to organize relevant events to attract a large number of visitors. Have a popular comic artist hold a panel or signing session, even holding a cosplay competition would be a way to align the library’s efforts with a passionate community that might be living next door.
Comics and libraries
Comics have come a long way in the past 100 years: from being looked down upon as vulgar and potentially damaging, to becoming a modern fixture of culture around the world and widely recognized as an art form. The impact of graphic novels in modern libraries should not be overlooked or downsized, their presence on library shelves can boost the number of visits and also help to establish a closer relationship with comic lovers in the community. Be the hero they deserve and need.
We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!
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