Two Weeks to Geek: Librarians are Comics Heroes!

Used with Permission from John Shableski

Don’t forget to register online a tHttp://  Only a few days left to take advantage of the March Madness sale!

Yesterday, I wrote about resources for writers.  I was thinking specifically about online resources, but as I thought through the post for today, I realized that omitting mention of libraries as a resource is a woeful and egregious error.

Libraries–which would not be except for librarians–are usually free, are convenient to almost every community, and even the smallest, least well funded libraries contain books on all manner of topics, both mainstream and obscure.  And oh yeah, it’s the future so they also have the internet.

As I’ve done the research and interviews for WCC, librarians have emerged as champions of literature.  Of course they are, it’s just, I never thought of them that way.  Shame on me.

Indeed, librarians at Madigan Library at Penn College of Technology have been instrumental in organizing WCC and supporting the efforts to bring the event to fruition.

I am embarrassed to admit that whenever I did think of librarians–which I didn’t do too often–my mind conjured a tangle of anger and annoyance, for during my youth (except for Mrs. Bressler, the elementary school librarian), librarians were stern-faced humans who went about shushing.

In my pre-WCC life, librarians were not what I now know them to be, and that is brilliant people who love all kinds of books.  They are  heroes for the graphic text, an integral bit of the infrastructure for so much comics scholarship and fandom.

The thing that thrilled me most about the librarians with whom I spoke–and this may be a quirk of comics-interested librarians, though I doubt it–is how very wide open their minds are about books. They seem to believe that all texts are worthwhile, and if they need to learn 100% of everything about a particular type of unsung text, they will.  Gladly.

The Librarians

Kat Kan, editor of Graphic Novels and Comic Books, said,

“I like to tell people I’m a reading omnivore.  I started reading at age four, but I was also reading comic strips at the same time.  I think the two very much go hand in hand.”

I also spoke with Columbia University Librarian, Karen Green, who just last weekend, ran Columbia’s Comic New York:  A Symposium, which has only three presenters in common with WCC (Herself, Dean Haspiel, and Tracy White).
Of her own event, Karen said,

“As for how it went: wow.  I’m still riding the rush of adrenaline.  I knew that it was going to be great, but I had no idea just how great.  Every moderator, every panelist, gave 110%.  It was interesting and informative and entertaining.”

Karen writes a column at ComiXology, and in this link, you may read about how it happened that Columbia began to collect comics for circulation.

Her story is a common one, and has been a theme that I’ve heard as I’ve done these interviews.  Librarian says to self, “we should get more comics.”  Takes idea to those in charge while shaking in proverbial boots.  Those in charge say, “Of course we should.  We are embarrassed that it’s taken us so long.”

There is a certain amount of academic snobbery toward comics.  Everybody knows it.  So comics emerge as a thing to be championed.  But in recent history–I’d say since about 2003 or so–it’s more about people’s fear of the antagonism than an actual and widely held belief that comics do not hold hold literary, cultural, historical, or canonical value.

In fact, quite the opposite seems to be true, where many (though certainly not all, and probably not the most powerful) librarians have been secreting away with comics since their childhoods and believe ardently in their value as both entertainment and education.

The trouble is, since intellect is the academic’s capital, it takes a certain amount of bravery, and a certain willingness to potentially commit career suicide to come out as a comics lover.

Think I’m being dramatic about that career suicide thing?  Don’t.  Not all, certainly not even most scholars in universities can be outright nasty and bloodthirsty and utterly closed off from anything unfamiliar or not classical.  Similar to how one queer cross of a petty boss can land a person in the unemployment line.  The same BS and stereotypes exist in academia, they just have bigger vocabularies.

Robin Brenner, who’s the teen librarian at Brookline Library in Massachusetts (which is right next to Boston) said,

“I think comics have become mainstream enough that they’re now kind of everywhere.  Especially for the youngest readers.  They are big comics fans.  They read everything else, though, and don’t differentiate.  Adults are different.  If they grew up with comics, they continue to be what we think of as comics fans.  They go to comic book stores, they sort of keep the fan boy alive.”

She chuckled as she said that last bit, the thing about fan boys.

But I think another reason that comics have remained a lesser-respected medium over the years is that the fan boys kind of prize their own otherness.  There are innumerable representations in film, television and literature of greasy teen boys huddled around a comic book, wearing capes and talking in funny voices.  Of pining after the skinny beautiful girl while drawing or writing their own comics, furiously, and role playing on weekends.  It’s become a badge of honor.

Still, comics are earning an ever-increasing number of spots on shelves in libraries.

But according to John Meier, who is a librarian at Penn State’s University Park campus, and who established the Lynd Ward prize  in 2011, and who was talking specifically about a very specialized sort of comic that explores sciences at all educational levels (though there are similar concerns for fictional graphic texts, as well),

“Not only are they hard to track down, but what do you do with them? Do you put a science comic in the science library?  Do you put it with the other comics? I hope no one proposes this, but a lot of times they’re stuck with the children’s or juvenile collection with the educational books.”

And then there’s the regional anime champion, Jim VanFleet, a librarian at Bucknell who gave a marvelous email interview and said,

I have watched anime rise from obscurity in the United States and “fandom” to become a legitimate subject for academic study, with courses  being taught at universities, and the publication of  journals   and books   of critical analysis.  My own web page   focuses on this critical reception and academic study of anime.  I’ve worked hard, with the help of the Bucknell Anime Club, to build a good representative collection of anime and manga for an academic library, and the supporting books and journals to allow students and faculty to “engage” with anime as a subject.

So as there’s more than corn in Indiana, there’re more than creators at Wildcat Comic Con.  And from personal experience, the panels and presentations by these librarians will be at least as entertaining as anything the creators will dish out.
Besides which, Comics and Graphic texts’ most important ally and champion is the library and, most importantly, the librarians within it.