Diversity in Graphic Novels Discussion

The Southeastern Mass. Reader’s Advisory Roundtable met last Thursday to discuss graphic novels, with a focus on increasing diversity in our library collections and reader’s advisory (including “passive” RA such as displays and booklists.)

We  discussed the following readings:

Goldsmith, Francisca, The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Graphic Novels, Chapter 4: Moving Traditional Readers Toward Graphic Novel Options
Borrow it from MLS’s Professional Collection!

Ontario Public Library, Reader’s Advisory Conversation, pp. 10-11

TED Talk: Learning to See the Social, or How to Read a Graphic Novel

How to Read a Graphic Novel

We talked about our experience with reading graphic novels prior to preparing for this meeting, and found we had several people who were already aware of the range and depth that an adult graphic novel collection can have.

“The unique elements that apply to graphic novels and manga can pose challenges for reader’s advisors, but can be overcome by dedicating time to exploring the format. As with other literature, there are graphic novels for all genres and topics. It is important to recognize that graphic novels are not all the same and that a fan of one type of graphic novel may not enjoy others. – Ontario Public Library Association, RA Conversation

We talked about how graphic novels aren’t all “novels”; how graphic novels differ from illustrated books, and how the graphic novel versions of classic novels appeal to different readers for different reasons (e.g. gateway to reading the original, fanfiction aspect, focus on secondary characters as in Fagin the Jew by Will Eisner.) Somebody pointed out that, in terms of diversity, the graphic novel collection may already be the most diverse one in the average library. In discussing RA appeal factors, one member mentioned an additional appeal factor for graphic novels over traditional books is that they’re faster to read.

People shared personal favorites, including children’s/YA series that are enjoyed by all ages, such as Lumberjanes, Roller Girl, Bone, Nimona, and Speed Queen. We talked about the point made in one of the readings that, contrary to popular belief, graphic novels aren’t always appropriate for reluctant readers because they aren’t necessarily easier to read or simpler in context than traditional books. We discussed how the pictures and text are both necessary to understanding the context, and talked about how this idea was presented in the TED talk about graphic novels by Dartmouth College Associate Professor of English Michael Chaney, when he said: “Meaning is somewhere in between the pictorial and the textual.”

One member mentioned liking unreliable narrators and pointed out that some graphic novels could be considered to have unreliable narrators when the pictures seem to contradict the text.

We talked about incorporating more graphic novels into booklists and displays, and talked about why we should want to do that.

“Why would you want to steer a reader toward graphic novels? Certainly the format isn’t one that every reader may find intuitively comfortable. But the fact is that many readers have never explored the format due to simple prejudice, and part of what we do as librarians is offer lifelong learning opportunities – including the opportunity to reconsider decisions readers may have made about what’s a ‘good’ book.” – The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Graphic Novels, Chapter 4

Another idea the group mentioned were linking movies and graphic novels (e.g. Selma and March by John Lewis.) Other book/graphic novel pairings we came up with on the spot were Lolita in Tehran and Persepolis.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi was our benchmark title. One member of the group had already used this title and the film adaptation with her traditional book group, in a book/movie discussion. If you’re interested in our discussion of Persepolis, here are the RA-focussed discussion questions we started out with.

Second titles that we read and discussed were:

  • How to Understand Israel in Sixty Pages or Less by Sarah Glidden (Memoir)
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Memoir)
  • Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney (Memoir)
  • March, Vol. 1 by Rep. John Lewis (Memoir)
  • Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona (Fiction/Superhero)
  • Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman (Memoir)
  • Empire State: A Love Story (or Not) by Jason Shiga (Literary Fiction)

NOTE to SE-RART Members: Please add your RA summary of your second title to the blog under the Submit Second Title Info tab for future reference by everyone in the group and others!

Register for the Wednesday, December 7th, meeting (10am-12pm) through the MLS Event Calendar! It will be held at the Carver Public Library, 2 Meadowbrook Way, Carver.

 New members of the group are always welcome to join at any time or to try a session to see how it works! Read through the About page to find out more, and feel free to contact Laurie or Maggie with questions.


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