(Written by Sara Arthurs, Staff Writer for The Courier. Story originally published on March 10, 2017).
It was around 15 years ago when Sharon Mason, technical services manager at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, started expanding the comics collection – then just a few volumes, shelved alphabetically along with other fiction – into the separate collection of about 7,000 titles they have today.
Mason said there’s a growing interest in graphic novels, especially when there are television shows or movies related to comics.
Joel Mantey, adult services librarian, sees people browsing and “taking giant stacks” of comics. And “it isn’t stereotypical.” Comic book readers include men and women of all ages, from young girls to older women.
Mason enjoys seeing people just sit at the library and read a graphic novel right then and there, noting that because they’re shorter it doesn’t take a long time to finish one.
“Patrons are amazed and really thrilled with the size of our collection,” Mason said, adding it isn’t typical of many libraries. Some librarians from other libraries, visiting the Findlay library, have remarked they want to use the collection as a model.
Along with graphic novels, the library’s collection includes “funny pages” comics, adult coloring books and books like “How to Draw Manga.”
Sarah Cramer, children’s services librarian, is working to expand a separate section of children’s graphic novels. She said many of the bestselling ones feature female protagonists. Cramer said some parents are skeptical that reading comics isn’t “real reading.” She tells them that comics teach “visual literacy” – important in a world filled with infographics conveying information. And she said children who are struggling with reading may find comics “less intimidating” and more accessible.”
Mantey often gets the question of where to begin, as several different series may feature the same character. The library organizes by character. So, for example, there are several Spider-Man series, but all are shelved under “Spider-Man.”
Mantey asks where they want to get started – perhaps they have seen the movies and want to start there, or maybe they want to read the comics in the order in which they were printed.
Some may want to read the most current releases so they’re caught up. He said there’s no right or wrong way: “Not at all.”
Manga, a form of usually black-and-white comics from Japan, are also popular in Findlay. One in particular is Naruto, which was collected into 71 volumes before it ended in 2015, Mantey said.
He will also see people come in wearing clothing with the logo of the Attack on Titan series. Mantey asks if they know that the library has the Manga in its collection.
“Their eyes get huge,” he said.
Cramer said popular children’s comics include Dog Man by Dav Pilkey, creator of Captain Underpants, and Star Wars: Jedi Academy.
A personal favorite of Cramer’s is Newbery Honor Award-winner “Roller Girl.” And, she said, anything by Raina Telgemeier, who has written her own and is also creating graphic novel versions of the Baby-Sitters Club books. Mason said a lot of teens are asking for the Lumberjanes series.
Mantey said parents are often excited about getting their children into comics, but want to know what is age-appropriate.
And people’s interest varies. Superheroes are the most popular, but some people want a laugh and look for something like Archie or Jughead. Others look for art such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning story of a Holocaust survivor.
A favorite of Mantey’s is “A contract with God” by Will Eisner.
“It’s just beautiful storytelling – just with pictures,” Mantey said.
Graphic novels are also winning many literary awards for the first time. Cramer noted that “March: Book Three” won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in January. It’s also a National Book Award winner.
When reading comics, Cramer looks for a story more than an artist, and in particular a “relatable” character. She also finds “really amazing worldbuilding.”
Mason said if people are looking for a good story, they can find great storytelling, and if they’re looking for beautiful art, they can find it – often both at one. “It’s not either/or.”
Mason orders books weekly and, on a recent Tuesday, had about 15 new graphic novels that had just arrived. She said new releases are often put on reserve before they’re even on the shelves. The Walking Dead comics, when a new one comes out, are never on the shelf, for example.
Mazza Museum director Ben Sapp is working to expand the museum’s graphic novel collection. The museum recently acquired several new graphic novel works and is seeking more. Its collection includes an original Will Eisner, the title page of Moby Dick.
When Sapp talks with illustrators whose work he hopes to acquire, “and I mention Will Eisner, right way they are impressed to say the least.”
In the graphic novel world there can be a fine line – some are suitable for grades 3-7 and some are more suited toward young adults. So, Sapp said, they ensure that what is shown in the Mazza is appropriate for all ages, including the young children who come to the museum. He said it’s the language that is a particular concern.
The Mazza currently has 34 works in the category of graphic novels, but Sapp aims to expand it and said perhaps someday there could be a section on display at all times.
One of the Mazza’s goals is, through illustration, to increase interest and get kids into books, and Sapp said graphic novels may help get children into reading.
He said a number of illustrators who started out in picture books years ago are now illustrating graphic novels.
David Wiesner, who won the Mazza Medallion of Excellence for Artistic Diversity last fall, is a multiple winner of the Caldecott. He has a new graphic novel coming out this spring.
Sapp said graphic novels help students with reading disabilities, as pictures “help to tell the story.” Sapp’s son has dyslexia and when he was very young, illustrations in picture books could help tell the story. Now 16 he read graphic novels and finds the pictures “reinforce the text.”
A graphic novel exhibit at the Mazza ran from June 2015 to June 2016. Sapp said it had a great response, drawing visitors young and old from outside the area who came to Findlay specifically to see it.
The Mazza is currently working with Walsh University, which is writing a grant with the hopes of creating an exhibit in spring 2018 including art from graphic novels, in the Mazza’s collection, including the Will Eisner piece.
The museum also has a printed page and original pen and ink from Jillian Tamaki’s “This One Summer,” a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book and Michael L. Printz Honor Book.
Sapp said the art in graphic novels is different than picture books – for example, one page may include six different rectangles with text and illustration. And a picture book for young children is usually 32 pages, but a graphic novel may be as many as 200 pages.
He said he doesn’t have a favorite graphic novel, but appreciates people taking the illustration and putting it into that type of format “and being able to tell a story.”
A comics convention, FantastiCon, will be held at SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets will be available at the door.
“There’s a lot to do, and a lot to look at,” said event coordinator Jessica Pierce.
The event is also held in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in October, and at several locations in Michigan.
This is the third year for the Toledo show, which has been well attended.
Pierce said there is a growing interest in comics, especially with television shows like “Arrow,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “The Walking Dead.”