Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bare To The Bone

Last Friday a Bone series graphic novel crossed my path. I’m a familiar with the series and know that the writer Jeff Smith has won a number of awards over the years for his efforts. I’ve also spent some time looking over the graphic novels in our collection here at the SLFL and have visited a couple of shops that specialize in this type of work. And although they don’t do much for me now I’ll also admit that I read tons of comic books as a kid. So, I was curious.

I was intrigued by the work because of the cover art. So I keep the book out on the counter and whenever I had the chance I’d just flip it open to read a bit. I then checked it out and took it home for the weekend. I know that graphic novels are designed to be eye-catching. But I think the real question is: to who’s eye?

It’s no surprise to say that the publishers are appealing to young readers. That’s fine. Writers and publishers have been doing that for a long time. And for almost the same amount of time we’ve all heard concerns that certain books or types of works are not appropriate for young readers. Okay, that’s fine too. But I would add two caveats. The first is that it is very difficult to use a wide paintbrush to determine what is appropriate for every reader. That is really a decision that is best made by having a discussion between a parent and a child. There are a lot of people who can help with that discussion. Educators and librarians are just two groups of trained professionals who can assist but it is really up the parent and child to make the final determination. The second aspect is the potential concerns someone may have by providing something that might be too frightening, shocking or mature material for the individual. Graphic novel are graphic and so the discussing goes that little is left to the imagination. I would say maybe. It really depends on the particular work and the reader.

One aspect of each of these concerns is that we make the assumption that in order to understand a given text or illustration an individual has to have a certain level of maturity, intelligent or worldliness. Okay, I can buy that too but I also think that most readers, even young readers are self-selecting / censoring / understanding. They will get out of a book, story, article, painting, illustration or piece of music only what they can understand. Now in the process they may become confused by something beyond their own understanding. And sometimes they need someone to point the way to completely comprehend what they are reading or viewing. The classic example of this concept is the use of the word Rosebud in the cinema work Citizen Cane. Actually even if you’ve never seen the movie, you might still know what I mean. But to completely understand the Rosebud reference you also need to have an understanding of a number of other concepts some of which include irony, flashback, remorse and redemption. It’s the same with books, even graphic novels.

It’s too easy to dismiss an entire collection as unworthy of a child’s or adults reading efforts. Notice I didn’t say genre. I didn’t use that term because there are different genres of graphic novels, just like with other works of fiction. So within our entire collection of items available to the public we include adult, juvenile, toddler, fiction, non-fiction, reference, how-to manuals, audio-books, DVD’s, VHS’s, microfilm, photographs, artwork, newspapers, magazines and public computer work stations that provide software for games, writing, building spreadsheets, and internet access to the virtual world. So we offer many different choices. And that is but one of the reasons as to why we also make graphic novels available at the SLFL. Some of our readers choose to swim widely and deeply throughout all of our collections. Other find one type of work or subject and they prefer and mine it exclusively. Both ways are correct. Because both ways provide our patrons, the young and the more seasoned, with what it is that they are looking for.

See you at the Library,


  1. One of the best, most sophisticated and thought-provoking graphic is Persepolis by Satrapi. It is her journey into Muslim extremism under Khomeni. When kids in my library move past Bone, they read American Born Chinese, (also very good) and then to Persepolis. The graphic "Genre" beckons them to greater depth. I have not yet recommended Maus to anyone yet.
    Karen (KVLA)

  2. Hey Karen, I'm familiar with both Persepolis and American Born Chinese and you're right they're both very good. Maus is an interesting case because it is not very often that a graphic novel is awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Award, but that is exactly what Mr. Spiegelman received in 1992 for his works(Volume I: "My Father Bleeds History" published in 1986 and Volume II: "And Here My Troubles Began" published in 1991).