Blog/ Comics

PLA 2010: Librarians Get Graphic preconference notes

For those who attended and everyone else who’s interested, here follows a summary of the Librarians Get Graphic preconference at the 2010 Public Library Association conference, with more links than I believe I have ever included in a post before! (In fact, there are a few that are included more than once because they were mentioned by more than one presenter.)

I guess you could even call it a con report, though there is a sad lack of amusing photos of cosplayers. (In passing, “Librarians Get Graphic” is a popular name for any library/comics intersection; Michele Gorman recently wrote Ten Years of Getting Graphic about her experience sharing comics and graphic novels with librarians and library users over the past decade.)

First presenter of the day Shaun Huston showed footage from an upcoming documentary about the comics community in Portland. Huston also writes for; his essay Creator: Various is about the complex and problematic notion of authorship in comics.

Librarian panel:
Traci Glass, Eugene Public Library, who both spoke on and organized the librarian panel (yay Traci!) shared resources for selecting graphic novels for kids and teens. Here’s her extensive list!

Publisher Sites:

Sites Traci Likes:

Newsletters & Discussion Lists:

Titles Traci Recommends:

  • The Muppet Show –Roger Langridge
  • Lunch Lady –Jarrett J. Krosoczka
  • Marvel Adventures –Various Authors
  • Tiny Titans –Art Baltazar
  • Bone –Jeff Smith
  • Amulet –Kazu Kibuishi
  • Toon Books –Various Authors
  • Happy Happy Clover –Sayuri Tatsuyama
  • Jellaby –Kean Soo
  • Johnny Boo –James Kochalka
  • Leave it to PET –Kenji Sonishi
  • Rapunzel’s Revenge –Shannon & Dean Hale
  • Star Wars –The Clone Wars Adventures –Various Authors
  • The Legend of Zelda –Akira Himekawa
  • Yotsuba! –Kiyohiko Azuma
  • Kingdom Hearts –Shiro Amano
  • Clan Apis –Jay Hosler
  • Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow –James Sturm and Rich Tommaso
  • Houdini: the Handcuff King –Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi
  • Adventures in Cartooning –James Sturm, Andrew Arnold & Alexis Frederick-Frost
  • Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers –Chris Eliopoulos
  • Mouse Guard –David Petersen

Professional Books:

Laural Winter, Multnomah County Library. Discussed programming with graphic novels, including Multnomah’s positive experience with the ALA Public Programs Office bookgroup series Modern Marvels: Adventures in the Graphic Novel, which included A Contract with God by Will Eisner, The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: Stories by Ben Katchor, The Quitter by Harvey Pekar, and The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar. Also how Multnomah added Zinesters Talking and Cartoonists Talking to its long-running Writers Talking program series.

Bob Renfro, Lead Cataloger, Multnomah County Library. Discussed cataloging issues — not so much with graphic novels, since now graphic novels are increasingly common & mainstream — but more with zines and minicomics. And yes, his original cataloging is shared with OCLC.

Cathy Camper, Multnomah County Library’s Zine Library Group, discussed the ZLG’s outreach to zinesters and comics creators at the Stumptown Comics Fest and the Portland Zine Symposium. She talked about the importance of a full-circle approach: developing relationships with creators, purchasing their work, hiring them for programs. This helps support local independent and small press creators, who have been as hard hit by the recession as everyone else. The outreach also helps ensure that the creators, who are often in their twenties and thirties — a generation sometimes less served by traditional library programming — feel valued by the library.

Katie Anderson, Oregon State Library & Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse, discussed intellectual freedom issues and graphic novels. Very few graphic novels have been challenged in Oregon! Resources mentioned:

Jessica Lorentz-Smith, school librarian at Bend High School in Bend, Oregon, spoke about how she shares graphic novels with her students, and also about her experience as a member of YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee.

Both the Association for Library Service to Children and the Young Adult Library Services Association offer online courses about graphic novels:


“The comics art form has blossomed from one that even its most devoted fans left behind at age 14 to one that could conceivably stop producing art today and the heartbroken reader present at its funeral couldn’t get to all of the corners and travel down all of the side roads already brought to life before she joined comics on the other side.” – Tom Spurgeon (from “The Blind Man’s Elephant in the Room” at Comics Reporter)

Comics publishers didn’t grow up in a book-publishing environment; it’s taken them a while to figure out how to do things book-business style, and maybe they don’t know how to work well with libraries, but they do respond well to people making suggestions.

1. The Wednesday People
Really into serialized superhero comics; go to the store every week. (New comics arrive on Wednesdays.) Big names are Brian Michael Bendis, Geoff Johns, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison; “Siege,” “Civil War,” “Final Crisis,” “Blackest Night.”

2. The “Mature Readers”
More or less created by Karen Berger and Vertigo; Sandman and Transmetropolitan are the gateway drugs. Readers sometimes read new stuff as serials, sometimes as trades. Big names are Warren Ellis, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis, “The Walking Dead.” Readers like creator-driven, design-conscious, not-particularly-kid-friendly adventure serials. Web sites are based around particular creators: Neil Gaiman’s blog, Warren Ellis’s Whitechapel, Barbelith.

3. The Mangaphiles
Terrifyingly huge in Japan, very big here. Thin end of wedge is Naruto/Fruits Basket. Probably lots of subcultures within it–so big that “scanlations” exist! Original English-language “manga” hasn’t quite taken off yet, but Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s “Scott Pilgrim” is making that change.

4. The Art-comics People
Focused on cartooning as artistic expression above all. Blossomed out of the underground scene of the ’60s and the RAW generation of the ’80s (Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman). Publishers: Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf. Artists: David Mazzucchelli, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Joe Sacco.

(Be very careful about thinking of them as “literary”: the virtues of literary prose and of comics are not the same.)

The L.A. Times Book Prize nominees for graphic novels for this year: Gilbert Hernandez’s “Luba,” Taiyo Matsumoto’s “GoGo Monster,” David Mazzucchelli’s “Asterios Polyp,” Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe,” and Joe Sacco’s “Footnotes in Gaza.”

5. The Webcomics People
There are subtribes galore of this category; many of the most popular strips aren’t even available in print form, or are barely available in print form (“Diesel Sweeties“!). Popular ones include “Penny Arcade,” “Achewood,” “Hark! A Vagrant,” etc.

6. The Europhiles
This might even be a sub-category of art-comics; only a thin sliver of the wide range of European stuff is available in translation right now. Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Emmanuel Guibert–the L’Association group is the scene Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” came out of.

7. The “I Read A Comic Once” People
Maybe they’ve read “Maus” or “Fun Home” or “Persepolis”: where to next? There’s a lot of blatant product about people recounting their difficult relationships with their fathers aimed at these people. (Also some great books, like C. Tyler’s “You’ll Never Know.”) One good way to tell the difference: if cartoonists credit their agents with pointing them toward comics as a way to tell their story, stay very far away.

8. The Moviegoers
They saw the movie, and now they want more. They are civilians who are ready to be converted. If there’s not a clear thing to point them toward–like, which Iron Man book do you hand them, out of the dozens out there?–one really useful resource is local comic book stores, who know the material very well and will be happy to fill you in. (Also, “The Invincible Iron Man, vol. 1,” by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, is quite good…)

9. The Kids
There are a lot of great comics for kids right now; they’re not the same comics for kids that were around when we were growing up. “Bone,” the Marvel Adventures digests, the Toon Books material, maybe even include “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” in there…


  • Bad product aimed at library buyers and nobody else. (Avoid e.g. a 40-page bio of Michelle Obama.)
  • Weak adaptations, of which there are a lot.
  • Comics that are blatantly failed movie pitches. These are actually pretty easy to identify.

(There are some good adaptations: Marvel’s “Wizard of Oz,” Roger Langridge’s “Muppet Show,” the Joss Whedon-associated “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” comics— but they’re outnumbered.)


  • The “direct market” — stores that buy directly from Diamond Comic Distributors on a nonreturnable basis
  • Bookstores, a market that keeps growing
  • Downloading stuff online. Aside from webcomics, there are not a lot of authorized outlets for this. Too bad: the demand exists, and therefore the supply exists. (Try typing the title of a comic, then the word “torrent,” into your favorite search engine.)
  • Conventions. Some specialize in art-comics and self-published and small-press stuff, some cater to the Wednesday crowd, some encompass both. People go to cons to spend a lot of money. It is people’s happy place.
  • Libraries! Connect with your local comics shop for Free Comic Book Day; the shop can stamp the free comics with their address/contact info, you can give them away in your libraries; it’s a win/win.

Comic creators panel
Some topics discussed: the economics of making comics for a living and how they are not totally dissimilar from the economics of librarianship — e.g. you do this because you love it, not for the money; the care and feeding of editor-author-artist relationships; how the iPad could be a great solution for online comics; how you know when a graphic novel is good (short answer: read a lot of them and see which ones you respond to, pay attention to the art, see the resources above). One of the many audience questions: What have you (the comic creators) read lately that you enjoyed?

Attendees and presenters, please fill in gaps and/or ask questions in the comments! Everyone else, that goes for you too! (Well, you can’t really fill in the gaps if you weren’t there, though I guess you could make things up.)

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  • Monica
    March 31, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you so much for compiling this! I have to say that the Graphic Novel pre-conference was the the best part of PLA. I learned so much. thanks!

  • Jenine Lillian
    March 31, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Thanks for this! I couldn’t attend and this is so perfect for a course I’m developing on GN for the reluctant librarians and teachers in our field! As always, love your writing and perspective. ~jl

  • Sarah Beasley
    April 1, 2010 at 9:38 am

    A Hornbook article from several years ago was mentioned as a good overview of the genre. Citation?

  • Sara
    April 1, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Monica, you’re welcome and I’m glad!
    Jenine, thanks, and I’m sorry I missed your session! I did see the crowdsurfing immortalized on YouTube, though. :)
    Sarah B., you’re right, it’s Hollis Rudiger’s “Graphic Novels 101: Reading Lessons,” and I’ve added a link in the post.