Thursday, August 24, 2006

Black Holes and Peanut Butter

About a month ago I was asked to participate in a panel discussion on graphic novels in public libraries. The audience will be comprised mostly of children's librarians and young adult librarians for Fairfax County, with a small smattering of adult librarians as well. Some high mucky muck who wrote a book on graphic novels is the primary speaker, but I was picked along with three others in the Fairfax system as someone who reads graphic novels and can speak about them.

We finally had an info meeting this past Tuesday to plan the whole deal, which will happen on Monday. The woman organizing the whole conference, who seems very nice and well-meaning, really has no idea about anything to do with the medium. She uses terms like graphic novel (which is really a term devised by publishing companies more than anything), comics and manga interchangeably. It took some explaining to convince her that only Japanese Manga is designed to be read right to left. But I give her credit for at least asking questions. As word has spread the last couple of days that I'm doing this, I'm finding a lot of librarians who either don't get the phenomenon or even hate it. A coworker today was surprised to see me check out Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew, thinking that I only read comics.

I don't know what exactly will come of the panel, but I hope it will at least dispel some of the misconceptions people have. If nothing else, I hope to convince people that comics are more than superheroes and manga (not that I don't enjoy both of those).

For the panel itself, we're basically being asked the following questions:

1. How did you get started reading graphic novels, and what do you personally get out of them?

2. What are some of the differences between comics created in Asia, the United States and Europe?

3. What are differences between comics and the popular cartoons and/or movies that are based on them?

4. Name one comic you would suggest to a high-school age reader and explain why.

5. Name one comic you would suggest to a younger reader and explain why.

Picking my favorite comics was actually kind of tough. They wanted things the library actually has in stock so anyone interested can check them out, which makes sense. Unfortunately for me, my tastes tend to run more towards the underground and indie side, which the library doesn't carry much of. For a kids comic I think I'll suggest James Kochalka's Peanut Butter and Jeremy's Best Book Ever, which is brilliant because it has stuff that's fun for both kids and adults. But I also I love telling anyone who will listen about James Kochalka. Not only does he create kick ass comics, his name is just fun to say.

James Kochalka.

James Kochalka.

James Kochalka.

For teens my first instinct was Craig Thompson's Blankets, but I think instead I'll go with Black Hole by Charles Burns. Being set in a high-school and the schlock horror touches of mutant plagues and just seems tailor made for me to rant about. Problem being I haven't actually read the thing. So I have my weekend cut out for me.


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