Editors Note: I’m pleased to announce that Robin Brenner is a new EarlyWord contributor covering Graphic Novels. Her first post is below.
I first met Robin when I was trying to understand a manga series that appeared on the NYT’s Graphic Books Bestseller list. I was so impressed with her obvious love for the format and ability to explain its appeal that I asked her to begin sharing her knowledge via EarlyWord.
Robin is a Reference/Teen Librarian at the Brookline (MA) Public Library and was the Chair of the ALA/YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens Selection List Committee in 2008. Her guide Understanding Manga and Anime was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award. She is also the editor-in-chief of No Flying No Tights, a graphic novel review site (for more about Robin, click here).
Robin wanted to become a Disney animator when she grew up, but found her true home in libraries. She continues to draw, however, and created her own manga image, in the style of CLAMP, for her “badge,” which will appear on her weekly posts.
The latest volume of the dark fantasy series Dark Tower, inspired by Stephen King’s epic novels, debuted at the number one spot on this week’s New York Times Graphic Books Hardcover Best Seller list, joining two earlier volumes of the series already in the top ten.
Some people feel that graphic novels are only for teens, but as the NYT list proves, the books that rise to the top are aimed at adults. Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, V for Vendetta, and Sandman consistently appear on the list. While each holds some appeal for older teens, they were crafted with adults squarely in mind. The Walking Dead, Fables, Umbrella Academy, and Y the Last Man achieve high ranking and consistently reappear when new volumes are published: adult territory all the way. Over the course of the lists’s fifty weeks, only seven titles aimed at younger readers have made the hardcover or paperback lists. (The manga list, on the other hand, is steadily teen-oriented, which is a post for another day.)
How many public libraries provide graphic novel sections for adults in their collections? A majority of librarians I’ve consulted put graphic novels for adults in their teen sections (crossing their fingers that no one objects). Those that do maintain adult collections focus on award winners or literary titles including the deservedly acclaimed Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home or David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp, but not popular series. Many also interfile graphic novels with fiction or nonfiction, unintentionally obscuring their support for the format. Far too many libraries don’t collect them at all. Some librarians struggle to convince their administrators that graphic novels are not just for teens.
A glance through the past lists makes it clear that libraries are doing their patrons a disservice when they sidestep popular graphic novel series for adults. Library holdings as reflected in Worldcat, indicate there is more awareness of teen favorites than of those aimed at adults. Over 700 libraries own the first volume of Naruto, a mainstay on the manga bestseller list. In comparison, 420 libraries own the first Dark Tower graphic novel, A Gunslinger Born, and at this point just thirteen own the third volume in the series, Treachery, and only four own this week’s number one title, The Fall of Gilead.
In the past, bestseller lists served as justification for adding popular titles to collections; the graphic novels lists can serve that same function today.