Graphic Novels’ Biggest Fans? Adults

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, FablesUmbrella 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.

Dark Tower: The Fall of Gilead
Robin Furth, Peter David, Richard Isanove
Retail Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Marvel Comics – (2010-02-16)
ISBN / EAN: 0785129510 / 9780785129516

8 Responses to “Graphic Novels’ Biggest Fans? Adults”

  1. lesbrarian Says:

    Our library shelves adult GNs separately from YA separately from J. We developed our own classification system (described in exhaustive detail here: and convinced the administration to let us shelve everything in a more sensible place.

    This system rocks. I will refrain from waxing poetic about it at the moment, except to note that I have a much better sense of what materials circulate in different age groups.

    The great number of our graphic materials get shelved in YA (but this is about four feet away from the adult section, so adults and young adults can browse through both sections easily). Naughty bits or very extreme violence will cause a book to be classified as adult, or if the book would best be appreciated by an adult audience, it goes there. (I chose to put Shaun Tan’s book The Arrival in Adult, for instance.)

    Excellent-but-not-actually-popular adult books like Fun Home and Stitches don’t circ much. Other books in the adult section, such as Y, Sandman, and Fables, do circ quite well.

  2. Robin Brenner Says:

    I agree! In my own library, we are lucky to have a separate adult graphic novel section (that was established before I arrived on the scene.) I know what you mean about the separate sections really underscoring who’s checking out what.

    How did you manage to get the two sections so close to each other? Do you have a separate teen space? I’m curious. Our teens have certainly learned where the adult collection is over time, but they aren’t that close simply because the two sections are rooms away from each other.

    Sadly, I wish more libraries did this! I’ve heard more often than I’d like to admit lately from librarians who don’t have sections, and can’t seem to establish them. Hopefully your example will inspire!

  3. Chris L. Says:

    I was thrilled to pieces when my system decided to formally establish separate collections for juvenile, YA, and adult graphic literature–and even more thrilled when I was asked to take on selection duties in these areas. It’s been about 3 1/2 years now, and circulation in these collections continues to rise. They’re doing well enough that in a status quo budget, my allotment for graphic lit when up again this year. I’ve really been making an effort to bring in the popular materials, and it’s paying off. I have to say, the NYT Graphic Books bestseller lists have been a godsend for me, pointing out titles and series that I may have missed. I’m very glad to see this column, and fully intend to follow it closely! Thanks, Robin, for all you do!

  4. Gilles Poitras Says:

    Congrats on the new gig.

    As you know my forte is anime and manga. One of my goals for several years has been to get more adults reading manga and watching anime. Many of the titles available in English are aimed at adults, tho’ teens can enjoy them also, and would make excellent additions to library collections.

    I urge more librarians to explore these mediums for storytelling. There are some marvelous works out there for all ages.

  5. Robin Brenner Says:


    It’s great to hear that the NYT list has been a boon to you — I know it always reminds me of titles I either need to get the new volume of or that I should be purchasing entirely.

    I’m glad to be here, and I hope that the column continues to be useful (and entertaining).

  6. Sarah Says:

    While I don’t work in a library- but rather a bookstore- I would like to point out that while in the US most people think of manga as a kids thing (and there are series likes Zelda and Pokemon), there are quite a few that are very adult; containing a wide range of topics that are very unchild like.Same for graphic novels- I’d be very surprised if I saw Alan Moore’s “Lost Girls” in the YA section.

  7. Robin Brenner Says:

    Sarah, you do make a very good point, and that was part of the reason I pulled out the list to show folks that the adult audience IS there, and we should be paying attention to them.

    I certainly hope no one would put Lost Girls in the YA section, but I fear what is happening more than it should is that libraries just avoid buying adult titles (like Lost Girls, or Powers, or Ghost in the Shell) precisely because it is too adult for their YA section. They have no other place to shelve adult graphic novels, so they just don’t get purchased, and adults remain an under served audience in this format.

  8. nhlibrarian Says:

    At our library the juvenile and YA are in the youth section, and the adult GNs are in the adult section near the New Nonfiction and Fiction. I was asked to do the collection development, and for the last seven months I’ve been ordering selections like Fables and Ex Machina alongside some fantastic nonfiction that gets included in our GN section such as work by Joe Sacco, Ted Rall, and Emmanuel Guibert. While GNs like Asterios Polyp and The Impostor’s Daughter may not get the circulation that Fables does, I’m not worried…most literary fiction won’t circulate like the latest Dan Brown thriller either.