“A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.” -Justice OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 425 (1918).
We librarians live our lives by words. From the words on the pages of a 500 year old book to the 140 characters of a tweet, words are one of the great beasts of burden that lug information around from one brain to the next. Words are powerful, but nowhere are they more powerful than when we use them to organize and access information.
Words are called terms when they describe something in a thesaurus, and terms must be the correct way to describe the stuff they are applied to. In the context of our comics thesaurus, it must also be understandable to the user. We get to decide what word will mean a certain kind of thing, and our choice must be successful or our terms will get our readers nowhere.
Recently I have been working with our thesaurus. Considering its strengths and weaknesses, looking for holes that a great comic may slide through if we do not have the proper words to describe and connect. I have found just such a hole, but oh if only I had the word to fill it!
You see there are these comics, some memoirs, some roughly based on the lives of their creators, others total fiction, but they all put the reader inside an experience or point of view. These comics let the reader in on what it is like to:
Grow up in a culture of violence: Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: a Personal History of Violence by Geoffrey Canada, Adapted by Jamar Nicholas
Be a stay-at-home Dad: Little Star by Andi Watson
Feel different: Skim Words by Mariko Tamaki, Drawings by Jillian Tamaki
Emigrate: The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Conquer self-hate: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Go crazy: Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell
Be a grumpy file clerk from Cleveland: American Splendor by Harvey Pekar
These works have dual strength; novelty for one reader who gets a peek into a different world view and the familiarity for another who learns she is not alone. How do you sum up that super power? I don’t know yet, but I am working on it!
Candidate term: Pass the experience plea