About Megan W.

I am a fan of comics with discreet, self-contained story lines, and light on the super heroes. I also have a weakness for witty characters, zombies, shojo manga, and pretty art. My library background is in public libraries in which I hope to have a future career as master reader’s adviser and book pusher to the masses. My biggest comic turnoff is: ugly, messy, cramped art The last comic that blew my mind was: The Wrong Place by Brecht Evans

Libraries and Comic Conventions? Yep, you just might be able to get your con on at your local library!

Libraries are embracing comics fans in a new way.  We know that collections continue to grow, and projects like the League’s Comic Recommendation Engine get librarians excited. But did you know that libraries are beginning to throw open their hallowed halls for a day or two just for sequential art fans? Libraries all over the country have started hosting small-scale comics conventions. While these efforts are unlikely to have the power to draw stars and crowds the way the large cons like Emerald City can, they should be an awesome way for those without the money or the geographic convenience to attend a big con a chance to get a taste of the experience.  Take, for example, the Toronto Comics Arts Festival, hosted by the Toronto Reference Library. With more than 300 creators and 18,000 attendees, the most significant difference between this library-hosted convention and a regular comic convention is that, since it’s hosted by a library, there are no barriers to entry– the festival is free.

Even the library system in my not-so-big hometown of Harford County, Maryland is hosting a mini comic convention.

Don’t have one in your local library?  Be sure to ask your librarian if she or he has ever considered hosting. Who knows, maybe a mini-comic con will be opening its doors at your library next.

No More Men! or Why Plot Details Don’t Make Good Bibliographic Matchmakers:

Have you ever had a friend buy you a comic or a book because a detail of the plot revolved around a genuine interest of yours?  Was that same title not a good read despite its topical interest?  You have been the subject of some bad (comic)book matching.  I firmly believe that the details of a plot, while important in making a good story, do little to tell you, a potential reader, if you will enjoy a comic or not.  I have recently come across an example which illustrates this concept perfectly.

First we have to get rid of all of the men.  Sorry boys but in both these comics the male gender is struck with high mortality rate, nearly all men die in a single moment in a single day in Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn, and only about an eighth of the male population survive to maturity in Ooku by Fumi Yoshinaga.  This is a fascinating Thought Experiment (our term for a story element that is a what if that allows us to examine society and humanity through fiction) and it may bring up similar issues of gender roles in both series, but despite this plot detail, readers moving from one series to the next will find a very different experience in each comic.  From ambiance of the the world they are set in, the kinds of characters that fill the story and the affect the story has on the reader.

I think in this case it is the affect that makes the biggest difference between these two reading experiences.  Where Y: The Last Man has an affect on the reader that induces adrenalin, designed in part to scare us, Ooku has a reflective effect on the reader.  With a slower pace a more generous captions and atmospheric images Ooku takes its time and asks the reader to think both about the subtleties of the relations and machinations of its characters and the larger social questions it brings up. Readers who love Ooku might enjoy more contemplative comics who’s drama comes from social relationships like Habibi or works with a wide scope like Buddah by Osamu Tezuka.  Both of these comics carry the same contemplative feel that Ooku brings the reader.

Y: The Last Man has the action and adventure of a superhero comic with a dark side.  Its ‘what if’ question still gives the reader some space outside the comic to consider gender and society, but this story has action, faster pacing and a greater emphasis on the plot.  Readers who love Y: The Last Man may want to pick up Guerillas by Brahm Revel or Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory for stories with some thought behind them but a fast moving, dark plot line.

Can you enjoy both titles?  Why yes, I do but these series each work on a different part of the bibliographic palette, so don’t let the details of a plot have you using sugar on your  fries and salt on your strawberries.

Check out how our thesaurus terms describe the similarities and differences between these two series.

Ooku by Fumi Yoshinaga

Affect terms:

  • Reflection

Character Terms:

  • Ensemble
  • Super Normal

Story Elements:

  • Relationships
  • Romantic
  • Family

World Terms:

  • Earth
  • Real Unless Noted
  • Past
  • White and Gray Morality
  • Dysfunction Junction

Y The Last Man by Brian K Vaughn

Affect Terms:

Art Terms:

Character Terms:

Story Elements:

World Terms:

Words

“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

 

Terms at work – Adults are Clueless or Useless!

Let’s take a couple terms from our thesaurus out for a spin and see what they have to say about some real comics.

Sailor Moon volume one coverEver wonder if there must surely be someone more qualified than that fourteen year old running around in a sailor suit to save the world in your comic book?   In the world of the pretty sailor soldiers in Naoko Takeuchi’s series Sailor Moon, adults are clueless to the galactic struggle being waged on the streets of Tokyo.  Even when the world is not at risk, adults can still be clueless and absent like the distant, unseen, mumbling giants of Peanuts, the comic strip by cartooning giant Charles M. Schulz.

 

In the worlds of some teenagers adults are much worse than clueless.  Their loss of innocence, their surrender to corruption of the world, make them useless.  The cast of Runaways, brain children of writer Brain K. Vaughn, live in a world where every adult is under the power of evil.  Even adult superheroes prove useless to the Runaways.  These kids aren’t the only ones on their own:  All but one or two rare adults are dangerously useless in Ted Naifeh’s series about the young witch, Courtney Crumrin. In fact, even the other children are useless in Courtney’s sad sack world, but that is a term for another day.

What are your favorite comic worlds burdened by clueless/useless adults?

The League meets MLLL readers

You might have noticed all the fuss about snow up here in Seattle last week. And while conditions were slightly exaggerated, league librarians, Ryer, Sarah, and Megan braved day three -slushmageddon, to make our way down on our first official visit to The MLLL, the student run comic book library at Reed College.

Jan. 29, 2012

Our mission: hang out with some comic fans and talk to them about how they find good new stories to read and what we can do to make that easier at the MLLL.

And what success!  We got to hang out with current signator Emlyn Thompson, an alumnus who had the position in the 80’s and some wonderful MLLL readers who helped give us some insight into the MLLL as an institution and what kind of system would help them find what they need without requiring too much upkeep. Besides requesting reading suggestions, these Reedies stressed a desire to build a community of reading and peer recommendation to go along with our tool.

A three hour brainstorming car drive later, we librarians are back in the Emerald city, rejuvenated and refocused on our task by the insights enthusiasm of our new friends down at Reed.

So what is next for this dynamic trio?  Research and refinement in three parts:

1. Identify the technology.  We are currently investigating Drupal, a content management system to host our taxonomy. Now that we have a clearer picture of what the back end of our site will need to do, to achieve what the MLLL requires we can investigate modules in Drupal and other systems to discover what is possible and make a final decision about what system to use.

2.  What to catalog?   Librarians have very strict (and currently very arcane) rules about how to represent a book in an online catalog.  These rules do not work well for comic books which have all kinds of special issues that are important to the reader, but get lost when you try to force the information to fit into the mold we created for text-only books.  We face the task of deciding what we should describe about the comics at Reed when we put a record for them online so we can apply our terms.

Another related consideration is the level of detail or refinement at which we will both index and catalog. The scope of our project will not allow us to catalog every single issue contained in Reed’s library.  We will need to decide if we want to describe a comic at the title level (All Spider-man comics) the series level (Amazing Spider-man), the story arc (“Kraven’s Last Hunt”), or the issue (#293).  Different comics may be cataloged and indexed at varying levels, but we need to define what information is important and constant within each level of detail.

3. Get the language just right! Finally, we will be breaking out ye olde Comics Thesaurus, blowing off the dust of a quarter or two and taking a fresh look at our terms, their scope notes, the structure of our indexing language and fill in any insurmountable gaps.

In other words, we’ve got work to do, but a whole lot of excitement about the direction and possibilities of our project.

-Megan W.

Comics for Bibliophiles & Books for Comic Fans

One of the foundational missions here at the LCL is to break down artificial barriers to reading, and one way we will accomplish this goal is to suggest new and unexpectedly awesome things to put in front of your eyeballs (librarians call that readers advisory).  We will review or suggest a comic that is friendly to readers, from well crafted graphics with enough detail to fill ten pages, to plot lines with nods to book-lovers.  But that’s not all, for the same price (free), you also get a review of a novel that has something to do with comics or some characteristic that will inspire comic readers to brave long paragraphs and complex sentences.  Both formats can offer intellectually stunning stories, mastery of form, and –my personal favorite– stories that taste like mind-numbing candy for your brain. From the War and Peace of comics to the 1950’s Superman of novels, let’s discover where fans of the novel and fans of the comic can get on the same page.

Let’s start someplace easy: the story line:

The Comic:
Unwritten Vol. 1 Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross
ISBN: 978-1401225650

Plot: Could the stories we read have a power that transcend our imagination?  Tom Taylor is the son of a writer who used Tom as the basis of his young magician character, the lead in an enormously popular series that reminds the reader of a cross between C.S. Lewis and Harry Potter.  But the genius writer has been missing for years, disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  Tom has been eking out a living appearing at conventions, but questions start flying about the true identity of his mother, and strange, violent events keep creeping closer to Tom.  All Tom knows is his father taught him literary geography the way a normal person learns multiplication tables, was it more than the whimsy of a literati?  Just where does Tom Taylor come from?

Art: In color, with an attractive art style, the visuals of this comic are straight forward and serve the purpose of providing the reader with information about the action in the story.

What you might not like about it:  Violence in this title is on the graphic side.  If you are sensitive, this is not the title to start with.

A main character that has moments that make him less than sympathetic.

Interludes telling the story of the novel written by Tom’s father may be disruptive to the story for some readers, but will not bother most.

Why it’s good for book-lovers: References to classic and popular literature abound, making the plot familiar territory for fiction fans.  Panel progression is easy to follow, and the art is mildly attractive,  in color and geared towards telling the story.  Anyone drawn to mystery, suspense and fantasy stories will be easily drawn into the plot.

The Book:
Title: Pandemonium
Author: Daryl Gregory
ISBN: 9780345501165

The Plot: Strange forces, known as demons possess humans.  They take over just long enough to complete a set of tasks, each demon with its own routine performed regardless of the well being of their host.  One such demon, The Little Angel, possesses little girls and takes them to hospitals where they kill the terminally ill with a kiss.  There is no way to convince a demon to stop; the only option is getting out of the way or killing its innocent host. Our main character, Del, is a special case. Everyone thinks he’s just crazy, after all he’s been hearing voices, feeling something inside his head, struggling to get out. But Del knows differently. He was possessed as a child by the demon know as ‘the Hellion’ who he and his family had thought was long gone, but after a traumatic car accident the monster seems not gone, but trapped in his head struggling to get out.

Del crashes an academic conference on the study of the Demons. When the professor he went to find is killed the same night he refuses Del, our main character finds himself not only possessed, but a murder suspect. Del’s goal is to uncover the secrets that will exorcise the the monster in his head, but the more people he meets, the more he begins to suspect that nothing is quite as he, or anyone else had imagined.

The appeal: Del has many colorful companions on his quest, his computer-savvy brother, a friend from the mental ward, and a chain smoking exorcist/nun, who Del finds himself growing attracted to. Del proves to be a dynamic character who takes us along a series of twists, turns, and sudden revelations through a though provoking journey.

Why it’s good for comics fans: The author weaves in some comic book references and nods to science fiction novels.  It also has a plot with the same mix of supernatural action, humor, romance and drama you often find in a comic book series.  The language is accessible and not overly tied into the setting or minute details of the story.

If you try either of these titles out, write in and tell me what you think.

-Megan Willan

Avengers, Assemble!

Welcome to the home base of the League of Comics Librarians!

Like all super teams, the LCL has an amazing origin story: one day, a day only exceptional in being the first day of the quarter at a large educational institution offering a Masters in Library and Information Science, a group of young graduate students listened to their professor introduce the concept of a thesaurus.  (In library land a thesaurus, or the index of an indexing language, is a document filled with words that have been carefully selected to describe stuff that you want to help people find, like books, articles, and journals.)  After teaching about the powers of co-location and navigation held by mightily constructed thesauri, the professor put a question to his students: For what kind of stuff will you create a thesaurus?  For four of those students, there was only one answer: Comics!

The LCL survived the end of their one quarter class to continue in their mission: To continue to craft their super thesaurus, and to help readers, new and old find the comics (or graphic novels, or manga or whatever else you want to call it) they will enjoy.  We aim to help new readers break into this amazing narrative format and help long time fans break free of their reading ruts to find comics that are right for them in new and unexpected places.  We believe there are comics out there for everyone, and we are here to help you find them.