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Comic books and graphic novels for libraries: What to buy
Michael R. Lavin
Lavin is Business and Management Subject Specialist, Lockwood Memorial Library, State University of New York at Buffalo, Amherst, NY 14260, USA
Available online 19 January 2000.
Michael R. Lavin
Comic books and libraries do not seem to get along, at least not in North American libraries. Aside from a few dozen specialized, noncirculating research collections, retrospective comic book holdings remain virtually unknown as a library resource.1 Browsing collections of current comic books are equally rare in public, school, and college libraries. In a 1984 article, comic book bibliographer Randall Scott observed, "In most communities, if you want to read or refer to a comic book, you have to buy it." Librarian Doug Highsmith concurred, writing in 1992 that public libraries carrying the latest issues of popular comics titles are "still the exception rather than the rule." Both statements remain fundamentally true today.
2. Randall W. Scott, The Comics Alternative. In: Collection Building (Summer 1984), p. 23.
3. Doug Highsmith, Developing a `Focused' Comic Book Collection in an Academic Library. In: Allen Ellis, Editor, Popular Culture and Acquisitions, Haworth Press, New York (1992), p. 60.
4. Jan Ballard and Christine Kirby, Batman? Spiderman? [sic] Archie? In the Library????. Library Journal 99 (October 15, 1974), p. 2705.
5. Larry Dorrell and Ed Carroll, Spider-Man at the Library. School Library Journal 27 (August 1981), p. 18.
6. Laurel F. Goodgion, Holy Bookshelves! Comics in the Children's Room. School Library Journal 23 (January 1977), p. 38.
7. Stephen Weiner, Creating a Graphic Novel Collection for the Public Library. Voice of Youth Advocates 15 (December 1992), p. 270.
8. Steven Weiner, 100 Graphic Novels for Public Libraries. In: , Kitchen Sink Press, Northampton, MA (1996), p. 11.
9. Frank Hoffmann, Comic Books in Libraries, Archives and Media Centers. The Serials Librarian 16 (1989), p. 168.
10. Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art. In: (expanded edition ed.),, Poorhouse Press, Tamarac, FL (1985), p. 5.
Will Eisner, Graphic Storytelling Eisner is an undisputed master of the comic book art form. His follow-up work, entitled . (1995) was published by .
11. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. In: , Harper Collins, New York (1994), p. 9.
McCloud's brilliant work, originally published by Kitchen Sink Press in 1993, explores the mechanics of comic book art and is itself presented in the form of a comic book. Anyone who wishes to better understand the grammar, vocabulary, and method of the comic book medium is well advised to study the works of Eisner and McCloud.
12. Randall W. Scott. In: Comics Librarianship: A Handbook, McFarland, Jefferson, NC (1990), p. 10.
13. Scott (1984), p. 23.
14. Evelyn Minick and Judy Kurman, ...And My Branch [How I Use Comic Books Good]. Unabashed Librarian 18 (Winter 1976), p. 3.
15. Virtually every article about browsing collections in school or public libraries mentions the success of comic book donations.
For representative examples, see Laurel F. Goodgion, Holy Bookshelves! Comics in the Children's Room. School Library Journal 23 (January 1977), p. 37.
Larry Dorrell and Ed Carroll, Spider-Man at the Library. School Library Journal 27 (August 1981), p. 19.
16. Bruggeman Lora, Zap! Whoosh! Kerplow!: Build High-Quality Graphic Novel Collections with Impact. School Library Journal 43 (January 1997), p. 24.
17. Mike Benton, Comic Books in America: An Illustrated History. In: , Taylor Publishing, Dallas (1989), p. 39.
18. Benton, pp. 41, 48, 51.
19. Biff! Pow! Comic Books Make a ComebackBusiness Week (September 2, 1985), pp. 59–60.
Few comics publishers report circulation figures to audit bureaus or to the United States Postal Service, so exact industry numbers are unknown. However, detailed monthly sales figures are reported by Diamond Comic Distributors, which supplies approximately 80 percent of all comics ordered by specialty retail stores. Aggregate industry data based on Diamond's reports can be found monthly in Comics Retailer. Although Diamond's figures exclude sales from other wholesalers, newsstand sales, and direct subscription sales, they remain the most consistent and reliable source of industry data.
22. Benton, p. 41.
23. Benton, p. 77.
The most widely quoted market share figures come from Diamond, whose numbers can be seen monthly in the Comics Retailer and on Matt High's "Comics Sales Charts" Web page.
High, an employee of Antarctic Press, has maintained this invaluable site for the past several years. Archie Comic's considerable newsstand sales are excluded from readily available market data.
Diamond produces a thick monthly catalog for comic book retailers entitled Previews: The Comic Shop 's Catalog. The count of comic book publishers was taken from the February, 1998 issue.
26. Scott (1984), p. 24.
27. For examples of other classification schemes for comic books genres, see Mike Benton, Comic Books in America: An Illustrated History. In: , Taylor Publishing, Dallas (1989), p. 9.
and Randall Scott's MSU Web page (http://www.http://www.lib.msu.edu/comics/rri/grri/genre.htm#genres).
28. For more on bad-girl comics, see the accompanying article by Michael R. Lavin, "Women in Comics," in this issue of Serials Review, pp. 93–100.
29. Prominent Marvel titles included , The Rawhide Kid. (1955–1979).
, The Two-Gun Kid. (1948–1977).
, Kid Colt, Out-law. (1948–1979).
Gladstone has suffered an on-again/off-again relationship with its licensing rights to the Disney characters. As of this writing, the company publishes two monthly Disney comics, plus several ongoing series of trade paperback collected editions.
31. Joseph Witek, Comic Books as History: the Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar. In: , University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, MI (1989), p. 122.
32. For background on underground comics, see Les Daniels, Comix: A History of Comic Books in America. In: , Outerbridge and Dienstfrey, New York (1971), pp. 165–180.
Joseph Witek, Comic Books as History: the Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar See also . In: , University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, MI (1989), pp. 48–57.
Mike Benton, Comic Books in America: An Illustrated History. In: , Taylor Publishing, Dallas (1989), pp. 183–185.
33. Will Eisner, Comic Books in the Library. Library Journal 99 (October 15, 1974), p. 2704.
34. An excellent overview of the original Classics Illustrated series can be found in Dan Malan's annual "Understanding Classics Illustrated," appearing in The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide (New York: Gemstone Publishing).
The 28th edition (1998) presents the article on pages 322–323.
Another helpful piece, complete with extensive illustrations, can be found in Hubert H. CrawfordIn: Crawford's Encyclopedia of Comic Books, Jonathan David Publications, Middle Village, N.Y., (1978), pp. 205–230.
35. Benton, p. 51.
36. Comics Age with the Baby BoomAmerican Demo-graphics 13 (May, 1991), p. 16.
37. See Amy Kiste Nyberg, Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code. In: , University of Mississippi Press, Jackson, MI (1998).
Les Daniels, Comix: A History of Comic Books in America. In: , Gemstone Publishing, New York (1971), pp. 83–90.
The original 1954 text of the "Code of the Comics Magazine Association of America" can be found in numerous places, including Nyberg, Daniels, and many sites on the Internet
such as (http://www.comics.dm.net/codetext.htm).
The 1971 revision can be found in The Unabashed Librarian 18 (Winter 1976), pp. 4–6.
39. Bruggeman, p. 26
40. Bruggeman, p. 24.
41. Weiner (1996), p. 14.
42. Highsmith, pp. 65–66.
In an effort to explore the library market, Awesome Comics, one of the leading independent puiblishers, recently contacted a sample of public libraries in California, only to find that none were interested in starting a comics collection. Telephone conversation with Matt Hawkins, Awesome Comics' Marketing Director, March, 16, 1998.
Telephone interview with Jim Tinney of Mile High Comics, May 22, 1998.
A comparative review of the leading comic book magazines and journals will appear in Part 3 of this forum, to be published in the Fall/Winter 1998 issue of Serials Review.
46. Scott (1984), p. 25.
Volume 24, Issue 2 , Summer 1998 , Pages 31-45
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