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Behold, the graphic novel
Comic books grow up: Library project aims to draw teen readers

What the heck IS a graphic novel?

You may never have even heard the term "graphic novel." You might think it sounds like something your parents wouldn't let you read. But chances are, you have experienced the impact of the graphic novel, whether you know it or not.

Graphic novels arose as a genre in the 1970s from the tradition of comic books. They may deal in heroes and fantasy-worlds, as classic comic books do, but often have more weighty subject matter -- many graphic novels are nonfiction, historical fiction, or are based on classic literature. Graphic novels are also longer than comic books, and don't always come in a series.

In recent years, graphic novels have grown in popularity -- and in respect. Public libraries around the country have been increasing their graphic novel collections, and publishers and buyers have been catching on, too.

Richard Wilson, the local district marketing manager for Borders, says that graphic novels started becoming especially popular four or five years ago. Once upon a time, though, the buyer in charge of providing for Borders' graphic novel section had to plead with them to keep the section running. "He talked us into it," Wilson says. "And now we're glad he did, because its definitely our fastest-growing section."

Wilson adds that while the majority of graphic novel readers are young and male, the genre appeals to all ages and genders. "It's a little like the Harry Potter phenomenon: The kids take interest in it ... then teachers start using it and even parents are starting to look at it and enjoy it, too."

Mark Siegel, editorial director of First Second Books, an American publisher of cutting-edge graphic novels, agrees. "Every single publishing house is invested in graphic novels ... it's the single fastest growing genre in publishing," he says. First Second Books published "American Born Chinese" by Gene Luen Yang, winner of the Michael Printz award of the American Library Association -- the first graphic novel to win the honor.

But it's not just bookstores and publishing houses that recognize how hot graphic novels are. Recently, many movies have been made from graphic novels. "Spirited Away" and "V for Vendetta" were adapted from graphic novels, and so was "Sin City" and even "Road to Perdition." The eighth season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is being released as a set of comic books, and soon as a graphic novel. "Heroes," "Serenity" and "Firefly" are also being made into graphic novels.

As you may have guessed, graphic novels can be much more accessible than your run-of-the-mill novel. Zach Pennachi, a sophomore at West Seneca East, stumbled upon them back in third grade in Maryvale Elementary School's library while looking for Superman comics. Zach says that graphic novels can be easier to read because "you can relate to what the author is thinking about, because he drew it." However, he also notes, "They have a good storyline, not just stupid little kid stuff."

But while graphic novels are a great way for kids who don't already love reading to get into it, they're much more than glorified comic books -- they're a legitimate literary form. In fact, Siegel says that it's the spicy fusion of art and writing that makes graphic novels so unique and stimulating. He says that while television is largely passive, graphic novels are "intimate and active. You're involved in the creative process by not being spoon-fed ... Kids today are raised in a very visual world, bombarded with images. [When you're] reading images there's an alchemy between the words and images. The words and art dance together."

The final word? There's a cornucopia of stellar graphic novels out there, just waiting to be read -- and regardless of your interests, there's probably a graphic novel out there for you. As Siegel puts it, "It's irrelevant whether you like comics or not. When you read a graphic novel, you've connected with another mind."



Buffalo is getting graphic -- so get psyched.

Many libraries across the country have been adding graphic novel sections to their stacks recently. But the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is taking it a step further with Get Graphic!, a two-year initiative to allot more than $92,000, with the help of a state grant, to graphic novel-related programs and increase the library's graphic novel selection.

The Get Graphic! initiative began when the library was looking for a project to target teens and young adults in order to get them jazzed about reading, in the interest of both improving literacy and having fun. Britt White, now the librarian in charge of building the library's graphic novel collection, noticed that the graphic novel section was one of the most popular at the library. Soon enough, Get Graphic! was born.

Peggy Skotnicki, central library administrator and director of Get Graphic!, says, "Literacy is the library's mission; its mission is to help people, but it's also to have fun. We're looking to build literacy, but also to engage the students." The project will involve lots of fun activities for kids, in addition to programs that work with schools and other organizations.

This year, the project's focus will be on engaging kids in graphic novels through movie nights that will tap into kids' love for movie characters that are featured in graphic novels. There will also be a Superhero night, where participants can conjure up drawings of what their superhero counterparts would be.

Meanwhile, there will be workshops for teachers, librarians and other educators on using graphic novels in education. The plan is that high school teachers will integrate "Maus," a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction graphic novel about the Holocaust, into the spring curriculum. "Maus" author Art Spiegelman will come to Buffalo May 22 to give a speech and hold a question and answer session. The second year of the program is geared toward workshops with youth, specifically in creating their own graphic novels. Program directors are planning workshops at the central and other libraries, the Albright Knox and in schools.

The library will also continue working to build its collection. Things look promising: the library's collection of graphic novels is a pretty decent size already and the library is getting new material in "pretty much every day," White says.

Teens are directly involved in developing Get Graphic! through the initiative's Teen Advisory Board. So far the group has been engaged with the project casually, but White says that as the program proceeds she will "definitely have them be involved giving us ideas for how to make it (Get Graphic!) more enticing for teens."
If you'd like to participate, follow the "teenspace" link on the library's Web site ( to learn how to get involved. The program will have its own Web site, mainly geared toward teens but with links for teachers.
See the list of graphic novels below to get a jump start on a very cool way to learn -- you can check most of them out at the public library. But get there quick, because as White says of the graphic novel stacks, "By the end of the day, it looks like a bomb went off over here!"


>Graphic novel list

* "Maus" by Art Spiegelman

* "Ghost World" by Daniel Clowes

* "Geisha" by Andi Watson

* "Pedro & Me Friendship, Loss & What I Learned" by Judd Winick

* "Opera Adaptations" by P. Craig Russell

* "Cancer Vixen" by Marisa Acocella Marchetto
(The author is donating a percentage of the proceeds from this book to provide care for underprivileged women at the Comprehensive Cancer Center affiliated with St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan and to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.)

* "Buddha" by Osamu Tezuka

* "Fables" by Bill Willingham

* "Runaways" by Brian Vaughan

* "Promethea, Book One" by Alan Moore

* "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller

* "American Born Chinese" by Gene Yang

* "Degratias, a Tale of Rwanda" by Jean-Philippe Stassen

* "Ultimate Spider Man: Power & Responsibility" by Brian Michael Bendis

* "Bluesman: A 12-Bar Graphic Novel in the Key of Life and Death" by Rob Vollmar

* "Oh my Goddess!" by Kosuke Fujishima

* "The Tale of One Bad Rat" by Bryan Talbot


FROM SUPERMAN TO SANDMAN: COMICS GROW UP: A panel discussion on the rise of graphic novels will be held at 1 p.m. Nov. 17 in the Ring of Knowledge at the Central Library. Panelists include: Michael Lavin, Electronic Collections Manager, UB Libraries; Emil Novak, owner of Queen City Bookstore; Barbara Boehnke, associate director for Collection Services, Canisius College; and Martin Kilroy, a student from Lockport High School.

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