Webinar Archive- Graphic Novels: A Gateway for Reluctant Readers

Hey guys! The archive of my recent webinar done for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Graphic Novels: A Gateway for Reluctant Readers, is now online!

You can access the recording on the TSLAC online training site.




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On being a slow-reader (and slow-drinker)

latteMy husband jokes that I’m a slow-drinker, and that’s true. A coffee or a beer that takes others 20-30 minutes to drink can take me 2-3 hours. I love this about myself, as I can extend my enjoyment of something I love out, savoring it and not letting anyone rush me. That’s not to say that I can’t chug a beer, or quickly drink a cup of espresso, but it’s not my first inclination to do so.

The final volume of Kyousuke Motomi’s shojo manga series Dengeki Daisy is being released through Viz Media next month, and that got me thinking back to my post on binge-reading manga. Binge-reading, like chugging, can be satisfying, but there’s something about the slow accumulation of volumes over months or years that makes the reading of manga and comics stick with me.

Dengeki Daisy was one of the few shojo manga titles that I started reading when the first volume was released in the US. I’ve read it slowly, one release at a time, and it’s made me realize some things about the slow-reading of a series:

1. I absorb more when reading slowly

Reading comics and manga is all about paying attention to details, and allowing your imagination time to work with the artwork. I realized when I was going from one volume of Ouran High School Host Club to the next, I was paying more attention to the main story line as opposed to any details of theme, subplots, or artistry. When I know that I won’t get my hands on another volume of a series for months, if ever, I become more present with the details in front of me. I can allow myself to be present with the book, considering one panel at a time, with no feeling that I must get to the next volume.

2. Loyalty pays off

In all series, whether it be comics, manga, or even television, there are going to be low points. I’ve never read a series that didn’t have one or two sluggish volumes, or a volume or two that seemed out of context. This seems especially true when series evolve, as in the case of Dengeki Daisy. The series starts out as a fluffy shojo, one that you might expect, but slowly evolves into something slightly more adult and action oriented. There were a few volumes (7-10 in particular) that seemed at times excruciatingly clunky, and one (volume 10 I think) that seemed to run purely on exposition. The pacing seemed off, and I admit, I considered stopping the series not once, but a few times.

But I held on, and you know what? After volume 10, it founds its footing again. The author figured out where she was going, the characters seemed to embrace their new stage, and I found myself looking for the release date online immediately after reading a new volume.

3. “What’s next?” is a creative space

dd16For centuries, the ploy of ending a volume of a serialized work with a cliffhanger has been a popular (and profitable) marketing tactic. And of course, the serialized format
garners more money from the consumer, as they wait with what the publisher must imagine to be baited breath to get their hands on a new volume.

But in the time between volumes, your mind has to go somewhere with the story. This can be creating scenarios of what is going to happen next in your own imagination, or through fanfiction or fan art. It can also the contemplation of themes.

The space between volumes is a gift to the reader – it serves as a giant blank space between panels, and forces you to work even harder. This hard work means that, when you’re staring down the final volume of a work, you will appreciate and understand it all the more.



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Hiding Away in the 741s

Something that I touched on briefly in my recent webinar, but didn’t dwell on, was the matter of where to display your graphic novels and comics in the library.

Dewey Decimal System Poster by Maggie Appleton is licensed under CC SA BY 2.0

Dewey Decimal System Poster by Maggie Appleton is licensed under CC SA BY 2.0

In a public library that adheres strictly to Dewey, the graphic novels will be hidden away under 741.5… directly before books on graphic design. This may work (and be necessary) for an extremely small library where separate displays are impractical. In fact, in some extremely small libraries, this may actually be sufficient for promotion; the stacks may be so small as to be transparent.

For many libraries, however, leaving the comics and graphic novels in the 741s results in a lag in circulation for a section that could otherwise be extremely popular.

So where else should you put them?

In an ideal situation, highly visible displays serve both as excellent signage and promotion for a graphic novel collection. This can be an end display, or simply an easy to find section at the end of the main fiction stacks. If we can separate romance from the rest of fiction, we can certainly separate comics.

Graphic Novels by Enokson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Graphic Novels by Enokson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One great idea that I came across on Creative Commons was the idea of putting at least smaller, single image comics in a bin (similar to what you would see in a comic book store). This will encourage browsing and will be an instant notification to comic aficionados as to where the comics are.

If you have space, I would always recommend separating the displays by adult, teen, and children. This may seem common sense (we separate other sections by adult and children, so why not graphic novels), but is even more important for mature visual content that may be challenged (but that’s for another post…).

“I’m sticking with 741.5!”

If you are mandated by space or simply preference to leave your comics in the 741s, consider providing clear and colorful signage. Comic fans are visual by nature, so simply putting up the word “comic” with an arrow probably won’t work. Be visual, and be fun!



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Reviews and Recommendations

As you may know, I conducted a webinar on Thursday for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission on using comics, graphic novels and manga in libraries. If you attended – thank you! I had such a great time! And if you didn’t (but wanted to), I’ll be posting the link to the archive as soon as TSLAC has posted it.

In the coming weeks, I’m also going to post some thoughts that I had regarding some of the questions and comments I had from attendees. This is part of the reason that I love training – the learning goes both ways, and can continue after the webinar has ended.

In the meantime, I wanted to share on this blog the recommendation sites I mentioned during the webinar. This is where I go when I want to find reviews and thoughts on comics – I hope they’re helpful to you as well!

Graphic Novel Reporter

Ok, full disclosure – I used to write reviews for GNR. A sister-site to Bookreporter and Teenreads, you can find a tremendous amount of graphic novel and manga reviews on this site. The site also provides a blog with author interviews and core lists by age.

No Flying No Tights

This site is manned by librarians, and provides not only fabulous reviews but a Comics 101 section (in case you’re just starting out with comics or graphic novels).

Good Ok Bad: Home of the Three-Star Review

I love review sites that simplify their review process, and this blog definitely does that. The author, Seth T. Hahne, is transparent about what he likes and what he doesn’t, and always gives a clear reason why. He also provides great end-of-year lists, as well as recommendations for kids.



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A Librarian’s Quick Reference Graphic Novel/Manga List

As I’ve previously mentioned, I am conducting a webinar on Thursday, February 12 for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission titled Graphic Novels: A Gateway for Reluctant Readers. If you haven’t yet, you can register HERE.

Part of the hour will be spent discussing reading recommendations by age-range. Since I want to talk about a lot of other ideas as well (including why graphic novels and comics are different from traditional writing or art), I won’t have the time to go into as many recommendations as I would like. And so, I wanted to post a longer recommendation list here, both as a quick reference to librarians who attend my webinar, and for anyone who stumbles upon my blog.

So here is my more complete (but never completely finished) list of recommendations. Enjoy!


Chi’s Sweet Home – Kanata Konami

Owly – Andy Runton

Avatar the Last Airbender – Michael Dante DiMartino

Robot Dreams – Sara Varon

Bake Sale – Sara Varon

Simpsons Comics

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel – Madeleine L’Engel, Hope Larson

The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix – Raina Telgemeier, Ann M. Martin

Jack and the Box – TOON Level 1 – Geoffrey Hayes

A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse – TOON Level 1 – Frank Viva

Laika – Nick Abadzis

Rapunzel’s Revenge – Shannon Hale

Giants Beware! – Jorge Aguirre, Rafael Rosado

Hildafolk – Luke Pearson

Mickey Mouse and Friends: 300 Mickeys – Giorgo Cavazzano

The Adventures of Superhero Girl – Faith Erin Hicks

Superman Adventures Vol. 1: Up, Up and Away! – Mark Millar

Prime Baby – Gene Yuen Lang


Middle School

Smile – Raina Telgemeier

Sisters – Raina Telgemeier

Drama – Raina Telgemeier

Gotham Academy – Karl Kerschel

Anya’s Ghost – Vera Brosgol

In Real Life – Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus – Stan Lee

Maximum Ride: The Manga – James Patterson, NaRae Lee

Fruits Basket – Natsuki Takaya

Dengeki Daisy – Kyousuke Motomi

Ouran High School Host Club – Bisco Hatori

Skip-Beat! – Yoshiki Nakamura

Brain Camp – Faith Erin Hicks, Susan Kim, Laurance Klavan


Younger Teens

X-Men – Stan Lee

Fables – Bill Willingham

Lone Wolf and Cub – Kazuo Koike, Goseiki Kojima

Introducing Kierkegaard: A Graphic Guide – Dave Robinson, Oscar Zarate

Scott Pilgrim – Bryan Lee O’Malley

American Born Chinese – Gene Yuen Lang

The Arrival – Shaun Tan

Through the Woods – Emily Carroll

Level Up – Gene Yuen Lang, Thiem Pham

Maus – Art Spiegelman

Vampire Knight – Matsuri Hino


Older Teens/Young Adults (Note: these assume a much more mature frame of mind)

Ghost World – Daniel Clowes

Transmetropolitan – Warren Ellis

Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughn

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

Watchmen – Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons

Blankets – Craig Thompson

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill

Vampire Hunter D – Yoshitaka Amano

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Strangers in Paradise – Terry Moore

Black Hole – Charles Burns

Batman Arkham Asylum – Grant Morrison, Dave McKean



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Webinar on Thursday, February 12 – Graphic Novels: A Gateway for Reluctant Readers

Hey! At 2pm Central this Thursday, February 12, I’m doing a webinar for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission titled Graphic Novels: A Gateway for Reluctant Readers. This webinar is specifically geared to librarians and K-12 teachers hoping to promote comics and graphic novels to their patrons and students.

You can register HERE.

During this one hour webinar, I will talk about how reading graphic novels can help build literacy. We will discuss how and why various types of comics appeal to different reader-groups, from wordless picture books for younger kids to manga for teens. The webinar will include a discussion of program ideas designed to encourage readers to get excited about the world of comics, and eventually, the world of reading.

in preparation for this event, I will be posting reading recommendation lists. These will be organized by age group, and will correlate directly with what we will talk about during the webinar.

I hope you can join us!



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Binge-reading manga

For Christmas, I get a lot of Amazon gift cards. A LOT. So this year, as opposed to just buying a billion little things (ok, like 10 little things), I bought the box set of Ouran High School Host Club.

To be fair, I started reading this series years ago, but only got a couple of volumes in. This was partly because later volumes were hard to find if I didn’t order them online, and partly because the early volumes so clearly mimic the anime that I had come to love that I found them, well, boring. But I was sure that if got to the later ones, after the anime had ended, that this wouldn’t be the case. Hence, the massive purchase.

And yes, I am enjoying the later volumes a lot more. They have oodles more angst, which is a guilty pleasure of mine, and (for the most part) move at a slightly slower pace. You get great character development, where in earlier volumes you got caricatures and slapstick.

Ok, there’s still a lot of slapstick.

But this is not meant to be a review of Ouran. What this really got me thinking about is whether the consuming a series all at once changes how my mind processes the serialized nature of most manga (and comics).

Like binge-watching a tv show, there is a certain satisfaction at the immediate gratification of plowing through volume after volume. This is especially true if the series is finished – you know that, in a relatively short amount of time, you will reach the conclusion. As the runs of many manga and comics get interrupted, either because publisher or distributors pull the plug or go under (see the possibly temporary demise of American distributor Tokyopop), or because the creator simply stops the series (one word: CLAMP).

But I will say, this immediate gratification somehow stops my need to know what’s going to happen next. And without time between volumes, my mind doesn’t have time or the impetus to wonder what is going to happen. There are no scenarios to debate, even internally. There is simply what happens. And while there is still a lot of enjoyment to be had, and a lot of work done in getting from panel to panel, I think I become a little less attached to the work if I don’t have that time for the volume to slowly percolate through my imagination. So maybe the risk that I will never get to finish a series is worth it.

At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself.



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Comics for ESL Instruction

I was recently talking with my cousin (and fellow-librarian) Sarah O’Pella about using graphic novels and comics in the library, and she mentioned that her library (Frisco Public Library) was planning on incorporating comics into their ESL instruction. This was a use that I had never considered, but made immediate sense.

Doing a quick internet search for what other librarians and teachers have done, I came up with a plethora of ideas, activities and resources. A great place to start out is Justine Derrick’s article “Using Comics with ESL/EFL Students.” Derrick makes a point that “comic book writers attempt to capture spoken language as it really occurs, complete with gaps, hesitations, and slang.” And of course they do! As I’ve talked about before, written language in a comic is only a representation of what we can’t see… what we can hear. And what we can hear is not formal writing – it’s natural dialogue, the kind of dialogue that is often ignored in formal language instruction.

I came across a variety of different activities, many of which had to do with either creating text for pictures, creating pictures for text, or rearranging panels. Sam Camilo’s blog, Teaching English through Comics, provides activity sheets along these lines, such as a text-less image from Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes.

I also was completely unaware of the Grammarman comics, a comic series that specifically attempts to address the needs of ESL/EFL learners. You can find more information on Grammarman, including free comics, here.

As far as Frisco goes, their initial thought is to use the method of removing the text from a comic and have the students write new dialogue to share with the class. This not only makes the students create their own dialogue (so not only input, but output as well), but forces them to use the context and visual clues of the comic to make it make sense. This is both creative and responsive, and packs a double punch when it comes to language retention.



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Favorite titles read in 2014

As a quick New Year’s post, here are some stream-of-consciousness type thoughts on my favorite comic/graphic novel/manga titles in 2014 (more accurately put, my favorite titles *read* in 2014. Most of these were published in previous years).

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

The idea of growing up in a funeral home is so emblematic of a dark comedy that I went into this book expecting a comedy. But, instead, you get something darker than laughs. This book makes you love an almost unlovable figure, and much like the author, you then have to live with that love.

Are You My Mother? – Alison Bechdel

More intellectual than Fun Home, this follow-up was harder for me to get into, but I think I’ll remember it more. You also get a sense that there is more substance to Bechdel’s issues with her mother than with her father, or perhaps that we’re seeing more of the issues she has with her self.

March: Book One – John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

This takes a part of our history (and, of course, our present) and synthesizes cruelty and bravery into stark and beautiful imagery.

Dengeki Daisy, volumes 13-14 – Kyousuke Motomi

Dengeki Daisy had started to lose itself in volumes 11-12 with simply too much exposition, and while I’m inherently loyal to the title, it was starting
to feel like I was reading it out of obligation instead of love. Volumes 13-14 brought it back, however, showing that the series was simply experiencing growing pains as it transformed from a rather typical shojo romance to something more complicated, adult, and volatile.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? – Roz Chast

I read this very shortly before the New Year, and while it hits so close to home that I probably have a tough time being objective, I will still stand by my feeling that this was my favorite graphic novel title I read in 2014. This title transforms feelings that most of us are too ashamed to talk about – i.e., frustration at a parent’s end-of-life crisis – and turns it into something empathetic, funny and touching.



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Those pesky reluctant comic readers

I just read 3 insanely insightful graphic memoirs (Alison Brechdel’s Fun Home and Are You My Mother and Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?). Not only did they speak to me on a personal level, but they got me thinking about why the graphic novel format might be particularly suited to memoirs. And since memoirs seem to be resonate with us the older we get, this also got me wondering if graphic memoirs were the perfect candidate to catch those “reluctant comic readers.” Particularly the adult ones.

What’s a Reluctant Comic Reader?

We’ve all heard of reluctant readers. A quick Google search lists countless articles on getting these individuals interested in readers: Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers,  Strategies to Help Engage Reluctant Readers in Reading, and “But Mom, I Hate to Read!” Tips for reluctant readers” are just a few. These reluctant readers are described as being either disinterested or inhibited by reading, with the goal of the articles being to find bridges to connect them to literacy.

A reluctant comic reader, on the other hand, are those who don’t understand, or worse, look down on comics and graphic novels. They often think of comics as a lower art form, one that has no depth or purpose other than mere entertainment. And, of course, everyone has their opinion. But what happens when a parent or teacher doesn’t understand the works that their children or students are passionate about? At this point, a bridge must be made for these readers to connect comics to their own reading experience.

What makes a work a good bridge for a reluctant comic reader?

Art Spiegelman, the famed author of Maus, coined comics as “a gateway drug to literacy.” But what happens when you are trying to get readers interested in comics themselves?

A common strategy to interest reluctant readers is to connect readers to a topic that they are already interested in. So for those who look at comics as if they are a lower art form? Find particularly thought-provoking and adult comics that may make these readers think twice.

Some great titles for this purpose include:

Many of these works are memoirs, which speak to adults in a way that is the antithesis of juvenile. The others, being somewhat political and historical, have a weight that makes them difficult to dismiss by even the most stoic reluctant comic reader.



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