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Introducing Question Tuesday!

We at Good Comics for Kids are starting up a new column here built to do one thing: answer your questions! Borrowing the idea from novelist John Green (you can check out his famously entertaining video blog with his brother Hank, vlogbrothers, including his Question Tuesday videos, here), we aim to answer all your burning questions about comics, graphic novels, and manga every Tuesday.

We all know that everyday work with graphic novels can lead to all sorts of questions, from the easy “Where are the Spider-man books?” to the more complex “What do I read next if I really like Kaoru Mori’s Emma?” We’re open to all sorts of questions, from all of our readers, and we will do our best to answer questions every Tuesday.

To start us off, I’ll be answering a few questions I’ve been asked in the past few weeks by librarians from across the country.

What do you think is the best way to shelve graphic novels? We are trying to figure out the best way for our collection to be shelved.Maggie L., Boston, MA

I have gotten this question many times at workshops and over email, and there are a few things I recommend keeping in mind.

First: how are your readers looking for graphic novels?  How do they ask for them? By title? By author? By character? Does your shelving setup reflect how they’re looking?

Second: how much space do you have? Can you separate out different collections (comic strips, manga, superheroes) or are you currently shelving everything together? What is best for your patrons?
For me, what’s worked best over the years is fairly simple:

  1. Graphic novels are in their own section (this holds true in Children’s, Teen, and Adult). We treat them as another format, so like videos and audiobooks, they get their own shelving and their own section.
  2. All titles are organized by title. For most books, this simply means the title of the book (we do occasionally shorten titles if they’re endlessly long for the spine, like, oh, Ouran High School Host Club got shortened to Ouran). We shelve stand alone books by title just the same as series. This may feel counter-intuitive for those of us used to looking for books by author, but given how often creators and creator teams can change in mainstream comics, it makes little sense to shelve graphic novels by author and split up continuing series.
  3. If the title is driven by a character, and the series is know more for the character, then we’ll organize the series by character, then title. Examples:
    YA GRAPHIC Spider-Man, Amazing v. 1
    YA GPRAHIC Spider-Man, Peter Parker v. 3
    YA GRAPHIC Spider-Man, Ultimate v. 11
    That way, all the Spider-Man books are shelved together and yet each of the subseries can be shelved together.
  4. We do add volume numbers as needed—this is how manga series are kept in order—but this can get complicated. For example, DC Comics used to have volume numbers for all of their graphic novel series, but now they don’t. Thus, I have a pile of Hellblazer comics that have volume numbers but then as the series has continued I’ve had to make them up as we go forward. Since casual graphic novel readers are not adept at figuring out the comic book issues contained in each volume, adding volume numbers seemed the best solution, but it’s difficult when comics publishers make it harder for librarians like that.
  5. Nonfiction topics are shelved in the graphic section but are organized by call number according to subjects.  So, we have:
    YA GRAPHIC 509 Ottaviani 2003
    YA GRAPHIC 822.36 Romeo and Juliet

On some sites I’ve seen picture books using graphic novel conventions included [on graphic novels lists] and others that don’t. What are your thoughts about books that have been typically considered picture books like In the Night Kitchen [by Maurice] Sendak…or Marcia Williams newest Greek Myths…or Zoe Alley’s newest There’s a Princess in the Palace? – Doris G.
For picture books, to me it’s mostly a question of whether they fit the sequential art format or not.

Do they have panels, word balloons, sound effects? They don’t have to have all of these features to “count” as a comic, but if they are telling the story through the format, I do think they can be considered graphic novels.

Many of the picture books that could be identified now as graphic novels were published long before the format became a recognized term in libraries or with readers, so it’s not at all surprising that they haven’t been considered comics. In the past, as we all know, comics were also stereotyped as being lowbrow and entertainment to be outgrown, and I’m betting many picture book publishers would not have wanted their titles to be associated with comics.

Marcia Williams’s books are good examples—they’re definitely comics, in that they include all the trademark characteristics of comics. There’s a Princess in the Palace is also comics to me.

Does that mean I think folks should move them to their graphic novel sections? Not necessarily, no. What continues to be most important connecting readers with books, so I’m not going to call for all books that could be classified as comics to be moved, especially if the readers that need and want them are most likely to find them where they’re currently shelves (with picture books or easy readers.) The TOON books are frequently not shelved with graphic novels but instead with easy readers, and that makes sense to me in terms of best serving our readers.

However, what you may well be running into is that there simply aren’t that many comics written currently for the youngest readers, so these picture books are cropping up for potential inclusion on lists. I would say include them—they are following the conventions of comics. I don’t see the problem in books fitting in multiple categories, to be honest, as in the end readers looking for comics OR picture books might find them and that’s all for the best.

To send in your questions for the next Question Tuesday, please go to our form here. Rest assured we will endeavor to answer as many questions as possible in our weekly column. We may have weeks where questions follow a particular theme or point of origin, so if your question does not appear in the next column, it will be featured in a future column. All questions are due in by Friday at midnight so we’ll have a chance to write up the answers for the next week.

Robin Brenner About Robin Brenner

Robin Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. When not tackling programs and reading advice at work, she writes features and reviews for publications including VOYA, Early Word, Library Journal, and Knowledge Quest. She has served on various awards committees, from the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards to the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards. She is the editor-in-chief of the graphic novel review website No Flying No Tights.

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