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Question Tuesday: Graphic Novel Book Clubs

Robin Brenner

It’s Tuesday, so it’s time for questions!

The Good Comics for Kids Question Tuesday column is here 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 videoshere), we aim to answer all your burning questions about comics, graphic novels, and manga every Tuesday.

To send in your questions for the next Question Tuesday, please go to our form here. We will endeavor to answer as many questions as possible in our weekly column. This week we only got one but it’s a great one to tackle! 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.

On to the question of the week!

Do you have any advice on how to run a graphic novel book club? - Various folks over the years

First, I have to admit that I have never, in fact, run a graphic novel only book club. I have over eleven years experience running book clubs, for teens and for adults, and we have read graphic novels periodically over the years, so I do know of what I speak in general. At this point, I’d love to give a graphic novel format book club a whirl, but it’s not in the cards. The major graphic novel book clubs I have heard about were or are in public libraries, but a school group wouldn’t be too different except in making sure the selections are appropriate for the readers and the school’s mission.

One librarian I know who has run a very successful graphic novel discussion group, called Heroes @ Your Library, is Steven Torres-Roman from the Dekalb Public Library in Dekalb, IL. He won two grants over the years to run the group, and the group was awarded the the 2007 Lawrence W. Towner Award from the Illinois Humanities Council. You can read more about the Council’s award here, which explains a bit about the group. Steven himself is a great resource about how to start such a club, what’s worked and what hasn’t, and the ins and outs of how to propose and support such a club with administrators. I know Steven was working on writing up his experiences, and hopefully there will be an article soon.

A quick internet search shows that graphic novel book clubs are being led at bookstores, comics stores, and at libraries around the country (for example, the Austin Public Library in Texas), but I have not found any great “how-to” articles or resources as of yet. Readers, feel free to point any out that  you have found!

In terms of running discussions about graphic novels and comics, it’s important to keep in mind the some basics:

  1. Make sure the title is thought-provoking and will inspire discussion. That way, you don’t end up with members simply sitting around saying, “Yeah, I thought it was great!” This is true for any book club, but don’t think that simply having a graphic novel will automatically make for a roaring discussion.
  2. With graphic novels, it’s important to address the format. Why did the creator tell the story in this format? What was told in the story that you felt suited comics? What fell flat, if anything? Were there parts you would have rather read in prose, or seen in a movie, or hear over the radio? Formats force all of us to pay attention to stories in different ways, and it’s always a great discussion to try to articulate why formats work differently.
  3. Remember that unlike with traditional prose works, your members may have very different experiences and histories reading comics. Some may be old hands while others may be very new to the format. Be patient with new folks. Try not to lecture anyone on comics or continuity unless they’re honestly curious, but do share why you love comics. Having readers of different levels can highlight how intuitive or counter-intuitive the format can be to read depending on the reader’s history. This can also lead to discussions of whether there’s a “right” way to read a graphic novel, and will hopefully encourage members to discuss with each other what’s worked for them.
  4. Don’t be afraid to read titles that are a bit outside the expected choices. Many folks will be tempted to start with the best of the best and the most lauded examples: Yang’s American Born Chinese, Satrapi’s Persepolis, Bechdel’s Fun Home. These are all worthy titles, and will lead to some wonderful back and forth discussions. However, graphic novels offer so much more!  Superhero titles, Japanese manga, epic fantasy, hardcore science fiction — it’s all rich in story and those who are drawn to the format are also frequently drawn to genre diversity. A traditional book club may adore the titles mentioned above, but don’t be afraid to take a chance on titles a bit more outside the mainstream. For younger readers, try Liew’s Wonderland, Telgemeier’s Smile, TenNapel’s Creature Tech, or Sturm, Arnold and Frederick-Frost’s delightful Adventures in Cartooning to discuss comics as a format. For adults and older teens, try Mignola’s Hellboy, Cooke’s The Hunter, Willingham’s Fables, or Rucka’s Queen & Country. Don’t limit yourself to what the literary gatekeepers typically deem worthy.

Finally, always have snacks.  I theme my snacks on the book of the evening — so, The Hunger Games got homemade yeast rolls and hot chocolate while Fables got snow drop cookies.

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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.

Comments

  1. Susan Timmons says:

    For some good ideas about how to run a book club like this, read Robin Brenner’s excellent book “Understanding Manga & Anime”. Because she’s a librarian, she included lots of sample forms, handouts, permission slips, etc. plus ideas on club promotion. Many of the programs she’s done for manga can be easily transferred to graphic novels in general. Check out her website to get an idea of what she discusses in the book:
    http://www.brooklinelibrary.org/teens/mangaanime/

    ~ Susan Timmons

  2. RobinB says:

    Wow, Susan — thanks for the kudos! It is certainly true that tactics used for a manga/anime club can be transferred over to use for a graphic novel book club. It makes me wonder how many librarians include reading manga (or at least discussing manga) in their clubs. Anyone out there doing a specific manga book club?

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