This week, I’m not so much answering a question from our readers but instead asking a question OF our readers.
I am currently teaching an online continuing education class for the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. It’s always a fun time, and I always learn just as much if not more from my students as I hope they learn from me. One issue that comes up every time I teach this course, related to last week’s Question Tuesday post about where to place particular titles, is age ratings and what we librarians need to know as we’re building graphic novel collections.
I hear more and more, every day, that librarians want explicit detail as to what is in graphic novels — how much nudity and what kind, what bouts of violence and how bloody, what kinds of sexy costumes and bursts of less than clean language. For example, what does “cartoon violence” or “fantasy violence” mean, according to DC Comics and VIZ Media age rating descriptions respectively? If every publisher provides their own age rating, how do we librarians (and reviewers) keep track of what each one means level by level?
We all appreciate that there’s an effort being made by the publishers. Those of us working with younger readers are used to dividing up our collections by intended audience as well as recommended audience from publishers, and we have categories that take into account how folks read (easy readers, chapter books, picture books) as well as the age levels (in maintaining children’s, teen, and adult collections, at least in the public library world.) Any help the publishers can give us is a boon in figuring out what we need to know to build our collections wisely.
Then there are reviewers. Everyone who reviews a book is keen to provide as much as useful information as they can, but how much detail can we reasonably require on content in a 200 word review, or even a 500 word review? As a reviewer myself, I struggle to balance details that are helpful with comments that might regrettably cause someone to dismiss a worthwhile read due to a few panels of art. Is it better or worse to mention content that only appears for a few panels if it might lead to the impression that a title has more controversial content than it actually has? As a librarian, I wonder what is reasonable to expect from professional reviewers or industry reviewers to detail every potential controversy. How can we find a balance of what we get from a review and what we may need to find out for ourselves?
Complications arise in that every librarian has slightly different but no less valid concerns springing from their community standards, their collection guidelines, and their own awareness of graphic novels. Some are most concerned with violence, while others need to know if there’s religious imagery, while still more need to know if there’s risque clothing or pin-up style art. One librarian recently asked if reviewers could post examples of potentially objectionable images from the graphic novels reviewed, as a way to provide librarians with images that would help them decided for themselves whether their collection could handle that title.
I understand just how much our patrons and browsers can and will react to images. Whether it’s a good or bad thing, in our society, people always get more worried about the impact of a visual than they will with a written word. However, I can’t help the part of me that is troubled by the fact that the same librarians who will defend a prose work’s right to contain potentially problematic material demand much more investigation for a graphic novel. Why do we require on such a level of information about graphic novels? Are we uncomfortable defending them? Is it that many librarians still don’t read graphic novels, and thus can find it harder to defend them from criticism or attack? Help me understand.
So here’s my question for all of you: what do you need in an age recommendation or rating of a graphic novel? What do you think is reasonable to expect from publishers? From reviewers? Who do you trust for information about graphic novels titles? What makes you not buy a title? What saves a title even if it has potentially charged content for your collection?
The Good Comics for Kids Question Tuesday column is here to do one thing: answer your questions! To send in your questions for the next Question Tuesday, please go to our form here or send out a tweet to me at @nfntrobin or to all of us at @goodcomics4kids. We will endeavor to answer as many questions as possible in our weekly 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.