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Comics for Grown-Ups

Graphic novels have become a mainstay in Teen/Young Adult library collections, and are often present in Kids sections as well. But there are a great deal of graphic novels aimed at more mature audiences as well – from the superhero-deconstruction of Watchmen to the journalistic works of Joe Sacco or Guy DeLisle.

The New York Public Library’s Mid-Manhattan branch offers an extensive selection of graphic novels in their Adult collection spanning various genres, and have used them in non-comic specific programming, including the Library’s Mystery Summer program.  

Senior Librarian Thomas Knowlton took time to speak with BookShelf about the ins and outs of the Library's Adult graphic novel collection.

Can you give a brief overview of the collection? (Roughly how many graphic novels do you have, how are they organized, where are they located?)
 
We have over 1,000 graphic novels on the first floor of the Mid-Manhattan Library, organized alphabetically by the writer’s last name. Adult and young adult titles are shelved together and the latter have a "YA" designation on the spine. Manga are shelved in the same area, but in their own section and are also alphabetized by writer’s last name. We also have a special display section for graphic novels near the circulation desk that is very popular; often the books placed there are checked out by the end of the day. System-wide, we have approximately 6,000 graphic novels.

Who is in charge of the graphic novel collection?

System-wide, the Branch Collection Development staff is responsible for selecting manga and graphic novels across 87 branch libraries. At the Mid-Manhattan Library, my colleague, Ryan Donovan, submits monthly graphic novel orders, while I place special orders specifically for our annual Summer Reading themes. Our interests complement each other since I tend to read graphic novels geared for an adult audience, as well as independent titles, while Ryan focuses on graphic novels for children and young adults and the more traditional superhero books.

How do you decide which books to include? What sources do you use in selection?

I often review what's new on Comixology and always make it a point to read through the annual Eisner Award nominees for intriguing titles I might have missed. The Comics Reporter is a good resource also. The Branch Collection Development selectors consult standard review sources in print and online including School Library Journal, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Graphic Novel Reporter.

How do you determine which books to file in the adult collection?

In addition to the standard review sources, the Branch Collection Development selectors examine review copies to determine the appropriate audience. They also consult the content rating systems established by TokyoPop, Viz Media, Dark Horse Comics and other U.S. publishers of manga and graphic novels. Specifically, at the Mid-Manhattan Library, all young adult and adult graphic novels are filed together, while juvenile graphic novels are shelved in the children's section.   

HabibiWhat trends in circulation have you seen? For example, which types of books are most popular, who seems to be checking them out the most?

The popularity of graphic novels has risen significantly system-wide. Adaptations and crossover titles from other mediums (books, film, television, video games) have definitely contributed to this demand, such as graphic novels based on the popular TV series Game of Thrones, True Blood, and Stephen King's The Dark Tower. However, among adult readers, there is also a lot of interest in unique graphic novel titles like Alison Bechdel's Are You My Mother?, Mark Long's The Silence of Our Friends, Charles Burns' X'ed Out, Daniel Clowes' Wilson, and Craig Thompson's Habibi.

Throughout The New York Public Library system, some of the highest circulating graphic novel titles over the past month included Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Hergé's The Adventures of Tin Tin, Chip Kidd's Batman, Masashi Kishimoto's Naruto, and Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. At the Mid-Manhattan Library, Juan Diaz Canales' Blacksad, David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, Snyder and King's American Vampire, have all been circulating heavily in the past few months.

Have you had any challenges to any graphic novels in the adult section?

Fortunately, we have not faced many challenges in circulating graphic novels in the adult section at the Mid-Manhattan Library.

How do the graphic novels in the adult collection circulate in comparison to the kids and teens GNs? How do they circulate compared to adult prose?

While the circulation of standard print, non-illustrated works for adult reader is high, the Library's graphic novel collections continue to grow and enjoy a broad crossover audience.

Have you had any programming centered around the graphic novel collection?

We have participated in the annual Free Comic Book Day for the past two years. As part of this year's festivities, we posted links to free digital comics on our Twitter (twitter.com/midmanhattanlib) and Tumblr (midmanhattanlib.tumblr.com) accounts for the two weeks leading up to the event. Also, our neighboring branch Grand Central recently hosted a "Comic Extravanganza" which included a manga workshop with Ivan Velez (Tales of the Closet, Static, Ghost Rider) and a Marvel editor panel with Alex Segura (VP of Marketing, Archie Comics) and Greg Pak (writer, X-Men).

BlacksadWhat graphic novels did you bring in to tie into the Mystery Summer program? What made you decide to include graphic novels in this program?

We incorporated a lot of material from the Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips noir collaborations (Criminal, Incognito, and Sleeper) as well as Scalped, 100 Bullets, From Hell, and Sin City. I also included some lesser known works such as Mat Johnson's Incognegro and Dark Rain, Brian Michael Bendis' Torso (a nonfiction account of a serial murderer in Ohio, which blends historic photographs with comic art), and Warren Ellis' Fell. Dylan from Forbidden Planet also gave me some great recommendations like Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido.

Graphic novels were a natural fit for our Mystery Summer programming (bit.ly/mysterysummer) since there are so many books that draw from the film noir tradition. It was great to be able to offer another medium (aside from books and film) which engaged our patrons during our summer programming.