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Graphic Novel Programming for All-Ages and All Budgets
by Snow Wildsmith

No caption.If there’s one thing librarians are always looking for, it’s new ideas for programs, especially programs that tie-in with the books in their collection.  Graphic novels offer a lot of possibilities for programming for all ages and all budgets.  Because of their combination of art and words, graphic novels allow for programs exploring writing, drawing, crafts, and more. 

Here are some ideas for graphic novel programming, broken down by their estimated costs and/or estimated planning time.  But these are only the beginning. Put your own spin on them, using the parts that work for your library, create your own programs and most of all—have fun!

Free; Planning Time Varies

·       Displays: Putting up a display is a form of programming because it helps patrons interact with your library’s collection.  Even if you don’t have a large graphic novel collection, you can always toss a graphic novel into a display of fiction and/or nonfiction titles.  If your graphic novel collection is large enough, do a display that is a little more off-beat: “Superheroines,” “Comic Book Romance,” “Graphic Novels for When You’re Feeling Blue” (books with blue covers), or “Graphic Nonfiction.” Use the display to promote titles that might need a little pushing to become popular. You can also do a display of “Staff Picks” or “My Favorite Graphic Novel” where patrons can select their favorite titles to put on display.

·       Graphic Novel Swap: Invite patrons to bring their “previously enjoyed” graphic novels to swap with other fans. All you need to provide is the space! Your patrons can run this completely, bartering with each other for each swap, or you can give each person a ticket for every book they bring in and those tickets can be used to “purchase” from the books available for swapping. You’ll need to set some ground rules as far as what level of comics can be swapped or what age participants can be, so that you don’t have mature rated titles being swapped between elementary school students, for example. If you want to be extra careful, have patrons drop off their titles to be swapped a day or two early and then you can sort them into “kid,” “teen,” and “adult” piles. You can also add weeded graphic novels to the mix to allow patrons a wider selection. Any leftover titles can be donated to a local charity or added to the library’s book sale.

Low Cost and/or Less Planning Time

·       Bulletin Board Decorating: Rather than have to come up with a new bulletin board display on your own, allow your graphic novel fans to help. You probably know which of your kids and teens love to draw comics. Have them design a new bulletin board promoting the library’s graphic novels. You provide them with the supplies—which can be as simple as crayons, markers, pencils, paper, scissors and a stapler—and they do all the work. If they don’t want to draw, then let them use weeded graphic novels and pages from old comics and manga magazines to make a collage.

·       Comic Strip Bookmarks: If you have any weeded comic strip books (especially kid favorites like Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes), let kids cut their favorite strips out to glue to construction paper. Punch holes at the top and loop ribbon through to create a tassel. Or, if you don’t have old books to cut up, let the participants go on a website like www.comics.com and print out their favorites. (Be aware, though, that not all of the comics on that site are intended for children, so this might be a better option if you’re doing the program with teenagers.) Kids and teens will also enjoy drawing their own comic strips and turning them into bookmarks. Use joke books for ideas. If you want to make the bookmarks more permanent, cover them with laminate paper which you can purchase at office supply stores.

·       Art programs: Appeal to your budding comic artists by offering opportunities to practice their art skills. This type of program can be simple—put out paper, pencils, and drawing books and let patrons play—or more detailed—ask a local art teacher or comic artist to come visit and give a mini-class. You can do a “figure drawing” class by hanging up a poster of a comic character and letting the participants draw it.  Have them create their own posters to hang up in the library. They can also bring in their action figures to use for “figure drawing.” A very easy drawing program is to put a table in the middle of the library with paper, pencils, crayons, and markers and plenty of chairs. Ask patrons of all ages to draw whatever they like—maybe their favorite manga character—and hang the results up around the library.

Medium Cost and/or Medium Planning Time

·       Book Club: Incorporate graphic novels into the book clubs that you already offer or start a new book club just for comics. This type of program doesn’t just have to be for teens. Kids and adults would enjoy having their own comic book discussions. See if your local comic book shop will help sponsor to assist you in getting enough copies of the titles to be discussed.

·       Mecha Building: Do you have a lot of fans of mecha, the giant fighting robots that often appear in anime and manga? Then have them create their own mecha. Ask patrons for donations of gently used Lego-type building blocks. Put them in the middle of a table or the floor and let the patrons build their robots. Or, to tie together recycling and manga, you can collect old boxes of all sizes and have patrons build their robots out of those. You provide tape, scissors, markers, and lots of leftover bits of paper, wire, cups, beads, etc. to decorate.

Higher Cost and/or More Planning Time

·       Cosplay Program: Engage your graphic novel fans by encouraging cosplay or “costume play”—dressing up as their favorite characters. If your area has a manga/anime fan group, see if they will come lead a cosplay workshop at the library or see if a local theatre group will send over their costumer. If not, then just offer a space to your cosplayers where they can work on their costumes. Provide hot glue guns, power strips for plugging in sewing machines, scissors, and more. You can also have a Cosplay Party in the library, where teens come in costume to have fun. Tie this in with a program for kids where they dress as their favorite book character, with the kids’ party in the afternoon and the teens’ in the evening.

·       Japanese Culture Program: Piggy-back on the popularity of manga by allowing your patrons the opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture. This can be a day-long program or a program series. Have a language teacher (check your local colleges and schools) give a brief lesson on the Japanese language. Ask local cultural groups to come talk about the tea ceremony, Japanese arts (flower arranging, origami, etc.), food, history, and more. If you make the program for all-ages, then you can attract both teenage manga fans and their parents.

·       Comic Book Convention or Anime Convention: Set aside a day and present a fan convention in your library.  Pair with your local comic book shop to get posters and more to decorate, plus possible giveaways. See if your Friends of the Library or PTA group will provide money for food (Pocky or other Japanese treats, if you want to get fancy) and drinks. Provide tables for arts and crafts: drawing, making buttons out of old comics, etc. Set up your gaming system(s) for free-play. Encourage patrons to come in costume. If your convention is all-ages, then advertise at the local bookstore, comic book shop, and gaming store, as well as any local fan groups (check colleges for a manga/anime group). Invite local comic artists to come talk to fans about their work; your local comic book shop can help you find out who is in your area. A convention is a great way to get non-traditional library users to come visit, so be sure to show off your graphic novel collection.

Snow Wildsmith is a former teen librarian and writer. She has served on committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee, the 2009 and 2008 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults Committees, and the 2007 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2’s Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco’s NoveList database. Currently she is working on a nonfiction book series for teens.