June 25, 2010

Comics for Kids

The librarians are here! The American Library Association's annual summer meeting officially begins on Saturday, June 26. But on Friday night, Booklist magazine hosted a panel of experts talking about a fascinating topic: Graphic Novels Come of Age. Several hundred librarians attended the talk, which featured: Francoise Mouly, publisher and editorial director of TOON Books (wonderful graphic novels for beginning readers) -- Mouly also is the art director of The New Yorker and the wife of Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novelist Art Spiegelman; Mark Siegel, editor director of Roaring Brook's First Second graphic novel imprint; Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese, the first graphic novel to win the Michael Printz Award for the best book for young adult readers; and Matt Phelan, author and illustrator of The Storm in the Barn , a graphic novel chosen as Booklist's 2009 best book for youth. The consensus of the program? Graphic novels -- also called comics -- are undergoing a true renaissance and have become a driving force in children's literature.

Francoise Mouly began her remarks by saying: I believe that, in the 21st century, one of the crucial literacy needs will be acknowledging the importance of visual literature. If we learn how to read pictures and how they affect us, it will broaden our comprehension of the world. Mouly also presented a brief and fascinating history of comics, noting how they once were regarded as reading for children and illiterates, then became the province of disaffected adults -- and superhero fans -- in the 1980s. Today, she noted, there is a flourishing of graphic novelists, some of whom prefer to be called cartoonists. They are not ashamed or embarrassed of being a cartoonist. Mouly noted that many of the cartoonists that she and her husband, Art Spiegelman, first published in their counter-culture comic RAW now are being published in The New Yorker. Comics have really gone mainstream, she says, pointing to the fact that comics expert Scott McCloud was asked by Google to do a tutorial -- in comics -- of how to use Google Chrome. Meanwhile, Mouly noted that, after spending much of her career to prove that comics aren't just for kids, she's now demonstrating with her prize-winning TOON book readers that comics still are for kids as well.

Mark Siegel, editorial director of First, Second, noted that his publishing company has met all of the goals it set for itself a decade ago in publishing beautifully-presented comics for kids. Siegel said that one of the most interesting -- and best -- things for him was the partnership First, Second has had with librarians. Siegel says that he was surprised that librarians were most concerned about access -- about how kids would find comics. From librarians, Siegel says that he has learned that he recipe for the broadest access is putting comics in three collections (kids, teens and adults) and splitting those collections between fiction and non-fiction. That's what we do at the Takoma Park Maryland Library.

Gene Yang, author of American-Born Chinese gave a hilarious talk noting that I get to talk about my two favorite things -- comics and myself. Yang noted that, like Batman, he is two different people. But he noted that, while Batman was a billionaire playboy by day and a superhero by night, I am a computer science teacher by day and a cartoonist by night. Yang also joked that he calls himself a cartoonist, but -- to his in-laws -- he's a graphic novelist. q> In his talk, Yang detailed, with much self-deprecating humor, his long effort to become a published cartoonist, noting that his parents went through many emotions, from confused to annoyed to surprised to finally happy, when Yang was given a contract to do a cartoon series for The New York Times.

In his talk, Matt Phelan summed up the tenor of the program: Kids are a wonderful audience, and they love comics. It's great that we are now saying, Hey, let's make comics for kids!

Posted by at June 25, 2010 11:41 PM
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