Graphic Novel Collection Development for Teens

I had a couple of teens tell me how great our graphic novel collection is yesterday, which is pretty much the best compliment I can receive from them – I’ve been in charge of Youth and YA Graphic Novel collection development for about a year now, and it’s one of my favorite parts of my job.  Since graphic novel selection can be intimidating, I thought I’d put together some thoughts about how I approach it, that you might find helpful.

Picking what to put on the shelf can be tricky.  For a long time, when I would browse the graphic novel collection at my home library, I noticed that instead of separating YA graphic novels from the adult collection, they would all be on the same shelf – which is one way to do it, but not the best way to get them into the hands of teens, especially when you’ve got Youth and Adult Services on different floors.  Deciding what actually qualifies a graphic novel as being YA instead of Adult can be a tough call, but like YA Fiction, you get better at identifying what’s going to be a good selection with practice.

The most important thing to remember is that at the end of the day, you should be buying books you legitimately think your teens will want to read.  Like any other area of collection development, it’s not about what YOU want to read – it’s about them!  Listen to your teens when they make requests, and pay attention to what else they’re reading, watching, and playing.  Has the new Tomb Raider game been as popular in your library as mine?  Did you know that Dark Horse is publishing an ongoing Tomb Raider comic?  And if they enjoy that, Cory Doctorow has an excellent new release called In Real LIfe that I can recommend, after which you should probably start the World Trigger series…

All that, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push their boundaries or make selections that might be outside of their immediate interests.  That’s ALSO our job – not just to find the stuff they KNOW they want to read, but also to find the stuff WE know they’ll want to read, as soon as they know about it.  Like my Tomb Raider example above, this works pretty much like readers advisory for any other genre or format.

Remember, there’s more to the comic world than DC or Marvel (which is not to say that both publishers aren’t doing great things; they TOTALLY are, remind me to tell you how much I love Ms. MarvelUnbeatable Squirrel Girl, and Gotham Academy/Gotham by Midnight).  Look into Boom!Studios, Archaia, IDW, and First Second, among others.  Boom!Studios especially is doing some great stuff for younger audiences (including the Adventure Time comic series and Lumberjanes, one of my personal favorites).

Here are some of my favorite picks that have also been really popular with my teens:

– DC’s Batgirl (we started with the New 52 run, written by Gail Simone, but I’m very excited for when we start getting Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr’s Batgirl of Burnside run)

– Attack on Titan series by Hajime Isayama

– The Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley

– Runaways by Brian K. Vaughn

– Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma

– In Real Life by Cory Doctorow

– Strobe Edge by Io Sakisaka

– Hoax Hunters by Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley

– Fairy Tail by Hiro Mashima

– Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

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Favorite Ladies of Comics

Quick note for you guys today – I’m doing a thing on my tumblr where every day I post a little photoset and a quote from one of my favorite ladies in comics.  So far, we have Barbara Gordon and Kamala Khan, but I’ll be highlighting women from all over the comicsphere.  If I showcase your favorite, fav or reblog the post because at some point I’m going to total up the notes and see who the faves are!

These ladies are not ranked!  I’m posting them in whatever order pleases me.  Here’s why I started with the amazing women that I did:

Barbara Gordon: It is fair to say that I’m as invested in the comic scene as I am right now because of Gail Simone’s run on the New 52 Batgirl.  I’ve dabbled in comics my whole life, always loved reading them, but following Simone on social media and reading Batgirl on the regular is what got me invested in having a pull list, keeping track of releases, searching out new books, and really getting invested in the characters.  So why Babs?  Because she’s brilliant, beautiful, and has a deep sense of joy that I think is lacking in a lot of DC books (this is getting better!).  Simone wrote her with a sense of humor, which I loved, and a need to help people while also being protective of her own needs that you don’t see a lot with superheroes.  Going back to Babs pre-New 52, she just gets better – as Oracle, she’s whip-smart, resourceful, and her friendships with the other women on the Birds of Prey team are just FANTASTIC.  Plus, Barbara was a librarian for a while!

Kamala Khan: Kamalaaaaaaaaa.  She’s a character I’m only capable of talking about with excessive letters or exclamation points.  Aside from the fact that she’s completely ground-breaking (a Muslim teenager!), Kamala is everything I love about well-written teen characters: sassy, resilient, totally in over her head but capable of developing the tools she needs to rescue herself and everyone around her.  I love that she’s the complete opposite of this mythological “token” character – she’s not only Muslim, but it matters that her family is Muslim.  It matters to her character, and her development.  Her family is wonderful, and none of her parents are dead, and she has no real tragedy in her life (yet); she’s Ms. Marvel because this weird thing happened to her, and she’s a good person so she wants to help people.  She’s a fangirl, she’s excitable (SHE WRITES X-MEN FANFICTION), she acts like a real teen girl with agency and she’s constantly growing and getting better.  I love Kamala so much.

Tune in to my tumblr tomorrow to see who’s next!

Terry Pratchett

So, I had a post all queued up and ready to publish about my approach to young adult graphic novel collection development.  I’m proud of that post, and it’ll go up later next week, but it’s no longer time for that, because Terry Pratchett died today.

When I was fourteen I had an ill-advised and short relationship with a senior in my high school sci-fi/fantasy club that was mostly based on him teaching me (badly) how to play Magic: the Gathering and holding hands at the movie theater.  Luckily, it didn’t last very long and didn’t leave me with any emotional scarring.  What it DID leave me with, as he was the first person to introduce me to the books, was a world-altering appreciation for the words of Terry Pratchett.

The ex-boyfriend insisted that I read them “in order,” which lasted about as long as it took me to read The Color of MagicThe Light Fantastic, and Mort – at which point I immediately needed to read every book that Death made an appearance in.  I picked up Feet of Clay because I liked the cover, and knew instantly that Commander Samuel Vimes was going to be a cornerstone character to me for the rest of my life (ditto Granny Ogg, and Tiffany Aching after I read The Wee Free Men for a class on YA literature).

It is impossible for me to quantify the impact that Terry Pratchett’s work has had on my life.  What he did with language, with humor, with story and characters has informed everything I’ve written for the last nearly-fourteen years of my life.  His collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, is the apocalypse story I compare all other four horsemen stories to, now and for the rest of time.  Sam Vimes, with his implacable sense of duty, caustic sense of humor, and steely steadfastness and pragmatism is who I aspire to be; Tiffany, delighting in her self-discovery, learning to fix the mistakes she makes, and never being embarrassed or ashamed by her missteps or progress is who I am now (after a lot of personal work, during which I was mostly Mort – well-intentioned but short-sighted and fumbling).

Pratchett had a singular way of writing characters that demonstrated a vast knowledge of human nature, and all of its myriad variations.  Even the people (and dwarfs, and trolls, and werewolves, and orangutans, and psychopomps) we were supposed to root for could be mean, weak, cowardly, self-destructive, or a million other negative things – but we loved them anyway,  because they were real.  We loved Esme Weatherwax when she couldn’t get out of her own head, and we loved Rincewind when he was running as fast as he could to save his own skin, and we loved Death when he was being coldly rational; we could love them because in addition to all those things, they were fiercely loyal, viciously funny, members of a team and protectors of a magical world.

I will never be able to adequately express the way these books moved into my brain and changed my life.  While books never die, and I will be able to revisit Carrot and Angua, the Lancre witches and the Librarian, the Patrician and his guild leaders and the wide, filthy, wonderful, horrifying cityscape of Ankh-Morpork whenever I want, I regret that there will never be new adventures for me to explore. I am saddened by the loss of possibility and the loss of magic that we face today.

I never met Terry Pratchett, so I can’t speak to his character and I won’t try.  Instead, I’ll leave you with my thoughts, and link you to these retrospectives by people who did know him and can memorialize him personally in a way that I can’t.

I hope Death greeted you fondly, Sir Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett: Neil Gaiman and Ursula K. LeGuin lead tributes (The Guardian)

Neil Gaiman’s blog entry, with a link to the last words he wrote about Pratchett

Terry Pratchett Dies: Twitter Pays Tribute (The Telegraph)

Movie Review: Kingsman

I had mixed expectations for Kingsman: The Secret Service. On the one hand, Matthew Vaughn has done some stuff I really love; X-Men: First Class had a great vintage feel, and Stardust balanced romantic fantasy with light action really well.  On the other hand, I’m still not sure if I can pin down how I felt about Kick-Ass, and Mark Millar as a writer doesn’t really do it for me – I can get behind over-the-top violence, but the way he revels in it can make me uncomfortable.  Plus I really get the feeling that he hates women.

But the trailer looked fun, and my husband was really excited to see it, and it was full of every seasoned British actor that I adore (Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, Jack Davenport…), and those things are more than enough to get me into a theater to see a film.

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Old Money vs. New Money vs. No Money – The Kingsman Story

I’m glad I did!  I would say I unequivocally enjoyed a solid 80% of the movie.  It surprised me in some ways (there are important female characters! Whose gender is incidental TO their characters! Who aren’t whores or prostitutes!) and was utterly unsurprising in others (the 20% of the movie I hated were the incredibly “Mark Millar”-esque fight scenes, including a gruesome finale set to celebratory music.  Oh yeah, and a really gross, misogynistic, unnecessary endcap).

The story of Kingsman is pretty basic, which lets it get all the cheeky call-backs to James Bond and other gentleman spy movies in that it wants to without feeling overcrowded.  Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Michael Caine are members of the Kingsmen, a super secret international spy organization that finds itself needing a replacement member, who will be chosen from a pool of candidates as they’re put through a myriad of deadly tests and training.  Taron Egerton, a newcomer as far as I know, plays Eggsy, Firth’s candidate – his father was a Kingsman trainee 17 years ago.  Samuel L. Jackson gleefully plays the villain, the internet billionaire Valentine overly obsessed with climate change, who the Kingsmen must apprehend before he kills every person on the planet (except those who can pay for their Get Out of Jail Free card).  Dancer Sofia Boutella plays my favorite character, Jackson’s second in command, a ferocious version of Lady Deathstrike who has knives for legs. (She’s not only a woman of color, but a disabled woman of color, who can kill you with her feet.  I’m in love with her.)

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KNIVES FOR LEGS. AND SHE IS COMING FOR YOU.

On the whole, it’s very well acted; I was afraid that Taron Egerton, our young hero, would be as generic and charmless as I find Channing Tatum, but once he opens his mouth he’s incredibly charismatic and fun to watch.  The fight choreography is excellent.  Colin Firth gets a really brilliantly staged fight scene that, regardless of how much is real and how much is CGI’d, would be impressive for an actor half his age.

The movie’s biggest fault, regardless of my personal preferences when it comes to violence, is that it thinks it’s got a strong message about the proletariat vs. the bourgeois; the commoners vs. the noblemen, if you will.  The movie wants you to think that it’s about a lower class guy pulling himself up by his bootstraps to prove he’s just as good, if not better, as the upper crust.  And literally, this does happen, but…at the end, our lower class heroes have just assimilated in the upper.  They’ve become better by…being the same?  It gets a little muddled. (Also, in true Millar fashion, the British lower class is populated exclusively by gross red-necks and the downtrodden women they abuse.)  The message is there, but it gets muddled by showy action and scenes that are played for too-obvious jokes.

Kingsman is also INCREDIBLY white, a fact that is more obvious when you realize that the only people of color are the two villains (who are, in their defense, incredibly competent and scary) and bit characters who get one line of dialogue.  Two of the candidates for Kingsman replacement are ladies, and it’s never even a thing – Vaughn couldn’t have thrown in a person of color or two?  I think this also undermines the theme of the movie, since the British upper class is so traditionally white, and we’re supposedly tearing that tradition down in favor of better things.

Kid-Friendly Comic Books

You may remember my lament over the death of a truly excellent new comic that I posted here some time ago (A PSA About Comics).  Well, since then I’ve been spending a lot more money at my local comic shop on monthly issues and trades – and enjoying the heck out of following books from month to month.  There’s a slew of excellent titles on the shelf right now, so I thought I’d share some of my favorites that I’m reading right now.  In this post I’ll be talking about titles that are 100% kid-friendly (some of which I’ve already pre-ordered for my J Graphic Novel collection!).

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Abigail and the Snowman by Roger Langridge, published by Boom!Studios

Abigail and the Snowman is a charming short-run comic (it’s at 3 out of 4 issues, with the fourth one due out this month) about Abigail, a young girl who lives with her dad, and the relationship she develops with Claude, a yeti on the run from a secret government organization.  It’s a book that deals with issues real kids face – Abigail and her father struggle with money, Abigail struggles with making friends because they move so often, etc. – but couched in a sweet, fantastical story as Abigail helps Claude find his real home.  Recommended for ages 6-8, but really, everyone’s going to enjoy this one.

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Feathers by Jorge Corona, published by Archaia

Feathers is a steampunky adventure that’s also a short-run (six issues, two of which are currently available) about a young boy named Poe who runs around at night with goggles on and is covered in feathers.  In contrast to Poe is Bianca, a wealthy girl from the privileged part of the city, who runs into Poe while running away from her controlling family.  So far, Feathers is a fun Victorian romp with a message about classism and judging books by their covers, but it has the promise of developing into a bigger fantasy story full of prophecy and adventure.  Ages 8-10, and anyone who enjoys a good steam engine in their fiction.

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Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher, and Karl Kerschl, published by DC

I’m really excited to see DC exploring the city of Gotham outside of Batfamily stories (for adult readers who are also horror fans, I can’t recommend Gotham by Midnight highly enough), and also developing stories inside Gotham that are accessible to younger readers (the new Batgirl of Burnside is another example of this).  While Gotham Academy doesn’t escape the shadow of the Bat completely, it doesn’t need to – nor should it.  Rather, it shows us what goes on in a different environment that’s still effected by the hero and villain mythology Gotham encourages.  Olive Silverlock, Maps Mizoguchi, and their supporting cast of characters are students at Gotham Academy, a prestigious prep school – while the boarding school setup could invite a lot of cliches and tired tropes, GA embraces them and moves on, developing its characters past their archetypes and giving its heroine, Olive, a remarkable amount of room for her own development past “self-exiled loner.”  Lots of great female characters and a wonderfully diverse cast make this book a great tween read.

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Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, and Carolyn Nowak, published by Boom!Studios

I don’t know that it’s possible for me to say enough good things about Lumberjanes.  Set in a girl scout-type camp, where the campers hunt supernatural creatures, solve ancient prophecies, and eventually save the world from tricky mythological figures, Lumberjanes still finds room to show you the amazing friendships between the core cast of five, their fellow campers, the camp counselors, and so on.  This truly is a book that trumpets “Friendship to the Max!” while celebrating hardcore ladytypes of all creeds and ages.  Personally, my favorite scene is when Ripley, the spritely and energetic clown of the group, ends up riding a velociraptor into camp – a velociraptor she eventually befriends and shares a tearful goodbye with. Recommended for all ages.