Social Media, Comic Fans, and Access

The inspiration from this post comes from something Gail Simone said on tumblr today. (If you’re not familiar with Ms. Simone, she is a comic writer who has worked on titles such as Batgirl, Red Sonja, Secret Six, Tomb Raider, and others. She is also incredibly outspoken about the need for increased diversity both in comics and in comic creators, and is basically the best at social media. I love her and think you should read everything she has ever written.)  The other day, she posted:

“I had a discussion at ECCC with someone in comics, I’m not going to mention who, about how busy the convention was, and they said that some of the attendees were probably just “Tumblr fans.”

I asked what she meant, and she said that she felt there was a growing group of fans who love the characters and love MOMENTS of stories, but don’t read the actual comics ever. She said that they will buy a CHARACTER X t-shirt in a heartbeat, but don’t own any graphic novels.They will reblog a scene they like from a comic, but never go to an actual comics shop to get that same book.

Now, at first this seemed reactionary and diminishing, but I am curious about this notion. IS there such a thing as “Tumblr fandom,” in this sense?”

Simone goes on to specify that she herself doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this – people have the right to enjoy what they want, how they want.  It did make me reflect on some things, though, because I do think there’s such a thing as a tumblr fan – and I strongly, STRONGLY don’t think there’s anything inferior about that.

Without social media, twitter and tumblr specifically, there are comics I wouldn’t read and characters I wouldn’t know about. I haven’t read a lot of Black Canary books, but I love her – how can you not? She’s a boss and she knows how to take care of herself. Yes, I would like to read books she appears in, but my time and my resources are short and I’m not always able to read what I want. Does that make me a less valid fan of Black Canary than someone else? (Ditto Zatanna, who I love fiercely but have only really encountered in the New 52 Justice League Dark. I cosplayed her for Halloween last fall and I looked AWESOME.)

“But Martha,” I hear you ask. “What does this have to do with youth services in libraries?” LET ME TELL YOU.

Every day I make guesses about what a kid will like in order to get a book in their hands. At my library, many of our kids either don’t have library cards or have fines too high to use them, so they’re not checking a lot of books out. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE NOT READING THEM – and more importantly, THIS DOESN’T MEAN THEY DON’T WANT TO BE. Especially the graphic novels: we have kids who will come in and spend hours reading comics and then putting them away.  So what that DOES mean is I have to pay even more attention to what kids and teens pick up when they’re here, and what they talk about, and what they say they WISH we had.

Frankly, one of the most important things I do is provide access to things my teens can’t get otherwise.  The city my library is in has a lot of low income families, and my teens generally don’t have a lot of money – they’re not buying monthly comics, because they can’t afford to. So they see a panel, or a page, or see a quote, pop up on tumblr or twitter, and they’ll look up the character and talk about the comic and maybe watch the cartoon (if there is one) on YouTube but if the comic itself isn’t in the library, they have no way of reading it. And remember, many of these kids either don’t have a card or can’t use their cards, so requesting materials from other libraries isn’t an option for them. It all comes down to what I can provide for them.

I do my best, but I can’t get everything. And I’m not going to be the one to tell the fans of Static Shock, or Renee Montoya, or Spider-Man Noir, or any of the other myriad books I can’t get because they’re out of print or don’t fit into my budget or don’t make sense to buy for the collection, that they’re “not real fans” because I can’t put the book in their hands.

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