Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Unlike Trix: Comic Books... Are Not Just For Kids

Contrary to popular belief: Comic Books are not just for kids. That is exactly what Debbie Benrubi and Kathy Woo, who work in USF's library, were trying to prove when they decided to highlight the University of San Francisco’s extensive graphic novel collection during the month of February. In the foyer of Gleeson Library on main campus, there is a fabulous exhibit including both rare collectors item comics as well as over one hundred comics that students can check out. A Gleeson desk worker explained to our DJ class that this colorful exhibit is said to be one of the libraries most popular one in a long time.

In my knowledge of comic books, (which doesn’t necessarily matter) I imagine the classics like Superman, Batman, and other superhero type stories. With detailed colorful pictures and few words: comic books seem on the surface to be geared toward a younger and often male audience. However, in recent years, more serious topics, which include for example the Iraq War, have been translated into graphic novel stories.

Political, social, religious, economical, racial. These are just of few of the very serious and much more mature issues that comic books address today. Some comics even addressed romance, which seems a stretch if you are trying to reach adolescent boys. As Roger Sabin described in his book, "Adult Comics: An Introduction", british writer Peter Bagge’s comic "Hate" (1990), which was about a mans “quest for beer and true love.” As a result, these books grab a much larger audience and have the ability to spread messages and influence people. This can happen much quicker and also easier by using humor, wit, and bit of lightheartedness, then say a 300-page textbook about Palestine, Jewish religion, or perhaps even weapons of mass destruction.

USF is smack dab in the middle of one the nations most liberal, outspoken, and accepting cities (San Francisco that is!). This graphic novel exhibit has the ability to open the eyes of college students, and anyone else who strolls through USF’s library during February, who otherwise might have never picked up a comic book in their life. Because like me they are under the false assumption that Comic Books are For Kids. If this exhibit (or blog entry) has caught your eye and sparked an interest in comic books, you might want to check out San Francisco’s very own cartoon art museum. The museum is located at 655 Mission Street, and is proud to be the only museum in the United States dedicated to graphic novel and comic exhibition.


andrew oliver said...

I would love to hear more from a feminine perspective of comic books and how women are represented/under-represented/or mis-represented in comics? Great post.

SKBlackburn said...

Well as I havent read very many comics, I'm not sure its fair for me to say that women are mis/under-represented or not. However, at the same time with some subconscious bias there is just something about comics and graphic novels that scream Boys!! ( and not girls) Im not sure if its the pictures, the characters, the subjects...I have just never felt drawn to reading comic books. Here is how I see it: A girl (me) reading a comic book is equal to boys playing with Barbie Dolls! Catch my drift? (And Thanks)

david silver said...

yeah, i agree with sam - it's always seemed to me that comics are a guys or boys thing. a lot of comics, but certainly not all, are full of boy-like fantasies of violence and sexually-explicit women. that said, like you, sam, and others have noted, the great thing about gleeson library's exhibit is that it shows a whole range of comics. one of my favorite comics, and one that features strong female characters, is love and rockets.

Debbie said...

David, I think some books we have by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez are from Love and Rockets but I'm not sure. I'll have to look into it. These reprints of series can make a librarian crazy!

I'm no expert but it seems like more and more women are using the flexibility of the graphic novel format to tell their stories and reach new, especially younger readers. There are some in the library...

For instance in Persepolis and Persepolis2, Marjane Satrapi wrote movingly about her youth in Iran, growing up under the Islamic revolution and moving to France. Her latest graphic novel is Chicken With Plums.

One of my favorite comic strips ever is Dykes To Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. Her recent autobiographical graphic novel is Fun Home: a Family Tragicomic.

We recently acquired a strange and compelling little book called The Ticking by Renee French, whose work was recently featured at the Cartoon Art Museum.

I'm sure there's lots more and we'd love to have some recommendations.

david silver said...

Debbie - excellent, thank you. i'll be checking out the love and rockets asap.

folks - do you see how debbie includes a link to each of the titles? let's try to do that with our own blog entries, ok?

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

I am a librarian at Gleeson too, reading this blog with great fascination and excitement. Great posts, everyone! I was raised by a comic book fiend and collector father, who took me to comic book conventions in NYC when I was a kid. They were really fun! I never became a collector, and read the garden variety comics of my time, Archie, Richie Rich, Little Lulu, etc.

On the topic of women in comics, there is a series called Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, by Diane DiMassa. Hothead fights racism, homophobia, and other things that bother her, often very violently, but the comic is actually quite funny. She has a cat named Chicken who helps calm her down and is hilarious too. Here is a link to Diane DiMassa's home page: We don't have any of DiMassa's books, but you can get at least one of them, Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, from Link+

Penny Scott

Anonymous said...

One more graphic novel, from a female perspective: The amazing true story of a teenage single mom / by Katherine Arnoldi. We don't have it at Gleeson, but it is available via Link+:

Penny Scott

ChristinaK said...

interesting read, i agree with sam. were it not for my brothers who were crazy about comic books, i probably wouldn't have gotten into them. similar to penny, i was definitely into Archie comics when I was younger and from there it slowly evolved into reading superheroe comic books. mike v. recommended The Pride of Baghdad, it was my first non superheroe or cartoony comic book and I have to say it was very interesting. i have yet to figure out how to link in a comment, so here is a link to what The Pride of Baghdad is all about:
Thanks to Penny for the recommendation, I will definitely check out Hothead Paisan.

SKBlackburn said...

haha. so i just went on USFconnect, and the 'feature photo' was of Silver at the Graphic Novel exhibit. it says that the Gleeson Library submitted it, but that is SO the picture from my blog. Good Stuff.