A Librarian's Quest to End the Stigma Against Comics

A Librarian's Quest to End the Stigma Against Comics

carolina manga library logo

The Carolina Manga Library has encouraged skeptics to pick up graphic novels and discover that they really like them.

The Carolina Manga Library is a library on wheels dedicated to promoting literacy through graphic novels, comic books, and manga. Traveling to various conventions and events in the U.S., the non-profit organization supplies all kinds of books while challenging others' interests.

Head librarian Laura Mehaffey started the library last year as both a certified librarian and fan of manga and anime. Working with local libraries, Mehaffey and American comics librarian Aaron Mehaffey work to change the perception of these media.

Laura Mehaffey regularly comes across people who approach her with concerns about comics and anime. "I have been running anime clubs for teens since the '90s, and not a week went by where a parent wasn't angry over something we talked about in club or a book/anime we referenced," Mehaffey told The Escapist.

While some look down on comics as inferior to other books, Mehaffey asserts that graphic novels increase literacy by reaching reluctant readers. "A child who loves video games can be turned on to reading by offering them a graphic novel related to the series," she explained. "This was often tried in the early '90s and late '80s with things like [live action puppet TV series] Fraggle Rock, but graphic novels had not yet established themselves as a medium for children outside of superhero comics."

Not everyone has stayed reluctant to trying graphic novels thanks to the library's efforts. Mehaffey recalled a time when a parent accompanied his daughter to the Carolina Manga Library. As she read several volumes of manga, her father took on Mehaffey's "Head Librarian's Challenge" to read a different title based on their interests. He ended up loving Elfquest by Wendy and Richard Pini.

Even so, the Carolina Manga Library has a limited reach. Its larger goal of reaching more diverse people with diverse books hits financial roadblocks. The organization has started an Indiegogo campaign to fund its first step of improving the library: better shelves that are more secure and easier to set up. Because the library travels, it needs portable shelving. The crowdfunding campaign will allow the organization $1500 to buy 20 new wooden shelves with shorter set-up time, meaning the library will be open longer during events.

This is just the first step in a series of improvements the Carolina Manga Library hopes to reach. With a trailer, librarians could transport the books easier, and with more money, they could fly out to conventions farther away rather than limit their scope to one day's worth of driving away. Mehaffey's ultimate goal for the library is to have a permanent facility while continuing to travel to events.

The Carolina Manga Library's Indiegogo campaign ends on November 23. "No one has the right to tell you that what you read isn't worth reading," the campaign states.

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Old stigmas die hard it seems. I think any form of art can be just as profound and important as any other. I think it's really just a matter of time when it comes to these things. Books have been around for millennia, but comics have only really been comics as we know them today for around a century. The only reason I think film got the credibility it has now in that same time frame is because it appealed to a much wider audience from the outset and has had many more opportunities to be digested by our evolving culture. Comics will get there eventually, but in the meantime those of us who read them will have to keep on fighting the good fight!

This is strange to me. I know comics have a stigma, as someone who has been reading them since he was 5, I'm all too familiar with the general feelings of comics for most people. I think it's a great avenue to promote literacy. My mother used to read books to me, then when she taught me how to read I would practice by reading comics back to her and showing her the pictures.

At the same time, people have this strange idea. They don't like something so it benefits everyone if that thing doesn't exist. Likewise, if they like it, they feel everyone will benefit from it and they think everyone should read it (in this case). I rejected having books like the Great Gatsby rammed down my throat in the 7th grade because it was boring and full of characters that I didn't like and didn't understand. I feel that throwing comics/manga into someone's face is doing an equal disservice. Comics are not rare or hard to come by (though the ever increasing prices will see an end to comics before anything else does).

It's OK if people don't like comics. Everyone should be encouraged to read if for no other reason, great evil has been done in the past because they didn't have that education. Hell, it still happens in the world today. But comics are just one of a great many ways someone can read and in the US, no one is restricted from accessing comics. I think part of it is also that Libraries are forced to fight for relevancy in a world where books in general seem to be becoming irrelevant. I like digital well enough, but nothing beats the smell of a book or a comic.

I don't think the "stigma" will ever go away. There will always be people out there that see them as less than something they like. I do notice that people use them as a way to relieve themselves of meaningful and good writing though, which is something that also holds it back. It can't all be award winning of course. But a lot of comics could be written as significantly better character stories than they currently are. That is why I'm just about done with big events like Infinity. On the surface it seems awesome, but reading it can be quite a trudge when you realize that it is snapshots of a story from the perspective of far too many characters. It lacks depth and detail because of it. Though, depth and detail is missing often times from the far too few pages presented in a standard issue of a comic, in my opinion. You need whole story arcs of character specific comics for it to mean anything anyway..... I'm rambling... I'm shutting up now because I think I'm so far off topic that it defies any kind of reason.

This is good. I've seen some libraries in my time refuse to carry GN or manga because of the Stigma. Yet they'll peddle Twilight like it's the secong coming of Christ.

Are there still libraries in likely United States where works like Sandman are not considered worthy of "literature"? Those are some thick heads.

Maybe it because I am from a French speaking culture, but I personally never saw a public library that didn't have comic books (but they mostly focus on album release, the only real exception is manga, but they do carry compilation album for magazine comic but most of them are from the Franco-Belgian comic magazine, like Spirou), actually my local library even got an adult comic book section and by that I don't mean porn, just comic book that the subject is more mature or very irreverent like "Red Ketchup" series, a comic book about a albinos ginger poly-toxicomaniac psychopatic FBI agent.

Here Red Ketchup...

Oh Manga, I thought you meant REAL comics.

No it's cool I'll show myself out.

"Certified Librarian". Is there like a certificate for that or something? A school of Librarianism?

Anyways, anything that broadens people's horizons is a good thing in my book.

Hi there, Head Librarian Laura here! Thank you for such a wonderful article and discussion about my passion!

In answer to one question, yes, to be a librarian you have to have a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science.

And Lonzo, despite the fact that manga are "real" comics too, we have quite a healthy selection of American comics like DC, Marvel and Boom, as well as individual graphic novels like Anya's Ghost and Persepolis. We have over 1000 American graphic novels currently.

To be honest, I'm surprised a stigma even exists.

In the primary and secondary schools I went to, there was a stock of comics like Garfield, Asterix, and Tintin. Studied Maus as one of the perscribed texts for English (which is my personal vote for best comic ever written, though Calvin & Hobbes is a close second). And currently working in a library part-time while pursuing a diploma in LIS, graphic novels have been part of the curiculum/circulation from the outset. To use the library I work in as an example, there's two comics sections - one for graphic novels (a whole swathe of Marvel, DC, and manga material, plus some other titles) and a counterpart shelf in the children's area (Avatar: Last Airbender, Pokemon, etc.).

I approve of this. It's a pain in the ass trying to find comics/graphic novels/manga in a library these days (well a wide and varied selection at least). Funnily enough, in my freshman year of high school the library had a copy of Watchmen and Hellsing...in a hardline Catholic school.

Every library I've ever been to has at least some Manga and graphic novels, and usually also two seperate sections of them (covering child or at least teen-friendly material, and stuff that is more adult oriented for whatever reason).

One library network I knew even tried to make it a point to ensure they had complete collections of something if it was a series. (That's unfortunately, quite rare. Same goes for novels though; If you try to read a books that are part of an ongoing story, most libraries will leave you dissapointed, because their collections tend to be rather haphazard...)

I'm not going to look any further into this. As long as I don't, I can continue to picture it as basically a bookmobile except it's in a van with an '80s metal-album-style mural plastered on the side. I don't want that image to go away, it's too damn awesome.

iniudan:
Maybe it because I am from a French speaking culture, but I personally never saw a public library that didn't have comic books (but they mostly focus on album release, the only real exception is manga, but they do carry compilation album for magazine comic but most of them are from the Franco-Belgian comic magazine, like Spirou), actually my local library even got an adult comic book section and by that I don't mean porn, just comic book that the subject is more mature or very irreverent like "Red Ketchup" series, a comic book about a albinos ginger poly-toxicomaniac psychopatic FBI agent.

ahhh....the french

many years ago my borther and I liked comic stripes....we bought some old thing in a second hand bookstore that was drawn in the typical rough incredibly stylised way

of coarse its dealings on death, sex, ageing, relationships and our favorite...a 5 or so page mini arc where a woman fantasizes about killing herself to revel in the narsisstic indulgence of it all...went a little over our heads

Baresark:
snipn.

personally? if were talking about maerican comics (because european and "other" comics are slightly different) then I don't think the issue is stigma

its visibility

there are comic series that a great and accessible, yet people seem to ONLY know "superheros" when they think of comics, and if youre not into supheros (or more to the point..the baggage that comes with them) you might mistakenly think thats all there is

stigma or no I think showing people comics can actually be accesible is a good thing

Is she promoting comics or manga?

Comics have been in UK libraries for decades now, from Astrix through to superhero. I think the Graphic Novel section in my closest library is the biggest single section after the childrens book section.

This stigma must be a US thing, which is surprising considering the biggest Hollywood films have been comic based for year now

CpT_x_Killsteal:
"Certified Librarian". Is there like a certificate for that or something? A school of Librarianism?

Technically you're not considered a Librarian (note the captial L) unless you have a Master of Library Science. Some Librarians get very upset if paraprofessionals refer to themselves as librarians.

EDIT: Talked to my Librarian friends and changed lay people for paraprofessionals.

softclocks:
Is she promoting comics or manga?

I promote comics AND manga. I promote anything in the graphic medium. I believe that reading any sort of graphic novel improves your literacy rate. That's why we have 3000+ books, and everything from Garfield to Watchmen to Sailor Moon.

ccggenius12:
I'm not going to look any further into this. As long as I don't, I can continue to picture it as basically a bookmobile except it's in a van with an '80s metal-album-style mural plastered on the side. I don't want that image to go away, it's too damn awesome.

I'm not gonna lie, that was one of our original ideas. We had originally planned to deck out a school bus with shelves and a long bench covered in plush down the middle for people to lounge on.

wetfart:

CpT_x_Killsteal:
"Certified Librarian". Is there like a certificate for that or something? A school of Librarianism?

Technically you're not considered a Librarian (note the captial L) unless you have a Master of Library Science. Some Librarians get very upset if paraprofessionals refer to themselves as librarians.

EDIT: Talked to my Librarian friends and changed lay people for paraprofessionals.

Had to look it up to see if you were joking. You weren't. So it's basically a degree in storing, managing, and analyzing data right. Learn something new every day.

Is there a technical difference between graphic novels and comics? Because I've always considered the former to be a term employed by people too self-conscious to admit to reading the latter.

Dragonlayer:
Is there a technical difference between graphic novels and comics? Because I've always considered the former to be a term employed by people too self-conscious to admit to reading the latter.

I consider graphic novels to be book made up of comics content. Basically, trade paperbacks that collect stories from single issue stories and put them together in a cohesive whole or storyline. There are some that consider graphic novels to simply be those stand-alone books like Kingdom Come or Watchmen, but I consider all of them graphic novels.

To me "comic" simply means a single issue story. The accepted definition among most fans is that "comics" are American comics, usually centering around a heroic archetype story while "manga" is anything with characters with big eyes no matter the genre or origin and "graphic novels" are things like American Born Chinese and Persepolis.

To me, they are all part of the same graphic medium that I've loved since first grade when I picked up my first copy of Elfquest at a local library. Back then comics were not something that went into libraries, and finding a huge, hardcover, IN COLOR book like that was a big freaking deal. And now I travel around the US to addict more people to the graphic medium.

wetfart:
[quote="CpT_x_Killsteal" post="7.862535.21487043"]

Had to look it up to see if you were joking. You weren't. So it's basically a degree in storing, managing, and analyzing data right. Learn something new every day.

Yup, basically its a degree in knowing how to find ANY POSSIBLE information and how to disseminate that information into a usable medium.

Fappy:
"No one has the right to tell you that what you read isn't worth reading," the campaign states.

I hope they reach their goal, but good luck to them. This apparent comment sense is lost among at least all of the population on this shiny blue marble. People derogate and deride people who own a Wii, FFS - as if somehow another person owning and *gasp* enjoying it somehow affects them.

I hate comics. I think they are stupid. That just means I don't read them. What other people do with their free time is their business. End of story.

+1 to this group for trying to get other people to STFU and mind their own business. :)

I'd say that Manga specifically has more of a Stigma than the other forms of Graphic Novels mentioned. And, honestly, not entirely without warrant. For every great piece of Manga I find, I find a ton of others that are filled with terrible content that is entirely inappropriate for western morality.

But hopefully this will serve to educate people that Manga is far more diverse than people think and just because someone is reading a Manga doesn't mean it's necessarily bad. It's not always full of school girl porn. But honestly, a lot does have it so I've personally gravitated away from reading Manga that hasn't been read and then referenced by people I trust not to give me garbage or what I consider to be under age nudity. It's interesting to discuss to say the least. On the one hand there's some damn fine stuff out there but on the other I understand why the negative perception exists and I'm not wholly unsympathetic to people with that perception.

Either way, this beats the hell out of the miniscule section the library of my childhood had.

What is the manga library's impact on vendors at conventions? Does the library whet people's appetite to go buy comics, or are people reading comics for free when they might otherwise spend time shopping?

What stigma? I was under the impression that anime and manga was quite popular in the US.

 

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