September 21, 2012

A celebration of comics

The kind you read, not the stand-up kind. It's Comic Book Month at Auckland Libraries and we're celebrating the Cosmics, as my father used to call them. "Pass me the cosmics" he'd say as soon as he arrived at the Sunday breakfast table, back when "comics" meant the comics section of your newspaper. Now comics are those comics and comics are cartoons, graphic novels, superheroes, manga and many other genres, and instead of being a once-a-week treat, every big and little kid can get them whenever they want at their local library.

Thanks to Adrian Kinnaird, cartoonist, writer and one of New Zealand's foremost authorities on comics and graphic novels, for contributing this fun reminiscence about the origins of life in the universe, um, I mean, of comics in libraries.

Comics In Libraries: The Collected Golden Age
Comic and graphic novels started popping up in libraries in the early 1980s, if you knew where to look. If you were lucky, you might find a copy of the Smithsonian Book Of Comic Books hiding out in the drawing reference and cartoons section; under the call numbers that would be burned into my memory: 741.5. When I was growing up, I knew if I searched out those magic numbers at any library there was always a chance I might strike gold and find comic books.

On one particular visit to the Christchurch Public Library in 1989 I really hit the mother-lode. While exploring the far reaches of the library floor, the work 'COMIC BOOKS' jumped out at me from a random shelf in the 'Over-sized Books' section. I had discovered the fabled two volume set of Photo Journal Guide To Comic Books: these two enormous volumes contained cover photographs of almost every American comic published from the beginning of the industry to the end of the '50s. The birth of the medium was contained in these two volumes; every cover of Action Comics lined up fifty covers to a page, like postage stamps.

I pored over every page till my eyes hurt, it was almost too much information to take in. It was all here, the history of comics laid out in front of me: the rise of superhero comics, horror, romance and everything in between (who knew Cowboy comics were massive in the 1950s??). Alas, these volumes were marked with the dreaded phrase 'REFERENCE COPIES ONLY. NOT FOR LOAN' ("that means you, kid!", I imagined it saying in smaller print underneath). So I would have to visit them every week, sneaking off to the 'adult' section to the library to soak up as much comics history as I could handle.

On one of these trips I also discovered there was a 'Graphic Novel' shelf, hidden beside 'Young Adult' (sidenote: as a 10 yr old the YA section always made me feel a bit nervous; would I be asked my age if I grabbed the wrong book?). It was only a small shelf, with a couple of volumes that would become cornerstones for this growing section: Watchmen, Maus, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. I flicked through a few pages of Dark Knight Returns and three things occurred to me. 1) It scared the crap out of me 2) I had to read it RIGHT NOW and 3) I had to make neither my mum or the librarian got a good look at the contents when I checked it out (hiding it under a safe Tintin volume took care of that).

Over twenty years later, graphic novels are now one of the largest and most borrowed collections in libraries world wide. There are graphic novels and comics to suit every age and subject. From literary autobiographies like Persepolis, through to children's comics like the collected Tove Jansson Moomin comic strips, and Jeff Smith's wonderful Bone series. Or if superheroes are your thing, you can easily read the first 20+ years of Spiderman and Avengers comics (collections that would set us back thousands of dollars) for nothing! And if you look under 741.5, you can learn the secrets to cartooning from the masters themselves, and learn about their lives and craft. I can now read almost all of those classic comics that appeared in those giant reference guides by looking them up on the Library catalogue.

The entire history of the comics medium is waiting for you at your local library, and my 10yr old self wouldn't know where to start.

-- Adrian Kinnaird

Check out Adrian's blog on New Zealand Comics at
...and here's what's happening around the libraries (eg free comics workshops, exhibitions, the "Create a character" competition where you can win a term of drawing classes, prizes for most comics read...)

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:30


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