Blacksad, Sandman, and What Lurks in the Library

I don’t know how librarians do it these days.

Batgirl trade cover

I worked in a library throughout my high school years, shelving returned books for eight hours at a time in deafening, mind-testing silence. I quit that job when college came around and didn’t venture back into an off-campus library for the better part of a decade, like one of those people who’ve seen how the Frosty gets made and will never voluntarily go into a Wendy’s again. It’s not that I had a bad experience; I’d just had too much of that particular experience for a while.

When I finally remembered in my forcibly frugal mid-twenties that there was a way not to pay for books, I returned to the library to find them completely different places than the one I had worked in. To give you some frame of reference: during my tour of duty as a page, the hot topic was whether we would be getting a copy of Madonna’s coffee table book, Sex. (If you are too young to remember this book, look it up. You’re in for a treat. A treat involving one of those eyewash stations from your high school chemistry lab. Oh, but don’t look it up at my hometown library; we were told we would only be buying it over the head librarian’s dead body, and thankfully she is still with us.) We had a collection of several dozen VHS tapes, the newest of which was Das Boot, and a couple of spinner racks of cassette tapes of everything from Rod Stewart to post-plane crash Lynyrd Skynyrd. In short: we had a lot of things. They just weren’t my things.

The library is not like that anymore.

The things I have checked out in the last few years, even out here in the ‘burbs, blow my mind every time I think about it. Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books. The Losers. Half a dozen DMZs. 52. Sandman, of course. Jonah Hex, of all things. Not only do they carry books I could never imagine the old ladies I worked with in 1992 ordering, it seems like that’s all they carry sometimes. The only book I ever stumped the system with was Batgirl.

I really have to hand it to them, especially here in the Midwest, not only because they’re clearly doing their homework but because I can’t believe they’re pulling it off. They walk quite a tightrope.

For example: I returned Dark Horse’s Blacksad to the library Saturday after savoring its pages for the full check-out period. We have talked about this book many times before, but even Paul’s glowing review may not do it justice. It is beautiful, dark, funny, and racy. All of those things are great… but that last one’s been known to get you in trouble a time or two, if you’re a librarian.

As I was returning the volume, a funny look made its way from a middle-aged lady in line to me and my big cartoon cat book.

I grinned to myself, thinking, “Lady, if you saw what was on page 82, you would shut this place down.

Blacksad racy actionIf you keep up with news stories about this sort of thing, libraries are where “comics aren’t for kids anymore” tends to crash headfirst into “community standards,” whatever those may be. Generally speaking, I think the key is putting Mr. Dewey to work for you: librarians in this neck of the woods seem to have the common sense to tuck these books into adult nonfiction, good ol’ 741.5, rather than putting them over by the beanbag chairs under a big sign that says, “Look, Kids! Pictures!” Still: easily the most disturbing comic page I ever read was in a Sandman trade that I found on the “Hip 4 Teenz” display in my old neighborhood’s library. I pulled it feeling stupid for having to get the book from that section; I returned it thinking, “Oh, this shelf is going to be on the news someday.”

I’m not going all Wertham here. The comics at the library are no more or less filthy than everything else in the place, Berenstein Bears notwithstanding. Comics are just easier to skim. A twelve year old could check out Needful Things, for example, and his mom would never notice the scene with the lady feverishly masturbating in the tub because when you flip the pages it’s just letters. When someone masturbates in Powers, you’re not going to miss it.

The bottom line is this: the staff at your local library are going to great, sometimes risky lengths to get the best graphic novels money can buy so your money doesn’t have to buy them. All of the delicate community issues and politics they face, they face to expose more people to quality books like these. You owe it to yourself and them to make their efforts worthwhile and check some of this stuff out.

 


Jim Mroczkowski is sure nothing unseemly actually happens to your Frosty. Relax and enjoy.

Comments

  1. Just got back from Wrexham library north Wales where me and my kid checked out a bunch of stuff including star wars empire, American vampire and battle pope. Also had the great asterois polyp and loads of other great reads , and always something new. Well done team. Libraries rock, except when the government try to close them down.

  2. The selection in my library is great. You can reserve anything you want, online, and pick it up at your local branch. Blacksad, Comic Book Tattoo, they even carry I Kill Giants: Titan edition!

  3. What is this library thing you speak of? Is that some kind of app that installs on my iPad. 😉

  4. Jeff Reid JeffR (@JeffRReid) says:

    Word.

    Remind me to tell you about the time that an adult found The Boys: Herogasm on our shelves. He wasn’t a fan. Luckily, the library in which I work is a big defender of intellectual freedom, so the book wasn’t removed from our shelves. That is the nice thing about being in a large library system with policies in place for when challenges arise. It might not had played out the same way had it been a small system. However, it wasn’t quite a happy ending since I was forced to read the trade in order to give my opinion to the committee. Turns out that I wasn’t a fan either and yet still it remains on our shelves. That makes me quite proud.

  5. You make a great point!. As a teenager with little money, I’m one of those people who constantly check out comics from the library. In fact the only comics I have ever bought is one issue of Batman and Robin and Secret Six.

  6. I like in a suburb community outside of Austin, TX, with somewhere around 50,000 residents. We have one library, and I was surprised to find a decent selection of graphic novels – American Vampire and Fables were the standouts. Wonder if they have a request list? They had a decent amount of manga but that ain’t my thing.

  7. with my entertainment budget stretched these days, i’ve been relying heavily on my local library in Vancouver, Canada.

    At first i thought it would be a hassle, but i was quickly proven wrong.

    I’m bulldozing my way through so much good stuff. In fact, i’d argue that i am reading way more comics than ever before, just because i can take risks on titles. No more buyer’s remorse!

    As for the selection …i’ve even seen Alan Moore’s Lost Girls on the shelf (now that is a risky choice for a library)

  8. Great article! I just moved from Austin to Madison and I was amazed to find that the selection of graphic novels and trades is even better in Madison, which is half the size of Austin. My local branch has a stunning amount of independent and smaller press stuff (including a copy of Blacksad!). Considering how much the move cost, it’s been a great way to try all sorts of stuff without spending money. Everyone should use their local library.

  9. I love the public library, and the comics related selection of the past few years is amazing, but i think we really need a PSA to educate the public that they have to take care of these books. The libraries can buy them once, but don’t often have the ability to replace or repair.Time and time again, i’ve found great stuff in the online catalog, and its “lost” or “damaged” or missing pages, and stuff you find on the shelves are just gross and dirty and completely FUBAR. Just cause its a library book, doesn’t mean you should trash it.

    *steps off soapbox.*

    • YES!!! I completely agree. I hate it when I’m deep into a story only to discover half way that there are pages ripped out. Why, people?!? Why rip out a few pages and leave ne hangin like that?!? Respect the books, dammit!

  10. The library is a great resource for finding trades. (This was something I learned by listening to Ron on the podcast) I live in a suburb of Kansas City and my local library has a great selection. Recently, I discovered they has all 6 omnibuses of James Robinson’s run on Starman, so I have been discovering this comic. And to make things easy, everything is in the Graphic Novel section next to the mystery books (other fav of mine).

  11. Hey, what’s worse? Too much sex or too much violence?

    • Personally, violence disturbs me much more as somebody with kids running around.

    • Violence SHOULD be considered worse. But in America, it gets a pass. Tons of parents take their kids to R-rated action movies all the time. You know how much of the country loves it’s right to bear arms.

      Sex on the other hand, is the big taboo in this country. You better not show a Janet Jackson nipple, or suggest of sex, or you’ll have the parents organizations all over you. Thank you, Puritans.

      This country really has it backward. Over in Europe, sex is considered natural and a part of life (which it should be), and violence is considered the bigger offender. Yet here people act as if sexuality is something to be ashamed of, and killing people is cool and no big deal. Ridiculous.

  12. I’m one of those lucky people that is handed thousands of dollars to stock our shelves with comic books.

    Luckily with “Kids”, “Teen”, and “Adult” sections it’s not nearly as easy to oppose comics in libraries as it was in the early days of collecting. Most library policies state that even if a book is formally opposed it remains on the shelf until a board convenes on it. At which point some librarian says “First amendment, biotches” and then it stays on the shelf. (That and time has passed so the hype and care about the issue has died down).

    Honestly, I have had far more positive reactions to the comic book collections then anything else. Which is totally gratifying.

    And I love articles like this that show me people are digging our collections. On behalf of comic book ordering librarians, thanks for the love!

    • I wish I had that kind of budget for comics at my library. I order all the adult fiction, DVDs, and music CDs, and only get enough money to purchase 2 or 3 comics per month. But, I do tell the youth department what to order for Juv. and YA comics. I just leave a copy of Previews in their office with post-its all over the place every month.

      Unfortunately some of the best title just never leave the shelves. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of our Parker books leave the building.

  13. I only discovered two years ago that libraries even carry comic books, and I’ve been reading all my comic from the library since then. There’s a lot of stuff that the LA County Library system doesn’t have, but for the most part I can get everything I’m interested in reading.

    I recall going to a library’s book sale and I found a copy of The Crow graphic novel with a bunch of children’s books. It was pretty funny. I ended up buying it for 50¢ just so no kid accidentally stumbles onto it.

  14. If you can’t find a specific title on your library’s shelves, go to the reference desk and request it. Knowing that there’s interest in a title helps justify the purchase. At the very least, the librarian can help you get the book through interlibrary loan.

  15. My library got me into Hellboy by having (at the time anyways) the entire collection of trades to read. I’ve also read Golden Age DC books, most of JMS’s run on ASM, a lot of Alan Moore’s work, and lots more. Unfortunately since I am a bit of a fast reader I have pretty much read the library’s entire comic collection. They are getting new stuff but it’s a really slow burn to get them and most of the time I’ve already read the trades at Barnes and Noble. Either way I have a pretty good library when it comes to comics.

  16. I’ve been using the library as my source for comics for years now. They’re not always the best at getting every part of a series, and they don’t keep up-to-date on everything, but they still have a ton of stuff. What’s more fun is that I was out of the country for a year, so when I got back this summer, they’d gotten even more. I especially like having the option to use inter-library loan to get books that are out of the system. I’m catching up on INVINCIBLE that way since our library only has volumes 1 and 14 of the regular-sized collections.

    Oh, and our library has KICK-ASS. In the Young Adult section. Actually, right now, it’s in the New Graphic Novels section, which is kind of hidden behind the Paperback Fiction section, so most kids are safe…for now.

  17. You’ve inspired me to join Houston library after reading this. Could save me a ton of $$$ and also get me trying some new stuff. Thanks!!