What is Superman doing in the library?
The Unquiet Librarian
By Virginia Roberts
Rhinelander District Library Director
A while ago in a library far, far away, a retired English teacher was annoyed with me. To be fair, it wouldn’t have been the first time this had happened. But this was the first time in my professional library career I had well and truly irritated a teacher I knew well and respected. She was one of the library volunteers. It started out something like this:
“What is Superman doing in the library?”
“Probably reading, what else would he be doing?”
“No, I mean, what is this comic book,” at this point, she is carrying a well-loved volume of classic Superman comics in graphic novel format over to me, directly under my nose, “What is this, “ she started again, ”doing in the LIBRARY?!?”
Oh dear. Oh my. Well, um, yeah, well, there it was. That hadn’t been the first time I had been asked, and it won’t be the last. Sequential art, like poetry (a whole month of which is celebrated in April), is one of the earliest forms of storytelling, going back to humans earliest memories, and earliest stories–cave painting. In modern times it is most notably recognized in the eighteenth century by the father of copyright—William Hogarth (1697-1764), an English artist who asked for his sequential prints (Rake’s Progress, Marriage a la Mode) to be protected by law so as to protect his income stream.
A little dry? Perhaps. But not so comic books, the debut of which married both incredible art and amazing storytelling, raising the vocabulary of children by osmosis and introducing them to evil doctors, inventive and otherwise; and brilliant, heroic, mythic, and intergalactic creatures that have been bitten by radioactive spiders, walk in dreams, or even work as librarians. Only costing a dime back in the golden era—most kids could afford them, and comic book collecting was born for the entertainment and education of millions—and the ire of millions more—their parents. You see, comics were not viewed as art. They were not viewed as literature. They were viewed as a waste of time.
And I don’t see it that way. Because kids (and adults) need both art and literature—and comic books and graphic novels abound in this. Beautiful and sometimes silly drawing and painting in all styles and using watercolor, ink, pen, and acrylic are found in these books. And the storytelling is epic as well as humorous—and classic: heroes, villains, love stories, mythology, folklore and fairytales as well as modern fiction genres with a complex vocabulary—all of it brought into context by the sentences and the art surrounding.
Rhinelander is fairly lucky. With a busy library chock full of books and other neat stuff, and a really cool, new (and free) art museum, along with some pretty awesome historical architecture and wild woods and water around—there is a lot to see, do, and read here. But the Rhinelander District Library is going to crank it up a notch.
Free Comic Book Day. Yes, you read that right. FREE COMIC BOOK DAY—for all ages, children through adult. Normally offered only at comic book stores, the first Saturday in May is Free Comic Book Day. It has been for the last fifteen years all over the country. Since Rhinelander doesn’t have a comic shop—Rhinelander District Library hosted Free Comic Book Day here last year. This year, thanks to a generous donor—there will be free comics all week! May 2-7, the library will give comic books to take home and keep to anyone who comes in the door. Different ones will be available every day.
Because art and literature are important—and comic books have both. Stop in and see what it’s about.