Comic books and libraries, together at last
My name is Ryan, I am a heavy reader, and I prefer comic books. I enjoy all kinds of books, of course-I read through Lord of the Rings for the first time around third or fourth grade, and I’ve read Moby Dick multiple times for fun. I enjoy anything from Kurt Vonnegut to Elmore Leonard to Star Wars novels. And while the Star Wars books are currently catching up in this department, nothing on the printed page spells total immersion for me quite like superhero comics.
I don’t know what it is exactly, since it’s not even any particular character or publisher that draws me in. I’ll read one book about the crazy over-the-top antihero parody Lobo (the last of his race because he killed the others for a school science project), and segue immediately into a Spider-Man book where I get real concerned if Peter Parker might not make rent this month. I find nearly all of these characters and their stories compelling, for one reason or another. With trade paperbacks ranging from $20 to $40, you can imagine the frustration of walking into a comic shop to catch up on some X-Men but oh man this book over here has Gorilla Grodd on the cover I haven’t seen him in forever I gotta get this!
Right about now, all you literature fans out there might be thinking that I should just go to the library. Which, for fans of most books, is a great solution! They’re quiet, uncrowded, free to use, and only have the occasional hobo pretending to read an upside-down book while he sleeps in the corner. If you like comics though, good luck! I have lived in a lot of cities with a lot of libraries, and can tell you without a doubt that superhero comics are the most neglected form of printed media around.
When I lived in Dayton, the graphic novel selection for the entire chain of city libraries would scarcely fill half a standard bookshelf, including the books that were duplicated between branches. When I moved to Lakewood, the library itself was much better but the selection of comics was still terrible. They have their own little room there, but I’m not sure why. The shelves are sparsely populated and you’re likely to find more comic book biographies of Martin Luther King than books for even super-popular characters like Batman. Green Lantern fan? Well, I hope you enjoy this random third volume of a five-volume story arc from a few years ago, and then this one book from the 70’s. Green Lantern was the voice of the pro-war establishment during Vietnam, kids! But then he learned!
So now, you may be thinking something along the lines of, “Well that’s what you get, libraries are for learning and have no reason to take comic books seriously!”. Well you know what they do have in large quantities? Manga. That’s right. Maybe four X-Men books in that whole place, but they’ve got duplicate copies of hundreds of manga books from Naruto to Fruits Basket. I barely even know what those words mean, but if you want to read about them then apparently the graphic novel section of your local public library is for you! It’s bad enough Barnes & Noble have been moving in this direction for years, but I understand. When every brick and mortar bookstore is up to their necks in the tar pits, you can’t fault them for riding trends to stay afloat. But I expect better out of a respected institution like the library! Why are my interests going unrepresented? Is what I choose to read somehow the wrong choice?
Thankfully, last week the city of Cleveland shifted and rolled over its foul and chitinous bulk to reveal some unexpectedly tender bits underneath. Christine had to go to the main branch of the Cleveland public library for a school project, and came home that day with a small stack of Thor and Deadpool books, as well as a story about how much I was going to love the place. So a couple days later we made the trip downtown, and even with my unusually heightened expectations, I was still completely blown away.
First of all, this library is a pretty impressive place in general. Between the two connected buildings they have about nine floors open to the public, only one of which is the audio-visual section. That leaves eight left for books. As you might imagine, that is a ridiculous amount of books. And for once, my beloved superhero comics are well-represented. They have a section for new releases, which impressed me both because they are actually new, and because that area alone was already bigger than almost any library comic book section I had ever seen. The main comic book collection spans an entire wall of a massive room on their general fiction floor, and contains no less than thousands of books. Then, as we found out later in our trip, there is a third place featuring graphic novels, on the “children and young adults” floor.
So there I was, presented with a veritable “Scrooge McDuck’s Moneybin” of comics, ready to dive in and start swimming around. Alas, it was not to be quite so easy. The new releases section was sorted by series name, as intended by god and nature. The gigantic main collection, however, is sorted by author-daunting for me as a longtime fan knowledgeable about comic book writers, utterly incomprehensible for someone just getting into comics. There are hundreds of comic book writers, and stays for more than a year or two on any one title are rare. The way these books are laid out, if you wanted to read for example Marvel’s sprawling year-long Civil War story event, you would have to check every single shelf in the room.
So let’s say you did check every shelf in the room, and found yourself missing odd little volumes in the middle. Logical conclusions would dictate that some jerk checked out just the middle bits, or that the books are lost somewhere in this impossibly large building. My tactics are limited to manually searching shelves and getting frustrated, luckily Christine always remembers that there are ways of looking these things up. A quick look at the library’s digital catalog will likely reveal that the books you are seeking are hidden away in the “young adult” section, on an entirely different floor.
Upon hunting down this third area, I was both confused and pleased to see that once again the books were in series order, like the new releases. I was however simply confused at the contents of the shelves-a completely incomprehensible mix of random volumes plucked from the main collection, as well as titles targeted specifically to an adult audience such as Lobo or X-Men Noir. Luckily I found the books I was looking for and we made it to the checkout area with a few minutes left before closing time.
I’m extremely happy to have access to this amazing treasure trove of things I love, and feel one step closer to my unattainable goal of reading all the comics. I’m still left wondering though, why comic book fans are so neglected by the general library establishment. And maybe even more puzzling is why a library clearly so dedicated to maintaining and awesome comic selection insists on being so cryptic in their organization?