A Call to Action for Graphic Novels

The New York Times shocked its readership when it announced that it was losing some of its bestsellers lists, including the graphic novels bestsellers list. It’s a devastating loss for librarians and graphic novelists alike. There has been a public outcry among graphic novelists, although there has been division even amongst the voices speaking out. Newer bestselling authors like Raina Telgemeier lay out the reasons why it disappoints her, while Neil Gaiman proudly proclaims that he never needed a separate list when Sandman first came out.

Why should teen librarians care? Well, many of our collections are still driven by “best of” lists. The main review journals do not often cover ongoing graphic novels and in my own library, reviews most certainly drive our collection development. The New York Times bestsellers list was an easy “best of” to point to when adding graphic novels to our collections, and it did something even more important, which was to validate the writings of women and LGBTQ writers of graphic novels. A more thorough rundown on that can be found here, in an article written by a trans comic editor. I’m not going to reiterate her argument, but I will simply add that these kinds of comics will be the most important to serving our teens and now they are much less likely to show up on these bestseller lists at all.

What hurts, and what many graphic novelists for children and teens are writing about, is that it showed “[e]specially the success of comics outside of the direct market. Comics aimed at children, at women, at a different readership” (Faith Erin Hicks, tweeted 26 Jan 2017). These are the types of comics that will engage the new diverse demographics of all of our libraries, and it will be harder to justify purchasing these for some libraries now. It had legitimized the format, and given voice to a certain kind of creator outside the direct market format of comics publishing.

Libraries need to be safe spaces for teens to “hang out” after school, and provide opportunities for connected learning, as laid out in the The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action, and we can only do this by being inclusive. Graphic novels are a rapidly growing format, and teens are getting into them more than ever. These are what the teenagers want or may not know that they want, to see themselves represented in these books. It is more egregious than ever now that March has become one of the most decorated young adult graphic novels, with a record four ALA YMAs as well as winning the National Book Award. It is a timely piece that introduces a painful history beautifully in a graphic novel format, and it deserves to be on the New York Times bestseller list. However, that is no longer possible unless it competes with other notable books of the day.

If teen librarians interested in this issue write to the New York Times, at NYTbestsellers@nytimes.com, perhaps we can change their minds. A link is provided with a potential script, to justify bringing it back. I hope that you continue to buy these important comics for your collection, and write to the Times to tell them why the list matters.

Send this letter to the NY Times, asking for our list back.

Stacey Shapiro is a Young Adult/Emerging Technology Librarian at Tenafly Library in New Jersey. She is an avid reader of comics and young adult literature.

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