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Two library branches open "graphic novels" section

For years comic books were viewed as children's fodder, certainly nothing a respectable "literary" adult would admit to reading regularly. Now, following in the wake of increasingly complex, and successful, comics treatments of serious subjects -- not to mention years of comic-based movie success -- things are finally stirring in the mainstream. Seems the big guns have realized there's something of actual intellectual value among the colored panels and exaggerated female anatomy. One example of mainstream acceptance is the fact that, in early December, the South County and North County Regional Libraries will start including "graphic novels" among their usual literary fare. The new materials -- including "visual media, comics and graphic novels," will be listed in PLCMC's online catalog and displayed near the Young Adult section of both libraries. Although these works will be kept, for now, only at the North and South County locations, they can be reserved from any library.

The development is a long time coming. ""Superhero' books -- long thought by mainstream audiences to be banal, stultified stories, typified by capes and adolescent boy fantasies -- have made serious in-roads in mainstream consciousness," says Dustin Harbin, manager and webmaster of local comic haunt Heroes Aren't Hard To Find. The graphic novel format for comics has grown in popularity to the point that Harbin predicts they will "replace periodical or "pamphlet' style comics within the next 10 years."

The revolutionary idea of creating comics as "novels" didn't fully evolve, says Harbin, "until Will Eisner began creating original works like Contract With God, Dropsie Avenue and The Building -- all novels in the classic sense in terms of pacing, characterization, theme and plot. . .the real distinction was that these were graphic novels, told in the language of sequential art." Eisner took the "kid candy" superheroes and monsters out, and pushed the comic industry to a new level by "focusing on the very normal and seemingly mundane."

Local comic aficionados agree that the genre has long been proven as a valid literary/artistic device. Michael Kobre, a professor at Queens University, says that "comics have always been a vital and distinctive part of American pop culture, but their emergence into respectability seems to have begun with revisionist takes on super hero myths. Pieces like Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore/Dave Gibbon's Watchmen, along with Art Spiegelman's Maus proved that (the medium) could take on even the most difficult subjects; and with the Pulitzer Prize and MOMA exhibit in 1991, the artistic potential of the graphic novel was confirmed."

Harbin adds that "the comics medium may be the most experimental and creatively untapped form of expression out there, and in order to present anything resembling a complete collection of literature to the public, comics simply must be there".

The past 10 years, and particularly the past two, has seen movies take on the comics realm (Spiderman, Batman, X-Men, From Hell, The Crow, Ghost World, The Road to Perdition and the upcoming Daredevil and League of Extraordinary Gentleman, among others). These adaptations have brought an under-appreciated artform into the spotlight, at least for a time.

Melanie Huggins, Youth Services Director for the Main Library, says their comics project has been in the works for quite some time. "Teens have been calling for comics for years, and we've finally got them," Huggins explains. "We went with a mix of high quality and public demand so that we're promoting reading while upping our "cool quotient.'" Regarding the literary merit of comics and graphic novels, Huggins states, "We're not trying to validate whether they're good or bad -- we're just trying to keep people reading. Our city is so concerned with literacy rates; it will be interesting to see how much resistance there is to this program. But they've complained about everything from Catcher In The Rye to The Bible, so nothing will be a total surprise."

For more information contact the Main Library at 704-336-6214 or visit online at www.plcmc.org.

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