Thanks to the bump from blockbuster film releases, the unique world of comic books and graphic novels has begun to experience a revival in popularity. It’s not just about the superheroes anymore either. Just one look around a library or comic shop reveals material written about almost anything. There are the standard genres of humor, mystery, suspense and even topics such as U.S. history or proper nutrition. As their popularity continues to grow, graphic novels and comics could be the most interesting way to encourage reading in both hesitant children and adults alike.
To say libraries never carried graphic novels wouldn’t be completely true. They just never carried very many. For the Saratoga Springs Public Library, that all changed around 2009, when a new teen services initiative was introduced. Since then, graphic novels have become some of their most circulated items.
“Use of our young adult collection in general skyrocketed about the same time we started the teen services center, but the graphic novel collection particularly grew, because we know there is a crossover audience of teens as well as adults,” said Ike Pulver, director of the Saratoga Springs Public Library.
Adults that read comics while they were children are starting to share that hobby with their children. The parents themselves, however, are rediscovering that same hobby with longer, more complex novels published by companies like Vertigo. Titles like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” and “American Vampire” by Scott Snyder are written with a more mature audience in mind.
“The audience is changing,” said Pulver. “I think any kind of reading is good reading and kind of a doorway for reluctant readers. It’s not just for reluctant teen readers but new adult readers.”
Adult readership increases can be looked at as a pleasant surprise, but the catalyst for the growth of the library’s graphic novel section was always its teen services center. The center was designed as a place in downtown Saratoga Springs where teenagers could hang out, do schoolwork, play games, read and interact with other teens in a positive environment.
“When I got here our graphic novel collection was just a couple of 5-foot shelves on a countertop in the old teen area in the corner,” said Trevor Oakley, teen services librarian.
The teen section has moved a few times since Oakley joined the library in 2008, finally settling in its current location on the first floor. With each movie, the Saratoga Springs Public Library has kept in mind their growing circulation numbers.
“When we moved the teen collection, I had more and more space for graphic novels,” said Oakley. “We have a pretty generous budget to buy kids and teens materials, so I was able to use a good chunk of that and start to expand and bring in material we thought would be popular.”
The center not only offers a constructive environment, but it also encourages the reading of just about anything, whether it’s animated or otherwise.
“Research shows that there’s no such thing as ‘bad reading.’ Any time you’re reading something, especially younger minds, you’re acquiring concepts,” said Oakley. “Concepts are the things that allow you to interact with and navigate your day-to-day world. It’s less likely you’ll engage in destructive behavior.”
Of course, if you’re not the best at returning your library books on time, you might want to consider just buying your own. Comic Depot located in the Wilton Mall is a local shop owned and operated by the dynamic duo of Darren and Kristi Carrara. The shop originally opened in Greenfield Center before eventually moving into their 3,500-square-foot store, complete with arcade games and ample space to hold Magic the Gathering games and other tournaments. The shop is packed with action figures, board games, trading cards and of course, thousands of comic books and graphic novels.
“People aren't hiding the fact that they read comic books anymore,” said Darren. “It's a popular time for comic books. They're more mainstream now than they used to be.”
The popularity of graphic novels could be summed up with the idea that already successful television shows such as “True Blood” or “Heroes” are actually being animated and published as novels, when it’s almost always the other way around.
As new generations of comic book fans begin to build their collections, publishers are taking bold steps to build their fan bases. DC Comics recently rebooted all of their titles at issue number one, allowing their writers to tell new stories without having to follow any previous continuity and cause a giant stir in the process.
“The idea was to build a jumping-on point for the masses,” said Kristi. “Especially with the superheroes, because there’s so much background you have no idea what’s going on.”
While there are the classic superheroes and established titles being released, even more original content published by smaller companies is also finding its way to the shelf. After all, no one knows where the next hit movie franchise might come from.
“The thing now is people are scouring comic books to find the next big thing,” said Darren. “There are all these awesome stories that they already have, so it's easy to port that to a movie.”
Comic Depot recently celebrated national Free Comic Book Day May 5, by having The Avengers (with the notable exception of the Incredible Hulk) in costume to meet with their fans. Darren and Kristi estimate that over 500 people turned out for the promotion. During the event, pictures with The Avengers were sold, with all proceeds benefiting the Franklin Community Center. Older crowds could check out a graphic art exhibit, while children participated in coloring contests and face painting.
“We look at it as a customer appreciation day,” said Kristi. “It’s just a day to come and hang out with everyone.”
“It’s a great day to get new people in the store, even people who come in just to look around, but also to give back to all our regular customers too,” said Darren.