This week we welcome our newest DEAD GUY! Every other Sunday you'll be hearing from Cynthia Chow, branch manager for the Hawaii State library system, who'll be offering perspectives on pretty much everything from her viewpoint. And you're going to love it. Trust us.
By Cynthia Chow
Comic books have been around for decades, but it has been a long journey for them to be accepted as legitimate forms of literature. The eighties had their Watchmen, Persepolis,and Maus, but even those groundbreakers were still considered to be part of a niche market. That is finally changing. Comic book superheroes have become a part of pop culture, with millions of “average” people - whose previous experiences with comics may have extended only so far as to the perusal of the Sunday newspapers (what are those?) - being able to list off characters from the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-men. Now that Hollywood has realized just how much money we are willing to spend to see our icons brought to life, there is a virtual smorgasbord of superhero movies scheduled all the way through 2028. Turn on the television virtually any night of the week and you will see some version of a comic book; the broodily overacted-without-Batman-Gotham, the very fun Flash, the how-could-they-not Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the cigarette-smoking-but-probably-going-to-be-cancelled-anyway Constantine, and my favorite, Arrow (more shirtless training montages, please). These shows take their comic inspirations seriously and are as far from campy as you can get, unlike various incarnations from the past, when Adam West apparently couldn’t be bothered to do a sit-up. These superheroes do not wear tights.
My love of comics began decades ago, when I was stealing into my brother's room to rifle through his Batman and Spider-Man collections. It seems only fitting that my first summer job was working in a failing bookstore/comic book store, and I managed to become one of those people who collected comics sealed in plastic bags. I still have the black armband included in the Death of Superman promotion (spoiler, he's not dead).
Comics – loosely defined as graphic novels when published together as a continuous story arc- are also what led me to my actual career. I was a new Young Adult Librarian who actually saw value in putting them in my library, and when a teen loves one comic he/she will only want to read more.
And graphic novels have gotten GOOD. Just like any genre, some writing is better than others, but now established and "respectable" writers have entered the playing field. I thoroughly recommend that you give these a try:
- Batwoman, Queen and Country, and Whiteout by Greg Rucka. Although he has always had roots in comics, the author of the Atticus Kodiak and Jad Bell thrillers is incredible at crafting kick-ass female heroines. He has created a wonderful Batwoman – don't mistake her for Batgirl – series. Rucka’s Queen and Country series features an awesome female spy agent and led to a series of novels expanding on the same storylines. His graphic novel Whiteout is essentially a locked-room mystery that has a U.S. Marshall trapped in the Antarctica with a murderer.
- DC’s Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer. The bestselling mystery and thriller writer depicts how a criminal act enacted on a superhero’s wife, and the Justice League’s response, completely divides the team. It’s absolutely brutal - in a good way.
- Wonder Woman: Love & Murder by Jodi Picoult made waves - and received mixed reviews - when the fiction writer took over an entire Wonder Woman storyline.
- Castle: Richard Castle’s Derek Storm. Yes, he’s a fictional author on ABC’s Castle writing fictional mystery novels, but ABC produced thrillers that are actually enjoyable and the graphic novelizations of the Derek Storm books are very fun.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8. Joss Whedon continued his awesome television series in comic form, freeing him from studio production and budgets. It gets wonderfully weird.
- These are just the graphic novels written by authors specifically to be comics. Janet Evanovich, Patricia Briggs, Richard Stark/Donald Westlake, and Laurell K. Hamilton have all had their series turned into pretty impressive graphic novels that take their novels into illustrated realizations.
It's never been a secret to teachers and librarians that comics are the gateway drug to getting reluctant readers to read. My suggestions here are just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope that these graphic novels written by skilled mystery and fiction writers will tempt adult mystery lovers into delving into the world of comics. Never let it be forgotten that Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, was the secret identity for a truly heroic occupation. In her “real life,” Batgirl was… a librarian.