Libraries for imbecils
Libraries specialized in comics and graphic novels from around the world
There is no doubt that Hollywood is the industry that best understands how to turn a few prizes into a giant marketing campaign. Since 1929, when the major studios created the endogamic awards with which to promote themselves; many industries have copied their great idea. But, none have taken it so far.
But, after 91 years of Oscars, they have failed to be more grateful with the industry satellites, the theater chains, distributors, video clubs, audio visual platforms, televisions and even the ushers, without whose support cinema would not have been possible. Each and every one of them has a role in the world of cinema. A little bit of recognition, even though less symbolic, on the part of the industry that has benefited so much, would result, like a little, elegant.
An industry born, almost at the same time as cinematography, if kept in account: the comic industry. And if there is a relevant figure within the world of comics, it is Will Eisner. The Eisner prizes are routinely described as the Oscars of the world of Comics. And, the Will Eisner family foundation efforts to publicize, promote and diffuse comics in diverse areas is laudable.
The round table of graphic novels and comics of the American Library Association (ALA) and the aforementioned Foundation award prizes every year to libraries that develop projects relating to comics. This year, said prizes have gone to librarians of the Public Library in Avon, Washington, and the Cape Fear Community College Library in Wilmington, North Carolina. Additionally, a grant is awarded for graphic novels that has gone to libraries in Ontario. Will Eisner’s first graphic novel with which he launched the concept of the Graphic Novel.
Initiatives like these can motivate anyone to take advantage of the enormous potential that comics offer for libraries. In spite of the growing presence of sections dedicated to comics in libraries, comicons are still a rarity if we travel around the library orb. For this reason, at this moment, in which trips are conditioned: in this blog, such as intrepid Tintins, we are going to go around the world.
The work carried out by Carmen Gonzalez Muñoz of the Complutense University of Madrid serves us much. Her final Master’s work in Documentation Management of library archives: Comicon prospecting and case study (2020), is one of the few works that has pursued current information regarding situation of comics in libraries around the world.
Before departing we have a something to drink in the amazing Yeonnam-Dong Café in South Korea. There is no better image to represent the immersion in the world of comics we propose.
Billy Ireland, the graphic humorist in who’s honor the largest comic museum/library in the world.
As it regards size, collection and ambition of the project, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library Museum in Columbus, Ohio is in first place. Founded in 1977 it houses 45,00 original drawings, 36, 000 books, 51,000 serial titles and close to 2.5 million comic books and strips. Thinking about cataloging such a great quantity of graphic material, with all the irregularities that this type of publications commonly presents can be either the dream or the nightmare of a cataloguing librarian.
Without leaving the United States, in San Francisco, the Cartoon Art Museum is distinguished by its birth certificate. None other than Charles Schulz, the author of Peanuts (Charlie Brown), gave a grant to the center so that it could be an exhibition space in 1987. Exhibition salons, animation and drawing studios, libraries and diverse cultural activities serve to energize the center in pro of the comic world.
If what you want to talk about are comicons, that is to say, sections created within public libraries for the specific purpose of fomenting reading through sequential art, our journey is not as ample as we would suppose.
We have to reach Japan to find libraries and not museums or centers for investigation that have comics at the center of their collections and programs. At least on paper. Because the International Manga Library projected to become a reality in Tokio, continues to be only on paper.
It is about one of the most ambitious projects with regard to the world of comics. The seed of this project goes back to 2009, when the University of Meiji, proposed the construction of a five-story building that would serve to house the greatest known center dedicated to the world of manga.
According to an article signed by Roland Kelts (author of: Japanmania: how pop culture has invaded the United States): the project of the lavish Nipon library could have been reactivated in lieu of the 2020 Olympic Games. But, the global pandemic has had to come in to play so that once again this ambitious dream is relegated to the ether.
In concrete iteration, it would be the Yoshiro Yonezawa Library Museum in Tokio, with it close to 140,000 examples, which right now continues to be the largest cultural center dedicated to the rich world of manga. But, before moving from these latitudes, one last pause for the reverie.
In the Chinese city of Hangzou has been thinking about building a spectacular museum dedicated to animation comics for many years. After the inauguration of the overwhelming library of Tianjin Binhai, the Chinese regimen, like any other power in need of ostentation continues to bet on pharaonic projects. The Dutch architectural firm MVRDV designed the project, ultimately modified, recurring to gigantic globes, like comic sandwiches. The final result appears to play with the idea of modifying it. But here we allow ourselves a moment to dream about what was conceived in the first place.
But let us take on the final leg of this article focusing on what we promised, libraries in which there has been a space dedicated comics as the protagonist. For this we have to move through Europe. We start in France, concretely in the city of Angouleme, which is erected as the capital of comics in Europe.
The Bibliothéque of La Cité Internationale of the Bande Dessinée et de I’Image (Angouleme) houses more than 43,000 albums, for adults and children, that can be read therein or checked out to read at home. But, to its collections is added the materials that help with the investigation, in the center for documentation that includes the library. In this patrimonial repository, we are talking of approximately 80,0000 albums and 133,000 periodical publications. The library is a fundamental piece of conglomerate of spaces of the International City of Comic Books.
Continuing on our European voyage a stop in Barcelona is obligatory in the network of libraries. The comic book industry is firmly rooted in the capital city of Catalonia. This circumstance and the powerful net of libraries that the city has developed has given comics a strong presence.
From the Central Library at Tecla Sala de L’Hospitalet, every bit a reference to the Ignasi-Can Fabra Library, a part of Barcelona’s library network. If at the start we were talking about industries that know how to recognize the work of agents who support the industry but are not initially a part of it, the Tecla Sala distinguished itself with the prize it awards to the Association of Comic Authors of Spain the Salon of Comics of Barcelona. It is a prize for the distribution and promotion of comics for this library, that offers 25,000 comic book titles.
In the rest of Spain, during the most recent decades, many libraries have been highlighting (not incorporating because they were already there) the comics with in their offerings. Library spaces conceived for the exclusive purpose of presenting comics have been organized in the Spanish Municipality of Ciudad Real, the Yagamuchi library in Pamplona, the Anxel Casal library in Galicia or in the Arroyo de la Miel in Malaga, Spain.
One of the libraries with the greatest projections since its inauguration in 2003 is Murcia’s Regional Library’s Comics section (BRMU). In the midst of a current expansion, the BRMU’s comics section counts on a collection of nearly 24,000 volumes. But, beyond its collections the one thing it has done to set itself apart are the spaces it occupies and above all, the projects that it has brought to life.
From the presentation of small comics showcases in hair salons and beauty parlors in the city of Murcia, a library cart passing through the Bando de la Huerta parade, to the inclusion of augmented reality on the covers of comic books.
In addition to exhibitions, work-shops, comics tattoos, conferences, concerts and other projects that have converted BRMU’s comics showcase the launching point from which to re-evaluate what it means to be a twenty-first century librarian.
And in closing we jump to the BRMU comic exhibition South America. The Regional Center for the Promotion of Literacy for South America and the Caribean, CERLALC developed the Comic Exhibition Project in 2009. It consisted of an encounter between experts from various countries regarding the promotion of literacy through comics. This gathering led to the publication of ‘The comic, invited to the public library’ a year later. In it was included the prototype developed in the BRMU comic exhibit, that years later has given fruit by way of the inauguration of the first comics exhibit in the city of Cali, Colombia as well as the Mexican comic exhibit at the Autonomous University of Puebla.
And up to here, this pressured voyage, free of Covid-19 around the world. The world, for as much as the title may rest, does not fit in a vignette. We have missed many stops. Although in the end we have reserved a brief pause in Russia. In the last Moscow Book Fair, the country’s Minister of Culture, upon visiting the section dedicated to comics launched a missive declaration: “reading comics is for imbecils.”
We end our journey with this statement and the response to that opinion expressed by the BRMU comics exhibit in the following video.