Crunching the Numbers: Round Robin Discussion
1. Libraries need to be buying from outside their comfort zones.
Esther Keller: I do think that libraries have introduced a whole new group of people to comics. Some that have never thought to read them before. It always surprises me that kids come to the library, and seeing the rush to the GNs, come to me and ask – what are these? They’re being exposed to it for the first time. As more and more school libraries get GNs, I’ll see this less and less, I’m sure. (It also surprises me how many kids don’t use the public library… but that’s another story.)
RB: I know what you mean — it’s hard to get a substantial group of teens into the library, and while kids are apparent, I know there are a lot more out there who aren’t using the public library. I do think libraries are a great introduction to graphic novels, too.
Scott Robins:As for comics publisher needing to the step up to the plate to make their books available for review and be bought by libraries – from talking to a number of people this has been an upward battle. Sometimes I feel that some publishers aren’t fully committed to publishing children’s material mainly because the bread and butter of their business comes from the 20-40 year-old set. And this brings a whole other set of issues with appropriateness of content, designing material for kids that they’ll actually respond to and just general appeal to that audience – a lot of times it just misses the mark entirely. And if it’s not the issue of full commitment, a lot of times it’s just a lack of resources and knowledge in how the book industry works.
Eva Volin: The article that appeared in the Washington Post mentioned how Diamond Comics has had to figure out the book market in order to get its product into libraries and bookstores. I think libraries are also going to have to figure out how to do business with non-traditional publishers and/or distribution channels if they want to provide the books the patrons are looking for. Some libraries are on top of this. Others are still waiting for Baker and Taylor (or Ingram or BWI or…) to magically provide whatever it is.
2. Media tie-ins are, unsurprisingly, hits.
RB: Partially perhaps because this is what gets bought or is requested by the kids themselves. Having Warriors, Redwall, Artemis Fowl and Goosebumps all in the top ten circulates certainly means name recognition counts for something, although I admit I was pleased to see that these are book to graphic novel tie-ins, not movie or game to graphic novel titles.
EK: Interesting, while Artemis Fowl is/was pretty popular – no one touched the GN. Redwall was not as popular and also didn’t move. Same for Goosebumps. But I have a small limited population. Though Superman, Ironman, etc. did move.
RB: I thought this was interesting too. I didn’t expect Goosebumps or Redwall to be that high up there — and again, that may be a reflection of what librarians are buying rather than what is automatically popular with kids. Kids may just be taking out anything that’s on the shelf more or less equally, but because more libaries are buying Goosebumps or Redwall, they’re accumulating more circs.
3. Marvel Age/Adventures, the paperback series from Marvel aimed at kids, are popular like whoa.
RB: I’m not surprised at all, really, but I wonder if Marvel actually knows this. As Eva and I were running around San Francisco and visiting James Sime’s store Isotope, Eva made off with great stacks of older Marvel Age/Adventures titles from his store, and if I recall a lot of them have gone out of print. Bad Marvel. Learn the ways of libraries and bookstores, and keep these puppies in print! And also, bind them better! (Although I suppose that goes without saying). This also, to me, says that there’s a real thirst for superhero titles that are age appropriate, not just the mysterious all ages designation given to so many Marvel titles. Kids (and parents) want superheroes that are actually aimed at kids, not just vaguely appropriate for them.
EK: In my experience, these aren’t that popular, but that’s because of my demographic. If I were in an elementary school, this would be great! I do love them.
We can’t keep saying this enough. The notion is that comics are for kids… and not all comics are for kids. But with a vast number of titles out there, it’s really hard to make the selection necessary. I doubt I’ll have more than $1,000 or $2,000 to spend on GNs this year…. that’s not a lot of money. (Especially since I have to replace half the volumes of Naruto) and how do I narrow down the choices and balance between popularity, age appropriateness, and quality – oh and curriculum connections?
EV: Ha! I also remember that James wasn’t terribly thrilled that I was buying his entire stack of Marvel Adventures, Teen Titans Go!, and Justice League digests. Because most of them are out of print and we both acknowleged how popular they are. But while he could only sell them once, I can sell them over and over, brining in new readers every day (or every three weeks, anyway), who may just drag their moms to the bookstore to buy more copies of their favorite series. Or they would buy more copies of their favorite series if they’d stay in print.
4. Bone and Babymouse are also incredibly popular, again something I’m not really surprised about.
RB: I do think it’s interesting that Babymouse is so popular in the library and yet, when I’ve talked to many a comics folk, they haven’t really heard of it. When I served as an Eisner judge, and we were discussing titles for kids, none of the other judges had ever seen it or heard of it. This illustrated to me the gap between what comics folks see for kids and what book industry folks see for kids — I don’t think it’s willful blindness, but I do think it means there’s a pretty substantial lack of information going both ways. EV: I had the same experience on the Eisner committee. Only one other judge had heard of Babymouse and the two of us spend quite a bit of time explaining that, when it comes to comics, the Diamond bestseller list isn’t the only list to be looking at anymore. It had just never occurred to them to look anywhere else for comics information. Robin’s right, though. I also don’t think it’s willful blindness. It’s more of a learning curve thing. There are plenty of librarians who would never think to look on a bestseller list for comics info, let alone consider Diamond as a source.
EK: Bone. *sniff* my hardcovers are falling apart one by one. Even the ones with low circ. And it is interesting that comic fans haven’t heard of Babymouse. She is the best!
SR:Most of the titles on the kids list hit that more recreational read category (self contained superhero stories [not continuity-based] and media-related, whether book or tv/cartoon) and not the literary-type or longer story graphic novels. I think the introduction of graphic novels to these next couple of generations is going to be similar to the development of comics starting in the 1950’s. Comics were a form of escapist, purely recreational entertainment that was disposable but fans read TONS of it. So kids these days are coming into their library wanting to read comics…and they’re going to seek out and grab the first title they recognize so of course they’re going to go for the Spider-Man material or Batman because of The Dark Knight movie or Artemis Fowl because they’re fans of the book. Eventually this material is going to run dry and hopefully lead readers to something more sophisticated or meatier. Problem is there’s very little of this kind of material being published right now with probably the exception of Bone – and Bone had an inherent audience of fans from the past decade who passed it on to kids to read. There just isn’t a critical mass yet for this kind of (I hate to use this word but), more literary work.
5. The Stone Arch and Graphic Universe books undoubtedly circulate.
RB: Partly I think that’s because this is what libraries, especially Children’s librarians, have had aggressively marketed to them as safe for children, and they definitely fill a niche. Are they great in terms of writing and artistry? Not particularly. Do they appeal to their audience? You bet. I see that as an opportunity for more, better books like these. Please, somebody, make great nonfiction GNs for kids!
EK: I’m afraid to open my mouth on these and say something that isn’t PC. I have a handful in my library. Only gifts – what I’ve reviewed or free from shows. I just can’t spend that kind of money on materials that won’t circulate. And they don’t! I keep them with my GNs and they’re not touched. On occasion they do go out if a student has a report…. and I love that I have some titles available for struggling students. But they’re just not good enough and way too pricey. And it’s interesting that they’re going out in Robin’s system. They surely don’t go out by me (or from my understanding in my colleagues libraries.)
RB: They’re just so disappointing to me — art-wise, dialog-wise. Have you guys seen No Girls Allowed from Kids Can Press? That’s what I actually want to see — it was snappy, with fun art, and it taught you a bit of history, enough to inspire you to go out and find out more about these ladies. So again, I think this actually shows what Children’s librarians are buying, at least in my network, rather than what would, in an ideal world, be circulating.
EK: It would be interesting to see similar lists in other large systems. Not all can run the report though. But New York Public Library, Boston Public Library, or other large urban and suburban systems…. What goes out by them. It’ll show us what they’re ordering and also what’s popular in those areas. How do comic reading habits differ in different demographics?
SW: I’m talking with the collection development staff here to see if I can get a similar list of titles compiled. (I know we can, but it’s not something I usually do, so I want to make sure I’m doing it the easy way, not the hard way!) Our system is 24 branches, so a little smaller than Robin’s, and we don’t own some of the titles that her system does (like my beloved Wallflower, *sniff*). I think that will make an interesting comparison.
1. Totally Spies by Various Creators
2. Palette of 12 Secret Colors by Nari Kusakawa
3. Scooby Doo by Various Creators
4. Time Guardian by Tamao Ichinose and Daimuro Kishi
5. Ultra Maniac by Wataru Yoshizumi
6. Nancy Drew, Girl Detective by Stefan Petrucha
7. Beet the Vandel Buster by Koji Inada
8. Lost Warrior created by Erin Hunter, written by Dan Jolley
I was really happy with the results. While I expected the media tie-ins to do well, I was pleasantly surprised to see the kid-lit books and the non-fiction holding their own alongside Teen Titans and the manga. I really don’t think Oprah’s list has had much to do with Robot Dream‘s popularity (it’s an online list and hasn’t gotten much attention, at least not around here). I also think Bone and the Marvel Adventures books would have made an appearance on my list if I hadn’t been constantly having to pull the books and send them to our mending department. Honestly, those books shed pages like they have mange.
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About Robin Brenner
Robin Brenner is Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Massachusetts. When not tackling programs and reading advice at work, she writes features and reviews for publications including VOYA, Early Word, Library Journal, and Knowledge Quest. She has served on various awards committees, from the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards to the Boston Globe Horn Book Awards. She is the editor-in-chief of the graphic novel review website No Flying No Tights.
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