YALSA’s 2015 Young Adult Services Symposium included a pre-conference session on using graphic novels to inspire programming, recommended titles, a discussion with comics creators Terry Blas, Faith Erin Hicks, Mariko Tamaki, Gene Luen Yang, Leila del Duca, Joe Keatinge, and a discussion with teachers who use graphic novels in classroom instruction.
Robin Brennar, Teen Librarian and runs No Flying No Tights website, was our moderator.
First, librarians Cara and Emily talked about graphic novel readers advisory and using graphic novels in teen programming:
Who is your Batman?
Comic books always change. Your Batman may be different from your teens’ Batman. Lego Batman may be the Batman that resonates most with your teens! Keep this in mind when you do readers advisory and programming, your ideas and tastes may not match theirs.
So, how do you keep up?
- Goodreads, use graphic novel tags to search and find reviews you trust
- Comixology, for upcoming releases
- No Flying No Tights
- Trade Reading Order, good for figuring out series especially when there are rereleases. It’s also best for older/past comic reading order, because it hasn’t been updated recently.
- Wikipedia, excellent resource for reading order (includes issues and ISBN).
- YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens, selections range from young to older teen readers.
- GN4LIB listserv, it’s library centric but doesn’t get used a lot. It is still helpful because questions get answers from librarians.
- VOYA has articles that are graphic novel specific and does have reviews for graphic novels.
The Readers Advisory Interview
Ask teens, “what do you like to watch on TV, or movies, or what do you like to read?” And then go from there.
Remember that not everyone is into superhero comics. Comics in other genres are popular now, for example:
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen, and Shannon Watters
Teen Boat by Dave Roman and John Green
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard
Graphic Novels and Teen Programming
Comic Book Craft Club–get creative!
- Button making with superhero symbols, or they can draw their own superhero symbols.
- Draw your own comics: use online templates, then create an origin story.
- Be sure to give comic books at the end of every program (can find them at or get them donated from local comics store).
- Use comics/graphic novels that are going to be weeded or donated comics for your crafting too.
- Network: your colleagues are your best resources when it comes to programming ideas, team up with your local comic book store too!
Comic/Graphic Novel Book Clubs
- They see more success with their adult comic book club. But their most popular comic book club with teens was the with The New 52 comics.
- Create a display and put a program flyer for the book club in the book.
- Try reading one volume a month; this doesn’t overwhelm readers.
- Examine the art of the book, tie in media trends (i.e. Batman)
- Everyone can read a graphic novel, high level readers and low level readers can be in the same place
- Graphic novels can bring generations together
Now what? Where to find and share ideas
Tumblr, checkout their Tumblr sidekickswanted.tumblr.com
Pinterest, look for crafts that you can substitute comics in or adapt
Manga site: Myanimelist.net
Scholastic Graphic Novel Guide
Comic Legal Defense Fund
Teaching Visual Literacy by Nancy Frey and Douglas B. Fisher
Diamond Bookshelf Newsletters
Comics Creator Panel
Question: When did you first find your comic community?
Faith Erin Hicks: When she started publishing and working online– that is where she found her community, especially with young female readers.
Mariko Tamaki: She’s from Toronto and there is a great community there. Now she lives in California and there is also a great community there, including comic librarian nerds!
Gene Yang: He started collecting comics in fifth grade and his friends who shared this interest with him were his first community.
Terry Blas: He also collected comics as a kid, and he found a great community and got connected to a studio when he was in art school.
Leila del Duca: She started to find he community in college but then when she moved to Portland she really found a strong comic community.
Question: How do you feel about the online aspect to comics and graphic novels, and that connection to readers?
Hicks: It’s a way to promote work and get your name out there, but it can be invasive. She feels like people may want things that she can’t provide. However, she wouldn’t have this career if not for the Internet. She would not have succeeded with her early work had it not been for being able to publish online. Protect yourself, but the Internet is a positive thing for reaching readers, especially teen readers.
Tamaki: Feels torn. Online there is a plethora of opinions that rise above the perceived consensus. Important conversations need to happen (i.e. about stereotypes), but she’s not always comfortable participating in those conversations as a writer.
Yang: Agrees with Mariko Tamaki. It is a forum for important discussions, but as a creator you need really intelligent critical feedback to help you with your work. The Internet is not the place for that. It is not a healthy place to go. You need to find balance. We need the forum for important discussions, but you have to protect yourself and focus on the healthy creative criticisms of your work.
Blas: His original work, Briar Hollow, got average views online but when he published his comic of being an ex gay Mormon Latino man he got a lot of feedback and it wasn’t always useful. The Internet is not going to go away, but comics are strongly tied to identity and the Internet is a great place to find inspiring works.
Del Duca: lots of your readers are not the ones commenting online, so don’t pay attention to nay-sayers.
Question: What would you like to see that hasn’t been done in graphic novels, or what is happening that you are excited about now?
Del Duca: Wants to see non-white people autobiographical comics.
Blas: Some great stories are being made by independent authors and distributors. We nend to support these people. Read more stories by independents!
Yang: We want stories that reflect our current world. Cultural and even genre diversity are needed. He wants to see the nonfiction comics genre grow. American comics have not tackled nonfiction in a meaningful way.
Tamaki: Suspense comics would be interesting, or a fat superhero. She tries to challenge herself and how can she change with creating new work. Having a personal conversation with yourself about what you want to be doing is always important.
Hicks: We are in an exciting time, because comics are branching out. Women are still treated as minorities in the comic community, though. More genre diversity is needed. YA graphic novels need to blossom just as YA prose has blossomed. We also need stories where the diversity isn’t the point, the characters are just there. We need more people and different types of people making comics.
Question: What us the impact that libraries may have had on you as a creator, or connecting you to readers?
Del Duca: She was only able to keep reading comics was because of libraries. She didn’t know shops existed and was too poor to buy them.
Blas: He grew up near a library and it exposed him to a lot of different stuff. There was a small comic collection and he devoured it.
Yang: Nowadays the library is what he dreamed of as a fifth grader. Sometimes there are more graphic novels are at the local library than at a comics store. His entire career as comic artist was from librarian support.
Tamaki: Her first graphic novel was Skim, and that year she went to the ALA conference and met with librarians. At that time the feedback was her book was great but “we don’t read graphic novels”. They were not completely sold. It has been an amazing journey to flash forward to This One Summer and it’s great reception: the Printz and the Caldecott. There is incredible support for graphic novels now and librarians are ready to fight for graphic novels. The Comic Legal Defense fund even published a document on how to teach This One Summer.
Hicks: She grew up without TV, and the library was her form of entertainment. She grew up reading Tintin and Asterix, but access to comics was limited in her twenties. It wasn’t until she moved to a new town that she had access to a library with a great collection of comics. She could not have afforded the exposure to that many comics otherwise.
Question: Why do you want to write for teens?
Hicks: High school is a pretty charged setting and you can get away with a lot. She enjoys the ideas of teens getting caught up in something larger than themselves. Adult comics can be grim, and she tends to not to be a dark person.
Tamaki: She didn’t realize that her first work was for young adults; she was not thinking about the teenage market. She focuses on the character and just writes. A lot of her work is about adults from a teenager perspective. She doesn’t try to focus on writing for teens.
Yang: He also doesn’t think of himself as YA author. He didn’t realize that age demographics was a thing, but now that he’s been in YA he feels he fits there.
Blas: He also has not thought about it a lot. He writes and draws what he wants to read and it fits in the YA market. He feels YA has more imagination, adventure, and fun than adult stuff. YA stuff is geared to finding identity, and lots of people can relate to it.
Del Duca: Shutter is not really YA, it may be all ages but it may not be. But she is aware how language and violence can really define a graphic novel.
Tamaki: Our population is a younger one, so the notion of trying to find out who you are is resonating more.
Question: Should non diverse creators create works about diverse characters?
Tamaki: You choose what you write and it has to make sense to you. Certain stories need to be told by that community. Be aware of what your story means in the context of what has and has not been told. She feels a responsibility to represent something accurately. Try to keep the conversation going of what your story means.
Yang: As a writer it’s hard to put words to page so there is a hesitance to put limitations on what a writer can write. But you need to have that hesitancy to write outside of your experience and let that hesitancy drive your research so that you can write it with humility and respect.
Del Duca: She is currently working on a comic with black characters and it is hard, they have hired a black editor and it has helped with the process.
Hicks: She approaches what she didn’t know about with humility and she needed to do the research.
Blas: Avatar is a good example of when this is done well, it was researched and they hired people to help accurately capture this story.
Using Graphic Novels in the Classroom
Finally we heard about teaching American Born Chinese (2007 Printz Award, 2013 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2007 Top Ten Best Books For Your Adults, 2007 Top Ten Graphic Novels for Young Adults) a panel discussion with Gene Yang and students who took part in the curriculum.
American Born Chinese is becoming a core text for the school and it has been a huge part of getting diversity into their curriculum. It also helped by introducing open conversations of race and identity to students.
How to talk about race with today’s teens:
- Confront points of tension.
- The very form of comics is the most useful aspect of using comics to talk about race.
- There is a language you use when you talk about comics, and it gives students a frame work to talk about the issues in the book without directly talking about the issues.
- Students will naturally bring up topics of race.
- American Born Chinese also addresses how the media perpetuates stereotypes.
Questions to the teen panel about reading American Born Chinese:
What were the tense moments reading American Born Chinese?
- You laugh about some of the stereotypes because they don’t apply to you, and they are so exaggerated, but when one teen read the Timmy character it did apply to him and he questioned that this is what the young American white boy stereotype is?
- It makes you reflect on how you interact with others, especially when reading the sections between Greg and Jin.
- Some classmates’ reactions were really surprising, especially when they blamed Jin’s unhappiness on trying to fit in and trying so hard to be American, instead of understanding the rejection Jin felt as not being considered an American and not being accepted. Jin was born in California, he was American.
Question to Gene Yang: What issues come up most when you talk to those who teach American Born Chinese; what are some tensions that come up?
Yang: Does talking about stereotypes actually perpetuate them? Just by bringing them up, are you worsening the problem? Yes, but you are also trading for the opportunity to defame and behead that stereotype.
Return to the teen panel: How does reading American Born Chinese increase your awareness of stereotypes
It has brought more awareness, even the smallest things and how they can impact people so much, even if there is no ulterior motive behind it.
Question to Gene Yang: How do you see the responses/trends to American Born Chinese?
Yang: Micro Aggressions was not a common term until recently, and there is finally a term to describe what happened to him when he was growing up. It’s amazing that these discussions are now happening, especially in the classroom. Conversations about American Born Chinese are always different because the future is here but it is unevenly distributed.
Question for the teen panel: What would you say to educators considering this book for teaching to their students?
- Be mindful of the minority view of the classroom. Be aware that is your classroom is predominantly white, so that view may be the consensus and the peer pressure could make minority students feel their views aren’t valid. The educator should remember to address the minority view and challenge the predominant view.
- Address controversial characters early on or very directly.
- Do your research and get the background information about the subject at hand.
Question for Gene Yang: What age level do you find most appropriate for American Born Chinese?
Yang: It’s young adult, ages 13-35 is the target audience. If it’s read in middle school settings, he hopes it’s read with a moderator.
Question for the teens: What ages do you think should read American Born Chinese?
Upper middle school to high school. Sophomore year is the perfect year to read this, but sooner is better because American Born Chinese can change your school’s view of racism.
Question for the teens: Did this lesson change how your classmates interacted and dealt with each other?
People are more comfortable with talking about racism, but they’re not sure if actions have changed, there is more awareness though. They realize what is wrong with what they have said and done in the past, and they’ve change their views of “funny” things.
To close, email Megan and she will share education resources for those interested in teaching American Born Chinese.
Robin Brenner has slides posted on the No Flying, No Tights website.
— Colleen Seisser, currently reading The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason