Superheroes and real-life heroes haunt the library

Book cover - Graphic novel - Page by Paige - by Gulledge.Over the summer, many bright and shiny books will be smuggled onto the shelves by busy librarians and also flash the message from the catalogue: ‘Graphic novel’.  There will be far more than the Newsam Library ever held in its ‘Curriculum Resources Collection’, which in fact includes all kinds of children’s and young people’s books.

‘Which corner?’ you may ask – I can see some of you already on their way here while they are reading this on their smartphones!

Well, some of them stand in a rack at the far end of the library, but generally, we put the graphic novels in different corners because they are of varying nature: a visual re-imagination of a novel or tale; a presentation on the borderline of historical research and fiction; a brand-new story based on a recent event…

Do not be surprised at the categories ‘graphic novels’, ‘comic books’ or even ‘comic strips’ – in fact, look out for all these: partly, these terms are due to international conventions, partly, it is sometimes difficult to put these works of art and learning into categories.

Screenshot - Catalogue search - Graphic novels.

An illustrated version of a literary work will be right next to it. L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Green Gables awaits you at MON (for the author’s name) in the ‘Fiction’ department as the original text of 1908, as an abridged audio-book on CD’s, and in a ‘comic book’ adaptation of our days with very little text indeed. Philip Pullman’s Northern lights lives at PUL as the novel of 400 pages (1995) and as a slim (but at least as scary) graphic novel of 77 pages, and at ATW, Margaret Atwood’s The handmaid’s tale (1985) unsettles you more than ever.

Book cover - Graphic novel - Northern lights - by Melchior and Oubrerie.We also offer yoBook cover - Graphic novel - Anne of Green Gables - by Marsden.u plenty of new titles, from volumes of over 500 pages to slender comic books with no words at all. In Mera tidebreaker, a princess finds her superpowers in a realm beneath the sea. She wants to be ‘more than a dress’; indeed, if she wants to free her country from the oppressors in Atlantis, she must fight and kill…

In Page by Paige, another teenage girl develops her artistic powers – those of the drawing pencil, which we can watch under our noses, when situations and emotions are visualised in the strangest manner. In this preview, you can watch the protagonist wringing her own neck and hair till ink pours out as if she were a quill. Just look at the cover above, where the long red hair — which so many literary heroines share — weaves itself into a script…

Book cover - Graphic novel - Northern lights - by Durr and Horneman.In a previous blogpost, I drew your attention to literature about contemporary refugees, including graphic novels; we have just added a new one in Zenobia, but be warned: it is bleak. There is a historical reference in the warrior queen of antiquity, whose memory gives a girl courage for the journey into an uncertain future.

The Iliad and the Odysee, in their various incarnations, even for young children, live in the ‘Folktales’ at 398.238, surrounded by superheroes Hercules and Theseus, mighty monsters Hydra and Minotaur, heroines Persephone and Antigone, and a flock of animals conjured up by Aesop.

Book cover - Graphic novels - Iliad by Hinds.For our new editions, bring extra bags (since they are as heavy as weighty) or extra time: the words may be abridged from Homer’s epic but are not always simplified, and the actions and details in the pictures demand your attention just as a verse or prose translation might. While Gareth Hinds presents elegant poetic speech in his Iliad (“They prayed to the gray-eyed goddess, but their efforts were in vain, for Athena’s heart was set on the destruction of Troy”), Russell Punter opts for comic-style brief words and phrases in his Odyssey (“I pray to Athena that the people here welcome me”).

Shakespeare’s immortal cast dwells at 822.33 in the ‘Non Fiction’ section, where works about literature support the works of literature next to them. Various annotated versions of a play and relevant teaching materials sit side by side, and if we have retellings or illustrated stories, that is where we put them also for you.

The heroes of biographies in ‘comic book’ form also find their home on the Non Fiction shelves within their field of achievement. The faithful spy about Dietrich Bonhoeffer lurks at 943.086 with the other supporters and adversaries of Hitler. This true story of a pastor who wrestles with himself to turn into an assassin has whole pages of text and straddles the border of fiction and non-fiction.

Book cover - Graphic novels - Bonhoeffer by Hendrix.

The time traveller, a similarly conceived but briefer biography of Robert Paul, the London pioneer of cinema, haunts 791.43. Thereabouts, you can also find our new Illustrated history of filmmaking, covering the technology as well as the art of cinema from its ‘Prehistory’ to ‘The Future’. Adam Allsuch Boardman has put up some pages of his work, which itself borrows the style of graphic novels, on his website.

Book cover - Filmmaking - by Boardman.


You have not heard of Robert W. Paul? I had not either until the fabulous local museum at Bruce Castle put up yet another free exhibition on London history. This instrument maker morphed into a major inventor and director for a while, then abandoning cinema for new exploits. In order to realise his visions, he built a film studio at the back of the Muswell Hill, then still countryside above London.


Book cover - Graphic novel - Robert Paul - by Christie and Ilya.Robert Paul propelled the emerging medium of film forward with an incredible number of technical inventions and artistic innovations. First drama scene; first news report; first hand-coloured film; first subtitle in the scene… I think you could call some of his ideas the first special effects!

In the lovely show at Bruce Castle Museum, you can watch many of Robert Paul’s miniature films and extracts from longer ones, from slapstick to adaptations of literature, from newsreels to historical re-enactions. I hope whenever I look up the graphic novel by Ian Christie and Ilya on our catalogue, I shall find it borrowed by an avid reader. The Newsam Library seems to be the first one in the country to have this gem of graphic art.

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