By December 17, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

A Comical Idea?

Many readers are becoming accustomed to the plausibility of graphic novels for book groups. The writers and artists who create them have proven that the form can be adapted to any genre, any subject matter, not just superheroes and big-eyed manga critters (not that there’s anything wrong with that.) At least two of the most outstanding titles for book groups published in 2009 were graphic: Stitches: A Memoir by David Small and Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli.complete-peanuts

But little has been said about a graphic form with an even longer tradition, the comic strip. A discussion of comic strips is timely in at least three ways: First, in this time-starved season of the year, even the busiest reader can breeze through a few panels. Second, factors like the demise of many newspapers, disbursement of comics across the web, and the trend toward one panel strips in which it’s hard to develop characters or tell stories have changed comics. We may have seen the last of the great strips with a huge mass audience. That decline is certainly worthy of discussion. Third, the last few years have seen many of the greatest strips re-issued in wonderful complete editions. Now’s the time for a comic strip book group meeting!

bloom-countyThe publishing event that provokes this post is the publication of Berkeley Breathed’s The Bloom County Library, Volume One 1980-1982. This strip has been away for long enough that returning to it is a special joy. The adventures of Milo, Steve, Opus, Bill the Cat (Ack! Thpt!) and the rest were the comic highlight for me during the 80s, and this volume is particularly fun because the strip evolved quickly in its early years. Touching on politics, pop culture, but most often just the bizarre varieties of human (and talking animal) interaction, it’s a marvelous achievement.

If Bloom isn’t your thing, grab a volume of Charles Schulz’s Complete Peanuts, now up to 1973-1974 and still going strong. I’ve written before about my love and affinity for these melancholy children and their ongoing search for a bit of decency in the world. Or how about Bill Watterson’s Complete Calvin and Hobbes? Or Gary Larsen’s Complete Far Side? calvin-and-hobbes

If you focus on one strip, ask readers to bring photocopies of the strips they think were the very best. Take comic strips as a theme and have readers list their five favorites of all time. No matter how you approach this subject, bring the books to pass around. Half the fun of this meeting will be pawing through them, sharing new discoveries and old favorites. Make sure you spend time talking about the art and lettering. As funny as the gags are, visual style is a critical to the meaning and impact of a strip. If you don’t believe me, try copying the “simple” lines of Peanuts or putting a different font in the bubbles over the gang’s heads.

Put the heavy literary fiction aside for a month: Comics are a nostalgic topic guaranteed to create a fantastic meeting that evokes many pleasurable memories.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

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