Malcolm X stands in a darkened hotel room, assault rifle in hand as he peers through the curtain. The moment is tense as you learn that his enemies, black men who were once his friends, now want him dead. The suspense of the moment is designed to hook the reader on page one, and it does. The drawing style and floating text boxes make it look like a comic book, but this graphic novel by author Andrew Helfer and artist Randy DuBurke is so much more.
You can find Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography and over 250 more graphic novels in the Henry Madden Library’s new Graphic Novel Collection.
“Comics and media have a possibility of mirroring our society and seeing where we are, where we’ve been, where we might head towards,” said Michelle Pratt, a staff member in the collection department. While covering a wide range of topics, the new collection focuses more specifically on social justice issues.
“We definitely wanted to see if we could engage our students and see if this is a format that might interest them and bring them into the library,” said Librarian Kimberley Smith, “By focusing on social justice, that covers a lot of different departments on campus.”
Professor Jenny Banh is already utilizing graphic novels in her Anthropology of Southeast Asia class, a resource that she says students are responding to positively.
“They love it! They talk about how the graphics really push them to look deeply into themselves and other Fresno State students,” said Banh, “I think it is a wonderful pedagogical tool, and I think Fresno State is ahead of the game. Other libraries should follow Fresno State’s lead in having graphic novels.”
The new collection has the potential to be used in every department on campus, including those related to math or science. For instance, novels related to cancer or depression can help future nurses and doctors relate better to their patients.
“Doctors may need to build that empathy and try to get the patient’s perspective of what they are going through,” said Pratt.
“Besides empathy for the practitioners, they may be helpful for the patients as well,” added Smith, “There might be resources in the future that are available for patients who want to know that they are not alone and what it feels like when other people have similar experiences or questions. It has a lot of possibilities.”
Other examples of new books in the collection include The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks by Igort, which transports readers into life under Russian foreign rule, and the Akira series from Kodansha Comics, which like its Japanese language original, reads backwards from right to left.
Pratt was inspired to suggest the new collection based on her own passion for graphic novels and comic book culture. After attending San Diego Comic Con, she realized the potential that graphic novels had for academic libraries.
“I thought, why can’t we do that? Because diversity is part of our Fresno State values and social justice is a big part of libraries now,” said Pratt.
Her research on the topic led Pratt to become a presenter herself at last year’s San Diego Comic Con, along with a panel of other Fresno State representatives who spoke on the topic of cultivating a comic book culture in academic librarianship.
Today, Fresno State staff and faculty are leading the way as libraries nationwide explore the benefits of this medium. For the first time in five years, the American Library Association has created a new Graphic Novel and Comics Round Table. Smith, who sits on the new round table, says there is a lot of interest in growing these collections.
“I see a lot of conversation about academic libraries asking, ‘How do we start? How do we get into this?’ So, it does seem to be something that is building in academic libraries,” said Smith.
With the new collection just beginning at Fresno State, the library will evaluate which novels are most popular on campus as they look to add even more books.
“We are excited to see who uses it and what kind of things we determine from the collection itself,” said Smith, “Whether we hit the right marks subject-wise, it’s got a lot of interesting potential.”