Artists to get graphic

Posted: Monday, January 21, 2008

A few decades ago comic books were synonymous with monsters, mutants and superheroes. Boys stuffed their backpacks with them, teachers frequently confiscated them along with gum, paper airplanes and other items usually deemed frivolous. Until recently the comic book and the graphic novel was never considered comparable to the likes of Dickens, Shakespeare or Tolstoy, but that's changing.

"The graphic novel itself has gained respectability partly because of the advance in our technology," said Mary Starrs Armstrong, who earned a Ph.D. in language and literature. "When you're reading words you have to create images in your brain, when you're reading pictures with a few words, you have to look with a different lens."

As part of a way to get young adults and high school students involved in the Kenai Public Library, Armstrong held a discussion group in which each person who attended was allowed to share why they read graphic novels and what they liked and disliked. The kids showed up at these discussions with their backpacks full of manga and other graphic novels, were given pens and colored pencils to write or draw with before each discussion session and showed Armstrong and others at the library that there's more to the graphic novel than Superman and the Green Lantern.

"The graphic novel can run the gamut of all the different genres," Chris Jenness said. "Fantasy and science fiction was where you saw it before. (Now there's) regular drama and historic fiction."

Jenness, whose attraction to the Coca-Cola logo sparked a career in graphic design, will use the library's newly purchased Adobe software to not only show kids how to put their characters on the computer, but allow them to dress up their doodles into something that's considered art. He'll show the kids a few tricks other artists employ to make their work look as professional as possible including how to master Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign.

The workshop takes place from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and is currently full, but there is a waiting list and a good potential for future workshops. Julie Niederhauser, assistant library director, said the software also is available for the public to use outside of the workshop.

"We've had a really good response," she said. "We have a large young adult population. We felt (library) programming was either for adults, for seniors or for little kids, but nothing for these high school-aged young adults. The whole motivation was to find out what they were interested in and how the library could incorporate programming that really incorporated their interest."

Niederhauser said the library possessed a scant number of graphic novels prior to Armstrong's discussion. The library was not only able to purchase enough high-quality graphic novels to fill their bookshelves, it was able to purchase the Adobe software as well.

"It's amazing," she said. "Not only are the targeted audience reading graphic novels, a lot of adults are now checking them out. It's really great to see this collection utilized."

Armstrong considers the graphic novel to be a developing genre that's grown in terms of popularity and notoriety, but Jenness said he thinks comic books have reached their peak. Most of the more popular graphic novels have been made into movies and studios are now starting on what Jenness calls the second tier of comic book characters.

Where comic books were considered primarily for boys, more girls attended Armstrong's discussion bringing their manga collections with them. Armstrong said many of the students would get so absorbed in the story that the novel would be over before they knew it. They would go back to the beginning and start the novel over. Students also swap novels.

"They swap their books and talk about the characters just like any book club would do," Armstrong said. "One of the girls said I would never do drugs because I spend all my money on manga."

Students who are interested in getting on the workshop's waiting list have to sign up at the library in person. And even though the workshop is full, Niederhauser said the software is available for the public to use by appointment for up to an hour each day. For more information, call the library at 283-4378.

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at

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