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Volume 9 Issue 4 Spring 2009(2)

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Collecting Graphic Novels and Comic Books

by Claire Clemens and Jody Condit Fagan

Edgar Allen Poe, feudal Japan, fairy tales, Buddha, holocaust survivors, and spandex superheroes: all these characters and more can be found in JMU Libraries’ new comic books and graphic novels collections

Batgirl ComicIn Fall 2008, JMU Libraries began to purchase a selection of mainstream comic books and graphic novels, starting with about 170 graphic novel titles, and 225 comic books.  About 140 new items will be added to the comics collection in Spring 2009.

The genre can be serious or it can be funny; it has both literary titles and popular reading.  Comic books and characters have become part of mainstream popular culture and could easily be used as primary sources for research into gender, sociology, literature, and more.  According to a survey by the U.S. Market for Tweens and Young Teens, 2005, almost half of children--both boys and girls--aged 8-11 read comic books.

The difference between “graphic novels” and “comic books” is not clear, but graphic novels are usually published as book-length compilations, while comic books come out in serial format. Some confusion arises because many comic books are eventually republished as “graphic novels,” as they are termed by their publishers.  The following sections list the original selection criteria for these formats at JMU, with recommended titles in each area.  The comic books are shelved in Carrier Library’s Browsing Collection; most of the graphic novels are located in the ETMC.  All can be found in JMU Library Catalog, are available for checkout, and can be requested with the delivery service.

Graphic novels: The graphic novel collection was intended for all ages,101 Best Graphic Novels Cover Kindergarten through Adult readers.  Claire Clemens, the Education Librarian, based her selection on award and best book lists. She used the guide “The 101 Best Graphic Novels “ by Stephen Weiner, published in 2005, to get a range of books that had been published previously; she also used more current lists, such as one from the Young Adult Library Services Association for newer titles. Equal amounts of books were targeted for each of the four age categories (see below). 

To enhance the collections, the library purchased (and continues to purchase) books about the genre -- creating them, selecting them, using them in education, and books about the authors.

Here is a sample of these books, which demonstrate the multidisciplinary nature of the collections, as well as to the diversity they represent:

Graphic Novels--What to Read

Elementary (Grades K-5)

Middle School (Grades 6-8)

High School (Grades 9-12)


Comic books:  JMU's mainstream comic books collection features core titles from DC and Marvel, with some independent titles. Examples include Spider-Man, Iron Man, Superman, and the X-Men, Usagi Yojimbo, and Sandman.  It also includes some graphic novels such as Watchmen and Batman, the Dark Knight returns.

Some criteria for selection were:

Circulation statistics for comic book titles were tracked during the first semester to evaluate the usefulness of this collection to the JMU community and general library funds are being used to purchase additional titles.  As of January, 2009, 72 percent of the original collection has circulated at least once since they were added in the Summer of 2008. Thirty-six percent have circulated at least twice, and 19% have circulated at least three times.

Comic Books--What to read:  With the exception of Fruits Basket, all the titles below were written for adults:

Helpful links:


Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2007 (Simba Information: 2007). Downloaded 11/27/2007 from Market Research Academic.com, p. 140.


Reba Leiding and Johlene Hess, Editors

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