If you haven’t already signed up for Omaha Public Library’s 2019 Reading Challenge, it’s not too late to start!

The challenge presents a recommended theme each month, such as “read an author’s debut novel” or “read a book by a Nebraska author.” July’s challenge is to read a comic book or graphic novel. For me, this challenge was easy to achieve. Truthfully, I’ve met this challenge several times over this year because comics are fun and interesting. If you haven’t picked one up in a while, get to the library to check one out!

The great cartoonist Art Spiegelman once said, “Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.” I’ve witnessed the truth in that statement so many times over the years. As a librarian, I’ve used comics to help lure reluctant readers into a great story. Comics help provide a powerful starting point for new or struggling readers, or for kids who are still developing their reading skills. As a mom, I’ve shared my favorite comics with my kids; partly to demonstrate that there’s no shame in reading comics, and also to show them how some of their most beloved stories are living on in other formats. As an avid reader myself, I enjoy reading in all its many forms and formats.

The comic book industry has long struggled to overcome an undeserved bad reputation perpetuated by the book “Seduction of the Innocent: The Influence of Comic Books on Today’s Youth,” by psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham. Published in 1954, this popular book berated comic books as a cause for “juvenile delinquency,” and the author even said, “I think Hitler was a beginner compared to the comic-book industry!” Wertham’s research has since been refuted, and comic books are now recognized as a literary format that is both entertaining and accessible.

In anticipation of writing this article, I did plenty of research and read some wonderful and varied books. If you think comic books or graphic novels are superheroes all the time, you aren’t alone, but there’s so much more! If you’re a fan of biographies and memoirs, you might enjoy “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” by Alison Bechdel. This darkly funny, coming-of-age memoir was a hit as part of Omaha Community Playhouse’s 2018 season, and a great graphic novel, too. “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale,” by Spiegelman, is a deeply moving two-volume graphic novel about the experience of the author’s father during the Holocaust. This was the first graphic novel to receive a Pulitzer Prize, and is considered a classic in the genre.

Many classic novels and popular works are finding their way into graphic novel formats. One of my favorite books, “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle, has been reimagined as a graphic novel by Hope Larson, and it’s a beautiful tribute to the original. Other classics like Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (graphic novel by Davis Worth Miller and Katherine McLean Brevard), “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham), and L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” (adapted by Michael Cavallaro) have been made into powerful visual works through the format.

More recent popular works of fiction have also been reintroduced as graphic novels. If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series, I highly recommend the graphic novel version.

All of the titles I’ve mentioned are available at Omaha Public Library, and if you need help finding the right comic or graphic novel for you, OPL’s staff can help. Visit one of OPL’s 12 area locations or omahalibrary.org today to get started.

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