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What are the limits of "Comics"?

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Jan 20, 2009, 8:25pm Top

Does it make sense to file Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe next to Alan Moore's Top 10: Vol 1? I filed the former as History. Also (bringing in something I brought up under Fiction and poetry), where do illustrated children's books belong? I certainly wouldn't shelve Where the Wild Things Are anywhere near Lost Girls.

Edited: Jan 21, 2009, 12:58am Top

This may be something to be given some thought so as to head off the Dewey problem with these (which has ended up with every piece of graphic literature filed at 741.5): "comics" is a form term, not a subject term. "Comics" can be about anything... Laika is a comic about the space program, so is it better put under "comics" or under "Technology and Engineering"?

I might argue this is a bad top-level heading, much like listing "Photographic Collections" or "Textbooks" as a possible first selection. I guess its the old questions of "of"ness vs. "about"ness, but it appears to me that you have a list of "about"s and include one "of" in it.

I'd contend that if you're doing something like this then you'll eventually want some subcategory of fiction like "superheroics" which would inherit the Spider-Man/Superman types of comics works and thus trap the traditionally "comic" works of graphic literature on shelf together, but not use "comics" as a top-level heading so as to allow works like Gonick's or comics-form about other things (e.g. Maus, American Splendor, Pedro and Me, or The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation) to end up filed with what they're _about_, not what they _are_.

Even on sublevels of fiction I think I'd want the ability to break graphic literature into relevant fields - does Sandman belong closer to Spider-Man or to Charles DeLint's novels?

Edited: Jan 21, 2009, 5:37pm Top

I would agree with the distinction that 'comics' is an 'of'ness in a group of 'about'nesses.

To be more specific along the lines of what Tim's been discussing re: the ability of libraries to break things out at whatever level they feel comfortable:

I think that we need to keep in mind that almost all libraries/bookstores break out by format /regardless/ of the classification scheme. In my library DVDs get call numbers just like books do, and if we wanted, we could intermingle. We don't want, because people go looking for DVDs in the DVD section, not the history section. But we /do/ shelve our DVDs according to the same shelf-scheme that we use to shelve our books. Other libraries shelve DVDs by title and break them out of the shelving scheme entirely. This is easy to do not because 'DVD' is a top level category, but because they've chosen to break them out by format (and even that will vary - is it DVD? DVD and VHS?)

Using this logic, it seems to me that, as comics are a format as surely as DVDs or CDs are, then in this scheme, they should be placed according to their subject matter (Batman goes in fiction and on down, while Understanding Comics would go in with other writing books, or books on symbology, or in some other category we argue over ;) ).

This enables the individual library to choose whether to break comics out because of their /format/ and then within that format shelve by subject (or some other scheme they like better), but also allows libraries to intermingle comics and graphic novels, as some libraries - including mine - do.

Jan 21, 2009, 5:45pm Top

3> You put this very well and I agree completely. I've tried to make this point on several occasions without apparent success - I hope that your explanation has more impact.

Jan 21, 2009, 5:48pm Top

3/4: The same problem applies to Drama, Literary Collections, etc.

Jan 21, 2009, 6:03pm Top

I'm not sure that the same quite applies to literary collections, largely because I'm still not sure what that entails, but you make a good point about Drama - and I suppose to some extent the same could be said about poetry.

I'm not entirely certain what to do with that, I admit.

Jan 21, 2009, 10:00pm Top

What about graphic novels? Maybe this question is answered elsewhere, but those threads are huge.

Jan 21, 2009, 11:07pm Top

my view is that "graphic" is format and the keyword here is novel, so they should go in Fiction. Libraries that want to shelve their graphic novels separately can easily do so, and those that want to interfile with the rest of the fiction can also do that.

Jan 21, 2009, 11:54pm Top

That's a great point. By making Comics and Graphic Novels a separate category it forces all libraries using this system to keep these things separate. If it wasn't a separate category then libraries could still decide to keep it separate but they could also decide to intermingle them. Eliminating the C & GN category would give libraries more choice.

Jan 22, 2009, 11:25am Top

I've been away from these forums for awhile, but I remember when this issue first came up at the beginning. At that time a number of people were pushing for a facet that could be used in the system to denote formats. Has that option been nixed?

Edited: Jan 22, 2009, 5:55pm Top

>10 jmgold: Has that option been nixed?

I don't think so. I think some folks who hadn't been following the group until now aren't aware of the facet idea and so they didn't connect the format issue with what Leana said the main OSC Testing begins... thread:

>For info on formats and audience treatment (DVD, Children's, YA), please see the "How should the optional facet be used?" thread in this forum.

Jan 22, 2009, 6:27pm Top

> 10 facet that could be used in the system to denote formats.

I think this is an excellent idea - and one that gets around the 'age' issue being tossed around in the main thread, too. A facet that could be broken out for format could also be broken out for age group, so that if a library desired to have a YA split, they could. If they did not, they would not be forced to.

Edited: Jan 22, 2009, 6:30pm Top

3> I completely agree with all you have said, it's what I was thinking and was not able to explain. It's the media what I consider important and would find very natural to find DVDs under a DVD section, Comic books under a Comics section and regular books with all the other books.

Regarding the Graphic Novels vs. Comics question, I think that here we find a tricky subject. Some authors, including Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, consider the 'Graphic Novel' term as one created by some publishers to sell more comics or for people who doesn't want to admit that they enjoy comics, check this Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphic_novels#Criticism_of_the_term

Jan 22, 2009, 6:35pm Top

Whatever. Yet comic book just doesn't seem like it fits for books like Maus.

Jan 22, 2009, 6:37pm Top

>12 Aerrin99: Exactly.

Jan 22, 2009, 6:41pm Top

I see the difference between "comics" and "graphic novels" as highly artificial. But then I'm European and comics here have a very different tradition.

Jan 22, 2009, 11:00pm Top

>3 Aerrin99: Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Very well phrased, very logical, and allows maximum flexibility with minimum confusion.

Jan 23, 2009, 2:11am Top

14> Why not? Comic is just the media chosen for telling the story not the content of it, the same story could have been told in a film or TV show and it would be the same story.

Should Fargo and Pulp Fiction be given a name different than movies because of the story told in them?

Maybe this is a discussion like KDE vs Gnome or Emacs vs Vi ones with different and valid points of view.

Jan 23, 2009, 7:36am Top

I too think the comics vs. graphic novel distinction is an arbitrary one, especially since the graphic novel term was entirely a marketing ploy invented by Will Eisner to help get a Contract with God published.

However, is there a worthwhile distinction to be made between these and comic strips?

Jan 23, 2009, 8:34am Top

I would like to see comic and graphic novel combined. As I was classifying random books it was really hard to differentiate between the the two. I see the division of comic book and graphic novel similar to the division of literature and fiction. I strongly believe their is a difference but you need to have read the book to apply the distinction. I would like graphic novel to be a secondary category. Graphic novels seems to ending up in the comic section anyway.

Jan 23, 2009, 8:41am Top

One of the benefits of having comics and/or graphic novels pulled out in a 'format' facet rather than a category is that we can make each library decide which counts as which, and if they want to divide them or smoosh them all together. ;)

Jan 23, 2009, 6:36pm Top

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Jan 23, 2009, 6:46pm Top

Interesting point. Someone on AUTOCAT wrote the following:

"Dewey makes a distinction (in the manual entry for 741.5) between
graphic novels and works in similar forms that are "primarily intended
to delight" and those that are "primarily intended to inform or
persuade". The former are classified at 741.5, and the latter at the
subject number. Dewey makes a similar distinction between fictional
narratives and works using fictional techniques to depict actual
people and events.

Does the LC classification make an equivalent distinction?"

Jan 23, 2009, 8:48pm Top

A very quick look at the LoC site turned up *PN6700-6790 Comic books, strips, etc.*

All graphic novels in my catalog right now are PN67xx - one is nonfiction, the rest are fiction.

Jan 24, 2009, 5:02pm Top

But like #20 pointed out, when I'm classifying works I've never seen, sometimes I can't tell the difference between a comic and a graphic novel, which should go under fiction. And what about manga? Is that a comic? I have no idea. These aren't books I'm familiar with.

Jan 26, 2009, 4:39pm Top

I've been waiting for a point to jump into the OSC discussion and this is as good as any. I am a lifetime comics fan. I am also a public librarian.

There is no difference between the term "graphic novel" and comics. As #19 pointed out, "graphic novel" was invented for marketing purposes. Further, the word "manga" is simply the Japanese word for comics. Manga are comics are graphic novels.

The term graphic novel can mean a book-bound original comics story, such as A Contract With God or Blankets. It can mean a book-bound collection of previously published, serialized comics like X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga. It could also mean a single volume of a continuing manga series, (which in turn is made up of material originally published in a weekly omnibus magazine) like Death Note vol. 6. Really, the term graphic novel means too many things to mean any one specific thing.

Despite the arguments of "of-ness" and "about-ness," the OSC is meant to be intuitive and easy for users to find what they want. Despite the broadness of what comics can be about, people who read comics tend to do so because they want to read comics. And what I mean by that is, if I want to read Maus it is more likely because I want to read a really good comic, not because I'm doing research on concentration camps.

There are some exceptions, Scott McLoud's Understanding Comics is a better fit in books about comics then books of comics. And Larry Gonick's books are less comics and more illustrated discussions of their subjects. The division is probably similar to the line where narrative non-fiction becomes fiction. I don't think many would argue that The Killer Angels should be shelved in history instead of fiction. Despite its factual accuracy, it is obviously a work of fiction.

Comics, and I guess by that, I mean "fiction" comics, should be shelved together, because people will want to find comics next to other comics.

(Another animal is reprints of newspaper comics. For some reason, comic book readers and comic strip readers tend to be separate audiences. Someone looking for Gasoline Alley reprints may not intuitively think he should look in the same place as Dragon Ball Z. Newspaper comics should probably be a distinct sub-set of comics.)

Jan 26, 2009, 4:47pm Top

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Jan 26, 2009, 4:57pm Top

>27 Suncat: You mean that world where people stop segregating the graphic novels and treat them like real books! Where they're shelved right alongside their fiction and non-fiction counterparts and not treated like lowly second-class picture books...

Ah, the dream, the dream...


Edited: Jan 26, 2009, 5:01pm Top

#27, well, really the whole "should comics be shelved together or not" argument has been going around for years in the comics community. The Comics Journal forums have plenty of these discussions. I think the argument against shelving them together comes from the days when bookstores had about one shelf worth of comics stuck in-between the role-playing games and Star Trek novels. Then, it was ridiculous to think that Chris Ware's work should be anywhere near the Death of Superman. Now, comics collections are large enough, and the people putting them together are familiar with them enough that we don't need to worry about their being ghetto-ized.

Jan 26, 2009, 5:26pm Top

Actually, I don't care what you call them. But if you make them an optional facet instead of part of the subject hierarchy then those libraries that want to separate them can do so and those don't want to don't have to. Freedom to the libraries!

Jan 26, 2009, 5:55pm Top

#30, you know what, you're right. I've changed my mind. "Comics" should just be a material facet like DVDs and audiobooks. Then libraries with a robust comics collection can have a large, diverse section that makes sense, and libraries with a small comics collection won't have a single out-of-the-way ghetto shelf of un-like comics, either. It's the best of both worlds.

Jan 26, 2009, 5:57pm Top

Furthermore, with the facet you have the option of grouping all the comics together while still maintaining the ability to subdivide them meaningfully by subject matter without resorting to a call # that won't fit on a spine label.

Jan 31, 2009, 8:45am Top

Why do I feel like we're going to end up with a top=level comics category anyway, regardless of what the consensus of this thread is?

Jan 31, 2009, 10:44am Top

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Jan 31, 2009, 10:49am Top

There haven't been *any* responses from those in charge of the project, Tim and Laena, in about a week. They may be laying low and seeing if a consensus emerges but I don't think that's going to occur without some prodding.

Jan 31, 2009, 1:01pm Top

My opinion has been that graphic novels/comics/etc. should be a subcategory of either fiction or of the pertinent category in the case of non-fiction. The facet marker idea is a great idea. Libraries with the space or collection could choose to separate them or not.
As for the distinction between "graphic novels" and "comics" . . . it is tricky and perhaps often artificial, but some works billed as "graphic novels" are not comics. I remember hearing of a book about that was essentially a picture for adults ("for adults" in that it dealt with a woman's experiences and treatment in a Muslim country). This book was not in "traditional comic" and had no frames and no words. It isn't a comic, so it must be a graphic novel. Also, manga volumes generally have a specific set of sizes, which are peculiar to Japan and publishers of manga (whether in Japan or elsewhere).

Jan 31, 2009, 1:16pm Top

Hey. I'm NOT in charge of this. I'm--at best--in charge if Laena and David bow out. I came up with the idea, so I hope my ideas can get an ear, but Laena and David are in charge.

Laena is, I think, involved with wrapping up a blog post on the topic, covering how the test went and the meeting OSC had at the ALA Midwinter conference. At the conference we talked a lot about facets and how they could be used together with the main line of classification.

Jan 31, 2009, 1:25pm Top

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of shelving comics/graphic novels under the genre they're about, which in some cases includes a subcategory of fiction (for superhero comics maybe), with a facet marker for comics/graphic novels.

Feb 1, 2009, 5:31am Top

First, the name comics is so strange for me. This word is wrong for a lot of the books, they are not comic at all, some are history, what are comic with that.

In Norway this drawed things are called "Tegneserier". This is a neutral word that means; Drawed Series.

And for the shelving, it would be very impractical to shelve them together with real books because of the format.

I thought comics was humour-books until I read those treads.

And where to put humourbooks, some have drawings, some have not. The format tends to be normal bookformat.

Edited: Feb 1, 2009, 6:00am Top

We Europeans have a very different "comics" tradition. The fact that ours really wouldn't fit between "ordinary" books is also more a European problem, since they tend to be printed in larger formats here on average.

Maybe "cartoons" would be a better - in the sense of more neutral - term. With the added advantage that you then also had a place to put books of editorial cartoons. But in America the word "comics" is so well established for this genre, that it would be hard to introduce anything else.

p.s.: as for humour books, it is proposed as a top level category.

Feb 1, 2009, 8:04am Top

Cartoons is the word from some of the TV channel of drawed film. It is better. Since it should be for people all over the world, we need a neutral word.

Feb 1, 2009, 1:40pm Top

I don't think we'll need the same exact words for all over the world - after all that could get confusing for people who don't even use the Latin alphabet ;-) The system, ideally, yes. But at least allow translation.

Feb 2, 2009, 1:35pm Top

Greetings! David and I have been busy compiling and analyzing all your comments, and a post with new top levels is forthcoming!

In the interim, take a look on Thingology (http://www.librarything.com/thingology) at the summary of the OSC meeting we had in Denver last weekend.

Quick note: Comics/Graphic Novels/Manga is a facet/format, not topic/top level.


The first letter is audience (A, adult, Y, young adult, C, children's) The second letter is format (B, book, A, audio, G, graphic-novel, etc.) Other facets could be for whatever else needs to be called out—language, special collection, etc.

And so you have

AB 123.321 - Lost Moon
AA 123.321 - Lost Moon in an audio format
AG 123.321 - Lost Moon the graphic-novel
CB 123.321 - Goodnight Moon (children's book)

A library that had no childrens' books would ignore the first facet. A library entirely of Braille books would ignore the second.

Feb 2, 2009, 1:39pm Top

Yay! I'm glad my pessimism was undeserved.


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