If You Were a Graphic Novel, Where Would You Live?
Maureen Burdock is an award-winning artist, illustrator, and graphic novelist living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her website is maureenburdock.com.
“Where can I find the graphic novels?“ I ask a bespectacled bookseller behind the Borders help desk. She leads me to the graphic novel section. This is a not a happy place. Most specimens here are comic book–sized, and their anorexic spines do nothing to entice buyers.
Being both a reader and creator of graphic novels, I take pity and stick around, at least for a few seconds, until I see that my favorites aren’t here. “But where is Persepolis?” I ask the patient bookseller.
“In the Middle Eastern History section,” she promptly replies. She leads me there, and sure enough, Marjane Satrapi’s cartoons are smiling face-out at me from between the serious nonfiction tomes.
“But who will find the skinnier graphic novels amongst all these big books?” I ask, concerned.
“Graphic novels are usually done well enough that we want to face them out,” she reassures me.
The bookseller has been most magnanimous, and I decide to take further advantage. “And Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home?” I press.
“Alison who?” The bookseller moves back to the help desk and checks the computer, then cross-checks with a second computer, which gives her conflicting information. She consults with a coworker, who hands her a clipboard.
“Here are the reshelving instructions for hundreds of books,” sighs the coworker.
“When do we do this, in our spare time? Ah, here is Fun Home! It is now shelved in the biography section.” My tour guide leads me to said section. Fun Home is not in stock, but the author’s earlier comic-book series about a group of fictitious lesbians is here, queer, and fabulous, though who would know to look for it next to Madeleine Albright’s and Marilyn Monroe’s biographies is beyond questionable.
My tour guide and I take a wander across the store, and she shows me the gender studies section, which is divided into a shelf for women and one for homosexuals. Again, several graphic novels live here with their nonfiction roommates.
It is nice that graphic novels are being taken seriously enough to be shelved with full-fledged grownup books. But will this arrangement last? The bookseller and I doubt it. The idea of grouping works by content is lovely, but somewhat illogical. What if grocery stores did this? Everything mint-flavored might be shelved in one aisle together, for instance. One would look for mint toothpaste, mint tea, organic mint, chocolate mint patties, mint chewing gum, peppermint bubble bath, and mint-scented floor soap in the mint aisle. But of course, the chocolate mint patties might also be found in the chocolate aisle, next to the chocolate energy bars, baking chocolate, chocolate pudding mix, and chocolate-peanut butter candies. Oh, wait, those might be in the peanut aisle!
A relatively new format calls for new shelving methods. Perhaps graphic novels could be displayed like periodicals, which have their own shelving units that allow them all to have a face-out issue.
Graphic novels deserve and need a home. Not just any home, but a shelf where all those beautiful, juicy graphics and stories can shimmer and entice readers who can’t wait to get their hands on something fresh, original, well-drawn and told, something that can’t be found anywhere else in the store.