Brace yourselves, this is something I’m realllllllly passionate about, so here comes another one of my blog posts that is pounded out in an uncontrollable flurry.
Bill Maher knows how to kick up a firestorm online- his recent blog post disses the recently deceased legendary Smilin’ Stan Lee and challenges the legitimacy of comics as a format. It closes by laughably implying that the people who view comic books as important are the ones who voted for Trump. Sure, Bill… yeah no.
Firstly, on dissing Stan Lee- even if you don’t appreciate comics, Bill, there’s no need for that low blow (other than shoehorning it into an intro for a controversial blog post that will get you lots of views, I guess?). It’s undeniable that Mr. Lee’s creative genius has touched the lives of many people, and suggesting that art, literature, and entertainment are not vital to life paints a false picture. Bill writes:
“Someone on Reddit posted, “I’m so incredibly grateful I lived in a world that included Stan Lee.” Personally, I’m grateful I lived in a world that included oxygen and trees, but to each his own”
What exactly is your point here? I don’t know about you Mr. Maher, but I don’t want to live my life fulfilling only the lower rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Ok, on to comics. Here’s what he has to say on that topic:
“Twenty years or so ago, something happened – adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature.”
As an educator and an MLIS student, you really awaken the fire in me with this one, Bill. Who is to say what constitutes “sophisticated literature”? Is it a word count? Is it a certain vocabulary? Is it one of those “i’ll know it when I see it” things? I call bullshit.
Comics are a format, not a genre. I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know comics in my 10+ years working in bookstores and at my public library. At my library they call me the Comic Queen because i’m so passionate about spreading the word about the versatility of comics (and graphic novels, and webcomics, and manga, which are all forms of sequential art)
So, again, what makes something “sophisticated literature”, exactly? Does the use of sequential art immediately reduce something to junk reading for kids?
Comics are just a format, Bill. They can be used to address any kind of information, and can be tailored to suit the needs of readers of any age. They are increasingly diverse and inclusive as more artists, authors and publishers jump on board. Comics are especially wonderful because they are approachable and lots of readers, even reluctant readers, may be enticed to read a comic because of the pictures.
Yet, unfortunately, Bill, you have joined the masses of people who mistakenly believe that the comics format = kid stuff, as if the format somehow dictates what kinds of content can be delivered in a comic.
There are comics that:
- explain scientific concepts
- demystify PTSD
- explore philosophy
- share true and personal stories
- teach fact-checking
- educate about consent
- expose injustice
- share travel encounters and tips
- motivate you to tidy up your life
- preach financial literacy
- form master theses
- support important causes
- address our history ***Pulitzer Prize winning comic right here***
These are just some examples, but comics can be about ANYTHING. More and more comics are coming out every day on all kinds of different topics.
And yes, comics also include superheroes sometimes- what’s wrong with that, Mr. Maher? The world of superhero and fantasy comics is gigantic and diverse in its own right, and has been and continues to be entertaining, inspirational, and motivational for many people all across the world.
At the risk of triggering Bill Maher, i’d like to finish here with one last sentiment:
Rest in Peace, Mr. Smilin’ Stan Lee.
Sometimes you try something and it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you look at your creations so much that you can’t see them the way others would see them. I can be really hard on myself for these kinds of things, but I am trying to learn from my mistakes and “get back on the horse” when they happen so I don’t lose confidence.
This past couple of weeks my colleague and I have been giving tours of the library and informational presentations to grade 7 students. We still have more to go- there are 7 tours in total. My manager asked if I could give the students a mini-version of my “There’s a Graphic Novel For Everyone- Yes, Even You!” presentation since the teachers had been asking about it, to which I of course said YES!!!
So each day, my colleague starts out the tour, bringing the group around both floors of the library, doing a scavenger hunt, exploring some online resources, and then she hands them over to me for the final half of their visit.
I altered my original presentation for the grade 7 students, shortening it and changing some of the language and content to be a bit more suitable for their age. I was excited to present it, but as I was going through it with the students on the first tour and they were reading out the character cards i’d designed, I really began to realize how advanced some of the vocabulary I had used was. I also noticed that some of the titles featured, while perhaps acceptable for their age group, were not really as thrilling to the grade 7 kids as they were to me. Oof, gr. 7 is a Tough crowd, I couldn’t help thinking for a moment as many of them sat staring at me with glazed faces, picking at their shoes.
On the second day, after our second tour, my colleague asked if she could talk to me- “I don’t want you to be sad…” she said kindly, “…but the teacher who organized the tours called me, and she said the presentation is too advanced for the grade 7 kids.”
Although I had also been thinking that the altered presentation might still be too in-depth, to hear it coming from the teachers gave me a sinking feeling of anxiety and reminded me suddenly of my hell practicum .
However, as soon as I heard the feedback the teachers had given, it became very clear to me what the problem was with my presentation- I was trying to make the kids fit into my presentation and not the other way around. I put a lot of time and effort into the first version of the presentation, including original characters and artwork, and because of my attachment to those pieces I didn’t truly consider them through the eyes of a grade 7 kid like I should have.
Sure, lots of people in other situations enjoyed the creativity of my original presentation, but it was made for an audience of adult library conference goers! Yes, there were a few kids who answered my questions eagerly and were genuinely interested in what I had to say, but those were the kids like me who already loved books in grade 7- if the point of my presentation is that comics are for everyone, I needed to convince the OTHER kids. Yes, I had already edited my presentation a bit for the classroom tours, but it was clear I had to start fresh.
I assured my colleague that I could whip up something different that would be much better suited for the grade 7’s. “Are you sure? The next tour is Monday afternoon…” (this being Friday merely half an hour before our work day was ending). Yes, I knew what I needed to do.
So, I put together a completely different presentation- shorter, simpler, with a bright new PowerPoint style and carefully selected title recommendations. I planned a group activity with the help of my colleague that would get the kids’ energy out a bit before they sat down again for my presentation.
I’ve gone through this new presentation and activity with 4 tour groups so far, and I’m very glad to say it is working out much better. The teachers complimented some of the changes we made to tidy up the flow of the tour, as well as the changes to my presentation about graphic novels. Overall the groups have been more engaged. More kids have started coming up to me after presentations to ask about certain books that were featured.
I’m glad the teachers reached out with their concerns instead of letting me stumble through all of the tours- it’s not often I work with kids in that age group, and the teachers know their students’ interests and capabilities best. I’m also glad that they gave me a chance to alter the presentation and give it another try. Once again my respect for teachers grows, because although I enjoy doing the tours, being in charge of a large group of tweens for only one hour is extremely draining on me- and teachers have them all day for the whole school year!
Banned Books week is next month, and right now I am working with my department on a presentation about censorship in Canada to share with our coworkers.
I made a collage of some of the titles that we currently have in our library which have been challenged in Canada in the past:
The diversity in even this small representation shows that challenges are submitted on titles from a wide range of subjects, authors, formats, and intended age ranges. Maybe you see some of your favorites up there? These are only a small portion of books that have been challenged in Canada in recent years.
I’m sure there are tons more challenges that aren’t ever submitted for record-keeping. It’s important that we keep records like this of materials that are challenged, because it serves as a real-life reminder and example of how everyone’s standards are different. If we start censoring information, each act of censorship may be perceived as a precedent, and since one person’s treasure is another person’s trash… I know it’s overused, but the term “slippery slope” definitely comes to mind.
Access is vital. Even titles that contain extremely problematic information and views can serve as reminders of past atrocities, case studies for learning, and material for developing informed criticism. How can you knowledgeably criticize or condemn something if you don’t have access to the source material?
Freedom to Read week is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, and is celebrated annually in February.
Here are the details of some recent challenges as recorded by the Freedom to Read website.
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
2016-In January, a patron of a public library in Ontario challenged this novel for young adults.
Objections: “The book is age inappropriate… because it contains a bi-sexual sex scene not alluded to on the cover.” The complainant requested that all books with homosexual content be located “in a special area reserved for adults 18+” and put on a shelf marked with a rainbow. The complainant wanted the books labelled “so that children, as well as adults, do not happen upon [them] unwillingly.”
Result: The library decided that labeling LGBTQ content would be an example of expurging library resources and, therefore, would violate the Library Bill of Rights… The Scorpion Rules remained unlabelled in its usual location.
Battling Boy by Paul Pope
2016- In May, a parent in a public library in Ontario challenged this graphic novel for children.
Objection: The parent disliked depictions of violence and the book’s “poor attitude toward women’.
Result: In June, the library resolved the challenge. The library moved this book from the children’s section to the teens’ graphic-novel section.
The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel, Volumes 1 & 2) by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell
2015/16- In December 2015, a parent challenged this children’s picture book in a public library in Ontario.
Objection: the mother didn’t specify what action she wanted, but she used the complaint form to complain about the book’s illustrations. her 10-year old son was crying because of the illustrations.
Result: After evaluating The Graveyard Book by checking other libraries’ collections and book reviews, the library retained the books in its collection.
2015- A patron in a public library in British Columbia challenged the collection of electronic magazines (from the Zinio distribution service) and paper magazines. The challenge affected a minimum of 17 titles: Cosmopolitan, Details, Esquire, Glamour, GQ, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Redbook, Rolling Stone, SELF, Seventeen, Shape, Sports Illustrated, Teen Vogue, US Weekly, and Women’s Health.
Objections: Sexism, insensitivity, inaccuracy, depiction of bodies that are “negatively objectified”. The patron demanded that all subscriptions be cancelled.
Result: The library kept the magazines and the subscriptions. They were popular with other readers.
Young Adult LGBTQ Publications
2016- In July, a female parent in the St. Albert Library in Alberta challenged all young-adult LGBTQ publications in a teen summer reading program
The library displayed pamphlets that listed the young-adult LGBTQ book titles in the summer reading program.
Objection: The parent was offended by the inclusion of queer lit as one of the book category choices in a turn of the library’s Teen Summer Reading Game.
“There is a difference between showing respect for all peoples and using the summer reading program as a place to further LGBTQ propaganda,” the woman wrote. “My son recognizes that there are people who choose to live this lifestyle; however, it is not a healthy lifestyle to promote to our youth, and it is contrary to God’s plan for human sexuality, love and marriage.”
Result: The Teen Librarian inferred that the patron wanted the queer lit category removed from the Teen Summer Reading Game book category choices and that she may have wanted the queer lit booklist removed from the brochure display in the teen area of the library.
After reading the parent’s comments, the Teen Librarian wrote a letter which was given directly to the patron when she brought her child back to play the reading game. The Teen Librarian informed her supervisors of the challenge and consulted with them on the content of the letter before it was delivered. The queer lit category remained a choice for one turn of the 2016 Teen Summer Reading Game, and the queer lit booklist remained on display with the other booklists in the teen area of the library.
*Note from Shauna: How awesome, informative, and professional is this letter!? Amazing.
Here is the body of the letter:
“Thank you for expressing your concerns about the inclusion of the Queer Lit category in the St. Albert Public Library’s Teen Summer Reading Game. As stated in the Guidelines for the 2016 Teen Summer Reading Game on the player dossier:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
2014- In Camloops, B.C., Dean Audet demanded the removal of this coming-of-age novel from his son’s high school and other schools in the Kamloops/Thompson school district.
Objection: Audet described the novel as “pornographic, offensive and vulgar”.
Result: Audet’s son was given a different book to study. A committee of teachers, a parent and librarians reviewed the novel and approved it for continued use. Audet considered taking legal action to remove the novel from schools.
Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman
2014- In August, a patron of a public library in Alberta objected to this children’s picture book.
Objection: The patron disliked the theme of same-sex marriage.
Result: On the same day, the library resolved the dispute and kept the book in the collection.
Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett
2014- in May a parent complained about this children’s picture book in a library in Quebec.
Objections: The parent disliked the depictions of violence and didn’t think the book was funny. Her 10-year-old child was “traumatised” by the bunny’s “exceedingly violent” actions, she said. Many parents would share her opinion, she added, and she asked the library to remove the book from its collection.
Result: Librarians evaluated the book. They agreed that it was a work of humour and satire. They thought Battle Bunny could appeal to reluctant readers. The librarians also noted that professional book reviews were positive and that four previous borrowers of the book had made no complaints. Battle Bunny remained in the library’s collection.
Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith
2014- In November, a patron of a public library in Alberta said this audiobook needed a warning label on the cover.
Objection: This book has dark, adult content.
Result: The library kept the book in the collection.
Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
Objection: Violence. In this children’s book, children hop on their father. The complainant argued that children are being “encouraged to use wanton violence against their fathers.”
Result: The library kept the book in its collection. In an e-mailed message to the complaining parent, the library explained that its collection aims to reflect the reading needs of diverse individuals and communities (cultural, ethnic, or religious). The library relied on parents to involve themselves in their children’s use of the library and their children’s reading choices.
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore
2013- In Strathmore, Alta, a parent complained about the inclusion of this graphic novel in the library at Crowther Memorial Junior High School.
Objection: The parent objected to “extreme violence and swearing” in the text.
Result: A committee reviewed The Walking Dead and deemed it inappropriate for use in a junior high school. The book was withdrawn from the collection.
I was shifting some books today and this idea randomly popped into my head XD I’m usually the one who teaches new staff how to shelf-read.
I wish I could find the exact quote; I read a book once, a good few years ago (I can’t even remember what book it was). I have no recollection what the book itself was even about, but I do remember this: the author quoted someone who said something like “if you aren’t actively creating, you’re just a consumer”. That simple, harsh truth really stuck with me.
Back then I realized that, for a variety of reasons at that particular moment in my life (okay… decade of my life) I was barely creating anything. I was solely consuming in all meanings of the word- consuming food, entertainment, and material goods mindlessly. I wasn’t using my creative mind in my job, in my hobbies, or in my day to day life. I was spending way too much time scrolling endless junk articles on my phone. I’d lost my teenage penchant for writing poems and playing with visual art.
^Ignoring my friends for my phone? >.>
I don’t want to come off as preachy- technology is super useful, and we use our cell phones for so much more than distraction seeking. Plus, it’s fun and recharging to do mindless things once in a while, and I have abandoned the term “guilty pleasure” because if you love something, why should you feel guilty about enjoying it? Speaking of which, read this awesome blog post by @biblionyan on the topic of guilty pleasures!
But that’s the thing; this “guilty pleasure” pastime of scrolling and losing myself in click-bait wasn’t actually enjoyable for me. It was just a habitual, unfulfilling distraction I automatically turned to because it was easy and gave me a hit of dopamine.
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Useful tools, but they also use us. We use different parts of our brains now at the expense of others. We become addicted to the dopamine rush of seeing something new. Our data is given away freely. I'm working on using my phone more for what I enjoy (like sharing my art) and less for falling into the time-suck of impulsive distraction-seeking. #phones #socialmedia #users #technology #information #distraction #bigbrother #data #advertising #habit #mindfulness #scrolling #clickbait #art #pencil #marker
I knew I wanted to spend more time creating again and really using my free time to learn new things and develop new skills, but for some reason this mindset just didn’t stick. I’d read an inspirational book, or watch a documentary, and feel motivated- for a couple of days. Then I’d fall back into the same stale routines.
Happily, I have now gotten to a place where I am creating and living so much more again. I am writing, drawing, painting, dancing, studying, traveling, and learning new skills like public speaking. I’m seeking out new opportunities rather than hiding from them. This has come about in the last two to three years. How did I get my creative spark back? Why hadn’t I been able to reignite it sooner?
My anxiety and depression were holding me back.
I unpacked about my struggles with anxiety and depression in a blog post recently, which you can read here. Long story short, after years of battling these issues, talking to counselors, and trying lots of methods unsuccessfully to manage, I finally tried medication prescribed by my doctor, and it helps me so much. Life is exciting and fun again. I feel like the old self I once knew and lost somewhere between adolescence and adulthood.
The passion for my job at the library, which I knew was lurking inside me, finally bloomed. I worked on building up my self-confidence from my lowest low. I started seeking out new opportunities instead of waiting to be asked. I began using my creativity more in work projects, and at home.
Feeling lifted out of the muck, I sought out new hobbies: handbell choir, dance classes, sewing, yoga, cosplay, crafting, dabbling with ukulele, volunteering at the SPCA. I even helped out with some small roles in a local web-series created by-nerds-for-nerds. Speaking of which, my dorky fangirl self, who had been hiding in a sort of shame cave, fearing judgement of others, emerged proudly once again.
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Had so much fun at #edmontoncomicexpo! The place always brims with kindness and wonderful nerdy enthusiasm. Especially great meeting talented artists and creators, and spending time with cosplayers behind the scenes of the contest! (And, running into Sauron 😮 ) #cosplay #princessjellyfishcosplay #princessjellyfishclara #princessjellyfish #kuragehime #tsumimi #sauron #lotr #anime #manga #nerd
I started creating visual art again, something that I had largely abandoned in the height of my anxiety and depression. Before long it became a familiar habit. I get a regular urge to create art now, and when I get into my flow several hours can pass without my realizing.
I’ve since started sharing my art in small local galleries & markets, and online. Sharing my art and creative projects with the world brings me joy.
I think that everyone has the capacity to be creative in their own way. Sometimes we get bogged down by a narrow idea of what “creativity” means, but we can be creative in so many different ways- at our jobs, around our homes, through the clothes and accessories we wear, or in our gardens, for example. Right now I am slowly but surely working on a goal of being more creative in the kitchen with baking and cooking.
Speaking of infusing creativity into our daily lives, recently I came across this extremely interesting Ted Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about the roots of joy.
She presented her insights about some of the universal triggers of joy as discovered through studies of people all around the world- things like bright colours, soft shapes, fractal patterns, novelty, abundance, a feeling of light and air.
Two take-aways that stuck with me:
- Why, if these playful, colourful, and creative expressions bring us joy and increase our happiness and productivity, do we design so many aspects of our homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and streets in uninspiring, predictable shapes, and shades of beige and grey?
- Why do we judge people who embrace colour and creativity in their own lives, in what they wear, how they decorate and so on, by labeling them as kooky, emotional, unprofessional, or “girly”?
I think we can learn so much from people who incorporate fun fearlessly into their lives (or rather, refuse to let go of it just because they are getting older). I’m fascinated by people like Iris Apfel, Yayoi Kusama and Elizabeth Sweetheart who present themselves however feels right to them, and don’t give a flying fluevog what society thinks of them for being different. Thanks to social media like Instagram, it’s easier than ever to find unapologetically creative people and bold sartorial inspiration.
A potential struggle for being creative is the busy lives we lead- there were times when I thought “how will I possibly have time to finish this personal project”? But as with anything in life, you make time for what is important to you, what makes you happy and fulfills you. I work on art during my work breaks sometimes, and because I consider my art time important for my well-being, I will pass up invitations or events on occasion if I know I haven’t had time to paint in a while. I am lucky to work at a library where I have the option of using my creativity on a regular basis such as illustrating the Joke of the Day, making fun book displays, or drawing pictures to accompany my power-point slides!
Yes, I still check my phone, yes I still watch Netflix and play video games, but when I do I always aspire to be mindful and intentional with this use of my precious time, and avoid getting lost in zombie-like distraction. Time is the most important commodity we have, and in this often cruel and unfair world I’m privileged to be a healthy woman living in a safe country where I have the gift of free time to explore my creativity. I don’t want to squander that.
Freeing myself from depression and intense anxiety has enabled me to enjoy my life and creativity to the fullest. I am glad that the days of dragging my feet through life are behind me. After 10 years of waking up with sighs of fatigue and defeat, sighs of contentment are a welcome change. There are so many things I want to do with my life that I don’t know where to start, so I am dipping my toes into everything.
I wish I could share this wake-up call with the world (well, that’s what a blog is for, I guess) but I think that, first and foremost, it’s something that you need to truly want for yourself.