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In Praise Of Libraries

As should be apparent from the fact that I blog about comic books I’ve read, I enjoy reading rather a lot (in both senses: I enjoy the act of reading very much and I enjoy reading an enormous number of books). I also enjoy reading legal copies of books – I believe that creators should receive payment for their hard work, so I don’t download pirated copies. The problem is that I do not have unlimited funds with which to indulge this pleasure (nor do I have unlimited space in which to store this theoretical unlimited collection). The solution is public libraries.

Public libraries are brilliant in concept alone – the ability to freely access information and stories is the mark of an advanced civilisation (and the coalition government’s stupidity in cutting spending is one of the many reasons I hate everything they stand for) – but this panegyric/encomium is about comic books. Since I became aware that libraries started stocking graphic novels and trade paperback collections of comic books, I have taken advantage of this generosity whenever I can, even if they were originally shelved next to teenage books. So far, I have borrowed nearly 400 library copies of assorted comic books, and I don’t intend to stop any time soon.

I am very lucky in that I live in London – the number of libraries is much larger and much denser, so I get access to a huge range to different collections. The libraries in outer London tend predominantly towards the superhero, but when I work in inner London, I can borrow from libraries there because you don’t have to live in the area to become a member. This has been a particular boon working in and near the city of London: the library in the Barbican has been fantastic for the rarer non-superhero titles (and I will be forever grateful for the copies of the first two omnibus editions of Lone Wolf and Cub – that book is as incredible as its reputation warrants) and the literary/arty end of the graphic novel spectrum. It is only beaten out to top of my list by Islington libraries – I am not a resident of Islington but I can still join its libraries – because it has free reservations. I can search for a book from any of the collections around the borough and reserve it to be delivered to the library closest to the office and don’t have to pay a penny (for a long time, Wandsworth libraries had free reservations – see the earlier entries in From A Library – but then they started charging a pound for the privilege; the Barbican charges the same for reservations, unfortunately, because I’m a cheapskate). So I can queue up runs of books to read at my leisure – I’ve currently got the first four volumes of Kieron Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery on the go – and feel incredibly smug about it.

I also feel that I’m helping out the authors, even if it’s only a little. Under the government-funded Public Lending Right scheme, authors are paid 6.05p every time their physical books are borrowed from UK’s public libraries, up to a maximum of £6,600. (NB: not ebooks and audiobooks, something that authors not happy about, obviously, but that’s another story.) I know it seems like a weak rationalisation but it means that my conscience is clear: I’m reading vast quantities of the medium I love and I’m not stealing from anybody to do it.

Through the wonder of libraries, I’ve been able to read a wide variety of comic books:

  • I’ve sampled the more literary graphic novels (Asterios Polyp, Blankets: An Illustrated Novel, Chico & Rita, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, The Fifth Beatle)
  • I’ve tried out the off-beat and interesting (King City, Multiple Warheads, The Incal, The Wizard’s Tale, Blacksad, Daytripper, Pride of Baghdad, The New Deadwardians, Grandville, I Kill Giants, The Massive, The Perhapanauts, Saucer Country, Grant Morrison’s 18 Days)
  • I’ve read the big crossovers of the mainstream companies so I can keep vaguely up to date with them (Flashpoint, Age of Ultron, Avengers Vs X-Men, Blackest Night, Infinite Crisis)
  • I’ve read a plethora of creator-owned Image books as the company goes through an explosion of new material (Pigs, Peter Panzerfaust, Prophet by Brandon Graham, Thief of Thieves, Pretty Deadly, East of West, Manhattan Projects, The Red Wing)
  • I’ve read vast collections in the form of the omnibus (Lone Wolf and Cub, Fallen Angel, Finder, Rex Mundi)
  • I’ve been able to read the entirety of a series (all eight volumes of Bill Willingham’s House of Mystery, all four volumes of iZombie, all seven volumes of Northlander, the three volumes collecting Action Philosophers)
  • I was able to check out DC books that passed me by since I stopped reading any Nu-52 books (the first volume of Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo’s Batman was excellent, but I didn’t enjoy the conclusion of the Court of Owls and I thought the Joker story was rather dull and talky; I really enjoyed Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang’s take on Wonder Woman in the three volumes I’ve read so far; I loved the art by Andrea Sorrentino in the two volumes of I, Vampire and the art by Moritat in the two volumes of All-Star Western; and I borrowed the first two volumes of Justice League just so I could see Jim Lee’s art)
  • I picked up some Marvel books that I thought I might like (I enjoyed the three trades of Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Captain Marvel; I enjoyed five trades of Superior Spider-Man; I really enjoyed the start to the Miles Morales Ultimate Spider-Man, but have stopped reading that after the fourth book when Bendis did the plot twist that made me give up; I thought that Avengers Academy was a lot of fun, a kind of Avengers New Mutants; and I was surprised by how much I got into the first two trades of Avengers Arena)
  • I read hardcover OGNs that I wouldn’t buy because I don’t buy hardcovers (Avengers: Endless Wartime, Hulk Season One, Batman: Earth One, Superman: Earth One, Hunter by Darwyn Cooke)

The only downside to this is that I am not part of the current comic book conversation – I’ve cut down drastically on what I buy in monthly titles since the price of comic books jumped past $2.99 – but I don’t mind because I get to enjoy the primary point of comic books: reading them. Talking about them is secondary, so I can live with that. So thank you, libraries everywhere, and I hope that everyone continues to enjoy your services for a long time to come.

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