A graphic novelist and a scholar of comics gave keynote speeches Friday night at an event commemorating the addition of more than 300 graphic novels to Gelman Library.
Over the next year, the University will be adding the graphic novels, which are defined as comics of at least 48 pages that tell a story. Gelman Library has a collection of about 50 graphic novels but plans to add 300 more by the end of the school year.
“People are starting to catch on to the fact that graphic novels are a very versatile media, but it is still underserved at many libraries,” said Marc Singer, a representative of the International Comic Arts Festival, which co-sponsored the event with Gelman Library.
“I am thrilled that GW is taking the lead in the scholarly study of comics,” Singer said at the event, which drew a crowd of about 50 to Gelman Library’s second floor.
The acquisition of a graphic novel collection was originally conceived by Phillip Troutman, an assistant professor of writing, who teaches a freshman writing class that encourages students to reflect on new and innovative ways of documenting history.
“I find the historical writing process very interesting,” Troutman said. “Graphic novels highlight issues of narrative selection and choice on the part of the author.”
Cathy Eisenhower, a reference librarian, worked with Troutman to submit a proposal to the University calling for an expanded graphic novels collection. Eisenhower said pictorial accounts are an innovative way to study history.
“We are trying to highlight graphic novels that focus on an alternate view of history,” Eisenhower said.
Gelman Library’s collection will feature graphic novels describing various topics including World War II, Vietnam and a biography of musician Jimi Hendrix, Troutman said.
“Graphic novels tell the history of the world that students are living in everyday,” Troutman said. “The young people of today are visual learners so the concept of telling a story with more than just text is something that they are used to.”
The lecture featured artists Paul Grist and Benjamin Herzberg, who spoke about the importance of graphic novels to the study of history and the difference between their work and traditional comic books.
Herzberg is best known for his collaboration work with graphic artist Will Eisner, and gave a presentation chronicling the influence of Jewish culture in comics throughout history. Herzberg, who is a graphic novelist as a hobby but works at the World Bank, also theorized that the X-Men and Superman were both heavily influenced by Jewish mythology.
“Many immigrants took up drawing comics even though comics were not thought of as art,” Herzberg said of the origins of graphic novels.
Grist’s best known comic is titled “Kane,” which is a series of intricate drawings about a detective who returns to the police force after being suspended for killing his partner.
“I think a graphic novel can and should be a different thing than a collection of comics,” Grist said. “As opposed to a collection of books, a novel is conceived as an entire piece.”