Comics in NZ Education: Auckland Libraries’ Comic Book Month 2011

Auckland Libraries Create a Character Competition featuring Scott PilgrimAs September comes to an end, Auckland sees the grand finale of Comic Book Month, a celebration of graphic literature across the 55 public libraries of New Zealand’s Super City. Books and Adventures joins them for another in our current series on comic book education in New Zealand. You can find my original piece for the New Zealand Education Gazette here.

Auckland’s Comic Book Month events have ranged from dress-as-a-character days to a city-wide prize draw for readers borrowing 6 comic book items in September. Libraries ran illustrator workshops, comic-book-themed performances, dress-up storytimes for younger readers and cosplay contests for older participants. Local businesses including comic stores Heroes For Sale and Gotham Comics became partners with the scheme and New Zealand’s major comic convention, Armageddon, also got on board with organiser Bill Geradts providing free passes as prizes.

Comic Book Month co-ordinator Pip Henderson from Auckland Libraries’ Youth Service Development explained why she and her colleagues chose to focus on comics for this month-long celebration:

“Our customers like to immerse themselves in stories in different ways other than purely print; there are many ways to tell a story!

“Comics were once thought of as an easy read with little substance. Parents, especially, were keen to move their kids away from them but many are now seeing the value. Comics can be just as challenging for young readers, and just as beneficial in terms of concept comprehension and vocabulary extension as a chapter book.

“Also, comics give us ‘permission’ to enjoy graphics as an integral part of storytelling. Comic books challenge us – they are an art form that allows us to make our own translations in interpreting the unspoken language.”

Prior to the amalgamation of Auckland local authorities, comic fanatics in the library system had already organised their own neighbourhood events.

In Waitakere, librarian Rob Baigent teamed up with comic store owner and graphic guru Stu Colson of Heroes For

Bruce Potter's Create A Character Talk at Pakuranga Library
Bruce Potter's Create A Character Talk at Pakuranga Library

Sale to create Manga and Create-a-Character competitions with promotional images kindly supplied by Bryan Lee O’Malley, the acclaimed author of the Scott Pilgrim books.

Rob told Books and Adventures of his pride at the results of the 2008 contest:

‘The inaugural winner of the senior competition was Debbie Keal who created a comic that neither Stu nor myself had ever seen anything like before. Debbie also launched a web comic based on her characters from the competition called http://www.woahroscoe.com This web comic is still ongoing.”

The Waitakere event was merged this year with Auckland City’s Comic Book Month, the brainchild of Anna Gribble, working with comic book seller Jeremy Bishop (of Gotham Comics, interviewed here). Based in Epsom Library, and soon spreading to neighbourhood venues, the celebration was devised by Anna in response to a talk by renowned NZ writer Dylan Horrocks, author of Hicksville.

Speaking on Frederic Wertham’s infamous book The Seduction of the Innocent, which demonised comic books in the mid-20th century, Dylan inspired Anna to promote the celebration of comics in 21st century New Zealand.

Cosplay at Onehunga Library, Auckland
Cosplay at Onehunga Library, Auckland

With these two initiatives combined across the 55 libraries of Auckland, Pip and her team are already looking to the future: “Next year we hope Comic Book month will be huge. I was in Christchurch recently and spoke to their librarians and I challenged them to come on board as well! Our aim now is to get this month recognised nationally…and then around the world!”
For more on Auckland Libraries’ Comic Book Month, visit http://www.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz/EN/About/Highlights/Pages/comicbookmonth.aspx

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