Committed: The Library (Charles Burns & the Future of Digital Comic Lending)
One great thing about watching dorky, ancient reruns of The Addams Family on some forgotten TV channel at 3am is the commercials. (Aside: I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that Morticia Addams was one of my earliest female role models.) Very few of these cheapo late night commercials are for anything very good, mostly for gadgets no one wants or needs. However, when I was decompressing from working too late and thoroughly enjoying The Addams Family in all it’s monochrome glory, I caught a commercial for the library and I suddenly realized that in over a year of living in LA I’d forgotten all about the incredible resource of the library.
I had no idea that public services like the library ran commercials, it was kind of sweet. I suspect that out of the 5 people watching TV at 3am that night, I was the only one who it actually worked on, but it really worked. I suddenly realized that although I’ve been to about 30 different book and comic book shops, I still haven’t joined the library! Today I went out to remedy that situation and discovered that I live only 10 minutes away from a practically new library. High ceilings, big windows, and shelf after shelf of books, magazines, DVD’s, and CD’s. Of course the first place I wanted to find was the shelf of graphic novels and it didn’t disappoint; two copies of Watchmen, Y the Last Man, the Dark Knight Returns, Habibi, all of Ennis’ Punisher books, and a slew of comics books I haven’t even seen yet. I am confident that my fellow comic book readers are being well-cared for by some sensible curating librarian.
Libraries are such amazing boons to society, partly because libraries provide books and computers for people who might otherwise have no access to them, but also because for us comic book addicts it is a tremendous source of graphic novels. While some collectors have moved to the digital space in the pursuit to save space, I’m still a print lover and so borrowing is a great way to try something out without owning yet more books. When I want to read a book, but I don’t want to make another Ikea trip for yet more of those Billy shelves (does every comic book collector/hoarder have those?), I check out the library.
Today I discovered Charles Burns’ X’ed Out and The Hive. I’ll admit that these are more than worthy of being owned, beautifully bound and printed on impressively thick paper these are the kind of high-quality books we’ve come to expect from a premium publisher like Pantheon. Knowing how long Burns took to finish Black Hole, I’ve been reticent about getting too sucked into a story which he hasn’t yet finished. My thinking is that once he’s completed this strange story it will be collected into one massive tome and I’ll pick it up then. Meanwhile, although I read X’ed Out last year, I hadn’t yet seen The Hive and it was wonderful to reread the former and finally get a chance to read the latter. The story is already unfolding perfectly, with all of the dark, slick beauty of Black Hole and a heaping additional edge in the ominous dream sequences. It reminded me a little of the late Iain M. Banks book The Bridge… but more on that book once he is done. For now, I’m just excited that I got a peek at it before I buy it all at once. Despite my resolution to wait until the story is done, I’m very impatient and it is lucky that I have the library to cater to my need for immediate gratification.
One of my friends is a bit of a germaphobe and so he won’t get books out of the library because he’s afraid that someone else got their filthy hands (or filthy something else) all over the pages. Personally I do not have this problem, I suppose that since I open doors and use public bathrooms it’s too late for me anyway. In fact, I quite like the way the library books feel, the pages are slightly fuzzy at the edges, they’re worn and soft from the many people who have shared the same enjoyment from reading the same book I am and I feel a sort of kinship with them in sharing the book. Still, I can understand how not everyone feels that way or is as used to using hand sanitizer as I am.
There is a pretty great solution for those germaphobes out there who do wish to partake in the joys of the public library; ebooks! You can go online to local library websites and check them out just like regular books. The only difference between a library ebook and a regular library book is that you don’t have to go to the library (except to join) or touch the physical books. It’s so easy, I just did it in about 2 mins and now there is a whole book on my iPhone waiting to be read next time I’m stuck in-line somewhere.
The only downside to this marvelous ability to borrow ebooks from the library is that (so far) there aren’t any digital comic books or graphic novels available in the library catalogue. While that is quite a shame, it is understandable since the digital revolution came to comic books a little bit later than it did to the rest of the literary industry, so perhaps we can expect it to take a little longer to catch up in this department too. My hope is that this is something on the way, and that major publishing and digital distribution companies (who are making money on digital comic book sales) will assist libraries in this endeavor, as a service to the industry if nothing else.