I can probably credit Forbes Library, located in Northampton, Massachusetts, as one of my most important influences when it comes to my taste in comics. In the summer before my sophomore year of college, my cousin Liam gave me a list of indie comics that drastically changed my preference in graphic novels. The comics section of Forbes Library, comprised of an entire wall, began a similar transformation.
I began going to Forbes Library after Smith College cut me off. I went from having millions of books at my disposal to nothing. (Technically, I graduated and was no longer a student.) I was in Northampton for quite a bit of the summer and needed something to read, so I went to Forbes and got a library card. Their comics section was impressive. It contained a wide range of titles I had only heard and others I didn’t know existed. Owly, A Treasury of Victorian Murders, and Tamara Drewe are just a few titles I encountered during the summer.
Going to Forbes helped me form a distinct taste in comics. Usually, I check out around five comics each time I go to the library. My only criteria are that I haven’t read it before. Some graphic novels have a profound impact on me and I continue to think about them, while others make me uncomfortable and angry. When I was in high school, I read a selection of comics that my friend chose for me, ignoring all others. While I might not have liked them, I continued with these because I didn’t know what else was out there. Reading a wide assortment has allowed me to discover the elements I enjoy in comics: strong female characters, travel, mystery, and terror comics, complex relationships between characters, suburban dystopias, etc. Thanks to libraries, I now know that I do not like superhero comics and randomly disgusting, gory violence, or evil characters without back-stories. While reading Tamara Drewe, for example, I was enthralled by the complex relationships between the characters, and found myself thinking about them long after I finished the story. The Great Hoax, in contrast, was a noir comic that showed a woman constantly abused by an evil, sadistic lizard character. (What motivated this lizard, but a desire to be cruel? Why was the woman only able to fight back when prompted to by a man?) I felt so disgusting after finishing it, that I had to read another comic to just forget about it. The comics that I choose to read now are based off these experiences.
So, dear readers, even if you don’t have a collection as extensive as Forbes, you can still develop your own taste in comics by visiting your own library.