I was browsing at my local book store a few weeks back and noticed something so interested, it required a photograph.
As you read this post, I want to remind everyone that this is not a commentary about Neil Gaiman, whose works I love to read. He’s just a great example of this phenomenon as he has written novels, comics, illustrated novels, and even television shows.
Now, I have read Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle and found it very peculiar that it was placed in the graphic novel section. Of course, as a librarian, I have no issues with co-location, this is why we maintain those online catalogs. However, the bookstore is laid out by genre, then author. But there are two genre of books on one shelf! This truly bothered me, so, I started to do some research.
The illustrated novel has been around for a long time and has its roots in 18th century literature for adults. After a book became successful, an illustrated edition was often released; embellishments were added to the story along with special, often expensive, binding materials. During the 19th century, mass reproduction of illustrates became easier and cheaper, allowing for most books, from Charles Dickens to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to be illustrated. And it was during this era that illustrators become popular, household names. It was not until the 20th century that the illustrated novel had been reduced to the childhood markets; however, illustrators like Edward Gorey were able to skate the line between children’s illustrator and adult novel cover artists.
I then spent some time in the Library of Congress Genre/Form Terms Linked Data service and found some good definitions. The definition of Illustrated Works is, “works that consist entirely or largely of images or that include images that explain, augment, or embellish text or other content” whereas Graphic Novel is, “a book-length narratives of any genre that consists of sequential art, either by itself or in combination with text” and Comics (Graphic works) is, “narrative works that employ sequential art, and often prose, to tell the story.”
What do all of these genre terms have to do with the difference between Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle or Fortunately, the Milk and, Sandman or Marvel 1602? The key is the term “sequential art”; however, that term is also shared with art like hieroglyphs, tapestries, and storyboards. As a cataloger, I love subjects and keywords, but it can get confusing after a while.
The good news is, after doing a preliminary search of online catalogs, I could not find an instance where The Sleeper and the Spindle was shelved in the graphic novels in a public library. I think we can all tell that there is an intrinsic difference between an illustrated novel and a graphic novel. The bigger question is what is best for your patrons. Personally, I believe that, because the story is not being told solely with illustrations ad text, they should not be shelved together. Libraries separate forms out all the time, DVDs, CDs and books are kept separate, even books are separated out by their genres.
I think that this picture shows the misconceptions that are still associated with graphic novels. Sure the people working at the bookstore are probably doing Gaiman’s fans a favor by putting this beautiful book next to Sandman: Overture, instead of American Gods. These are important exercises for librarians to go through. We should always be analyzing our collections, our policies, to make sure that they are what patrons want and need.