Welcome to our second installment of interviews with those who organize and run Comic Forums / Clubs / Groups around London.
Today we are lucky enough to speak to David who runs the Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group (6pm – 7:30pm / First Thursday of every month / Brompton Library).
Hi David! Thanks for agreeing to take part with this for us. So – let’s begin. First question: How did you get started with reading comics?
Thankfully my parents always encouraged me to read from a young age. I guess the first comic I read was the Beano. I also had an old Minnie the Minx annual that my older sister had from about 1976 or something, which I thought was great. From there I moved on to Asterix and of course Tintin. I didn’t start appreciating the medium (or reading books in general) again until I was in my twenties.
What was it that got you started reading again? Was it working in a Library?
I’ve always enjoyed reading, but being surrounded by books all day certainly rekindled my interest, and in graphic novels particularly. But I remember going to libraries as a customer and being drawn to the graphic novel section, and particularly the alternative style of comics. Working in a library just meant I was exposed to them more often to a point I couldn’t ignore.
What’s your favourite thing about comics?
Well I must make it clear I’m more of a ‘fellow traveller’ than an out and out comics/graphic novels enthusiast. But since working in a library and starting this group, I’ve come to appreciate them a lot more. My favourite thing about them is that I think it’s like reading a film- it’s a unique medium. The art is often stunningly good too of course. With an ordinary book it can sometimes feel like hard work depending on your disposition, whereas comics often flow with ease. They also have that sub culture/counter culture thing going too, there’s a whole world to discover once you scratch the surface.
What comics do you think actually have interesting things to say?
The non-fiction reportage books are incredibly enlightening. I’m talking of ‘Palestine’ by Joe Sacco and ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman for example. They take a complex issue and bring it to life in a unique way, being in a comic makes it easily accessible to a wide audience and not too high-brow. I also think ‘Swamp Thing’ by Alan Moore bought into the comic world ideas of ecology and a spirituality around the natural world that wouldn’t otherwise have been seen by that kind of audience.
What are your favourite comics (and why)?
Probably the type that is referred to as ‘Guardian bait’ (ha ha). I’d include what I mentioned above but I do love Alan Moore. Reading ‘Watchmen’ was the first graphic novel I read in some time, before I worked in a library and re-discovered comics. It’s a real piece of art and has so many layers in the narrative, I was surprised at its sophistication. ‘From Hell’ and ‘V for Vendetta’ are also awesome. I also recently enjoyed ‘Y: The Last Man’ which was really entertaining, ‘The Art of Flying’ which was a true story about a man’s experiences in the Spanish Civil War, and I recently finished a series called ‘Girls’ by the Luna Brothers which is probably one of the weirdest things I’ve ever read, but in a good way. I also like Dan Clowes and his whole American geek pseudo-intellectual shtick.
What comics do you hate with all your being (and why)?
I can’t really comment, as I don’t read comics I don’t like! Hate is a strong word. Can’t say I’m enamoured with the typical super-hero in tights and underpants on the outside though. Not really my cup of tea, but like I said, I haven’t been immersed in this world for very long nor exposed to a great deal.
Which authors or artists do you have a soft spot for?
Alan Moore, Joe Sacco, Brian K Vaughn, Dave Gibbons.
Are there any comics that you feel are over or under-rated?
For our reading group we recently read ‘Invincible’ by Robert Kirkman. Apparently it’s really popular and it went down well with many in the group, but I thought it was dull! I recently enjoyed ‘Phonogram’ by Kieran Gillen but I think it helps if you’re a music geek to enjoy it. We also read ‘Ghost in the Shell’ recently which has amazing art and is conceptually interesting, but the story is very dense and confusing, and not that easy to get into.
If someone had just started reading comics – what would you recommend them (and why)?
It really depends on the person and what their tastes are.
Ok. If someone came in to your Library and was like: “Hi. I’ve never read a comic book before but I want to try one out – what is the best book to read if you’re a beginner?”
Well they say don’t judge a book by its cover and so it goes with human beings, but I would try and judge the book to recommend by what kind of person they were. You can still get a lot from appearances; I wouldn’t recommend ‘Suicide Squad’ to an old lady for example! If they were my age etc, I’d point them in the direction of the books I’ve already mentioned but you can only plant seeds, best way is to help people discover things for themselves. That’s why libraries are great, you can discover cultural treasures that can enrich your life, and it won’t cost you a penny.
Why do you love libraries?
Libraries are more important than ever. In a world dominated by commercial interests, a universally open, public space the whole community can use is vital. For children, reading books is essential for early literacy and education. Some people say you can get everything off the internet now, that’s nonsense, not every book has been digitised. For reference purposes, if you want to learn and absorb anything in depth, you still need to read it in books, and not everything has been digitised, not everyone has an expensive electronic device. It’s also important to have a quiet place to study. Research shows reading information from a screen isn’t absorbed the same way as from a book. You’d be surprised how many people over 50 don’t have basic computer skills. I’m constantly helping people of all ages attach documents and print boarding passes, CVs etc. Then there’s scanning and photocopying. Personally I get tired of looking at a screen all the time too, and nobody sensible wants to take an i-pad on a beach. Then there’s the other services that libraries offer like reading groups, language courses, computer classes, the ability to meet elected officials and MPs, the list goes on. Unfortunately the powers that be have no long-term vision other than cutting the wage bill, and heaven forbid we have a service that is not solely motivated by creating income. Even in the United States libraries are valued and are going through something of a renaissance. In South Korea they’re opening up hundreds of new branches. In the UK, we’re letting them die, especially in the poorest areas where they’re needed most. If you don’t invest in something, decline is inevitable. Personally, I think the whole situation around UK libraries is a disgrace: Austerity is a dead-end.
What’s Brompton Library like?
A TARDIS. You wouldn’t think it would be as large from the outside. It was refurbished a few years ago so it has a nice modern open-plan feel. The people who come in are very diverse, despite appearances not everyone is Kensington and Chelsea is a millionaire, far from it. It’s a very unequal, transient place, but has character and local curiosities. The library is one of the few things in the area holding together any sense of community, as far as I can tell.
How did you get started working in Libraries?
I’m also self-employed as an illustrator (not for Graphic Novels). I was looking for a job that had flexible hours that allowed me to have time for my artistic endeavours but was also contributing to society somehow. It’s become a second calling, I really like it, every day is different and rewarding, and it aligns well with my philosophies on life.
What are your philosophies on life?
Freedom, equality, community, universality… all that stuff and other clichés. Politically, I’m basically a libertarian socialist, and public libraries aren’t too far from being a practical example of those principles in action, so I fit right in.
What’s the best thing about your job?
I like helping people, and often people are really appreciative and grateful when you solve their problem, whether it’s helping them scan something in or find a book they really want to read, or simply asking for directions. I also like helping children find books that they genuinely get excited about, in that way you plant a seed in their curiosity that will affect their cultural diet for the rest of their lives. That’s really satisfying, and it’s always good to see kids enjoying books and comics, and not being glued to a screen all the time.
Tell us a little bit about the Brompton Library Graphic Novel Book Group. How long has it been going for? What does a typical session involve? That kinda thing…
Our reading group has been going for just under a year. Initially it was co-founded by a now ex member of staff who was a real graphic novel enthusiast. He still comes to the groups when he can. Since he left I took over the mantle as I was attending and had by default become the ‘graphic novel co-ordinator’ (which means distributing stock around RBKC and participating in shop buys at Gosh! in Soho). Now I do it unpaid as a volunteer (funding cuts), but because I enjoy it so much I’d rather keep it going and think it’s important to get new people using and attending the library anyway.
The area isn’t typically conducive to the graphic novel/comic book demographic so I’m keen to get more people to come along, but we’ve still had some well attended sessions and it’s been fun to discover new things I would otherwise ignore, and to share books with others that I’ve enjoyed myself. I thought it might be a little awkward at first, but when you get people together who share a common interest it’s surprising how easily the conversation flows. It’s also a great way to meet people in an informal setting.
So far, we’ve read Saga, Ghost in the Shell, Invincible, Watchmen, Palestine, The Walking Dead, Killing and Dying, and Injection among others.
Cool. Thanks David!
Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group
6pm – 7:30pm
First Thursday of every month
Upstairs in the Brompton Library Learning Space
210 Old Brompton Rd, London SW5 0BS