Art Spiegelman (Maus) calls teachers and librarians today's foremost allies of the graphic novel. Sounds right to me.
Last summer, there were more than a few high school teachers learning alongside me at the Center for Cartoon Studies. An amazing bonus to being at CCS was browsing and borrowing from The Schulz Library, named for Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. Here at home in Phoenix, I depend heavily on the library system to feed my need for graphic reading without breaking the bank.
Hardcover graphic novels are pricey, but by researching, working the "Hold" system of the library, and being patient, I'm up to my eyeballs in graphic novels at all times. Just now, I have over a dozen graphic novels checked out from the Scottsdale and Phoenix Public Libraries. Among them are books from "Best Graphic Novels" lists and 2012 Eisner Award nominees. And when I fall in love with a borrowed book and am ready to add it to my personal collection, I've already vetted it and feel okay about forking over the full cover price to a local, independent bookseller.
Using one example of a truly great recent graphic novel, Daytripper (Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon), here's how I work it:
1. Research. There are lists. I'm making my way through the Graphic Novel Reporter's Core Adult List, and since they update it semi-annually, I'm unlikely to ever get ahead of it. There are award and award nomination lists, too, such as The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, presented annually at The Comic-Con.
One Soul (Guy Fawkes), reviewed here previously, is a 2012 nominee. Also, and I swear I use it mostly for browsing, Amazon sometimes "suggests" something that proves to be worth checking out -- from the library, I mean. I don't remember how I initially found Daytripper; it originally was published as a series. It wouldn't have been on my radar until it was collected in book form in 2011, and it was several months after publication until I was aware of it.
2. Use the libraries' hold and inter-library loan systems. Hard. I have both Scottsdale and Phoenix library cards and keep active on both. Each library has a limit on the number of books you can have held for you, but on both systems you also have the ability to create lists.
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As each of your hold requests is fulfilled, you can pluck another title off your "bookshelf" to queue up a request. And when your requested item is available, it's delivered to whatever branch you pick, and you have 10 days or so to pick it up. If your desired title isn't in the catalog? Then you can suggest a purchase right on the library's website. I've done it, and the Phoenix Public Library bought the title.
In Scottsdale, if you suggest a title and they purchase it, they also automatically place a hold for you, so you get first dibs. How great is that? However, all this no-dollar awesomeness does have a price:
3. Patience. Daytripper was published in early 2011, I found out about it at the end of the year. When I first searched the Scottsdale and Phoenix Public Libraries, Scottsdale showed it as "Coming Soon." I placed a hold in Scottsdale and waited. And waited. And waited. A few weeks ago, Daytripper made it to the shelf in Scottsdale and then to my house. Patience was rewarded because it is an amazing book, one that I will be buying because I will need to read it again. And other folks should get a crack at the library copies. Check it out: Three copies in the Scottsdale system call number GRAPHIC MOON.