Librarians & Libraries in Comic Books

by Mychal R. Ludwig, Head Editor, INALJ New Mexico 

Librarians & Libraries in Comic Books 

MychalLudwigLIS workers of all categories are quite commonly utilized in fictional settings, as main and supporting characters, as well as for incidental run-ins with those primary persons.

How exactly are those info-professionals portrayed, in both personality and in comportment? Does it depend on the medium, whether in film or novel, or sequential art? Are secondary characters more likely to be shown as negative librarian stereotypes than primary protagonists?

Selecting my current obsession of comic books as a vehicle for exploring this topic, I’ve gone though my own back-issue and trade collection and included an encouragingly diverse set of librarians and other info-workers.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Retreat. VOL. 6. Page 27. Panel 6. March 2010.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Retreat. VOL. 6. Page 27. Panel 6. March 2010.

Giles is the librarian/mentor of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in both the television and comic book series. Although portrayed somewhat stereotypically, British and dressed librarian-casual, he is a prime example of “more than meets the eye”, which is a rather positive personality trait in my opinion.

Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel. Binary. Page 3. Panels 3 & 4. March 2007.

Ms. Marvel. Binary. Page 3. Panels 3 & 4. March 2007.

Here in a one-shot issue of Marvel Comics Ms. Marvel, this public librarian, a completely incidental character, is shown in perhaps the most stereotypical, and some would say, negative way possible. Shelving, older, a Caucasian woman, with a tight bun, glasses, and a skirt; if only she told the boys to “shhh” then it’d be complete.  I think we’d all agree this is the most enduring image of the librarian, unfortunately or not.

My Little Pony

My Little Pony: Micro-Series. Featuring Twilight Sparkle. Issue #1. Page 5, Panels 1 & 2. February 2013.

My Little Pony: Micro-Series. Featuring Twilight Sparkle. Issue #1. Page 5, Panels 1 & 2. February 2013.

Here’s a two-for-one that’ll please all Bronies. The archivist of the magical kingdom of Equestria, and Ponyville graduate student and librarian Twilight Sparkle. While initially show in the traditional older-women-with-glasses-and-attitude mode, the archivist ends up changing into a happier, more satisfied pony. Perhaps this is a criticism of the old librarian trope? I’m not sure.

My Little Pony: Micro-Series. Featuring Twilight Sparkle. Issue #1. Page 8, Panels 3-4. February 2013.

My Little Pony: Micro-Series. Featuring Twilight Sparkle. Issue #1. Page 8, Panels 3-4. February 2013.

Twilight Sparkle, here showing the still grumbling archivist that she understand how to read a title and shelve a book, represents a youthful, intelligent, loyal, and friendly pony, presenting an incredibly positive perception of a librarian, professional or not (she sort of just inherits a library).

Sex Criminals

Sex Criminals. Issue #1. Page 25, Panels 1-4. September 2013.

Sex Criminals. Issue #1. Page 25, Panels 1-4. September 2013.

In the quite adult comic Sex Criminals, our main character works at a public library, which is being closed by a city in obvious financial trouble. She takes on a personal mission to buy or obtain as many of the library’s books as possible, storing them in her house in a perhaps misguided attempt to save the library. Here we see here first fall in love with libraries as a young women.

Sex Criminals. Issue #1. Page 28, Panel 4. September 2013.

Sex Criminals. Issue #1. Page 28, Panel 4. September 2013.

Again in Sex Criminals, our main protagonist meets our other protagonist. I’ve included this because I love hearing people say “liberry” or “libarry”. I’d have to say, this librarian is quite a progressive modern person, not at all the typical old crone that we often see.

Six-Gun Gorilla

Six Gun Gorilla. Issue #1. Page 4, Panel 4. June 2013.

Six-Gun Gorilla. Issue #1. Page 4, Panel 4. June 2013.

In the sci-fi story of Six-Gun Gorilla, our protagonist is a public librarian obsessed with fiction in a world that devours violent reality-TV. While he seems anachronistic and a bit of a traditionalist, he serves as an interesting critique of his societies obsession with realism and the here-and-now. And what’s better than a futuristic librarian fighting with a cowboy gorilla with six-shooters?

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead. Vol. 4: The Heart’s Desire. Page 39, Panel 6.  2012.

The Walking Dead. Vol. 4: The Heart’s Desire. Page 39, Panel 6. 2012.

Ah, The Walking Dead. In both the comic books and in the television show, our survivors inhabit a somewhat abandoned prison. Within it they find the prison library, full of books, magazines, DVDs, and all sorts of things they hadn’t thought or cared about while out fending off walkers. The sudden realization by that they missed enjoying the fiction that the library offered, or by others, the information offered, really leads me to ponder quite often about the role of information, libraries, and librarians in a post-apocalyptic world. I’d read a book or comic book series that revolved around a librarian who provided survivors with vital information.

I’d love to hear everyone else’s opinion about LIS workers as portrayed in comics, or any other medium you might favor. Which characters are you partial to? What stories would you like to read or watch?

  9 comments for “Librarians & Libraries in Comic Books

  1. JT
    November 21, 2013 at 8:32 am

    Crtl-F “Batgirl” not found.

    I think Barbara Gordon has been pretty representative as a librarian. After all, she was head of the Gotham Public Library and has a Ph.D in library science. As Batgirl, she used her deductive information literacy skills to solve crimes. In her post-Batgirl life as the information nexus “Oracle,” she was providing background information on villians and cases not only to Batman and related characters, but the Justice League as well.

    Regardless, this is a great post! Thanks for posting it.

  2. Kelly
    November 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    I’m lucky enough to work at a library for info studies majors, and we have a mini-collection of materials that feature various depictions of librarians. Two prominent comic-related examples we showcase are a series called Rex Libris (“the kick-ass librarian”), and Detective Comics #643, which features a villainous librarian who kills people and catalogs them. Rex is plain over-the-top, while the ‘Tec issue is from 1992, and reflects the “dowdy, shushing, cat toting” stereotypes that many people conjure up when they think of librarianship.

    • Matthew Williams
      November 21, 2013 at 11:22 am

      I love Rex Libris and have all the comics in the series.

  3. November 19, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Check out the Sandman which has a library of all the books dreamed about, but not written.

  4. November 18, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    My husband has said the first thing he’d do is head to a large library and let me loose to find the information needed to survive. :)

  5. November 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    What fun- this popped up today as well: a new librarian podcast (and Tumblr) In the Library with a Comic book!!! http://inthelibrarywithacomicbook.tumblr.com/

  6. November 18, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I was recently reading Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brogsol, and was delighted by the old-school library it depicted. Vera visits the library to do some research on a historical murder. There, she uses the microfilm reader–after being instructed how to do so by a geeky classmate who, recently emigrated from Russia, is familiar with this seemingly archaic machinery. It’s a cliche of a library–imposing, stuffy–but I thought it was cool. Incidentally, Anya’s bedroom is the best teen bedroom in all of comics.

  7. Mary Smith
    November 18, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Sex Criminals is my favorite comic at the moment. Nice catch!

Comments are closed.