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Inmates' use of Leisure Reading Materials (comics) in a State Correctional Institution Library - Part I
By Philip Ephraim, PhD, Corrections Librarian at State Correctional Institution, Graterford, PA
Published: 03/12/2012

Comic book Introduction:

Comic books and graphic novels are some of the newest fully fledged art forms, a vibrant hybrid medium birthed in America and brimming with all the wildly experimental vigor of youth. Traditionally associated with children narratives and object of condescension and ridicule, their value has only recently captured academic attention. Developing a pedagogical approach to comics and focusing students’ attention on how to analyze the language of sequential story telling will help them move through a world where visual and verbal communication content increasingly converge, and where visual literacy is as important as verbal literacy. Modern TV commercials, billboard advertising, play acting and even public speaking are good examples of this convergence. If we are preparing the inmates for life after jail, we need to expose them to comics as a vehicle of enhancing their visual literacy.

Definitions of types of comic materials:

Comic Book: A comic book or comicbook (often shortened to simply comics or funny book) is a magazine made of comic narrative artwork in the form of separate panels that represent individual scenes often accompanied by a dialog usually in a word balloon, emblematic of the comic book art form as well as including brief descriptive prose.

Graphic Novels: These represent a more thematically mature work than many have come to expect in a comic medium. It takes the form of several stories on a theme.

Comic Strips: Most newspapers and magazines carry comic strips, which are once again obviously briefer than the comic book. Many Strips are available exclusively online, and are known as “webcomics”. All three: comic books, graphic novels and comic strips are sometimes referred to as sequential art.

Digital comics: Digital comics (also known as ecomics) can refer to either comic crated entirely on a computer (as opposed to comics drawn by conventional media, scanned and colored on computer) or comics released digitally (as opposed to print). It involves the use of 3-D computer graphics applications to create characters and backgrounds.

Superheroes: Are comics that feature characters of supernatural abilities. This comic genre is the common glue that holds other genres together. There are heroic superheroes, horrific superheroes, comedic superheroes, fantasy superheroes, science superheroes, animal superheroes.

Esoteric comics: These are realistic than the superheroes comic books, but they do not necessarily have to be real to life. Readers who want to think a bit more about what they are reading enjoy reading these kinds of comic books.

Manga Style: Manga comics are Japanese. In the United States, these books are translated into English. With the popularity of these comic books, some are produced in countries other than Japan. Manga is often divided into genres based on the intended audience, such as young female ( shoujo), young male (shonen ), older female( josie) and male( seinen).

Science fiction: these comics tell futuristic stories and incorporate advanced technology and usually travel through space. Many superheroes comic books fall under the science fiction category. Nonetheless, superheroes comic books belong to a category of their own.

Fantasy books: These involve fantasy creatures, swords, sorcery, mythological figures. Some deal with funny animals and are kids-friendly. Many have been turned into successful novels.

Action/Adventure Comics:

They do not only involve characters with special powers but everyday people experiencing conflicts. Most characters however are detectives or policemen and the stories focus on their battles against crime.

Horror Comics: There feature zombies, monsters, aliens, vampires.

Romantic Comics: These have to do with stories about love and relationships. Many times, these comics cross over from one genre to another.

Study Site:

This study was carried out at the State Correctional Institution, Graterford, (SCI-Graterford) Libraries, in the state of Pennsylvania. SCI-Graterford founded in 1929, has two full service libraries and serve a population of about 3000 inmates. Thus the library patrons consist of individuals in confinement and in need of reading materials, a dynamic population of persons of different ages, levels of reading and education, lengths of incarceration and reading interests. This study looked at how inmates appropriate comics and graphic novels in our libraries.

Literature Review:

Contrary to views of some writers (Wertham, 1954), research has shown that comic book reading does not replace other kinds of reading. Comic book readers, in general, read as much as non-comic book readers (Witty, 1941; Heisler, 1947; Bailyn, 1959; Swain, 1978) and the result of one study suggests they read more (Blakely, 1958). Krashen (1993) suggests that comic book reading and other kinds of light reading may serve as an important bridge from everyday “conversational” language to what Cummins (1991) terms “academic language”. This view is supported by studies showing that comic book text contain more rare words than ordinary conversation does (Hayes and Ahrens, 1998) as well as case history readers who credit comic reading with the linguistic basis for reading more difficult texts (Mathabane, 1986). A popular criticism of comic book reading and of “light reading” in general is that readers, once they start to do light reading will never move on to more serious reading. Reassuring evidence comes from findings that readers gradually expand their reading interests as they read more (La Brant, 1958). To summarize, in his seminal work, The Decline of Reading in America, Poverty and Access to Books, and the Use of Comics in Encouraging Reading, Krashen, (2005) observes that, although there is no evidence for obvious decline in interest in reading in the United States, there are many children who do not read well. For most part, these are children of poverty who have little access to books. The solution to their reading problems is straight forward: improve schools and public libraries. For those with access to books and still “reluctant” readers, there is a good reason to believe that comic book reading and other forms of light reading can serve as a conduit to “heavier” reading.

Methodology:

The study was carried out by the analysis of library catalog and loans record for the year 2011. It was followed up with a conversation in the library with some library users. All books with Dewey Classification number 741.5, which is assigned for comic books in our collections, were printed off our computer catalog. Each title was then entered into the circulation report platform and the circulation history of the book for the year under study was generated and tracked. This was compared to the complimentary loans record kept by card system for accuracy. The data were tabulated, analyzed and findings drawn.

Research Questions:

The studies set out to answer the following Four questions:
  1. What are the major types of comic books at SCI-Graterford Libraries?
  2. What percentage of all leisure check outs do comics constitute?
  3. What are the different genres of comics checked out for reading by inmates?
  4. Which of these two genres (comic book and graphic novel) is more popular at SCI-Graterford Libraries?


Editor's note: Corrections.com author, Philip Ephraim, is a Corrections Librarian, at the State Correctional Institution, in Graterford, PA. He has served on numerous library committees.

Other articles by Ephraim



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