Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Scott Robins Chats about Comics with Susan Hughes

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A Paren'ts Guide to the Best Kids' Comics by Scott Robins and Snow Wildsmith

I'll never forget reading Chester Brown's graphic novel LOUIS RIEL: A COMIC-STRIP BIOGRAPHY shortly after it was published in 2003. The words and images combined to bring alive the dramatic real-life story of Louis Riel. Since then, I've been convinced that graphic novels provide a unique form of storytelling.

The Toronto Comics Art Festival is being held this Saturday, May 5, and Sunday, May 6, at the Toronto Reference Library. To highlight this event, I thought I'd speak with a guy who is totally in the know when it comes to comics and graphic novels.

SCOTT ROBINS is a librarian at the Toronto Public Library, a contributing blogger for Good Comics for Kids via School Library Journal.com, and the children's programming director for the annual Toronto Comic Arts Festival. He has served on the graphic novel selection committee for the Canadian Children's Book Centre's Best Books for Kids and Teens in 2010 and 2011 and was a jury member of the 2011 Joe Shuster Awards in the "Comics for Kids" category. He's also co-written a new book called "A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love."

ME: Thanks for agreeing to talk with me about comics and graphic novels, Scott! Not that long ago, many people (parents and librarians especially) didn't think very highly of comics or graphic novels. They didn't consider them "real" reading material. As a librarian, how would you respond to this view now?

SCOTT: Reading is reading. And reading just isn’t about text but images as well, and graphic novels have plenty of both. There has been a huge shift in the acceptance of graphic novels as “real” reading over the past ten years that started with librarians who saw first-hand how they get kids exciting about reading. Educators are coming on board, using graphic novels in their classroom to teach visual literacy, to connect readers to other material and to engage reluctant readers. That’s not to say that there are still some out there who don’t believe that graphic novels are indeed “real” reading, but we’re getting louder than them.

ME: What is it you love most about comics and graphic novels aimed at kids?

SCOTT: I love the simple stories, and by simple I don’t mean dumbed down but economic. A good graphic novel for kids has a clear plot and engaging characters. But that doesn’t mean that graphic novels for kids can’t address complex topics, issues or concepts. They walk that fine line between these two areas and that gives them an incredible energy that kids are instantly drawn to. Plus, most graphic novels for kids possess a wacky or off-the-wall sense of humor that I personally love.

ME: Why did you decide to write your book and how did you decide which comics to include in it?

SCOTT: The initial decision wasn’t mine. I was asked by Snow Wildsmith, my co-writer, to write the book with her after she was approached by editors at Krause Publications who had the idea for the book. I was glad she did! As for what titles to include, Snow and I brainstormed an initial list and then made edits based on an equal number of titles for each grade level, a variety of genres, a fair representation of all the publishers creating graphic novels for kids, and titles that were readily available and in print. From there, we finalized a list of 100 books and series.

ME: Do you write or draw for kids -- or have any aspirations to do either? If not and you could do one amazingly well, which would you choose and why?

SCOTT: I definitely have a few ideas for graphic novels aimed at kids. I have a particular story idea that I’ve been developing since my early 20’s but I would need an artist to help me out. That is unless I decide to go the stick figure route but I’m not sure if my crude art style would go well with my story idea.

ME: As you know, the Toronto Comics Art Festival is taking place on May 5 at the Toronto Reference Library. Are you planning to attend? Can you tell us why, and suggest why it might appeal to other Torontonians?

SCOTT: I’m doing more than attend – I’m working it! I’ve been involved with organizing the children’s programming at TCAF since 2005. It’s a lot of fun working with authors and illustrators that create material for kids but also seeing the reactions of kids when they meet their favourites like Raina Telgemeier or Andy Runton. I’m also fortunate to be opening the first-ever TCAF Librarian and Educator Day this Friday. Snow and I will be doing a short presentation on graphic novel basics and why they’re important for kids. As for the show’s appeal to Torontonians, TCAF has something for everyone, whether you’re a hardcore comic fan, a casual reader, a webcomics enthusiast or a fan of zines and independent press. And the loads of kids programming makes it a great weekend out for families. It is unlike any other comics event that I’ve been to.

ME:Your book, "A Parent's Guide to the Best Kids' Comics: Choosing Titles Your Children Will Love," is being published this spring by Krause Publications. A little birdie told me that you're having a book launch very soon ....?

SCOTT: That little birdie was correct! The book launch will be right after TCAF`s Librarian and Educator Day at the Pilot Tavern, 22 Cumberland St. from 4:30 to 6:30pm. Snow and I will be speaking briefly about the book and will be on hand to sign copies.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Susan Hughes

Susan Hughes is an award-winning author whose books include The Island Horse, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed, Earth to Audrey and Virginia.

Go to Susan Hughes’s Author Page