By Matthew Rodriguez
Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor
Driven by their shared love for manga, graphic novels and comic books South Pasadena Librarians Cynthia Mitchem and Olivia Radbill started a comic book club to spread the literary art form to their visitors.
“It’s an entire world filled with lots of people,” Radbill said. “Hopefully the club will be able to introduce people to that world. There’s so much different graphic literature.”
The club began in April and, with COVID-19 still looming, it began gathering via Zoom. They provide the reading materials for each meeting through the library’s databases.
“It’s kind of something we talked about as an adult program we could do,” Radbill said.
“There’s a lot of different elements of the story to discuss: the artwork, the dialogue, the themes, the context, all of that. I love the format of graphic novel clubs and we wanted to bring that to the library.”
The club generally attracts four to nine people, which allows the group to have a livelier discussion. The club’s virtual nature allows people outside of the city from places such as Ohio to join in on the discussion.
“Our audience is pretty spread out,” Radbill said. “We have a couple of locals attend from South Pasadena, but for the most part, we’ve been getting people from Thousand Oaks. We’ve had someone from Ohio come one time.”
Mitchem and Radbill curate the books for each month, typically tying them to current events. In the past, the two have led discussions on “They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei for Asian American and Pacific Islander Month and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe for Pride Month. The club invited Kobabe to talk about her graphic novel via Zoom, where about 70 people from across North America attended.
“We make all the decisions for what books we’re going to read,” Radbill said. “We sometimes try to tie it into something that’s happening, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s a little more informal.”
While the two librarians love comics, and its various subgenres, their fondness with the literary form stems from two different places.
Radbill began delving into the graphic novel world when she was in graduate school and landed her first library job as a shelver. She was captivated by the vast range of topics graphic novels covered but fascinated by the horror genre.
“When you are looking at a graphic novel, it’s not just about the words you’re reading,” Radbill said. “You’re looking at people’s expressions, you’re looking at the action and you’re interpreting those, putting them in context, and that’s an important skill for building literacy.”
Radbill also runs her own comic book club outside of the library for women, mainly focusing on literature written or illustrated by females.
Mitchem said, while she loved reading Garfield, Peanuts and Calvin Hobbes, she was enamored by mangas, comics or graphic novels originating in Japan. Mitchem, who is half Japanese, used the mangas to help her connect with her heritage and to hone her grasp of the Japanese language.
“It was a way to learn more common phrases and to see language in a more natural setting,” she said. “Your parents aren’t going to teach you how to say some of the slang.”
The comic book club meets every 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month, and will continue to meet via Zoom. The next meeting is on Aug. 5 and features the manga adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” by Gou Tanabe.
“We are super open to having all opinions and all different types of people,” Radbill said.