How a Comic Book Helped Me Re-Discover a Love of Reading

By Sonya Leung

By Sonya Leung

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After a year spent at home with my new baby I returned to work at Cameron Library during winter term reading week. Since becoming a parent, all I read were picture books - some with no words at all. My attention span had also changed; if something was not about children or my work, it would be hard for me to focus on it. So, I decided to challenge myself to do something I thought would bring my brain back into the adult world: I set a goal TO READ ONE WHOLE BOOK.

One day during the summer term, someone returned a comic book to me at the library desk. MausMaus had such an engaging cover that it made me flip through the book. Since becoming a parent, stories of families in hardship were too much for me to handle and I realized that I wasn't quite ready to read the book that was in my hands. But then it hit me: I could reach my book reading goal by reading a comic book!

Inside Maus I found the bookplate that read "Gilbert Bouchard Collection of Postmodernism, Visual Culture, and Pop Literature" and I could recall the name of this collection because the library acquired it when I first started working at Cameron Library in 2011. Bruce Peel Special Collections even featured an exhibit of these comics entitled I'm No SupermanI'm No Superman in 2011. I found the exhibit catalogue where I learned about who Gilbert Bouchard was. Bouchard, a writer and arts commentator, was well known and respected in the arts community. He was an alumnus of U of A and worked on the student newspaper The Gateway in the 1980s. He went on to write for publications such as the Edmonton Journal and CBC radio. Bouchard passed away in 2009 and his impressive collection of post-modern work was given to the library.

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What I found for myself in the Bouchard Collection was FablesFables, a comic book that has an adult twist on classic fairy tales. I reached my book reading goal in one lunch hour. Soon after, I had read all 82 issues of Fables, followed by all 32 issues of the spin off series Jack of FablesJack of Fables. The comics in the Bouchard Collection made me feel like I had accomplished a grown up thing by reading books with adult themes and I felt cool doing it. I felt like I was a whole person again.

When I talked to the people that have worked closest with the Bouchard Collection, I learned that I wasn't the only one that felt moved by the collection. As Andy Grabia, curator of the I'm No Superman exhibit and comic book aficionado, puts it: "gaining access to his collection was a bit like having access to his soul. For that opportunity, I am forever grateful." Grabia also reflected on fond memories of working with Jeff Papineau, Library Assistant at Bruce Peel Special Collections, while putting together the exhibit. When the Library received Bouchard's collection of comic books, the library team decided Bouchard's collection should be shared with the community just like Bouchard's lifelong dedication to share knowledge and appreciation for the arts. Papineau, who was also an acquaintance of Bouchard's told me: "we all had no doubt that this is what Gilbert would have wished."

Years have passed since I discovered Fables, but I still turn to the Bouchard Collection when I'm looking for something fun to read. With over 2700 titles I always find something new and cool. The Gilbert Bouchard Collection of Postmodernism, Visual Culture, and Pop Literature The Gilbert Bouchard Collection of Postmodernism, Visual Culture, and Pop Literature is on display for the month of January at Rutherford and Cameron libraries on North Campus and at Bibliothèque Saint-Jean on Campus Saint-Jean where Bouchard is an Alumnus.

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Some comic recommendations:

My top picks are FablesFables, Jack of FablesJack of Fables and Cat Eyed BoyCat Eyed Boy.

Grabia recommends Simpsons comics, The Spirit Archives and what he calls "the three seminal comics from 1986:" MausMaus, The Watchmen The Watchmen and The Dark Knight ReturnsThe Dark Knight Returns.

Papineau recommends #$@ &!#$@ &!, Quimby the mouse, Paul moves out, Twentieth century eightball, Quimby the mouse, Paul moves out, Twentieth century eightball, and Astro Boy.Astro Boy.

Suzette Chan, Administrative Assistant in the Department of Physics and a close friend of Gilbert Bouchard, recommends the Seven Soldiers series by Grant Morrison and various artists: "a mainstream superhero crossover series that questions pop culture cannibalization of itself and other storytelling forms." She also recommends Fredric Wertham and the critique of mass cultureFredric Wertham and the critique of mass culture, Testament, Power Girl, Half a Crown, and Louis RielTestament, Power Girl, Half a Crown, and Louis Riel as comics and books that "represent the different types of material in the collection," and notes that "their subject matters are still relevant today."

Check out some comics from the Gilbert Bouchard Collection of Postmodernism, Visual Culture, and Pop LiteratureGilbert Bouchard Collection of Postmodernism, Visual Culture, and Pop Literature in the displays at Cameron Library, Rutherford Library, and Bibliotheque Saint-Jean in January 2020. You can also view more of the collection in the library catalogue.more of the collection in the library catalogue.

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Sonya Leung

Sonya Leung is a Public Service Assistant at The University of Alberta Library. She is a mother of two and has a healthy obsession with Harry Potter.