A selection of the graphic novels at duPont. Photo by Colton Williams (C’21).
By Max Saltman
Sewanee is, at its core, a deeply frustrating place. While our college is undeniably beautiful, it doesn’t take long for its rupestrian majesty to fade into the background, for its solitude to slide into isolation, or its novel traditions to sour into tedious pageantry. What’s more, the line between expressing healthy frustration and being a whiny brat is dangerously fine. How do we retain a basic appreciation for this wacky place while still avoiding its clutches? Everyone develops their own methods of temporary escape. Mine, like generations of greasy little nerdboys before me, is in the library.
Neatly shelved behind the DVD section, opposite the Fooshee Collection on the first floor, DuPont Library’s comics section has remained my hideaway since freshman year. It’s almost frightening how well-stocked our school is in terms of graphic novels, and the collection seems to grow every time I visit.
The range is astounding: Stylish alternative comics from the early 90s sit beside anthologies of classic 20th century newspaper strips like George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, or Winsor McCay’s beautifully surreal Little Nemo in Slumberland. Trashy manga and X-Men comics mingle with the dark, serious “woodcut novels” of Lynn Ward. There are comics about Israel and Palestine, there are comics about New Jersey, there are comics about outer space, and there are comics about nothing at all, really.
I’ve loved comics and graphic novels longer than I can remember. I started with the classic gateway drug: newspaper strips. As a kid in Somerville, Massachusetts, I ogled the brightly colored Sunday edition of the Boston Globe, reading every single strip with a borderline-religious intensity before my dad dragged my brother and I to Hebrew school. In middle school, I copied Matt Groening’s Life in Hell bunnies onto legal pads until my hand cramped. In high school, I used to spend hours reading books like Alan Moore’s Watchmen or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis at the public library in Lexington, losing myself completely in their dark, brilliant storytelling.
When I take a trip to the comics section after a long, frustrating day, it’s like stepping into a time machine. I find myself taken back to those Sunday mornings in the kitchen of my old house in Somerville. I can smell the reading room of the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington. I can feel the pain in my drawing hand.
There’s also an exciting sense of discovery. The collection at Sewanee is large enough that I notice a new book whenever I stop by. It’s a simple process: I take one of the hundred-odd volumes, sink into the deep leather couch across from the shelves, and read without any thought of time, responsibility, or effort. Because comics are generally shorter than regular novels, I can usually read them pretty fast. Last week, I devoured in a single afternoon The Lie and How We Told It, a fantastically strange graphic novella by Australian artist Tommi Parrish. It’s the same sense of accomplishment one might get from finishing a book delivered at twice the speed.
So, if you happen to find yourself afflicted by the oscillating February weather, besieged by the stress of classes, or struck by the Sunday night blues, I highly encourage a walk to the library. Take the first right after the front desk. Walk past the periodicals and DVDs, then take another right. If you reach the travel guides, you’ve gone too far. No need to hurry, however. The comics section is always there, never crowded, and waiting.