Eisner Grant Winners Honored at ALA Annual | ALA 2019

In the 1970s, the celebrated cartoonist and tireless comics advocate Will Eisner (1917–2005) stood before the Library of Congress and asked that comics be shelved in the library, believing its acceptance of the medium would lead libraries across America to follow suit. Some 20 years later, in 1997, DC Comics became the first comics publisher to exhibit at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual conference.

In the 1970s, the celebrated cartoonist and tireless comics advocate Will Eisner (1917–2005) stood before the Library of Congress and asked that comics be shelved in the library, believing its acceptance of the medium would lead libraries across America to follow suit. Some 20 years later, in 1997, DC Comics became the first comics publisher to exhibit at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual conference. Today, thanks in large part to the persistence and continued efforts of creators such as Eisner, as well as devoted librarians, publishers, and comics fans, resistance to the format has been virtually eclipsed by a renewed appreciation for its storytelling potential and an unprecedented proliferation of new works for all types of readers.

PUSHING COMICS: Master of Ceremonies Michael Martins

Driving this acceptance are the winners of the 2019 Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grants for Libraries, who were honored Saturday, June 22, at a bustling evening reception at the Conrad Hotel in Washington, DC, as part of the ALA Annual conference, held June 20–25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Master of Ceremonies Michael Martins, alongside Carl and Nancy Gropper of the Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation, which funds the awards, and Tina Coleman of the ALA Graphic Novels & Comics Round Table (GNCRT), which oversees the grant selection process, led off with the aforementioned brief history of comics in libraries and a touching tribute to Eisner, who reportedly wrote in a 1976 article for LJ’s sister publication, School Library Journal, that “graphic novels did not exist effectively until all libraries and schools had them in their collections.” “Today, he would have been proven right,” quipped Martins.

The recipients of this year’s two Growth Grants, which support libraries wishing to expand their existing graphic novels collections, were Rachel Podpaly of Cesar Chavez Middle School Library, Hayward, CA, for her project “English Learners and Graphic Novels: Enhancing a Middle School Library Graphic Novel Collection To Ignite Newcomer Immigrant Youth Literacy,” and Laura Panter and Stacey Paynter of Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY, whose “Mock Will Eisner Awards” encourage aspiring young creators to launch their own graphic projects.

COMICS IN THE CLASSROOM: Podpaly accepts the Growth Grant for Cesar Chavez Middle School Library, Hayward, CA

For grant author and librarian Podpaly, whose school is situated in one of the most diverse communities in the country—“80 percent of the students speak a language other than English”—bringing graphic novels into the classroom as instructional tools instills a passion for independent learning and reading in the library and the classroom. “My students absolutely devour graphic novels…from August to June I probably don’t see graphic novels on the shelves.” Collaborating closely with language arts teachers and specialists, Podpaly plans to develop curriculum that incorporates comics to foster a new literacy.

Accepting the honor for her work with colleague Paynter, who stayed home for the birth of her first child, Panter pointed out that 19 percent of the students in her district had special needs and were on the autism spectrum. This means teachers are implementing a lot of adaptive programming, said Panter, an area she and Paynter are advancing through their innovative graphic arts offerings. How it works is students who complete a short graphic story or comic strip are eligible to submit their work for consideration for a Mock Eisner Award, which will be presented at “Graphic Novel Night” during the 2020 Sachem Con.

ADVOCATES ADAPTING: Panter (c.) accepts the Growth Grant for Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY, along with the Groppers of the Will & Ann Eisner Family Foundation (l.), and ALA's Coleman (r.)

The Innovation Grant, which assist libraries initiating a new graphic novels service, was awarded to Corrections Librarian Jerilynne Stewart on behalf of the State Correctional Institution Mahonoy Library, Frackville, PA, for her project “Doing Time Doesn’t Have To Mean Behind the Times: Boosting Visual Literacy in a Non-Internet, No Smart Phones Community. ” Stewart hopes to introduce more nonfiction into her current graphic collection, which consists mostly of series such as “Harley Quinn,” “Deadpool,” and “Black Panther.” “These books fly off the shelves, are out all the time…but we have the university that is working with us on how to train teachers to use graphic novels in the classroom, and waiving any fees [for that instruction] allows us to use that money to facilitate programs for inmates. These include reading challenges and graphic novels clubs,” explained Stewart.

 PROGRAMS FOR INMATES: Corrections Librarian Stewart, Mahonoy Library, Frackville, PA, accepts her award

Grant recipients each received a $2,000 voucher to purchase graphic novels from Diamond Book Distributors, $1,000 to host a graphic novel–themed event, and a $1,000 travel stipend to attend the 2019 ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. Moreover, each library will acquire the Will Eisner Library (a graphic novel collection of Eisner’s work and biographies of the acclaimed creator), along with copies of the titles nominated for this year’s Will Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic-Con.

 Winners and sponsors (l.-r.): Coleman, Podpaly, Stewart, Panter, Carl Gropper, and Nancy Gropper

Capping off the evening were smart and moving presentations from various artists, writers, and representatives of the event’s sponsors: from IDW, cocreators Harmony Becker, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott [with George Takei] of They Called Us Enemy; W.W. Norton, Golda Rademacher; Boom! Studios, Gabby Dunn, Bury the Lede; the French Comics Association, Thierry Laroche [of publisher Gallimard] and Julia Billet, Catherine’s War; and Image Comics' Nathan Fox, The Weatherman.

Creators & sponsor reps share their stories (l. to r.): Becker, Eisinger, Scott; Rademacher; Billet, Laroche; and Fox

 

Photos © 2019 Stephen Gosling Photography

Author Image
Annalisa Pešek

Annalisa Pešek (apesek@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor, LJ Reviews
[photograph by John Sarsgard]

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