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A Magazine for Sheffield

A new event in town: Graphic Novel Reading Room

Imagine if you didn’t know that films existed, with all their beautiful diversity and variety - and then you suddenly found out about them. Graphic Novel Reading Room is a chance to sample comics in "a quiet but sociable environment."

Graphic novel reading room first event

On a quiet Tuesday evening, a trickle of people started arriving at the Showroom Cinema cafe’s private room.

On entry, they browsed more than 100 independent graphic novels. When they found a book they liked, they grabbed a seat and spent the next three hours reading, having some drinks and snacks, and existing happily in a quiet but sociable environment.

People were all ages, genders, colours and nationalities, joined by their love of reading and curiosity of graphic novels. The sounds of gentle piano music and the turning of pages set the calm atmosphere. These were scenes from the first edition of a new event called the Graphic Novel Reading Room.

The idea for the GNRR began around six years ago when I rediscovered graphic novels, also known as comics. The contrast between how enjoyable these books are and how few people seemed to know about them spurred me on to lend my books out, initially to my friends, trying to introduce more people in the UK to this lesser-known art form.

Continental Europe has a booming comics scene. In France and Belgium, it is often referred to as 'the Ninth Art'. As the books are fairly expensive compared to the amount of time they take to read, they are made to be shared and over the years I have built up a respectable collection that was aching to be read.

I wanted to create the kind of space that I love as an introvert: somewhere quiet enough to read but also in company with people, a similar feeling to libraries, bookshop cafes or deckchair reading at Hay Festival.

The collection of graphic novels participants can choose from is mostly aimed at adults, with ‘serious’ themes like relationships, family, health and philosophy, often dealing with deeply personal or existential questions. Graphic novels are an entirely separate form, not just a genre of literature. Within them a wide range of genres co-exist: fiction, non-fiction, horror, romance, reportage, memoir, sci-fi – and this is before we consider the dizzying array of artistic styles.

The books themselves are wonderful objects to hold and single panels often rival the complexity and beauty of any fine art. It’s a very active, often non-linear form of enjoying stories, as the reader has power over the pacing and can turn pages back to reflect as the story progresses.

Nobody questions the visual language and importance of the motion picture, and graphic novels deserve to be viewed with the same legitimacy. Their stories are often more nuanced than one described solely by words and can yield a more complex tapestry of emotions than other forms. There is a visceral power to sequential art as a tool for storytelling. Humanity has been expressing itself in such a way since its beginnings.

Graphic novel reading room logo

As someone interested in the fundamental reasons for why things are the way they are, I’m fascinated by why so many people either have negative preconceptions about comics and graphic novels, or don’t know anything about them at all. Imagine if you didn’t know that films existed, with all their beautiful diversity and variety, and in such huge numbers for all of us to be enjoyed –and then you suddenly found out about them.

It’s a little-known fact just how many popular non-superhero films or TV series started life as comics, such as Ghost World, Sweet Tooth and the Walking Dead franchise. Their role and potential in entertaining and educating is huge, and that's why I’m on a mission to introduce more people to their wonders.

The feedback from the first event, part of the Yorkshire comic art festival known as Thought Bubble, was great:

"Relaxing, welcoming and calm."

"A great sense of companionship without having to be super social."

"Did I die and go to heaven?"

The most common question was, ‘When will the next one be?’, so the plan is to make this a regular event, with the long-term vision of finding a permanent home for the Reading Room, where people can read and relax any time.

The second event will take place at Showroom Cinema cafe on 19 December 2021, 3-7pm. I hope to see you there.

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