It is simple to find a true joy in listening to an impassioned person speak knowledgeably about the topics they love. Someone who finds a deep appreciation and curiosity in whatever subject it may be, deserves respect.
Garyn Roberts, Ph.D fits that description. A small, but enthused audience gathered May 1 at the Rhinelander District Library to have each and every one of their questions answered about the comics they grew up knowing and loving.
No matter the question, no matter how abstruse, Roberts was able to dig from his wealth of knowledge to not only give an answer, but give an answer that expanded far deeper than the original inquiry. What a joy it is, no matter your interest in the long, expansive history of comics, to hear someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge base, and a long list of author credits, to speak on the topic.
Roberts is a multiple, international award-winning author and award winning college professor. His awards include the National Popular Culture Book Award (for The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy) and the Munsey Award (for lifetime achievements in the study of pulp magazine fiction).
A professor of more than 34 years, Roberts has authored and edited hundreds of essays, articles, encyclopedia entries, books and more. Recent publications in 2017 include editorship of "Dick Tracy: Colorful Cases of the 1930s." Roberts also chairs the Dick Tracy museum in Woodstock, Ill.
Prone to winding tangents, in the best possible way, Roberts uses his acquired information to connect comics' historical influence to the modern day. Perhaps most relevant, the comic book industry's deep ties to the Midwest.
Some of the discussion centered around Dick Tracy, a comic strip centered around the tough, plainclothes police officer which gained a massive following after its initial debut in the Detroit Mirror in Oct. of 1931. The comic was created by Chester Gould, who went on to live in Woodstock, Ill. Oh, and Roberts just happened to become acquainted with him.
Roberts has become acquainted with a lot of people in the comic book scene, which added to many of the personal anecdotes he shared during the discussion. He managed to do so without acting as a "know-it-all," or by casually name-dropping, just simply using his acquired comprehension to make the most for the visitor of the library that night.
The event acted as part of the kick off to the Rhinelander District Library's Free Comic Book celebration, where donated materials have been available for no cost at the library throughout the week. The celebration concluded May 6 with Rhinelander's own Thomas Barnett, author and artist of the children's book series "Bob the Hodag," discussing his career path. A book signing will follow the author chat.
A series of wonderful, thought-expanding discussions have been a recent trend at Rhinelander District Library, as library director (and wife of Garyn Roberts) Virginia Roberts has sought to bring in a vast array of individuals to provide an educational outlet to the public on topics from natural resource conservation, to book binding.
"We're two nerds, that's for sure," Virginia Roberts said following her husband's talk. "How many wives would let their husbands have comic books, and vice versa? Now our kids have rival comic book collections."
Virginia Roberts is a firm proponent of the idea of growing up with books in the household, as she did herself. Whether they be comic books or otherwise, the power comes from within the reader to dive into the pages of a book, no matter its subject matter.
"That ability to think critically really comes from reading, I believe. Even if they're only reading fiction," she said. "People diss comic books, but the reality is that a lot of the vocabulary in comic books is higher than an eighth grade level. These are reading big long words with complex ideas. Where else are they going to dream?"
An interest in comic books has been strongly revived, thanks in part to the blockbuster success of films such as Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy and other superhero-based films. That has expanded to the rise of graphic novels, which create a bridge from fiction to comic books.
"Comic books are very important to kids who think that nobody gets them. The nerdy kids that nobody gets, and the not-so-nerdy kids that nobody gets," Roberts said. "When you're in the middle of the pack and you're confused, getting bitten by a radioactive spider doesn't seem so bad. I imagine that comic books have saved more than one life."
That idea can be taken as a theme. Whether it be comic books, music, art, having a passionate interest, and a place to explore it, can be the difference in feeling connected to something greater than yourself. The Rhinelander District Library, and other Northwoods libraries, are consistently offering educational, mind-expanding opportunities that people can become involved in - whether they are a troubled 13-year-old or an 83-year -old hoping to learn something new.
The trope of knowledge being power is true, and libraries give people an outlet - a sanctuary.
Evan Verploegh may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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