Monday, May 22, 2023

Signal To Noise: The first graphic novel at the library

Libraries were not the place to find comics when I was growing up. Not the comics that I was obsessed with anyway, not anything with superheroes or 2000ad characters. There were always loads of Tintin and Asterix and they were undoubtedly great, but that was the full and complete extent of it.

And then, one day in the early 90s, I stumbled across Signal To Noise in the 741.5 section of the Timaru Library and that changed everything

It was the original version published by Victor Gollancz in 1992. I was vaguely aware of Neil Gaiman's work on Sandman, but had only read an issue or two, enough to know it was a thing. So one of the very first things I did when the library got a new computer catalogue system was hit up all the comic book writers I knew and see if they had anything by them. They didn't have any John Wagner or Len Wein, but they had a Gaiman.

And no lie - it blew my fucking brain. The book was gorgeous and unlike anything I'd ever read before. It was the first proper graphic novel I'd ever seen, and was exactly as pretentious as I needed as a 18-year-old, and Dave McKean's style challenged everything I thought I knew about the sequential art game.

It was a transcendent experience to read this comic, and I found it hidden away in the non-fiction section of my local library.

The Timaru Public Library is legitimately one of my favourite places in the whole world. I love the way the smell of damp old books clashes with the building's sleek modernist lines, I love the big mama statue on the lawn, and the books I got out from there over the years have opened all the doors in the world to me. 

When I first went there, I haunted the D area in the kids section, looking for more Terrance Dicks Doctor Who books; I later read Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire during lunchtimes from my job down the road; and later still, I went through a weird Graham Greene phase sparked by seeing his books on the shelves.

But nothing was as great as finding my first graphic novel. It didn't just blow my mind that comics like this existed, the fact they even made it to my corner of the world was even more astounding.

Now the library system has hundreds and hundreds of graphic novels available, including a couple of dozen by Gaiman. But they don't have Signal To Noise anymore. That's okay, it's just another graphic novel and would get lost in all that noise. But once it was a bright signal, beamed straight into my head.

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