Graphic Novel Book Club offers something for everyone

Saturday , November 25, 2017 - 5:00 AM

MARK SAAL, Standard-Examiner Staff

CLINTON — It was just like Thanksgiving, except it was a week-and-a-half early.

Well, also the meal featured kielbasa, with macaroni and cheese. And the guests were talking about the Lewis and Clark expedition’s run-ins with bison centaurs and zombie plants.

Plus there was that whole “Ring of Power” thing.

But other than that? Yeah, it was just like Thanksgiving.

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Welcome to another meeting of the Graphic Novel Book Club, a small group of Northern Utahns who get together to discuss a different graphic novel each month. Traditionally, the November meeting is the club’s annual Thanksgiving potluck dinner, held at a member’s house.

“I call it Thanksgiving for orphans,” quips club organizer Chelsy Bloomfield, who describes herself as an official “avenger” of the book club.

The Salt Lake City woman says that each month the group picks a different graphic novel to read and discuss.

“We usually pick one based on a recommendation, or what’s new, or if there’s a movie coming out on a subject,” Bloomfield says. “We picked ‘Manifest Destiny’ because we thought it would be fun for Thanksgiving.”

“Manifest Destiny” is Chris Dingess’ Lewis and Clark-inspired graphic novel — which reimagines the famous expedition of the early 1800s in an American wilderness filled with monsters and other scary creatures.

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The Graphic Novel Book Club started back in 2011 when Bloomfield was working for Heebeegeebeez, a comics and game store in Layton. The owners still let the group meet there when they choose.

Mostly, the group gathers at a restaurant each month — usually in Farmington because it’s the midway point between club members from Salt Lake City and Ogden. They’re also regularly courted to hold their meetings in The Nerd Store in West Valley City and Dr. Volt’s Comic Connection in Salt Lake.

“It’s kind of just like a regular book club,” Bloomfield says. “Except we pick a graphic novel to read and discuss. So it’s like a book club with what you’d expect — a comic-book twist.”

However, unlike some book clubs, Bloomfield says theirs is open to everyone.

“You don’t even have to read the novel,” she says. “Just show up for the discussion.”

The club has a core group of about 10 members who attend the monthly meetings, although its Facebook page has another 1,000 followers. That page features the club’s unofficial motto: “Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.”

This year’s potluck for the club was held Sunday, Nov. 12, at the Clinton home of Deandra Lanier and Kyler Peek. The married couple has been a part of the Graphic Novel Book Club since its 2011 inception.

“Kyler was always more into the nerdy stuff,” Lanier says. “It’s more social for me. And like any other book club, we hang out, we talk and we have a book in common.”

Not that Lanier doesn’t have a nerdy side as well. Lanier and Peek do, after all, have a dedicated “nerd room” in their basement, which is filled with all sorts of comics-related action figures, toys and superhero art.

The two graphic-novel fans say they always discuss the month’s selection between themselves prior to the book club meeting.

“Before the group meets, we really get into the novel,” Peek says. “We go over the art and literature, and sit and talk about it as a couple.”

Pam Densley, of Kaysville, has been a member of the club for about a year now. She enjoys the graphic-novel format.

“It’s easy to pick up and read when you don’t have a lot of time,” she says. “I have a 4 ½-month-old daughter, and I read them to her.”

That daughter is named Selina Kyle, which Batman fans will recognize as the secret identity of Catwoman. Densley says they’ll probably nickname their daughter “Cat” when she’s older.

“We’re total nerds,” Densley admits. “You gotta find where you fit in, and graphic novels are something I like — and I’m proud to say I like them.”

For Abbey Yanco, who lives in Salt Lake City, the November get-together was just her second meeting. She knows several of the book club members from a shared participation in roller derby. Yanco estimates she’s read something like 10 graphic novels in the last month.

“They’re a much faster read,” she says. “I really like this club, and it doesn’t hurt that a lot of these people are my friends.”

Yanco was also the odds-on favorite at the potluck for receiving the small traveling trophy of sorts that is bestowed upon a different member of the group each month.

“One of our older traditions is that one of our members found an Iron Man ring years ago,” Bloomfield explains. “We call it the Ring of Power.”

That ring is usually given to one of the newer members of the group, according to Bloomfield. There’s method in this madness — she says if a newer member receives the ring, the odds are higher they’ll come back to the next month’s meeting to pass the ring on to someone else.

Nathan Cunningham, of South Salt Lake, has been a member of the Graphic Novel Book Club for about three years now. He got hooked on superhero stuff as a youngster watching the “X-Men” cartoon on TV.

“I’ve liked comic books since I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” he says.

Cunningham reads both “literature” and graphic novels. He enjoys them both.

“The graphic novel is just another art form — one that combines writing with images,” Cunningham says. “With the written word it requires more imagination, you have to dedicate time to reading. But graphic novels? I can consume them quickly.”

Ah, but which does he like better, graphic novels or the regular ones?

“It’s like saying, ‘What’s better? Cake or pie?’” Cunningham says. “They’re two different things.”

Kristina Nelsen, of Salt Lake City, is not a member of the Graphic Novel Book Club, but she’s friends with those who are. She does attend the occasional book club event, like the recent Thanksgiving potluck.

“I’ve never read a graphic novel, but these are my friends so I get a lot of it via proxy,” Nelsen says. “It’s just not my deal, but I think it’s cool that they all have this similar interest.”

Bloomfield is evangelical in her support of graphic novels and the local book club. The group meets next at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at a location to be determined, and for those interested, she encourages them to message her on the group’s Facebook page, at facebook.com/UtahGNBC.

Bloomfield believes there’s a graphic novel out there for everyone, and she issues a challenge for anyone to stump her with their interests.

“There are books for superhero fans, history fans, there are even religious graphic novels,” she says. “Once people realize it’s not just a Superman vs. Batman thing, they’ll see there are so many things for everybody. If you have an interest, I can recommend a graphic novel for you. They can be political. Or historical. Or inspiring. Or just dumb entertainment.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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