Saturday, March 25, 2023

'Outlaw librarian' Dave Burbank creates "a haven for comics readers" in Takoma Park, MD

all photos by Bruce Guthrie
by Dave Burbank

Dave and I reconnected last week at Matt Tavares' excellent explanation about how to create a children's graphic novel at Takoma Park Library. I sent him a variety of the usual questions, which he transformed so much that I've junked them in favor of his essay. I can't believe how many of their talks I've missed though! This has been lightly edited for grammar. - Mike

I'm Dave Burbank of the Takoma Park Maryland Library.   We are the last small independent city library in Maryland.  
We are considered an 'outlaw library' (if we were in the Montgomery County system we would be eliminated since there are libraries within 1 mile of us).  Takoma Park tends to stand up for underdogs and outlaws so the local folks have made sure we have stayed open and active, even now while our tiny battered old building is being reconstructed. 
Currently you can find us at our current location at 7505 New Hampshire Avenue, in a shopping area above a Caribbean food grocery, snuggled between an IHOP and a Taco Bell.   Our signage still says we are the Salvation Army Family Store, though that will soon be fixed I'm told.

We are a haven for comics readers, with over 3000 titles of graphic novels on the shelves, split in 4 collections (about 1000 on the adult side, the others divided between the All-Ages Comics, Young Adult, and Manga collections). We add more titles all the time and are open to suggestions or even donations.  

As the curator of our collection, I have a budget every year specifically to buy comics.  Being a lifelong scribbler and reader of  'comix,' I made a case for the Library to clear space for them on our shelves, and made my first comics buy way back before the turn of the millennium. Those first few comics left friction burns on the shelves from how fast they were snatched up. They commonly disappeared since kids who loved them would keep them. Librarians being wise people, the solution was for us to buy so many comics that kids never felt a scarcity mindset about them.  "Read these, bring them back, there will be more waiting."

Personally, I think comics truly sintered with my soul when I read the Dark Phoenix X-Men story arc as it came out way back in 1980.  I went as Wolverine for Halloween that year, even though nobody had any idea how deadly and ferocious I was when I showed up on their front porch. ("Nevermind who I am, just gimme the candy bub, or experience the deadly snikt! of my claws").  I loved Spider-Man before that of course, and would sit through entire episodes of The Electric Company on the off chance there would be a Spidey episode that week.  I'd read Sargent Rock or the Haunted Tank to learn the history of World War II.  Shoot, if there was nothing else I'd read the cartoons in the New Yorker while I was waiting in a doctor's office, even though they always vaguely disturbed me with their sense of existential ennui and postmodern disaffection.  Still, I never knew the power of the artform until experiencing the death of the telekinetic telepath Jean Grey, who sacrificed
herself to prevent her alter ego from destroying the universe.  Friends and I were in mourning, while clueless adults had no idea the loss we had experienced.  Dots of ink on a page of pulp paper lived powerfully vivid lives and truly animated the ideals that there is Good and Evil and one should make a choice to live up to their best nature.

Anyway.  Clearly I have been stained by exposure to those 4-color ink stories.

I've been attending various Comics conventions since way back when they also sold butterfly knives and nunchucks in the last few rows. When cosplay was a rarity. 

A favorite though has been the yearly Small Press Expo in suburban Maryland.  I've attended every year since 1999 and even represented local libraries at a panel on 'Comics in the Library' in 2015. I appreciate SPX since here you get to meet face to face with the writers and artists who spend years creating their stories, and are truly touched to meet the people who read them.  The best time to attend is actually Sunday night after the show is over when the creators all hang out on the back deck chatting about comics and meeting each other.  

Over the years we have hosted many comics authors events and book signings. At first by my invitation alone, and subsequently through our partnership with Politics and Prose booksotre.  

A partial list: 

Ben Hatke's Zita the Space Girl, First Second Press founder Mark Siegel, Paul Pope's Battling Boy and Batman Year 100, Drew Weing & Eleanor Davis together and separately for Margo Maloo and the Secret Science Alliance, George O'Connor's Olympian's series retelling Greek myths, Gareth Hinds' Beowulf and other classics of ancient literature, Orpheus Collar illustrating the Percy Jackson stories, Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin's Illegal, Judd Winick's Hilo series, Alex Alice, Jeremie Royer, David Petersen's Mouseguard, Jerry Craft's New Kid, Penelope Bagieu, Jon Klassen,  Raina Telgemeier's Smile, Chris Schweitzer's Crogan stories, Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tale series, Francois Mouly the Toon Books publisher and New Yorker art director, her daughter Nadja Spiegelman & Sergio Garcia Sanchez for Lost in NYC, Jay Hosler's Last of the Sandwalkers, Nate Powell & Mark Long's The Silence of Our Friends, Congressman John Lewis's March.  Among others. 

Highlights of the above guests: 
Ben Hatke is a great guy.  Friendly, easy to talk with, great family, a juggler and busker. He is as personable and friendly as his characters.

Mouseguard artist David Petersen is clearly mad, since he builds scale models of his complicated scenes just so that he can better paint them from different angles. 

Similarly meticulous, also a great guy, and local to us, artistic black belt Gareth Hinds maps out his books months in advance and knows how many pages ahead or behind he is on a story on any given day.  

Jay Hosler teaches college biology classes, and also writes science-based adventures starring insects. 

Raina Telgemeier is a sweet and lovely person. Now something of an all ages superstar, we had her in before the world wanted everyone to do what she does in comics.

Drew Weing is also a gentle, shy and friendly person.  His comics are awesome and deserve a Netflix series or something.

I'm from the last of the outdoor kids generation of the 70's and 80's who grew up on BMX bikes and skateboarding and grafitti tagging in the Northeast.  From back when your parents would tell you to 'be home when the street lights come on.'  The same age as Tony Hawk, (I was reading about him and Rodney Mullens pretty much inventing the ollie and street skating in Thrasher Magazine, and naturally ended up with sprained wrists, scabs and scars that were purely inspired by him).  Later, I moved to NYC to study theater and write poetry and that sort of thing before moving to the DC area to study martial arts, where I accidentally fell into Library work.  As one does.

An inveterate scribbler and doodler, I decorated every textbook I ever had with flipbooks in the corners.  I still draw all the time though now I discourage drawing in books. I intermittently and spasmodically keep a blog about comics at 

I commonly find myself inspired by drawing in company with folks of all skill levels.  I built into my job a weekly Sketch Club with kids and parents  (Thursdays after school 4-5:30). I have hosted sketch clubs in and around pubs in the DC area over the years before my arts buddies went on to become famous or moved to LA to work in animation, etc. (most recently in Midlands bar on Georgia Ave, before that the now-defunct Union Drinkery). I'm thinking of starting an evening Sketch Club for grown folk and area artists here at the Library.  If interested contact me at and I'll put you in the mailing list when I get it started.

I post my own personal drawings on Instagram from time to time -  @shankylank on there.  It's grown-up content, sketched in ink with felt tip, sharpie, and copy paper since I grew up in the Zine era and never migrated to digital art. I attend the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop Friday evening figure drawing sessions from time to time to sketch from live models and keep my skills sharp. In the pandemic I would attend various figure model sessions across the world, via zoom.

Mark Tavares at TP library
I teach Dungeons and Dragons, and have done so through the Takoma Park Recreation Department for the past 30 years.  As one of various side hustles I train folks to run games, hire out as a professional game master for parties and game nights, and in past years have run summer camps for kids.  I have run D&D game nights at those same local pubs, as well as team-building exercises for local businesses.  Contact me at if you need a pro DM or want training on how to run games, or peek at my mostly-defunct site though I have neglected that website for a bit.

I periodically give a talk on the History and Importance of Comics (with a digression on the Semiotics of Superheroes) to folks from elementary school up to graduate students at the University of Maryland's College of Information Sciences.

I am part of a writer's group that meets via the Petworth Library, and am 14 chapters in on my current book (a Viking Santa Claus romance adventure tale).  It started as a graphic novel, but writing is quicker.  I have probably a dozen other screenplays and fiction works cooking at any moment, though something is nagging me to sketch out some memoir works.
I often present comics read-aloud sessions with kids, and I know for a fact I will eventually present various works of my own fiction and art as read-aloud works, for kids or for grown-ups.  As a graffiti tagging delinquent, I was inspired by the very idea of the Vaughn Bode Cartoon Concerts that I heard about from underground comics I read, but was never able to attend being too young and on the wrong coast.  The idea of animating words and art with one's voice satisfies my soul.

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