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BOOK REVIEW: Understanding Comics

Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is probably the most influential and accessible book of comics theory. For this reason every comics librarian should read it (or re-read it), but with a more critical eye than they give other works.

The book presents an impressively thorough approach to the way way the comics medium works, and it does so in the comics medium, which only adds to its accessibility. Whereas prose-only texts can only refer readers to illustrations (if they include them at all), here the text is the illustration, and it works perfectly.

After an impassioned plea to separate the medium from the "crude, poorly-drawn, semi-literate, cheap, disposable kiddie-fare" that many associate with it, McCloud attempts to define comics, landing on "juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer." He then uses this definition to make the convincing argument that…
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BOOK REVIEW: Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present

Although it has its blind spots, Comics: A Global History does an admirable job balancing breadth with depth and draws fascinating connections art, narrative, readership, publishing, and more across time and geography.

Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner construct their impressive history by breaking down significant periods mostly in the United States, Japan, and Europe, where they examine developments in the comics culture. Among many others, these developments include the evolution of manga genres based on audience age and gender in Japan, a progressive darkening in the tone of American superhero comics, and the many aesthetic and philosophical schools of European comics collectives. The book is made more accessible (and more beautiful) by reproducing hundreds of pages or panels of comics from around the world, many of which have not been published in English.

As the subtitle indicates, Mazur and Danner begin their history in 1968, which they suggest is the approximate year that cartoo…

BOOK REVIEW: Outside the Box

Hillary Chute's Outside the Box: Interviews With Contemporary Cartoonists provides insight into the ideas and practices of some of today's most important comics creators and offers a great model for conducting panel discussions at library programs.

Chute, who has been writing about comics professionally since 2000, gathers here her interviews with 12 creators (Scott McCloud, Charles Burns, Lynda Barry, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Phoebe Gloeckner, Joe Sacco, Alison Bechdel, Fran├žoise Mouly, Adrian Tomine, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware) to survey the contemporary independent/art comics scene. The interviewer clearly knows her subjects and their works inside and out, as each conversation moves seamlessly between personal histories, ideas about the comics medium, work habits, publishing experiences, and much more. There's a good chance reader's will be familiar with at least one of the titles covered here, and, as a result of covering creators who are well-rega…

BOOK REVIEW: Comics Art

I can't imagine a better introduction to breadth of cartoonists' accomplishments, as well as the future potential of the comics medium, than the stunning Comics Art by Paul Gravett.

Originally published as part of a series of art histories organized by the Tate Gallery, this book does an excellent job of surveying the history of (multi-panel) comics and the many aesthetic, design, and narrative approaches taken by creators from their earliest days to now. Each chapter takes a different angle, illustrated best by their titles and subtitles:
Encompassing Comics: The Other HistoryFrames of References: Properties of ComicsMore Than Words Can Say: Silent ComicsBetween the Panels: The Power of the PanelUnheard Voices: Who is Afraid of Comics?First-Person Singular: Autobiography in ComicsThe Human Touch: Style and IndividualityInfinite Canvasses: Comics in the Digital Age These ideas aren't completely cut off from each other, though, as discussions weave history, theory, and expr…

BOOK REVIEW: 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die

I'm always skeptical of books that claim to name every important instance of a given category, but 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die is a resource beyond compare.

The form of this book is pretty straightforward: selected comics are written up with a description of what they're all about and why they're significant. These entries are accompanied by publication information -- creator(s), publishers, date, country of origin, genre -- and usually a cover image. Many also include short lists of additional works by the authors or recommended similar reading.

Two aspects of this massive reading list make it worthy of praise. First, choosing respected comics scholar Paul Gravett for the general editor shows that the publishers were interested in giving this body of work the serious consideration it deserves.  I only recognized a few of the contributing writers, but knowing that Gravett selected them is a great endorsement of their quality.

Second, this book has an enormous…