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Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know
posted November 7, 2005


Creator: Paul Gravett
Publishing Information: Collins Design, SC, 192 pages, $24.95
Ordering Numbers: 0060824255

This is one hell of a cleverly-conceived book about comics, so much so that it makes me want to put Paul Gravett in charge of everything peripheral to the creation of the art form itself. Instead of drowning the book in text, Gravett uses as his building block the reproduction of entire pages. They're arranged by general theme, with central books leading into supplementary choices. The idea seems to be "Here is a canon, and here are the books that are just about worthy of the canon," an arrangement that flatters the art form without stretching it too thin. The writing itself, shoved to the margins or put into more general chapters, has the flexibility of staying focused on a limited effect within each work, or moving to where a certain type of material is strongest. The writing's smart, the connections are so up to date he has a Typocrat Press book as one of the satellites.

I can only think of few possible hassles with the book, one major, two minor which I offer up here mostly out of jealousy for not having thought of something similar before Mr. Gravett did. The major one is more of a philosophical point -- at what point is it worth mentioning minor work that better flatters the notion that the art form values wide-ranging expression than that the art form offers compelling works that demand our attention? There are a lot of books here, particularly in the secondary choices, that fit their cateogry but that I might wave people away from entirely. The first minor quibble is that I'm not entirely certain for whom the book is intended. I can understand the joy of reading it without quite grasping the necessity of buying it. I imagine libraries would do very well with this book, just because it arranges contemporary graphic novels in a way that's better than 98 percent of all articles written about the phenomenon, with the aforemention massive amount of detail. But it's not something people would pull from their personal bookshelves a whole lot. The second quibble I'd have is while Mr. Gravett does a terrific job of drawing on a lot of book from a lot of traditions -- he remember's Sam Glanzman's A Sailor's Story, and showcases the art in Mattotti's Fires, he seems to have a lot more faith in works springing from the British comics tradition than I do.

But philisophical disagreements and quibbles fail to meet Gravett's book in its awesome march down the middle road. Anything else said on my part would have to come with a thorough, close reading of the text, and to be honest, I'm still looking at the pictures and wishing I were this smart.