Book Reviews: July/August 2007

| July / August 2007

Getting Graphic: READING COMICS: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean

by Douglas Wolk (Da Capo)

The classic comics-fiend stereotype--an acne-ridden adult boy, asocial, undersexed, and infatuated with caped heroes--is increasingly obsolete. Comics nerds now include art snobs, scholars, literary sophisticates, and, yes, even pretty girls, all drawn to the medium not by flashy spandex and KAPOW! action but by rich metaphor, heartfelt philosophy, and beautiful and complex aesthetics.

This is why it isn't so surprising to find references to thinkers like Susan Sontag and Immanuel Kant in Douglas Wolk's new book, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. His inclusion of theory, though, is never off-putting, and even his most academic turns are highly readable. The rest is a sassy exposition that is as exuberant as the art form it passionately describes.

Interesting and edifying for novice and expert alike, Understanding Comics details comics' evolution from Mad and Superman to Maus and Jimmy Corrigan. It looks at how economics and distribution issues have changed how we get our comics (or don't). Some of Wolk's best passages are punchy editorials about the form's subversive, underground nature and inspired digressions on topics like the quirky world of comics culture. In the book's second half, Wolk keenly dissects various artists and their work.

Yet despite his often-cerebral comprehension of comics as an important emerging art form, Wolk is, above all, a fan. He emphasizes again and again that comics, intricately wrapped in youth, nostalgia, and imagination, are a source of joy for many people. Wolk understands that comics are great because--fundamentally--comics are fun. -Elizabeth Oliver


by Rebecca Solnit (University of California Press)