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Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean

Overview

Suddenly, comics are everywhere: a newly matured art form, filling bookshelves with brilliant, innovative work and shaping the ideas and images of the rest of contemporary culture. In Reading Comics, critic Douglas Wolk shows us why and how. Wolk illuminates the most dazzling creators of modern comics-from Alan Moore to Alison Bechdel to Chris Ware-and explains their roots, influences, and where they fit into the pantheon of art. As accessible to the hardcore fan as to the curious newcomer, Reading Comics is the ...
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Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean

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Overview

Suddenly, comics are everywhere: a newly matured art form, filling bookshelves with brilliant, innovative work and shaping the ideas and images of the rest of contemporary culture. In Reading Comics, critic Douglas Wolk shows us why and how. Wolk illuminates the most dazzling creators of modern comics-from Alan Moore to Alison Bechdel to Chris Ware-and explains their roots, influences, and where they fit into the pantheon of art. As accessible to the hardcore fan as to the curious newcomer, Reading Comics is the first book for people who want to know not just which comics are worth reading, but ways to think and talk and argue about them.
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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
Informed, readable . . . lucid enough to serve as a primer for neophytes...comics fans will garner considerable insight.
Kottke.org
Douglas Wolk is smart, funny, and if you have any interest in comics whatsoever you should absolutely check out his Reading Comics. Great stuff.
Times Literary Supplement
Douglas Wolk is an evangelist for comic books. In his authoritative, passionately argued [book], he draws our attention to a spectrum of creations that promise a sophistication and complexity at least the equal of that much of contemporary literature....Wolk makes a likeable and unpretentious guide, never hectoring or waxing polemical, and his enthusiastically imparted knowledge should ensure that readers go on to investigate his recommendations.
Art Blog by Bob
Wolk, comics and music critic (and blogger), brings the enthusiasm of a fan and the hefty intellectual credentials of an academic to his criticism of comics, all without losing his sense of fun and imagination at the center of comic entertainment.
Publishers Weekly

As the graphic novel flourishes and gains legitimacy as an art form, serious comics criticism is an inevitable byproduct, and PWcontributing editor Wolk's analytical discourse is a welcome starting point. The volume contains two sections: "Theory and History," an explanation of comics as a medium and an overview of its evolution, and "Reviews and Commentary," a diverse examination of creators and works. This section spans Will Eisner's pioneering efforts as well as the groundbreaking modern comics by the Hernandez brothers, Chris Ware and Alison Bechdel. Since there are decades worth of books already focusing on the superhero genre, the raw clay from which the comics industry was built, the relatively short shrift given to the spandex oeuvre's insular mythologies is a wise choice that allows the nonfan a glimpse into the wider range that comics commands. Wolk's insightful observations offer much to ponder, perhaps more than can be fully addressed in one volume, but the thoughtful criticism and knowledgeable historical overview give much-needed context for the emerging medium. B&w illus. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Veteran comics fan and journalist Wolk sounds off at length about comics theory and history and about particular creators and works that intrigue him. The fine theory and history section holds plenty of weight for both fan folk and newbies to comics. In one chapter, Wolk sheds welcome light on how superhero comics work, why they appeal, and why new readers and outsiders find it so difficult to understand the interlocking multiuniverses that wrap characters, the industry, and fans all up together. By contrast, the reviews and commentary section has more value for aficionados. There are simply not enough illustrations for uninformed readers to follow Wolk's analyses, which can speak largely to those already familiar with the work of David B., Steve Ditko, Gilbert Hernandez, Hope Larson, and Alison Bechdel among numerous others he discusses. A particular plus is Wolk's assessment of how creators work both the mind and the eye in innovative and not always successful ways. Indeed, for Wolk, failures can be as interesting fodder for analysis as successes. Recommended for academic libraries and for public libraries with large graphic novel collections. The first section is very much recommended for librarians and educators new to working with graphic narrative.
—Martha Cornog

School Library Journal

Wolk certainly knows the field of comics and has interesting things to say about a wide variety of them. Unfortunately, his first two chapters are so bogged down because of his arrogant and condescending style that it's hard to find any content. In later chapters, some of his excellent assessment of comics and what makes them work as both art and entertainment shines through. The book is not meant to be a canon of what comics are good; as he states, "I'm more interested in starting discussions (and arguments) about comics than settling them with any kind of self-appointed authority." His critiques and in-depth looks at comics creators whose works he finds particularly interesting to discuss certainly meet that goal-but only for readers already familiar with the artists he's discussing. Despite his insight, his overuse of the phrase "more on that later" (oftentimes leaving readers with little explanation until chapters after his first argument) and the extremely antagonizing first two chapters make the book a difficult read. It may find use in classrooms about comics as literature or the nature of criticism, but it will have a difficult time finding an audience anywhere else.-Alana Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306816161
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 6/9/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,037,838
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Wolk writes about comics and music for publications including the New York Times, Rolling Stone, the Washington Post, Salon, and The Believer. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments     ix
Theory and History     1
What Comics Are and What They Aren't     3
Auteurs, the History of Art Comics, and How to Look at Ugly Drawings     29
What's Good About Bad Comics and What's Bad About Good Comics     60
Superheroes and Superreaders     89
Pictures, Words, and the Space Between Them     118
Reviews and Commentary     135
A Small Disclaimer     137
David B.: The Battle Against the Real World     139
Chester Brown: The Outsider     147
Steve Ditko: A Is A     156
Will Eisner and Frank Miller: The Raconteurs     166
Gilbert Hernandez: Spiraling into the System     181
Jaime Hernandez: Mad Love     193
Craig Thompson and James Kochalka: Craft Versus Cuteness     203
Hope Larson: The Cartography of Joy     214
Carla Speed McNeil: Shape-Changing Demons, Birth-Yurts, and Robot Secretaries     220
Alan Moore: The House of the Magus     228
Grant Morrison: The Invisible King     258
Dave Sim: Aardvark Politick     289
The Dark Mirrors of Jim Starlin's Warlock     304
Tomb of Dracula: The Cheap, Strong Stuff     317
Kevin Huizenga:Visions from the Enchanted Gas Station     329
Charles Burns and Art Spiegelman: Draw Yourself Raw     336
Why Does Chris Ware Hate Fun?     347
Alison Bechdel: Reframing Memory     359
Afterword: The Rough Wave and the Smooth Wave     365
Notes     373
Index     391
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