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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
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.
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, CTCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Posted January 17, 2011
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