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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.
Comics Art
Paul Gravett
Yale University Press, 2013
publisher site | WorldCat

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 History
  • Frames of References: Properties of Comics
  • More Than Words Can Say: Silent Comics
  • Between the Panels: The Power of the Panel
  • Unheard Voices: Who is Afraid of Comics?
  • First-Person Singular: Autobiography in Comics
  • The Human Touch: Style and Individuality
  • Infinite Canvasses: Comics in the Digital Age
These ideas aren't completely cut off from each other, though, as discussions weave history, theory, and expression together throughout. Gravett's writing is accessible and even welcoming, which is especially impressive considering the depth of his examination, and it makes this book good for just about any adult audience. If there's a prerequisite to reading it at all, it's no more than reading any graphic novel and thinking about the experience, even if that experience didn't capture the reader's imagination.  It's also a beautiful book, reproducing a variety of images from very different kinds of comics, many of which are discussed and dissected in the text.

Because of its breadth, depth, and accessibility, Comics Art should be required reading for everyone with an interest in comics librarianship. Public librarians will find it useful for understanding what a reader would get out of a given work and how to connect different comics for reader's advisory purposes, and will school librarians will receive the same benefit even though it doesn't address works for children. It will also help academic librarians when it comes to thinking about different facets of comics while assisting with research. And while there is no information that is specifically relevant to archival work, it will definitely inform archivists expand the ways that they describe and interpret comics materials in their collections and exhibitions.