Skip to main content

REVIEW: Outside the Box

Hillary Chute's Outside the Box: Interviews With Contemporary Cartoonists provides insight into the ideas and practices of some of today's most important comics creators and offers a great model for conducting panel discussions at library programs.

Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists
Hillary L. Chute
University of Chicago Press, 2014
publisher site | WorldCat

Chute, who has been writing about comics professionally since 2000, gathers here her interviews with 12 creators (Scott McCloud, Charles Burns, Lynda Barry, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Phoebe Gloeckner, Joe Sacco, Alison Bechdel, Fran├žoise Mouly, Adrian Tomine, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware) to survey the contemporary independent/art comics scene. The interviewer clearly knows her subjects and their works inside and out, as each conversation moves seamlessly between personal histories, ideas about the comics medium, work habits, publishing experiences, and much more. There's a good chance reader's will be familiar with at least one of the titles covered here, and, as a result of covering creators who are well-regarded and widely known, many of the rest should be easy to find in most library collections.

If I find anything lacking about the book, it's who the book is lacking: younger cartoonists, more people of color (especially African-American creators), mainstream artists and writers, and anyone working outside of the United States, and so on.  (That last one is my worst defined group, as Kominsky-Crumb is based in France, Mouly is from France, and Sacco travels the world for his comics journalism.) But considering the wealth of information in this relatively small batch of interviews, my complaint is better summed up as "More please!" And indeed, I'd love to see Chute continue her work as an interviewer and create as many additional volumes to this title as she wants.

Although I can't quite call this a required text for librarians of any variety, I did find it very informative, and it's obviously helpful for academic librarians to have such a collection of primary sources for comics researchers.  It also presents Chute as a role model for interviewing cartoonists, something that anyone in comics-related programming is likely to find themselves doing in one form or another. Outside the Box is full of insightful questions that yield interesting responses, and even though Chute's one-on-one conversations are probably more intimate than would be possible in front of an audience, she shows that there's a better way than always resorting to "Did you read comics as a kid?" and "How did you get into creating comics?", both of which lose their novelty very quickly.