Skip to main content

REVIEW: Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know

Paul Gravett's stated goal for this book should earn him an honorary Library Science degree: he simply wants to guide curious (adult) readers to the comics stories they'll find appealing, no matter what kind of story they prefer.

Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know
(alternatively titled Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life)
Paul Gravett
Collins Design, 2005
publisher site | WorldCat

In the book's first chapter, "Things to Hate About Comics", Gravett broadly introduces the history of graphic novels, including an astute breakdown of the phrase's benefits and follies. Even more useful to librarians, he then offers several common responses the medium, such as "Comics leave nothing to the imagination" and "What are all these weird symbols?", responding to each in a way that validates the concern but demonstrates its shortcomings. These mini-conversations will be useful to any librarian, whether confronting their own questions or those of a skeptical patron or co-worker.

The rest of the book is broken down along familiar genre lines -- superheroes, crime, history, etc. -- but it covers them with more nuance and depth than is usually afforded. In three introductory pages, Gravett places a genre in historical context while weaving in its major appeals to readers and brief backstories for some relevant works and creators. Then he digs deep into four emblematic graphic novels and, for each of these, takes a quick look at four similar titles. (He includes even more readalikes as a sidebar list in the introductory pages!) Full pages and spreads are reproduced and annotated, making for a kind of visual booktalk; although we don't all have the author's resources, we'd do well to think of his strategy as a kind of Platonic ideal for comics reader's advisory.

The few flaws of this book are unsurprising: limited diversity of creators, inevitable availability of titles covered, lack of children's titles, etc. But even with these limitations, I recommend reading Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know for any librarians who work with adult readers of comics, though its approach to exploring why and how comics appeal to readers would be useful for children's and young adult librarians, academic librarians, researchers and students, and anyone who needs help understanding or explaining why it's vital to devote library resources to this medium.