Skip to main content

REVIEW: Why Comics?

With Why Comics?, author Hillary Chute secures her place as one of, if not the most important contemporary voice in American comics scholarship.

Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere
Hillary Chute
Harper, 2017
publisher site | WorldCat

Through eleven chapters, Chute chooses various topics and themes that cartoonists have explored since around the 1960s. Like the book itself, chapters are framed as questions -- "Why Punk?", "Why War?", "Why Girls?" -- and each is answered by a look at social and creative factors that have made these topics ideal for the comics medium. She then examines one or two cartoonists who have been particularly deft at creating work that relates to the themes at hand. The selected cartoonists aren't surprising: Art Spiegelman "Why Disaster?", Alison Bechdel for "Why Queer?", etc. While these choices would be a weakness in another writer's hands, Chute uses their familiarity to deepen her inquiries and our resulting enlightenment when it comes to the medium as a whole.

There isn't anything in Why Comics? that falls into the usual categories of library-relevant information -- no lists for collection development, no historical context for archives or research purposes, no exploration of appeals for reader's advisory. Yet reading this book was, for me, an uplifting and inspiring experience as a comics lover and a librarian. By taking an approach that's less comics criticism than comics appreciation (my words, not hers), Chute is able to explore the medium in a way that is both accessible and eye-opening. I think everyone, librarian or not, would benefit from reading Why Comics? and learning all it has to tell us.