By Paul Gravett
With Watchmen hype flowing over the world and DC trying to capture the zeitgeist and get people to try comic books with their ‘After Watchmen, What Next?’ promotion (which isn’t going to work but points for effort), the answer to the question of what sorts of comic books would people try can be found in other places. One such book is Graphic Novels: Stories To Change Your Life, a coffee-book table offering advice on the great variety of genres the medium has to offer and examples of the quality.
Gravett has been involved in various different capacities in the comic book world for over 20 years, including Escape Magazine (which he co-started and published), being director of the Cartoon Trust, director of Comica, and writing and consulting on comic book works in a variety of media. This gives him a good perspective of the medium in general and a good candidate for introducing people to the literary end of the field.
The book is divided into themed chapters, which start with an introduction to the concept before examining one or two books in detail, with several pages of artwork to illustrate his points, plus smaller images of other books which are further examples. These chapters are:
Undiscovered Country (with the likes of Jimmy Corrigan, Blankets, Ghost World)
The Other Side of the Tracks (with the likes of A Contract With God, Love and Rockets, Why I Hate Saturn, Hicksville)
The Long Shadow (with the likes of Maus, Barefoot Gen, Troubled Souls, Persepolis)
The Superhuman Condition (with the likes of The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil, Powers, Watchmen, Astro City, Marshal Law, Promethea, Planetary)
Of Futures and Fables (with the likes of Finder, Luther Arkwright, Akira, American Flagg!, Y: The Last Man, The Sandman, Bone, Hellboy)
In The Mind’s Eye (with the likes of Preacher, Hellblazer, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Strangehaven)
Murder, Smoke and Shadow (with the likes of Scene of the Crime, Kane, Torso, Sin City, Stray Bullets, V for Vendetta, 100 Bullets)
Behind The Smile (with the likes of Cerebus, The Freak Brothers, American Splendour, Buddy Does Seattle, Skin, Birth of a Nation)
Travels in Time (with the likes of Corto Maltese, Blueberry, From Hell, Age of Bronze, Berlin, Pedro and Me)
Passion Beyond Reason (with the likes of My Troubles With Women, Gemma Bovery, Lost Girls, Butterscotch)
The book covers a huge scope, mentioning more than 150 books, and finds a balance between being too academic and being engaging and informative. Gravett does a good job of explaining the attributes of his choices, which are an interesting selection. Sometimes, the choices of individual pages doesn’t do justice to the book he is highlighting, but this could be to do with my tastes in art – some of the choices I find rather unattractive. He understands the value of each book and conveys that with perceptive prose. He covers a lot of types of comics – autobiography, historical, crime, futuristic, erotic and superhero – and he provides a thorough grounding in what is available (even if perhaps he does tend towards the literary end of the market – he is trying to convert the sophisticates).
As someone who reads comic books (although not the full depth listed here), I’m not sure if this book does the best job of highlighting what it is graphic novels have to offer – the reviews he lists on the page about the book suggest that novices to the field feel it does a good job; however, it is the best I’ve seen so far, and comics can do with all the help it can get. Whether or not it will work on people after Watchmen is another matter …