- Posted by Johanna on January 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: edited by Paul Gravett
- PUBLISHER: Universe; $36.95 US
The Ultimate Guide to Comic Books, Graphic Novels, and Manga
This humongous brick of a book lives up to the title, impressing with its size and length. It’s nicely organized, as well. The chapters are arranged by time period, with a section per every couple of decades. There’s an index by title as well as by author. About the only design choice I can argue with is the indefensible decision to put Terry Gilliam’s foreword on a dark slate blue paper, which made it hard to read. (Then again, since it has little to do with the book, maybe that doesn’t matter so much.)
A book like this is made for arguments. The first author I looked up was Fumi Yoshinaga, my favorite manga creator. She is included, although only for Ooku: The Inner Chambers; I would have mentioned more of her titles. The next creators I looked up — Alison Bechdel, Rumiko Takahashi, Carla Speed McNeil — were included, thankfully. So I flipped to the last few books, seeing what represented last year, 2011. The list there was much more of a miss for me, with the five titles included either on my avoid list — Habibi, Paying For It — or unknown to US audiences — two Indian titles and The Great Unwashed, published by Escape Books, a company run by Paul Gravett, editor of this book. (That fact isn’t mentioned in the title writeup.)
That’s one factor that many American readers will find eye-opening. Gravett takes the worldwide view, so included are plenty of international works, not just manga or UK books but those from France or Italy or Belgium or elsewhere. Even the most knowledgeable reader of comics will find material new to them in these pages — especially in the older eras — while newcomers may be overwhelmed by the enormous range of content described here. As Gravett points out in his introduction, almost half the book goes to works from 1990 or later, emphasizing how active and vibrant the medium is.
Each book gets either a half-page column (with no picture) or a page (if a cover image is included). The year is given, as are the title in the original language (if not English); the company that first published the work, and its country; the country of the creator(s), and the birth year; and the work’s genre. Many of the books include “Similar Reads” sections or “Also by” the author, to give the reader more titles to try. It’s difficult to tell, from the short space allotted, what a particular comic really is like, especially since no interior art is reproduced, but it’s certainly a good guide to drive store browsing or online searches.
While quite enjoyable to while away time flipping the book’s pages, following titles or creators or decades, or simply seeing what a random page will bring, I found myself wanting the tools an online version would offer. How many works are in which genre, for example, or from which publishers? A text search would be helpful, as would links among the books and creators. Updates could be provided every five years or so; I’d be curious to see what would be added or removed.
With infinite space, consideration could be given to including information about which works are in print and in which forms. Titles are discussed without specifics of how many books make up a series or particular issue numbers that make up a superhero story, making it hard to understand the scope of a particular work if it’s not already familiar. A digital version would also be much more portable — I meant to talk about this volume closer to when it came out at the end of last year, but I found myself leaving it behind in the wrong place, since it’s much too heavy to tote about. Gravett has created a mini website that expands on the book, but since his goal isn’t to replace it, it’s only a start.
The book itself remains an essential addition to any comic reference library. This review of the UK edition provides some other suggestions, and the following comments are entertaining in their defense of superheroes and Judge Dredd, while one fan created an expanded list of the manga included in the book. (The publisher provided a review copy.)