Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Library of Graphic Novelists

The Rosen Publishing Group recently published six books in "The Library of Graphic Novelists". I checked out the five of them that my library system had purchased (and made a complaint that they hadn't purchased all six). Here's my thoughts on the books.

The format is fairly simple. Each book covers the life of a comic book creator in a style clearly meant for young or middle readers. There's a solid glossary, index, and bibliography in each book, as well as a list of selected works and awards and lists of where to go to find more information. I particularly liked seeing a nicely used method of citing from websites (website name, article name/date/author, retrieval date, URL in parenthesis). Each book also has a table of contents.

Most of the books were written in a loose style that tended to repeat itself over chapters. You could pick up the book and open it to any chapter and get a full report on the life of that creator during the covered time period. Reading the books straight through, as I did, made the sections seem a little repetitive at times.

The format of the books is stylish and simple. Hopefully it'll turn out to be timeless as well. The covers are very nice photos of the subjects, usually with comic book panels in greyscale filling in the background.

The six creators they chose for the first run of the library are, to me, fascinating. Will Eisner and Art Spiegelman both seemed to be absolute obvious choices. Neil Gaiman a little less so, because he's known for so much more than just graphic novels. Joe Sacco was an interesting choice to me because I knew a couple of his works thanks to Steve Lieber's Eleven List, although I'd heard of him before then. The same goes for Bryan Talbot, who I only know from the Eleven List. Colleen Doran seemed to come out of the blue for me, and my curiousity about why she was chosen in the context of the series has not been satisfied yet, because her volume was the one the library system didn't have.

I started out with Art Speigelman's volume, and enjoyed it overall. I was not inspired to read any more of Speigelman's work after reading it, but I felt like I came out knowing a lot more about him.

Joe Sacco was next, and his volume inspired me to look up Sacco's earlier work, including Notes From A Defeatist and War Junkie. After reading those two books I realized I probably wouldn't have read his later books if I'd seen those first, which means I would have missed out on some really good books. If you want to try Sacco's work, I recommend starting with Safe Area Gorazde.

I then read the Bryan Talbot volume, which amazed me because the writer took a look at comic books from an entirely different viewpoint. The first two were somewhat america-centric, while this volume tackled comics from the Brit side. I felt my brain stretching a bit as I read it. Although I wasn't inspired to seek out more of Talbot's work, I definitely felt like I learned a lot from the book.

Will Eisner was my fourth read, and it was a very difficult book to get through, but only because it was written right before his death and therefore the book talked about his current projects. Robert Greenberger wrote this volume, and it was a wonderful tribute to a living man. I found myself wanting to hunt down and read every issue of the Spirit after reading the volume.

I finished off the series with Neil Gaiman, whose book certainly focuses on his work on Sandman. But it also hits other high points, some of which I didn't know about, like Black Orchid and Violent Cases. I definitely want to read more of Gaiman's comic book work after reading this, which is slightly ironic, as I'm a comic book fan but most of Gaiman's work I've read is his prose.

Until the Colleen Doran book arrives from interlibrary loan, I'm afraid I won't be able to tackle that one.

As a series, this is a great set of books. I think every library ought to have a copy, and I strongly encourage folks to check them out. These books were clearly meant for library use. I hope kids in the future will stumble over these and get a chance to read them and be inspired to check out the works mentioned in the books.