The whole bookscan/genre debate marches on, and Chris Mautner somehow reintroduces the canon debate into the mix. The link is a round-up of other links, but it includes this statement from a genuine academic, Prof. David Ball

The question you ask is an incredibly vexed one for literary studies, and created (and continues to create) a ferment of critical debate and discussion (the so-called “canon wars” of the 1990s). On one hand, canons are necessary devices: they cull essential texts out of an archive that would otherwise be illimitable. Alas, we are only given so much time to read in our lives. Yet at the same time, they often impose arbitrary biases upon the richness and heterogeneity of the texts being produced at any given moment. If you look at literary anthologies from earlier periods, for example, you will find a paucity of women writers or writers of color. Given this bind, I think the best articulations of canon formation are as aware as possible of the standards by which they select some texts and ignore others. I also would hope that a comics canon would encourage us to read more, not less, and would represent the diversity of work being done in the field. A canon should invite debate, not seek to stifle it.

There’s also this link to a longish analysis of READING COMICS and its relation to the canon.

Diagonally related, Purity Brown takes on the what is art/mainstream/etc. question at length:

What is an “art comic”? Dick Hyacinth wants to say that “art/literary comics” are “comics for which creative expression outweighs market considerations”. Possibly that’s what the term “art comics” should mean, on a simple, intuitive reading of the words; but in practice, that definition would be completely useless, because how would you tell? I mean, sure, sometimes it’s obvious. (I sincerely doubt that Dylan Meconis decided to create a webcomic about a fictional 18th-century German theologian because that’s how you make the big bucks.) But what about, say, The Umbrella Academy?

What say we? We say buy this book


and have done with it. We suspect this book (from the same publisher) will also be of aid.


  1. Here is an alternative to the Genre Wars… Libraries. They select books using three general criteria: patron requests and demand (professors and students, or general public), quality (reviews, scholarship, reputation), and special collections (local interest, specific audience, archives).
    Librarians catalog each book, adding subject headings, added entries, and notes. They do note the genre on occasion, but usually it is as a cross reference, such as “American history–comic books, strips, etc.”
    Public libraries counter canon by offering what readers need. This is why one finds Spanish and Chinese comics in the New York Public Library.
    Myself, I enjoy good comics, comics which teach, and books about comics. Tell me the color code, so I can wear the proper bandana at Comiccon.

  2. As a digressive anecdote, I just want to say that the cover shown above, with the subtitle “Stories to Change Your Life” is from the UK edition of the book. The US publisher used the subtitle “Everything You Need to Know,” thinking the UK original sounded a bit self-help-y. Which new subtitle I did not quite realize the author more or less hated until he began a MoCCA talk about graphic novels by telling about the subtitle change.

    And, of course, in full disclosure, I worked for that US publisher when they published that book. While I won’t say that I was responsible for changing the subtitle, I’m sure I didn’t object strenuously or champion the original. Paul Gravett has forgiven me (I think! I hope!) but take this as another act of contrition…

  3. Gene: Thanks! That entry’s set for no comments because… I’m sure I had a good reason but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe just that I thought I’d get a bunch of boneheads missing the point in an obnoxious way in the comments field and I couldn’t be doing with it. (This has happened before and at times it’s put me off the whole idea. I’m not convinced that blog comments fields are the right place to be having this kind of conversation. The format is awkward and unintuitive and doesn’t encourage one to delve deep. Livejournal threads are much easier to follow and to read; message boards give more space for replies; email has the advantage of not being public… Yet here I am, replying to a blog comment. Well, I never claimed to be consistent.)

    The Paul Gravett book is one of the best books about comics that I’ve found — it works as an introductory guide but it’s also good for long-term readers because it draws connections between works that aren’t always obvious.

  4. I can only hope the 500 Graphic Novels book is going to prove as invaluable a reference as Paul’s book, lovely to have it mentioned in the same breath, so thanks Heidi!
    I’ve written a good chunk of it, and I think the sheer range of books reviewed should hopefully make it an entertaining read. I absolutely guarantee that all but the most well-read GN reader will find something new in there.