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A New York Times Notable Book of 2018
"...a tour de force of the world of comics, from high-minded graphic novels to Superman..." New York Times
The massive impact that comics have had on our culture becomes more and more clear every day, from the critically acclaimed musical Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s groundbreaking comic, to the dozens of superhero films hitting cinemas every year. What is it that makes comics so special? What can this unique art form do that others can’t?
In Why Comics?, comics scholar Hillary Chute reveals the history of comics, underground comics (or comix), and graphic novels, through deep thematic analysis, and fascinating portraits of the fearless men and women behind them. As Scott McCloud revealed the methods behind comics and the way they worked in his classic Understanding Comics, Chute will reveal the themes that Comics handle best, and how the form is uniquely equipped to explore them.
The topics Why Comics? include:
• Why Disaster: with such major works focusing on disasters, from Art Spiegelman’s work, which covers the Holocaust and 9/11 to Keiji Nakazawa’s work covering Heroshima, comics find themselves uniquely suited to convey the scale and disorientation of disaster.
• Why Suburbs: through the work of Chris Ware and Charles Burns, Chute reveals the fascinating ways that Comics illustrate the quiet joys and struggles of suburban existence.
• Why Punk: With an emphasis on DIY aesthetics and rebelling against what came before, the Punk movement would prove to be a fertile ground for some of the most significant modern cartoonists, creating a truly democratic art form.
Chute has created an indispensable guide to comics for those new to the genre, or those who want to understand more about what lies behind their favorite works.
About the Author
Hillary Chute is a New York Times Book Review comics and graphic novels columnist, professor of English and Art + Design at Northeastern University, and the author of Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics; Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists; and Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form. She is also the associate editor of Art Spiegelman’s MetaMaus. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“[Chute] has been leading the charge with some of the most sophisticated comics criticism to date… From Chute’s spectacular close readings it becomes clear that comics is, unquestionably, literature.”
— Times Literary Supplement
“Now that Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home have found both commercial and critical success, at last there is a brilliant investigation into the unique powers of the medium.”
— National Book Review
“As accessible as it is engaging, Why Comics? reaffirms Chute’s place as a leading voice in comics criticism while providing casual readers with valuable insights into the contemporary world of graphic storytelling.”
— Los Angeles Review of Books
“Why Comics? is a must-read, filling in a significant portion of the vast jigsaw puzzle of understanding comics.”
— Comics Journal
“Why Comics? is a riveting compendium of history, humor, politics, punk, sex, violence, and the occasional superhero. Hillary Chute has given us the stories behind some of the most subversive literature of our time. You want to read this book.”
— Lauren Redniss, MacArthur Fellow and Author of Radioactive and Thunder & Lightning
“Hillary Chute is the scholar comics has been waiting for—passionate, eloquent, encyclopedically knowledgeable, and profoundly in sync with the medium.”
— Lev Grossman, New York Times bestselling author of The Magicians
“In her wonderful book, Hillary L. Chute suggests that we’re in a blooming, expanding era of the art… Chute’s often lovely, sensitive discussions of individual expression in independent comics seem so right and true.”
— New York Times Book Review
“Anyone seeking a persuasive and perceptive entryway to the world of comics need look no further.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Chute elevates comics to literature when dissecting panels, text, and drawing techniques in the more than 100 reprints within the book.”
— Library Journal (starred review)
“As charmingly illustrated and approachable as the works it considers.”
— Chicago Tribune
“[Chute’s] writing is not just effortlessly accessible, it’s also invitingly engaging to anyone curious about the medium, from casual fan to seasoned pro.”
“9.5 out of 10”
— Comic Book Bin
“Chute writes from an unassailable position of expertise. . . . [and] she has a gift for peppering poetic language into information-dense prose, striking a tone that’s at once breezy and authoritative.”
“When it comes to comics, Hillary Chute asks all the right questions.”
— Scott McCloud, Author of Understanding Comics and The Sculptor
“Why Comics? is as entertaining as it is revelatory, and Hillary Chute is one of the most engaging thinkers afoot in criticism today. Ideas tumble from these pages.”
— Michael Tisserand, author of Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White
“Hillary Chute, who may be to comics studies what Art Spiegelman is to comics, brings her academic rigor to an examination of this oft-underappreciated art form. Her supple, nuanced understanding of how to read comics—not only why—begins with an emphasis on the difference between simply reading comics and knowing how to read comics, and continues with a deep dive into genres and themes.”
— Karen Green, Curator for Comics and Cartoons, Columbia University