The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels by Danny Fingeroth

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The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels by Danny Fingeroth

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very interesting guide for the experienced or the newcomer to the graphic novel format – even with its own exclusive example. It should go a great way to making the format more well known, and, more importantly, well-read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 312 Date: August 2008
Publisher: Rough Guides Ltd
ISBN: 978-1843539933

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I have an admission to make. There are elements of my life I hold dear that, whatever I do, I cannot make other people converts to. They remain resilient to the charms of OMD, and for the life of me I seem unable to make people see the merit of graphic novels.

Danny Fingeroth is a bit better at the latter (I don't know anything about his music tastes), and at the same time as defining graphic novels, creating a canon of sixty of the more superlative and more interesting titles available, giving his thumbnail biographies of the more important men and women responsible for their creation, and going beyond the printed page to provide a strong sense of this being a definitive volume, he even finds time to write his own short fiction for these pages.

It all serves as a very good primer for those mildly interested in the format, and of course a revision lesson for the more experienced graphic novel reader, with pointers aplenty to hidden gems from the last fifty years – yes, they go back that far. His guide to his own canon is one of the major parts of the book, and his essays about each and every entry show a very clear analysis, a wide range of references (from music, cinema history, other literature), with a competent look at – of course – both the images and the story being told.

It's that breadth to the graphic novel that makes the format so appealing to its fans – there can be outstanding pen-and-ink users whose writings we cannot gel with, brilliant stories hidden away behind artwork we dislike, but when it all comes together… Fingeroth here is not the first person to say the creation of a graphic novel is no less complex than making a movie – with the direction, script, cinematography, editing and so on all down to normally one or two people in a lonely artist's studio.

Of course, turning up at your local library with or without a list inspired by this volume will still bewilder the novitiate. In my experience of local libraries (and I have used those of three counties over the last five years) the graphic novel shelves are jam-packed with those volumes this book shies away from – men in tights, biff boom pow, fight scene after fight scene. While there's nothing wrong with those when they show quality, I should practice my converting skills by mentioning the completely different approach to fiction and non-fiction in the books in our canon.

Here we have autobiography; looks at cancer and epilepsy; films noir recreated with futuristic tones or with '30s sensibilities; reportage from war zones, the race divide, Victorian murder scenes, and the humdrum of America; even official 9/11 reports turned into graphic novel form.

It's the middle ground, and the wide range of books this volume leaves out, that will provide a lot of healthy debate among the consumers of sequential art. The second major section, with pertinent career summaries of the major names in the industry, that goes closer to covering the genre titles – those by Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Frank Miller et al. Still, even when considering the short and very good guide to manga (due to get its own Rough Guide soon), there seems a bias against the colourful and lively superhero titles.

As a result, one of my favourites, Bill Willingham's Fables, only does what a couple of canon entries does, in my eyes, but gets what sounds like a grudging nod, once. I would have it as more satisfying, and certainly more grounded in reality, than Bone. Perhaps it's because Fables is as yet unfinished. Here the concentration is on the completed artwork – in the main, the conclusive and concluded product, the fully tangible book that anyone can buy, and by chance enjoy just as often as any other book you care to mention. There are a couple of instances in the canon when Fingeroth finds some fault with those notables he has gathered, and I know of several books I would suggest you not touch with a barge-pole (mentioning no names, not even that of Art Spiegelman's own 9/11 response).

This book itself however is very informative, even to the more knowledgeable. It is a handy reference book for the shelf, or just for dipping into with longing. It left me cloistered indoors for a long time with a huge wish-list of graphic novels I needed to explore, and a lot of memories of those already having crossed my path.

This Rough Guide is a very readable, educative and yes, nigh definitive, look at the format, which will I am sure inspire a lot of endless discussion, and pique many a continuing, ever-branching and wide-ranging reading of the format – one much like a graphic novel itself, then.

Now, about OMD…

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