Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (review: 4/5)

I finished this one a couple weeks ago, but never wrote anything. In Reading Comics, Douglas Wolk writes with an eye to the reader’s experience of comics. He avoids a lot of comics theory (“You already pretty much know what they are, and ‘pretty much’ is good enough”), focusing instead on loving criticism.
It was really good. Some of his criticism was lost on me simply because I didn’t know the comics he was writing about, but it was worth reading anyway. I don’t remember the book well enough to write a lot. Nevertheless, I wanted to make sure I shared some quotes I enjoyed:

  • “Anytime a French word comes into play in an English-language discussion, you can be sure there are some class dynamics going on.”
  • “The meta-pleasure of enjoying experiences that would repel most people is, effectively, the experience of being a bohemian or counterculturalist.”
  • “There’s a certain kind of rain that falls only in comics, a thick, persistent drizzle, much heavier than normal water, that bounces off whatever it hits, dripping from fedoras, running slowly down windowpanes and reflecting the doom in bad men’s hearts.” (aka eisenshpritz)
  • Following The Dark Knight Returns, “a sense of eschatology crept into superhero stories, as their battles became battles for the soul of modernity.”
  • “There are two kinds of horrors stories. One is matin?©e horror, in which some kind of monster or grotesquerie rages across a landscape of innocence until it’s finally destroyed and the natural order of things is restored. Its threat is neatly defined—it’s Frankenstein, a vampire, a werewolf, a plague of zombies, a serial killer in a mask; there are always specific rules for how it can be beaten. The pleasure of reading the story is the pleasure of seeing justice done and the formula cleanly executed.”

And that last one is broadly applicable to any genre. That’s why action movies and romantic comedies work. I like that idea of the pleasure of seeing it executed. Aside from any literary merits of the work, that is the reader’s experience. They generally know the expectations of the genre, the wonder comes from seeing how the author meets or betrays them.

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