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GRAPHIC NOVELS: Stories To Change Your Life

A Review By: Alex de Campi

Alex de Campi is the writer and co-creator of Smoke and other fine comics.

Sometimes, when I tell people that I write graphic novels, they think I mean porn. Like, graphic as in explicit. They’re always slightly disappointed when I say, no, like a comic book, only longer, and with swearing. This Christmas, they’re all getting copies of Paul Gravett’s new book, Graphic Novels: Stories To Change Your Life (Aurum Press), so they can stop thinking I’m a pornographer.

Nobody puts the love, the lack of ego, and the knowledge into a book on comics like Paul Gravett. My lukewarm assessment of the recent Pictures & Words anthology was in part because books like Gravett’s previous work on manga have raised the bar for writing on comics. No more can one collect a bunch of work from locals and mates and try to pretend it’s a definitive work on cartooning. Gravett also writes with considerable charm. His opening salvo is a short essay called ‘Things to Hate about Comics’, where he addresses the common complaints, like, “I hate reading speech balloons”, “I don’t like the drawing style”, “They take no time to read”, “Aren’t they just for kids?” (OK, you pedant in the back, his opening salvo is actually a two-page Chester Brown strip about a graphic novelist trying to be taken seriously in The New Yorker. OK, it was actually quotes from Fellini and Dali on comics. Now shut up and sit down.) From there, Gravett takes you on a whistle stop tour through thirty graphic novels, showing about five sequential pages from each and explaining storytelling, influences, and what makes that graphic novel unique. I’m about the pickiest person in the universe, and I can’t fault any of his choices.

After each in-depth discussion of his thirty exemplar graphic novels, Gravett then briefly addresses four other graphic novels for each that are in a similar spirit or style. For instance, after discussing Moebius’ Airtight Garage, Gravett goes on to mention Luther Arwkwright, Finder, Nausicca and The Invisible Frontier. His choices may surprise, they may delight, they may anger, but what’s a work of graphic art for, if not to inspire debate? And as Gravett posts pages of sequentials from every book discussed, the book is a must-have crib for comic artists looking to broaden their techniques.

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