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A Review By: Ian Williams,

Ian Williams posted this review on on 8 October 2011.

This book arrived in the same package from Amazon with another of similar size that had been ordered separately. There’s a reason I mention this this but it will have to wait to the end of the review.

But first let’s dispose of that stupid title. Unlike companion volumes in this series -movies, albums, songs- it is completely impossible for anyone to read all the comics listed unless: you have a lot of free time; a large amount of disposable funds; and are versed in numerous foreign languages. Many of the works are out of print and unobtainable except from national libraries; many have never been translated out of their original language. So forget the title, that isn’t what this book is really about.

Essentially it’s an historical survey of what the various writers and editor believe to be the best or most significant (the two are not necessarily synonymous) comics ever published. I’d argue that it’s also polemical in that it’s an argument for comics (by which the compiler includes newspaper strips, comics, graphic novels, manga or whatever form a narrative consisting of words and images appears in) as an art form. Comics are a medium just like films and novels.

It’s also a reference book which is arranged chronologically. However, before the entries begin, there is an alphabetical list of titles and at the end an alphabetical index of author and illustrator which lists their included works. (You might not be too surprised to learn that Alan Moore has the most entries.) Include useful introduction and a brief guide to contributors and as a reference work it works very well. What you want to know is easily accessed.

It’s enormously wide ranging which means people who read only superhero titles will find it quite disappointing, though the superhero genre is represented along with all the other genres from humour to social realism and all stops in between. It’s international in scope which is sometimes frustrating as when a work looks extremely interesting but hasn’t been translated into English. And it’s also enlightening particularly when you come across something you’ve raved over but didn’t believe anyone else had ever heard of. In my case it was The Chimpanzee Complex (UK, Cinebooks, 3 slim volumes), an amazing work of Science Fiction which I’d read earlier this year. Inevitably you won’t agree with all the inclusions and will wonder why some of your particular favourites have been left out but that is all part of the fun of books like this.

The amount of text per entry is just enough to cover the basics of what you need to know about each work and it’s up to you and me to decide if we want to dig deeper. There is often a cover or full page illustration to convey the flavour of a work but often there isn’t. But then space is limited and the book is heavy enough and price is just enough too.

I do have one criticism to make though, admittedly, it is quite minor. A few more works could have been included by excluding multiple entries of a single title by the same creator (Asterix, Corto Maltese, Blake & Mortimer). This doesn’t apply to series which have different creators (Batman).

Of course with books like this, because of the publishing lead-in time, they tend to be out date as soon as they appear. The book which arrived in the same package is Craig Thompson’s new masterpiece Habibi, a truly remarkable graphic novel like nothing you’ve ever read and one that certainly ought to have been included but for its almost simultaneous publication date. And then I looked at the last entry…


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My Books

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library

All contents © Paul Gravett, except where noted.
All artwork © the respective copyright holders.