lördag 31 augusti 2013

Tim Pilcher and Brad Brooks: The Essential Guide to World Comics

This book is essentially what it (nearly) claims to be, a bare-essentials guide to comics all over the world. It splits the world into ten "comics regions" – the US, Great Britain, Japan, the-rest-of-Asia-except-India, France-Belgium, other-Europe, Latin America, Fennoscandinavia, Australia-New Zeeland, and India-Africa-the Middle East – and gives us brief historical overviews over how the comics scene has evolved in various countries, important creators and comics, and what the comics scene looks like today (or rather, in 2005, when the book was written). And Pilcher nad Brooks do this in 300 pages. As you might surmise, it's a bit of a whirlwind tour.

Still, I think they do a pretty good job of it. It's a bit too much to really take in all of it on the first reading, but it's still interesting to read about how the various comics industries have developed and what their main characteristics are. For example, if you didn't know about comics' history in Sweden – which you likely didn't if you don't live here – you'll learn about our long and storied love affair with Disney ducks and Lee Falk's Phantom, as well as get brief overviews of some Swedish comics creators. The drawback is that it's still bare-bones histories, so if you want more depth you'll have to go elsewhere and read something that concentrates on one country or region, but I'm still kind of impressed that they pull the whole thing off – which they do.

I have a couple of complaints (I wouldn't be me if I didn't), though. First, Britain is treated like it's practically the second-most important country in the world, and I just can't agree with that; it's gotten the second chapter, after the US, and also the second-largest page count of the single countries. I can buy that for the authors being Brits, but I don't agree with it.

Second, I'm not entirely happy with the choices they've made for illustrations – especially when they get to the less-known comics scenes, there's a tendency for a lot of illustrations to move towards stamp size, making it hard to discern the artist's style or even the actual content of the strip depicted. I realize that it's an editorial choice one might make to offer more space to pictures from certain creators/countries and to use full-page illustrations to make the work more visually interesting/an easier read, but I personally think you're wasting quite a bit of space that could instead be used to showcase less well-known creators and comics.

Finally, after a while, the job of writing snappy descriptions of the comics they like becomes a bit too much; as a reader, I can get a bit tired of the "the [insert praising adjective here] [insert comic's name here] by the [insert adjective here] [insert creator's name here]" formula used for a bit too many of the illustrations.


It is a whirlwind tour of the world of comics, and it includes a lot of comics scenes and creators you're not likely to know pretty much anything about. And it's worth your while.

So yes, worth reading. (Eminent comics scholar Paul Gravette agrees; his review of it is here.)

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