Wednesday, August 13, 2008

500 Essential Graphic Novels: The Ultimate Guide

Gene Kannenberg Jr.
Gene Kannenberg Jr.'s new guide to graphic novels is broken out into ten chapters, each focusing on a different area of comics. Initially, each chapter of the book begins with the top ten comics in said category, and then proceeds to list the best of the rest. I was really happy to see that Kannenberg did not break out manga or international material into their own categories, but rather puts them on equal footing with American comics in areas from "Adventure" to "Non-Fiction." The other areas he includes are: "Crime/Mystery," "Fantasy," "General Fiction," "Horror," "Humor," "Science Fiction," "Superheroes" and "War." While I understand why he did specific breakouts as he did, especially in terms of using this as a reference guide to easily find the sort of books a reader would be interested in, it doesn't work as well as it could have. For instance, the "Superheroes" section is given just as much room to highlight titles as a category like "Non-Fiction," when superhero comics have many more titles devoted to its genre, leaving many important titles out, such as Grant Morrison's New X-Men. Meanwhile, "Non-Fiction" contains three works by Marjane Satrapi, the only "essential" one being Persepolis, yet Chicken with Plums and Embroideries get space over something more deserving. Same with the "War" category. While there are a good amount of books focusing on war, there are books included in the subject that seemed out of place, like they were fluffing the category a bit, titles like Artesia, which would probably be more comfortable in "Fantasy," or Golgo 13, which...I can't even explain that one...
Despite these choices in the book's format, there were plenty of good choices made for what to include in this book. I was thrilled to see some excellent but often overlooked books like Elektra: Assassin, The Chuckling Whatsit and Kamandi, but I also wonder about some of the inclusions... Batman: Hush one of the ten best superhero graphic novels? Really? And The Death of Superman? Is that essential at all? What about some of the titles that were noticeably absent? Shanower's Adventures In Oz? The Luna Brothers's Ultra? Yotsuba&? Little Orphan Annie? Sloth? X-Men: Days of Future Past? What about Fort Thunder artists? John Porcellino? You could nit-pick about particulars forever, I suppose, but how does one choose Robot Dreams over Shortcomings? And I guess I don't understand the need to single out a specific volume of Cerebus or Tezuka's Phoenix instead of just generally recommending the series.
But I don't want to be too hard on the details of the book, because overall, this is a good guide that could point many people toward some A-grade material, with a handy little "Further Reading" included with the review and plot of each and every book. It's just great that something like this exists. I bought it and I plan to utilize it plenty in the future. But it's not perfect. It's not complete, like Jason Thompson's Manga: The Complete Guide. Kannerberg had to pick and choose and some of his tastes came through that are going to be counter to other people's. This had to have been an intimidating endeavor, and overall, it was quite the success.

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