Propaganda goes exploring the Rough Guide To Graphic Novels

Published On November 4, 2008 | By Richard Bruton | Books, Reviews

The Rough Guide To Graphic Novels

by Danny Fingeroth, includes 30 page strip by Roger Langridge

Published by Penguin / Rough Guides Ltd.

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It’s pretty obvious what this book is all about. The Rough Guide series is a universally recognisable brand. After years of travel guides, they’ve expanded into other areas, providing reference books for various subjects. I suppose the Rough Guide To Graphic Novels, given the increasing popularity of such books, was practically inevitable.

And it’s joining the party a little late. We’ve already got a few of this sort of book adorning the shelves already. (Paul Gravett’s Graphic Novels To Change Your Life, 500 Essential Graphic Novels being the two that spring to mind immediately). And I remember fondly the old Slings and Arrows Guide To Comics published back in the 90s by Frank Plowright. My copy long since vanished in various house moves but I still remember the enjoyment of perusing what was essential a review list of many hundreds of titles. It was great to have it back then, but is this modern equivalent as relevant now, in this age of always on Internet and a wealth of information on any comic title we could wish to search for at the mere click of a mouse button?

After reading through the pages of this 302 page book by Danny Fingeroth I have to say I think it’s very good indeed for what it is. Of course, I imagine that almost everything in it’s pages could be found somewhere online, but that’s not really the point. Inside The Rough Guide To Graphic Novels, the layout is, as you would expect from a Rough Guide book, excellent. It’s clear, well designed, visually interesting but never overwhelming.

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(Interior page from the Rough Guide. Nice, simple, clear design.)

It’s split into 8 meaty sections, including a rather good 30 page comic called “For Art’s Sake” by Fingeroth and drawn by the ever wonderful yet hugely underated Roger Langridge that riffs on the ideas of the Rough Guide To Graphic Novels with a young artist type taking a crash course on Graphic novels. The comic is good, and a welcome addition to the book as a whole.

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(Roger Langridge’s nice 30 page piece in the Rough Guide takes us on a little tour of the Graphic Novel world.)

There’s a quick introduction to the idea of the Graphic Novel, a look at the evolution of the Graphic Novel, a good section on some of the more notable and important names in the world of Graphic Novels and then we plunge into the meat of the book: the list of Danny Fingeroth’s 60 best graphic novels. No matter what Fingeroth chose to represent as the best 60, there were always going to be dissenting voices. And so it is here. But that’s always going to be the problem with any book of this sort and shouldn’t be considered a criticism. But just to give you an idea, here’s Fingeroth’s list of the 10 Graphic Novels Everyone Should Read that he starts his best 60 list with:

The Quitter,
A Contract With God,
It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken,
Stop Forgetting To Remember,
Kings In Disguise,
Brooklyn Dreams,
Alice In Sunderland,
Why I Hate Saturn.

I’m sure there’s no one of us out there who agrees completely with this ten, but I feel it definitely gives you an idea of the range Fingeroth covers in the book. Which, on the whole, is surprisingly wide and very good indeed.

There are some unusual choices throughout the 60 best Graphic Novels. For example; Raymond Briggs’ masterpiece Ethel & Ernest is overlooked for When The Wind Blows. Andi Watson gets Slow News Day in, but I’d rate Breakfast Afternoon way above it. However there are also some very pleasant surprises. My book of 2007; Lappe & Goldman’s excellent Shooting War finds it’s way in, as does Howard Cruse’s tale of social and sexual liberation in Stuck Rubber Baby and James Sturm’s Jewish baseball saga; The Golem’s Mighty Swing. Three entries in the canon of great graphic novels that I certainly didn’t expect to see here, although I’m very happy that they are.

But arguing about exactly what Graphic Novels should be included is just a fun exercise. It’s Danny Fingeroth’s choice here and he’s made a great job of selecting a good variety of work. Fingeroth does cheat cleverly throughout the book though, by including extra titles in sidebars throughout the book, it’s a clever, well designed way of effectively more than doubling the number of Graphic Novels included.

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(One of the 60 best; Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde. Again, throughout the book, the design and layout is clear and informative.)

A couple of criticisms though:

It’s a very North American centered list. A fair number of Brits make the cut as you would expect but only four books from Europe is staggeringly under-representing a vital and major part of the world (the books are; David B’s Epileptic, Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Joann Sfar’s Rabbi’s Cat).

It quite deliberately overlooks Manga, with only Akira making the list, despite the cover featuring manga artwork prominently. Manga is relegated to a 20 page section of it’s own. Yet with manga taking an increasing percentage of the Graphic novel market, this rather clashes with the idea of this being an all-inclusive Graphic Novel guide. I understand why it’s been done this way and there are plans to have a seperate Rough Guide To Manga in 2009, but I do feel that the cover rather misrepresents the interior content.

But with these books, it’s not what is or isn’t included that really matters. The important thing is how good the writing is within the individual entries. Does Fingeroth justify the selections well, does he communicate to the casual reader exactly why they should pick up any of these books?

I have to say he does. He writes simply, setting out each book well, covering it’s history, the context, a quick overview of the story and art and why it warrants inclusion. He never veers into overbearing, purple prose or tries to blind us with his knowledge. Just like the design of the book, the critical writing is clear and well done.

Minor grumblings aside, it’s an excellent little resource book that will sit well upon my shelf. Not as all-encompassing as it may have been perhaps, but within the remit it set itself it does the job very well.

Richard Bruton

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

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