June 1, 2011

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Blogging About Booklist

My library has a subscription to Booklist, and they had the Spotlight on Graphic Novels issue (March 2011) on display. I figured it might be fun to see what they were highlighting, and whether I agreed or had plans to read some of their suggestions. Here are a few highlights and my thoughts.

I'm pretty sure Booklist has "adult" mistaken with "not Superheroes" because instead of potentially covering mature-themed books that might involve superpowers, we have a murder's row of indie cred publishers and authors. I'm looking forward to reading Empire State and Scenes from an Impending Marriage, both of which make the list here. Daniel Clowes's newest is also to be found, which I also intend to read, though probably not as quickly as the others. Props for including translated works.

Young Adult is harder to peg. It leads off with Grant Morrison's Batman, and while I won't argue the quality, if Batman and Robin is anything to go by, it's not at all what I would define as young adult, unless ripping off faces and eating them is suddenly okay when you're twelve. Mouse Guard is also here, as is a new book from Gene Lueng Yang. Yang's storytelling is a bit too heavy-handed for my taste, but as with Clowes above, it's hard to fault them for including him here. The one that brings a smile to my eye is seeing Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer 2 on this list. So glad to see that great series get a spotlight here from Booklist.

Children's did not have anything that popped out at me, but the Top Ten for Youth has Crogan's March, which I really need to read, Joann Sfar's adaptation of The Little Prince (ditto), Return of the Dapper Man (which I dug as a FCBD comic), and Matt Dembicki's Trickster anthology.

The Adult Top Ten has two strong entries, with A Drunken Dream and other Stories (which I think is the only manga mentioned in this entire spotlight) and the second Parker book, but from there it's a bit of a slippery slope. Artichoke Tales was good, but I don't think it's a top ten level book. Same for the not-as-good-as-the-original second volume of Umbrella Academy. I'm not sure why people like Moving Pictures as much as they do, and it definitely would not be on my list. I kinda feel like this one is trying too hard to show how important comics can be and didn't leave a lot of room for fun. News flash: Adults like fun, too.

The final major entry in their spotlight is a list of books for book clubs. With the exception of Lost Girls, I think they are all strong choices. American Born Chinese has great talking points, as does Fun Home, which I've called a graphic novel in the truest sense of the word. Watchmen is iconic, if a bit played out, and those who want to understand comics can do a lot worse than Scott McCloud.

Overall, three things stood out to me: Unless they also do a "Spotlight on Manga," these lists are bereft of a very large segment of the comics industry. Only indie art publisher Fantagraphics' book makes it onto any of the lists. What about the manga aimed at kids, like Chi's Sweet Home? How about Viz Signature? This feels like a yawning gap, unless they were given their own issue at a different time.

The second thing I noticed is that Booklist apparently hates fun. While I like a lot of these contributions, they all tend to the serious. These are comics that know their own self-importance. What of the irreverence of a Jeff Parker book? Or the cleverness of Fables? It's like the contributors at Booklist made all of these pass a serious test, and woe to any that prioritize fun!

Third, these choices are all very safe. None of them take chances. Anyone who knows comics could look at these lists and say, "Yes, those are acceptable choice." Anyone who runs a library could buy these (except for maybe Lost Girls) and get very few complaints, if any. Anyone who shops at a store instead of online can get these titles mostly without even taking the troublesome step of a special order. Even the edgy picks, such as Clowes, are safely mainstreamed enough that more often than not, the buyer/reader will be comfortable with what they find. Why not try one of Top Shelf's Scandinavian books that offer a completely different perspective on relationships? Why not a Johnny Ryan book, even though I personally don't care for him? Live on the edge, Booklist!

Overall, this was a fascinating look into the book world's view of comics. Don't get me wrong, it's hard to argue with the selections if the idea is to play the choices close to the vest. I like plenty of what was suggested here, but it's like making recommendations based solely on a 25% sample of what readers can access with just a few extra mouse clicks. It's also an attempt to go high-brow in a medium that revels in the common and the popular, often with effects that are every bit as good--if not better--than the "art books" that get priority here. I think I'll take my more mixed view, thanks very much. What do you think?