Weiner’s extremely concise overview of the growth and legitimization of the graphic novel for American educators and librarians consists of fifteen chapters, a foreword by Will Eisner, a preface by Weiner regarding this second edition, and a very selected annotated reading list of other explorations of graphic novels — all in 72 pages. Eisner sets the tenor by writing: “The most significant evidence of comics’ arrival, however, is their acceptance and acknowledgement by public librarians” (ix).
The book is highly accessible for young adults as well as the educators and librarians that seem to be the intended audience. Written in an informal tone with pop culture quotations prefacing each chapter and profusely illustrated with black and white panels, the book covers a great deal of ground. There is also a focus on teens and their reading preferences briefly integrated in each of the chapters. Chapter one provides a very concise overview of the history of comics in the United States to the 1940s. The following two chapters focus on the next two decades with a nod to EC titles and their fascination for teens and Fredric Wertham’s influence in the discussion on the 1950s and a very quick glimpse at the underground comix movement of the 1960s. Weiner considers the influence of the rise of the comic book store in Chapter 4 and the idea of the graphic novel in the subsequent chapter with a more in-depth look at Eisner’s A Contract with God. An exploration of the more recent involvement of mainstream trade publishers follows in Chapter 6 with a concise look at emergent comic book publishers in Chapter 7.
The next eight chapters focus on either publishers such as Marvel and DC in Chapter 8 or specific titles such as Maus, Sandman, Bone, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and various titles that harbour connections, according to Weiner, to the underground comix of the 1960s such as Kings in Disguise, Love & Rockets, Flood!, the work of Peter Kuper, Joe Sacco, Dan Clowes, and Chris Ware. This chapter also pays homage to the influence of novels such as Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in making graphic novels and the comic book format of interest to a wider reading audience. Chapter 14, “A New Millennium for Comics,” tries to cover as much as possible about diverse topics such as Canadian comic book creators, hybrid books such as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, manga, and international and American literary graphic novel titles. His final chapter is filled with enthusiasm for the comic book in the future of reading and publishing in the United States for children’s materials, self-published titles and the survival of comic book stores.
The book works well as an express synopsis of the comic book for American readers and American titles, one that offers validation for creating comic book collections in school and public libraries, but very little meat for those who already have an established collection or more than a basic understanding of the reach and influence of the comic book format. I recommend it to keep on hand in libraries to hand to reluctant administrators and parents who have little background on the topic and query collection and selection policies.