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The Graphic Novel: An Introduction…

The Graphic Novel: An Introduction (Cambridge Introductions to Literature)

by Dr Jan Baetens

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The emerging field of comics studies has grown rapidly in recent years with many introductory and theoretically based books being written to provide comic books and graphic novels with their own theoretical language, separate from the discourses of literary and film studies from which many works of comics criticism have emerged. The Graphic Novel: An Introduction by Jan Baetens and Hugo Frey, is one such text.

Published in 2015, Baetens and Frey’s The Graphic Novel: An Introduction is part of the Cambridge Introductions series, and one of the first extended critical explorations of the graphic novel. The purpose of the book is, in simplified terms, to fully distinguish the graphic novel as an art form from comic books as popular entertainment, and to provide the tools and vocabulary to engage critically with this newer medium.

Baetens and Frey argue that while graphic novels share many of the same features as comic books, they go beyond these origins: the graphic novel, ‘represents at least some level of self-knowing “play with a purpose” of the traditional comic book form, and in some cases a radical reformation of it’ (19). The sense of the graphic novel as pushing boundaries, experimenting with form and storytelling, allowing artists an individual style rather than imposing the “house style” of mainstream comic books production, gives the medium a creative legitimacy that Baetens and Frey would quite rightly see recognised. On a more practical level, the graphic novel is distinguished from the comic book in terms of its preference for more mature, adult content, moving away from the more ‘juvenile’ superhero genre, and for the use of the book format over single issues and serialisation.


As a whole, The Graphic Novel: An Introduction is informative, and enjoyable. It introduces key concepts and ideas in a way that is easy to understand, and presents a solid and sustained central argument that is fully supported through well discussed examples. A particular strength is the middle section on ‘Form’ which offers a number of strategies for achieving critical readings of graphic novels, illustrated by well-chosen examples, and supported by relevant theoretical models. Overall, a brilliant introduction to the graphic novel, and to comics studies more generally.

For the full review: https://ahermitsprogress.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/the-graphic-novel-an-introduction/ ( )
  Victoria_A | Mar 11, 2016 |
This introductory text will serve as a basis for the long research paper I am currently forumulating on the graphic novel's relationship to the novel and how Watchmen informs this relationship. I learned so much about the graphic novel's history and criticism, and even learned a bit about Watchmen as a graphic novel. I recommend this to anyone who would like to learn more about graphic novels and their literary origin and significance. ( )
  amlohf | Jan 18, 2016 |
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"This book provides both students and scholars with a critical and historical introduction to the graphic novel. Jan Baetens and Hugo Frey explore this exciting form of visual and literary communication, showing readers how to situate and analyze graphic novels since their rise to prominence half a century ago. Several key questions are addressed: What is the graphic novel? How do we read graphic novels as narrative forms? Why is page design and publishing format so significant? What theories are developing to explain the genre? How is this form blurring the categories of high and popular literature? Why are graphic novelists nostalgic for the old comics? The authors address these and many other questions raised by the genre. Through their analysis of the works of many well-known graphic novelists - including Bechdel, Clowes, Spiegelman and Ware - Baetens and Frey offer significant insights for future teaching and research on the graphic novel"--… (more)

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