rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 3: p. 261
Sources: Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independents and Underground Classics
Edward Whatley

Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville

Independents and Underground Classics is the second title in the Critical Survey of Graphic Novels series from Salem Press. The stated intention of this title is to provide “clear, concise, and accessible analysis of not only the historic and current landscape of the interdisciplinary medium and its consumption, but the wide range of genres, themes, devices, and techniques that the graphic novel medium encompasses” (xi). Fortunately, the work lives up to its stated purpose very well. Through detailed analysis of individual graphic novels, Independents and Underground Classics does an admirable job of demonstrating how the graphic novel form is just as effective in engaging readers and portraying the human condition as more established art forms.

Independents and Underground Classics provides alphabetically arranged entries on more than 200 graphic novels published from the advent of the underground comics movement in the 1960s until the present. Most of the graphic novels discussed were published by the creators themselves or by smaller publishing houses rather than by larger comics companies such as DC Comics and Marvel Comics. The brief but insightful introduction attributes the evolution of the modern graphic novel to the underground comics of the 1960s and to the direct market of comic book specialty shops. The underground cartoonists saw comics not as a commercial product but as a vehicle for artistic expression. The attitude and works of the underground artists encouraged and influenced many of the creative people who have produced today’s graphic novels. The direct market comic book shops have encouraged the development of the graphic novel form by providing an outlet for creators who wanted to tell stories that would not be accommodated by the larger commercial companies that published superhero titles such as Batman and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Each entry provides basic information about a given graphic novel, such as its publication history, a detailed synopsis of the plot, and descriptions (both physical and psychological) of the main characters. But researchers will probably find more value in the sections that provide in-depth analysis of each graphic novel. The “Artistic Style” sections discuss the visual styles and devices (realism, cartooning, shadows, page layouts, lettering styles, etc.) the artists employ in telling the stories. The “Themes” sections discuss the dominant themes within each work and how the creators convey those themes. The “Impact” sections discuss how each work was received by the public and its effects on the graphic novel medium.

Independents and Underground Classics is recommended for academic and public libraries. Libraries that own the first title in the Critical Survey of Graphic Novels series (Heroes and Superheroes) will also find this second title to be a worthy addition.

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