From the Shelf Books on Comics

In her book Why Comics: From Underground to Everywhere (Harper, $40), Hillary Chute surveys this "spatially site-specific form of literature," from early newspaper editorial comics and serialized funnies to the critical acclaim of tough topic graphic novels. Visual texture, storytelling, even line breaks and text arrangement, are investigated in this sweep across the comic canon. Chute investigates the origin stories and art of comics luminaries like Chris Ware, Matt Groening, Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel and the Hernandez brothers, among others, but looks also at the value of fan culture, which embodies the independent spirit at the root of comics.

how to read nancyPaul Karasik and Mark Newgarden also study the structure of comics and the history of the art form in How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels(Fantagraphics, $29.95). From dropping out of high school to become a copy boy at the New York Worldnewspaper to his rise in syndicated comic strip fame, artist Ernie Bushmiller is a comic success story, as is his character Nancy, who was introduced in 1933 and had spread to 880 newspapers and to international markets by 1971. The book digs into the Bushmiller equation of formulaic humor, economy and balance by analyzing a single Nancy comic that originally ran in 1959.

esscapistsIf your level of comic fandom doesn't demand a sociological history of the art's impact or a deep textual study, but you're still interested in a peek behind the curtain, try Michael Chabon's The Escapists by Michael Chabon and Brian K. Vaughan (Dark Horse, paperback, $19.95). This comic about making a comic celebrates a fan who makes his own, which Chute emphasized in Why Comics is a pivotal part of many comic success stories. After our hero Max buys rights to The Escapist he and his art team contemporize the masked man and his adventures, and are faced with villains and adventures of their own in the process. Part how-to superhero comic, part deep-diving human drama, The Escapistsembodies much of the history and spirit of comics. --Kristianne Huntsberger, partnership marketing manager at Shelf Awareness