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Hilary Chute’s Graphic Women (2010, Columbia University Press) isn’t necessarily the sort of book you read for fun (unless you are the sort who reads these sorts of books for fun) It’s dense and academic and intended for that audience.
But it’s amazingly in-depth, smart, engaging and important. It’s not light reading but it’s far from boring.
Chute devotes a chapter each to Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Phoebe Gloeckner, Lynda Barry, Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel. These five creators cover a fairly broad range in terms of style, certainly, but Chute’s focus is more what they have in common — all tend to interpret the trauma of their lives in a graphic narrative format (not that I’d expect anything less, but I do applaud Chute for not referring to these books as “graphic novels” because they’re not).
While Satrapi and Bechdel are fairly well-known, even outside of comics, I think Gloeckner and Barry are two important creators and I love their inclusion here. Kominsky-Crumb’s work isn’t exactly to my tastes, but her influence is obvious.
If you’re familiar with these creators’ works, much of this book may be obvious to you, but Chute’s insights and interpretations are always smart. She never over-explains her subject matter and mostly she lets the work speak for itself (many images from these creator’s comics are included) and just adds context.
Still, if you’re picking it up for a pleasure read like I did, it can be slow going. The more interesting chapters for me where on the creators I was less familiar with because I felt like I got more out of them. I already felt like I knew about Satrapi and Persepolis so I admit to skimming portions of that chapter. I don’t think that’s a reflection on Chute’s writing or research — both of which are excellent — but more that the nature of this book not quite being suited to leisure-time reading.
I guess my feelings about this book comes down to these things: Is Graphic Women a great book to read on a Sunday afternoon? Maybe not, but that depends on what you do on your Sunday afternoons. Is it incredibly cool that this book exists? Yes. Am I happy that I read it? Absolutely. I hope it makes its way onto all kinds of bookshelves — even if it’s more suited ones in a university library rather than at home.
Review copy provided through NetGalley.