HOW TO ANALYZE & REVIEW COMICS
Editor: Forrest C. Helvie
Publication Year: 2021
Topic: Comics Criticism, Making Comics
WHAT IS IT?
How to Analyze & Review Comics exists at the junction point of critique and craft, and it has value both for those who want to review comics and those who make comics. Editor Forrest C. Helvie and a sterling cast of contributors have created a book that serves as a useful introduction to comics and comic criticism for neophytes, but which also provides useful advice for experienced reviewers and creators.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
We here at Comic Book Yeti are painfully aware that reviewing comic books is a lot more involved than you might initially think. Comics can be devilishly complex. Examining them effectively requires a reviewer to consider both literary and artistic elements. How to Analyze & Review Comics does an excellent job of breaking down this process and allowing its readers to start with the basics and then move on to more esoteric concepts as they progress through the book.
The first sections review the basic building blocks of the comic form: story, art, lettering and coloring. A lot of this will be review (or even just intuitively known) for longtime comic readers, but this material will be extremely useful to reviewers or researchers who are working with comics but do not have a decades-long obsession with them.
With the basics out of the way, we then get essays that provide more specific level-ups on technical topics such as panel layout, reader perspective and camera angles well as more content-directed guidance on review format, comic genres, and how to recognize and deal with bias – both in your own head and in the comics you are reviewing. All of this is presented in a lucid style that includes actionable ideas and recommendations. The book then closes with several interviews with comics pros and some thoughts on webcomics and on conducting podcast interviews.
We have needed a book like this for a long time. Helvie and his team have created an easily digestible and thoughtful starter kit for aspiring comic critics. I especially liked how most chapters presented a succinct overview of key ideas about a topic and then closed with a list of sources and occasionally even some additional recommended readings. This allows those new to a topic to not be overwhelmed but also invites more experienced readers to dig deeper along a curated path.
Among other things, How to Analyze & Review Comics addresses the importance of audience impact, and looks at how to deal respectfully and effectively with stereotypes, underrepresentation, queer content, and toxic masculinity. These chapters help drive home the idea that reviewers need to make a conscious effort to reflect on how race and gender are represented (or ignored) in comics.
I love that this book encourages reviewers to be aware of their own biases and preferences. A reviewer may find that a particular comic doesn’t fit their tastes, or they may have preferred that a writer ended the story differently. Nonetheless, they still need to be able to fairly review the comic that is, rather than talking about the one that they wish it were.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
On the whole, How to Analyze & Review Comics is generously and effectively illustrated, with examples of the tools and techniques being discussed. One unfortunate exception to this is the section on comics coloring. A few color pages would have really helped in these essays, as with only black and white illustrations, it was difficult to follow some of the explanations of color theory, alternation, masking, etc.
WHY SHOULD YOU READ IT?
For academics or students who are unfamiliar with comics but are interested in incorporating them into their research, How to Analyze & Review Comics will be a godsend. More generally, this is an engaging and informative read for anyone who likes comics and is interested in thinking and/or writing analytically about them. How to Analyze & Review Comics provides a solid foundation for those looking to make the transition from reader to reviewer, and for those already reviewing comics Helvie & co. impart valuable advice on how to take reviews to the next level.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
Scott McCloud on comics: Understanding Comics
Will Eisner on comics: Comics and Sequential Art
(Yes, these are insanely obvious. But those who are interested in analyzing the comics medium would be hard-pressed to do better than Eisner and McCloud.)
Anthologies always present a challenge, because it is difficult to give proper attention to the work of a large group of authors in a short review. How to Analyze & Review Comics takes this problem to a new level, with a CBY-format-breaking, 27 talented and notable contributors. Below is a list of everyone who is credited in the Contributors section. There is a good chance at least one of your favorites is in here somewhere:
Forrest C. Helvie, Will Allred, El Anderson, Christine Atchison, Laura Braunstein, Harry Candelario, Scott Cederlund, Carloyn Cocca, Fraser Coffeen, Sarah Cooke, Erique del Rey Cabero, Michael James Griffin II, Jeffrey Hayes, Christopher Haynes, Jason Kahler, A. David Lewis, Brian LeTendre, Ryan K. Lindsay, Chris McGunnigle, Michael Moccio, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Herve Saint-Loius, Andy Schmidt, Stephen Sharar, Suman Sigroha, Philip Smith and Ben Towle.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
If you can, find a local bookstore, and buy there!
This book is ©2021 Various Authors. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED