Nonfiction Review: “Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists” by Hillary Chute

Chicago Authors, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists, Nonfiction Add comments

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As the medium of comics continues to grow in both artistic legitimacy and creative diversity, the question arises of how we will handle an inclusive definition of such an eclectic collection of forms. Does an open and encompassing parameter for graphic narrative allow us to recognize works such as Jim Davis’ Garfield strips and the latest run of Marvel’s X-Force series as using the same language, albeit for entirely different purposes and audiences? Can the same terms we use to discuss Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s graphic novel “From Hell” work for examining Theodor Geisel’s propaganda cartoons?

It’s because of these questions that University of Chicago professor Hillary Chute is becoming such a valuable voice in the suddenly-no-longer-ironic field of comics scholarship. “Outside the Box” is her third book on comics, following “Graphic Women” and her collaborative work with Art Spiegelman on “MetaMaus.” Chute is such a unique voice largely because she never read comics until well into her graduate school studies, where she experienced Spiegelman’s “Maus” and was immediately taken by it.

As a result, her passion for the medium comes not from any nostalgia but from a scholarly appreciation and understanding.

This collection of interviews is remarkable, not least of all because so many of the contributors have been interviewed extensively (some of them, like Dan Clowes, have whole volumes collecting such interviews). Yet, all of these are fresh and insightful examinations of some of the most diverse creators in comics. Whether she’s discussing the origins of Charles Burns’ bio-horror comics or the future of Joe Sacco’s graphic journalism, Chute finds her way into the metaphorical soil that produced these artists’ unique visions and production methods. It’s interesting to see how the early development of artists like Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Lynda Barry encodes itself into the development of their work, and the ample selections of both color and monochromatic art help to highlight how their methodology executes on the printed page.

With interview subjects ranging from Alison Bechdel to Francoise Mouly to Phoebe Gloeckner, “Ouside the Box” is an excellent starting point for expanding the dialogue on comics, and for understanding and incorporating them into academic curriculums. Most importantly, it’s a sharp and engaging read. (Greg Baldino)

“Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists”
By Hillary Chute
The University of Chicago Press, 272 pages, $26

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