On the Graphic Novel by Santiago Garcia is a scholarly, in-depth look at the history of graphic novels. It’s a hefty book, coming in at over 300 pages, but it’s so worth it. Garcia not only covers the history of sequential art, but the evolution of the form. If you have more than a passing interest in comics, this is a great education.
There are a lot of great quotes from writers and artist in On the Graphic Novel. Perhaps the best place to start is with Garcia explaining what he intended with this book:
And this is the question that this book answers: not what comics are, not what the graphic novel is, but rather what the meaning of comics for us was, what it is now, what different functions comics have performed in our society and culture, and how the idea of the graphic novel is related to that.
Garcia starts with a discussion on the definition of graphic novel and comics. Eddie Campbell says, “It’s undeniable that there is a new concept of what a comic is and what a comic can be and what it can do that has arrived in the past 30 years.” This discussion takes us into the complex ambiguity of comics, their history, and their weird place in our culture.
Historically, Garcia begins with illustrations in the 18th and 19th centuries and walks us through to the 2000s. He covers all the important artists, characters, and evolutions in format and style. On the Graphic Novel discusses the golden age of superhero comics, but more importantly studies the non-superhero comics of the time. Romance, crime, humor, and horror comics lead the way for the modern graphic novel. All of the great contemporary books are discussed—Maus, Blankets, Black Hole, Persepolis, Jimmy Corrigan, et al.
Garcia also discusses MAD Magazine, Raw, and Heavy Metal. Perhaps my favorite section of the book dealt with the underground comix of the 1960s and 1970s. That era has always intrigued me. On a side note, if you have never seen the documentary Crumb, you need to check it out.
On the Graphic Novel is worth the read for anyone interested in the workings of comics and the modern graphic novel. It’s a little pricy, but I think the weighty content will give you your money’s worth.