This article originally appeared in Strangehaven issue issue #14, June 2002.
The Invisible Art of…writing books for graphic novel sections of public libraries
Son of Invisible Art
by Joss O’Kelly [Buckinghamshire County Library] ISBN 0 86059 605 2
A4 [8.25” x 11.75”] 66 pages B/W; cardstock covers May 2001/£7.95
The 101 Best Graphic Novels
by Stephen Weiner [NBM publishing] ISBN 1 56163 284 8
[6” x 9”] 80 pages B/W; cardstock covers perfect bound 2001/$8.95 US [softcover]
Librarian Joss O’Kelly has produced an updated and much improved version of her Invisible Art book, essentially a recommended graphic novel guide for British libraries. It consists of a list of more than 600 books, many with capsule reviews of graphic novels and trade paperbacks (based on Mel Gibson’s Books with Attitude) listed in alphabetical order by writer, with publisher, year of publication and all-important ISBN number.
The illustrations are rather sparse and are from interior panels rather than covers (presumably due to copyright implications in the first instance and production limitations in the second) but brighten the pages nonetheless. The lack of an index of any kind is also a drawback – an alphabetical listing by title or even publisher would have been useful.
On the plus side, the paper is a thick and glossy, appropriately durable for such a reference book and O’Kelly’s concise introduction puts forward a refreshingly simple case in favour of comics for adults.
Shortly after receiving Son of Invisible Art, I purchased Stephen Weiner’s 101 Best Graphic Novels (published by NBM), and the two made an interesting comparison. I found them to be surprisingly similar in content and their aims appear to be very similar too as Weiner’s book was written with distribution to American libraries in mind, although it is being marketed much more widely by NBM.
In my opinion, O’Kelly’s book actually compares rather favourably, despite its humble origins. Its layouts are cleaner and easier to follow and her choices are more inclusive (Weiner’s selection being limited to 101 books, obviously).
I would like to qualify my statements here by admitting that O’Kelly includes my Strangehaven books, and any list of this kind is of course open to infinite debate, but I find it strange that a book like Dave Cooper’s Suckle is listed in O’Kelly’s book, whereas Weiner overlooks it in favour of Star Trek: The Modala Imperative. I’m sure Weiner was attempting to make a representative selection (which would also explain just slightly too many mediocre superhero graphic novels in his list) but I don’t think the Star Trek book would make many other comic readers’ top 100.
101 Best Graphic Novels does however include an index by title, the same bibliographic information as O’Kelly’s book and many more cover illustrations – but both books suffer from insufficient synopses – in some cases, barely a sentence long.
However, I can recommend both books for the purpose for which they were intended – giving librarians a starting point when trying to decide how to stock their graphic novel sections. I was slightly disappointed with Weiner’s book probably because its marketing promised more, but either book would satisfy, particularly in its country of origin. Not only are the books similar, they are also complimentary, with O’Kelly adding depth to Weiner’s limited selection. Librarians and comics scholars, please buy both.