Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 October 2020
At first glance, Hillary Chute's Why Comics? presents itself as a chronicle of the heroic deeds of a Pantheon of creative gods. Across ten chapters, Chute tracks the aesthetic achievements of more than twelve world-renowned comics artists whose innovations in sequential visual art represent a range of human experiences, from wartime violence to teenage sexuality to queer family history to living with cognitive and physical disability. In Chute's narrative, such luminaries as Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco, Lynda Barry, and Marjane Satrapi rise up from the vast landscape of comics production as artists whose bodies of work testify to comics's aesthetic diversity and sophistication. These typically erudite cartoonists work at a distance from mainstream comics and produce adult-oriented, long-form graphic narratives considered aesthetic masterpieces. “Although comics of all kinds are flourishing in the twenty-first century,” Chute explains early on in Why Comics?, “there has been a dramatic uptick” in the kind of “auteurist comics” produced by these cartoonists (18), who relish, in Clowes's words, the way the medium allows them to “control absolutely everything and make it … exactly what you're seeing in your own head” (qtd. in Why? 18). For Chute, it is this “singular intimacy of one person's vision”—best displayed in comics produced by sophisticated adult cartoonists writing and drawing for other adults–that underscores that comics are also for grown-ups (18). By now, we all should know this, but we have not learned the lesson well enough (or perhaps some just refuse to listen).