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How to Review a Comic Book

Updated on May 2, 2016
Comic books are usually lighter than graphic novels, and are one part of a larger story.
Comic books are usually lighter than graphic novels, and are one part of a larger story. | Source

Units of Analysis

When you review anything, you need to judge it by comprehensible units of analysis. For comics, these will be set by norms and conventions of the type of comic you are reviewing. These are determined by the comic's genre and time period, but you can also take into account how the specific comic you are reviewing fits in with the overall career of the artists involved. Some artists, like Frank Miller arguably occupy an entire subgenre of comic unto themselves (much like the work of Tim Burton).

Comic Book vs. Graphic Novel

To some, the delineation between comic books and graphic novels have to do with how they are read and released (see: http://dailyutahchronicle.com/2012/09/19/graphic-novels-vs-comic-books-whats-the-difference/ for more on the subject).

A comic book is released in chunks, and their writing reflects that. A good comic might have a cliffhanger at the end of every issue, to give the audience some reason to buy the next installment.

A graphic novel is meant to be read like a book; read from start to finish. A graphic novel is usually published altogether at once. A series of comics can be published in graphic novel form (indeed, it is commonplace), but a good reviewer can see the seam lines where one issue was meant to end and another start.

It is important to analyze a comic or a graphic novel for what they are.

Manga are usually as long as a graphic novel, but like a comic, are one part of a longer narrative, though one-off manga do exist.
Manga are usually as long as a graphic novel, but like a comic, are one part of a longer narrative, though one-off manga do exist. | Source

Where Does Manga Fit In?

Manga are usually somewhere in between a comic and a graphic novel. Manga tend to mimic graphic novels in size, but their stories are meant to be told in many installments (though many one-off manga do exist).

Analyze it like any other comic: by how it fits in with the conventions of its form (where it stacks up in comparison to other manga in its genre).

If you are writing to a Western audience, there are certain circumstances where you can compare manga to Western comics and graphic novels, as globalization has seen the appropriation of many narrative techniques.

Works like "Mause" changed how we view comics and graphic novels as art, as it used the visual medium to create a truly profound story about surviving the Holocaust.
Works like "Mause" changed how we view comics and graphic novels as art, as it used the visual medium to create a truly profound story about surviving the Holocaust.

What Was Profound About Your Experience?

With any review, you want to make sure you are communicating what impression the work of art made on you, and concretize it through specific details pulled through units of analysis specific to that form.

You will most likely be unable to comment on every page of the comic (though some, like Linkara, have been able to), so it is important to grab illustrative examples of the piece of art to communicate points you have about it.

Include a general summary of how the work made you feel through the beginning, middle, and end, and then jump right to specific examples of profound moments within the piece of work, whether they be skillfully or poorly executed.

Comic book art has evolved into its own genre of art, and must be talked about in the format of a review.
Comic book art has evolved into its own genre of art, and must be talked about in the format of a review. | Source

Aspects You Must Comment On:

  • the artistry of the graphics (inking, coloring, figures, etc.)
  • the artistry of the writing (dialogue, narration, etc.)
  • the artistry of the overall narrative
  • print/paper quality
  • price

The Format of Your Review

Text and video work fine for this art form, though if you prefer text reviews, I recommend you incorporating pictures (illustrative examples of the comic). You can describe everything that is on the page, but this can be a hassle, and it distracts from your commentary and analysis of the work.

Video gives you the option to show illustrative examples of the comic with ease, as well as incorporate other forms of media (wary of YouTube's copyright policy). You can also throw in a few skits to help your audience relate to what you're saying.

Audio-only is also an option, but this severely limits your commentary and analysis as comic books are a visual art form.

YouTuber Linkara has found an audience that enjoy his style of review and the types of comics he reviews.
YouTuber Linkara has found an audience that enjoy his style of review and the types of comics he reviews.

Finding Your Niche

Comic books have become much more mainstream, but the media consumption for this medium is nothing compared to those of movies or video games. If you want to thrive, you will have to share your articles to niche communities interested in not only the particular work (or type of work) you are reviewing, but who are interested in comic book reviews in the first place.

The closer the content you review is to a current movie or video game release, the more chance you have of connecting with a general audience (i.e. reviewing the "Captain America: Civil War" comic a week before the movie comes out). Some comics can be really obscure, and unless there is something profound about them, you might have a hard time finding an audience.

If you are hardcore comic book fan, there is a large market for content that breaks down complex comic comic arcs into easily digestible bits for a general audience.

There is also a market for obscure story lines of well-known heroes (see the YouTube Channel Comic Drake).

If you love to talk about comics, don't feel like you are limited to reviews only. If you are passionate and knowledgeable about this form of art, there are plenty of ways to shine through the written or recorded word.

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