Northeastern professor’s book named to New York Times Book Review’s ‘100 Notable Books of 2018’ list

Professor Hillary Chute. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Northeastern professor Hillary Chute’s book on the history and culture of comics has been named to the “100 Notable Books of 2018” list selected by the New York Times Book Review, which recognizes notable works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Chute, who is a comics scholar, wrote Why Comics: From Underground to Everywhere, which delves into the superhero phenomenon that has permeated pop culture today and looks at how the art form differentiates itself from others.

“I wanted to write a book that would be accessible to people with a keen prior interest in comics as well as those encountering the art form for the first time,” Chute, who is a graphic novel columnist for The New York Times Book Review, told News@Northeastern earlier this year.

Chute’s 464-page book focuses on 10 major themes: disaster, superheroes, sex, the suburbs, cities, punk, illness and disability, girls, war, and queerness. The book features more than 100 pages of illustrations and each chapter’s title begins with the word “Why”—as in, “Why Disaster?” and “Why Superheroes?”

“Chute offers a tour de force of the world of comics, from high-minded graphic novels to Superman, analyzing what exactly makes them a unique and relevant art form right now,” The New York Times Book Review wrote in its assessment of Why Comics.

Chute, who holds appointments in the Department of English and the Department of Art + Design, said that her chapter on punk culture in comics epitomized the do-it-yourself attitude of comic writers. “The more I worked on this chapter, the more I realized it stood in for the whole argument in this book—that is to say it highlights stories with a do-it-yourself ethic, people working from the ground up with no commercial backing,” she said.

Chute said that her chapter on superheroes was among the most challenging to write. “It’s not my comfort zone,” she explained. “But I knew I couldn’t publish a book for a broad audience without a chapter on superheroes, so I faced it head on and taught myself a lot.”

Comics, which are handwritten, bring a particular intimacy to the art form missing from other mediums such as film and TV, Chute said. “It’s almost like looking at a diary or a manuscript,” she said. “You can tell a lot about the maker of these works by the handwriting, the way that person draws, that person’s style.”