Who loves graphic novels? I love graphic novels!
As a kid, I didn’t read comics. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, I wasn’t interested. Still not. When a new Avengers film comes out, my wife rushes to see it. Not me. So it maybe came as somewhat of a surprise when, as I got older, I developed a serious crush on graphic novels.
I still don’t read superhero stuff, not unless Alan Moore’s involved, but when the medium works well, when the art and the words are a perfect match, then there’s no better reading experience.
The way I’ll do this blog is to start with a list of my own favourite graphic novelists, then I’ll add books and comments as I read them. I’m always looking for recommendations, so if you’ve got a graphic novel you think I’d then please add it to the comments below!
My favourite graphic novelists
Really, I could go on all day about this, but in the name of expediency I’ve cut this list down to five.
1. Daniel Clowes
No great shock there, right? Who’s not heard of Ghost World, the story of two teenage girls drifting through daily life, which was made into a film in 2001? But that book only scratches the surface of his work.
Clowes first came to prominence in the 80s. through his self-published Eightball comics, which, following the furrow ploughed by Art Spiegelman’s avant-garde Raw series, were a mix of lurid, smart, experimental strips that were as far away the D.C/Marvel hero archetype as it’s possible to get.
Then came Ghost World, and with it mainstream success.
Since then he has released a number of excellent novels, honing a bittersweet, darkly funny style that is less experimental then his earlier works, but with more engaging narratives.
Where to start?
You could start with Ghost World, most probably do, but I’d go for David Boring, which was the first book of his I read. In it, the eponymous hero searches for love and his the truth about his father while a nuclear apocalypse looms in the background.
They’re all great, but if I had to choose I’d say either Wilson – for a strong narrative – which tells the story an angry man who wants to connect with the world, but can’t, because of how he is. Or, if you’re looking for something a bit more experimental, then Ice Haven, a noir-ish, stylistically diverse, meta-satire about a young boy who’s kidnapped.
2. Alan Moore
I’m really doling out the no shocks here, aren’t I? Somewhat unsurprisingly, what many regard as the greatest graphic novelist of all time makes it to another ‘best of’ list.
For many, Alan Moore needs no introduction. For everyone else, I’ll say one word: Watchmen. And that’s not the only one of his books made a film. V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – the list goes on. And with good reason. His novels are dark, complex, weighty. Behind the superhero facades are big themes: fascism, corruption, the self-destructive drive of man. I’ve not read all his stuff – he has a massive canon of work – and certainly not his much of his early D.C stuff (he wrote the origin story for the Joker in 1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke ), but pretty much everything I’ve read of his is brilliant.
Where to start?
Most Alan Moore books are beasts. Unlike a Daniel Clowes books, which can often be read in a single sitting, these tomes are hundreds of pages long, with dense graphics and plenty of speech. So if you’re looking for something fun and snappy to see if you like his style, then check out Future Shocks, which is a collection of some of his early (shorter) strips.
What do you think?
(Watchmen for those who don’t like rhetorical questions)
3. Chris Ware
Considering Chris Ware has only actually published two ‘books’ – aside from his early strip series Acme Novelty Library – it’s a testament to how good they are that he has made this (oh so important) list.
He’s a pretty hard writer to describe. His books are slow, meticulous inquiries into everyday life, dealing with things like isolation, depression, lost dreams. The graphics are beautiful and vivid, often with whole pages devoted to miniscule details, like a bird hopping along a branch. Structurally, his work is interesting. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, is a sprawling narrative, spanning generations of the same family, majestic in scope and yet always honing in on the miniature. As for Building Stories, his latest and last book, it’s almost impossible to explain. Suffice to say it comes in a big box, full of narrative fragments of different sizes and styles – books, newspapers, pamphlets, which can be read in any order, and which tell the whole life story of a lonely woman looking for happiness.
Where to start?
Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. Although be warned, the paperback version is a massive pain to read; try and read it on a tablet if you can.
Best Graphic Novel Books
1. Maus – Art Spiegelman
What’s that you say? A graphic novel about the Holocaust, with the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats?
That’s the tagline, but the book is so much more.
Buy it, read it.
2. Asterios Polyp – David Mazzucchelli
Among the comic world, David Mazzucchelli is better known for his collaborations with people like Frank Miller, but he has produced one novel – the amazing Asterios Polyp, an ambitious, geometric, modernist novel that manages to make a hero from the irritating, egotistical Asterios, an academic architect detached from the real world. Intense, philosophical, and with a killer ending, it’s definitely worth a read.
3. Absolute Sandman V1 – Neil Gaiman, and assorted artists
It was a toss up between this and Charles Burn’s fantastically creepy teen mutation novel, Black Hole, but I plumped for Sandman because, well, because I wanted to.
Neil Gaiman’s writing is superb, and is perfectly served the gory, nightmarish art. Of the four volumes, this is the best. The only problem is that each volume costs over £50 to buy in book form, but if you’ve got a tablet you can get it much cheaper.