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Graphic Novels 101

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So I am trying to bone up on graphic novels. What are some essential titles or series?

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So I am trying to bone up on graphic novels. What are some essential titles or series?

Here's a list of Time Magazine's Top 10 Graphic Novels. One could quibble about a couple of the choices, but I think almost everyone would agree that it's a representative list of the best titles.

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Maus 1 & 2

Box Office Poison

Tricked

Blankets

Epileptic

Black Hole

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There are the 80's classics that really brought graphic novels into their own:

Neil Gaiman

- The Sandman books (especially Season of Mists and The Game of You) - awesome world-building and imaginative storytelling.

Alan Moore - the cranky grandfather of the graphic novel

- Watchmen - So much more and better than the movie

- V for Vendetta - ditto

Frank Miller - the odd uncle of the graphic novel

- The Dark Knight Returns

- Electra Assassin - Both great "realistic" reinterpretations of superheros

Now, within the last 15 years or so:

Craig Thompson - the hip nephew

- Blankets - Beautiful and tragic coming-of-age memoir. Thread here.

Warren Ellis - the other odd uncle - perhaps the best scifi comic writer going today

- Transmetropolitan - Profane and prophetic. A Hunter S. Thompson look/act-alike roots out corruption in a future.

- Planetary - Lacks an ending but still an excellent story of a group of superhero archeologists trying to root out the weird and wonderful artifacts of the universe

Mike Mignola

- Hellboy - Darker and more Lovecraftian than the movies. Seed of Destruction, Wake the Devil, Right Hand of Doom, and Conquerer Worm are the collections I've read. They're great.

Almost forgot: Bone by Jeff Smith and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayo Miyazaki

Edited by Cunningham

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Seconding the recommendations on Bone, Blankets, and Maus. I like the work of James Kochalka but he is a very acquired taste (I prefer his strips to his 'novels'). Scott McCloud's books Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics are very interesting (not perfect) but offer a lot of insight into what comics are and what they do -- they include a lot of useful history lessons in graphic novels as well.

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I might as well mention Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay here too. It's a novel, of course, and therefore isn't presented as straight history, but Chabon conveys a wondrous understanding of the ethos of comic books, and those who create them, just the same.

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I have tackled (and enjoyed) much of what has been mentioned so far, except for some on Greg's list and a few of those Hellboy titles. Warren Ellis stands out so far as someone I immediately grab off the library shelf if I see him. I have also found a lot of pretty lousy stuff just by grabbing random titles. I am not too interested in lady mechanics that turn into coyotes.

So far, I have really enjoyed the esoterica that comes along graphic novels. I like the networking of authors, the people who ink all the panels, the colorists, etc... So many of them include forewards that talk about how and why they got into comics, or why they are drawn to certain color palettes or inking styles. Great stuff.

And I also enjoy what seems to be a bit of debate about what these things are called. Blankets, for example, is an "illustrated novel." Definitely not a graphic novel.

Thanks for the recommendations so far, please keep them coming.

Edited by M. Leary

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Another great title that kind of plays like Infernal Affairs/The Departed with very understated super-powers is Sleeper by Ed Brubaker.

Preacher, by Garth Ennis is a book I hated when I first picked it up, but I gave it another chance a couple years ago and I loved it. It's certainly heretical and probably blasphemous, and the art really has to grow on you, but for some reason I was just in the right place to really love it. Here's the premise from Wikipedia:

Preacher tells the story of Jesse Custer, a down-and-out preacher in the small Texas town of Annville. Custer was accidentally possessed by the supernatural creature named Genesis in an incident which killed his entire congregation and flattened his church.

Genesis, the product of the unauthorized, unnatural coupling of an angel and a demon, is an infant with no sense of individual will. However, as it is composed of both pure goodness and pure evil, it might have enough power to rival that of God himself. In other words, Jesse Custer, bonded to Genesis, may have become the most powerful being in the whole of living existence.

Custer, driven by a strong sense of right and wrong, goes on a journey across the United States attempting to (literally) find God, who abandoned Heaven the moment Genesis was born. He also begins to discover the truth about his new powers, which allow him to command the obedience of those who hear his words. He is joined by his old girlfriend Tulip O'Hare, as well as a hard-drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy.

Edited by Cunningham

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So I am trying to bone up on graphic novels. What are some essential titles or series?

Alan Moore's FROM HELL is probably the greatest artistic achievement the medium has ever seen, but it comes with heavy graphic sexual and violent content so I'm cautious about recommending it (in movie rating speak, it would be a strong NC-17 for sure). Still, FROM HELL deserves its accolades, and more so than Moore's other widely-recognized works like WATCHMEN or V FOR VENDETTA.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I haven't read any of his work yet, but Gene Luen Yang demonstrated an impressive knowledge of comics, and a great affection for them, in his session at this year's Calvin festival of faith and writing. He recommended McCloud as a good place to start, too. Some of his collections are Animal Crackers and American Born Chinese.

Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis is probably more famous for the movie adaptation at this point, but it's worth checking out. And I know it's a movie, but Waltz With Bashir has a definite graphic novel feel to it.

Edited by tyler1984

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I think some of the best new voices in the medium are just now earning their cred online, and some are just now making their first forays into the print world. The Flight collections, edited by Kazu Kabushi, have some really impressive stuff (and some not-so-impressive stuff -- that's an anthology for you). Kabushi also recently published a collection of his online comic, Copper, which is shot through with loveliness from start to finish. He's done a couple YA graphic novels, too, the Amulet series, but those hasn't impressed me as much.

I actually think one of the finest pieces of graphic novel work currently being done is Family Man, Dylan Meconis' slow, deliberate story about academic and theological intrigue in the late medieval German university system, and also werewolves. It's brilliant in many ways, as a re-imagining of werewolves, a period piece and a study in religious anxiety. It can be a frustrating comic to read online, because pages only come out weekly, and they're very obviously paced for the long term (thrill as, this week, Luther knocks on a door! Next week: Ariana pulls a card out of a drawer!) But she's currently printing the first volume, and I think its rhythm will be well-suited to print.

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American Born Chinese is phenomenal! I forgot to mention it. Great story that blends questions of identity, culture, growing up, and faith.

Also I can't believe I forgot Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrgian: the Smartest Kid on Earth. Incredibly meticulous artwork and storytelling. Ware is always depressing -- and brilliant.

Edited by Joel

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Although these are actually just collected issues of regular series ("trade paperbacks"), I recommend:

WALKING DEAD by Robert Kirkman

Y: THE LAST MAN by Brian K. Vaughan (this series is finished after 60 issues)

FABLES by Bill Willingham

The fact that they are ongoing or extended series does add some variation to the quality, but have enjoyed all of these.

Also,

ALL STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely is one of the best superhero stories in years.

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Alan Moore's FROM HELL is probably the greatest artistic achievement the medium has ever seen, but it comes with heavy graphic sexual and violent content so I'm cautious about recommending it (in movie rating speak, it would be a strong NC-17 for sure). Still, FROM HELL deserves its accolades, and more so than Moore's other widely-recognized works like WATCHMEN or V FOR VENDETTA.
I forgot about this one and wholeheartedly agree with you. It is an astoundingly complex work that's guaranteed to a do a number on your head. Dark subject matter rarely bothers me, but the artwork and story in this one genuinely unsettled me.

Also I can't believe I forgot Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrgian: the Smartest Kid on Earth. Incredibly meticulous artwork and storytelling. Ware is always depressing -- and brilliant.

The detail in this is mind blowing but the narrative is an unrelentingly bummer. In a similar downer vein with better humor (and less impressive artwork)is David Heatley's "My Brain is Hanging Upside Down"

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Copper, which is shot through with loveliness from start to finish. He's done a couple YA graphic novels, too, the Amulet series, but those hasn't impressed me as much.

Wow. Look at this.

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John Porcellino.

"Perfect Example" is a good place to start.

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Since there are some short format suggestions, David Shrigley is at least on topic:

76422468_TPjPe-M.jpg

Edited by M. Leary

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Shrigley is one of the few artists who can make me laugh out loud. Genius.

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Just the other day I bumped into what looks like a really cool "online graphic novel" called "Chava & Don Andres". Link.

Edited by Cunningham

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there's also scienkiewicz' mini series about elektra

dave mclean's cages

morrison and mckean's arkham asylum

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Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis is probably more famous for the movie adaptation at this point, but it's worth checking out. . . .

I second that nomination to say that the graphic novel should be more famous than it is--it was on one of those TIME "best graphic fiction of the year" lists not long after its publication. Link to the A&F thread on Persepolis the movie.

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Alan Moore's FROM HELL is probably the greatest artistic achievement the medium has ever seen, but it comes with heavy graphic sexual and violent content so I'm cautious about recommending it (in movie rating speak, it would be a strong NC-17 for sure). Still, FROM HELL deserves its accolades, and more so than Moore's other widely-recognized works like WATCHMEN or V FOR VENDETTA.
I forgot about this one and wholeheartedly agree with you. It is an astoundingly complex work that's guaranteed to a do a number on your head. Dark subject matter rarely bothers me, but the artwork and story in this one genuinely unsettled me.

Glad to see I'm not alone. FROM HELL is quite remarkable.

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Skim, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. A slightly left-of-field bildungsroman with great characters and artwork.

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Second Sandman, Preacher and Y: The Last Man

Grant Morrison's The Invisibles is great. I'm getting ready to start 100 Bullets as soon as I get home in May. Surrogates and Whiteout are both good. Please please please ignore their movies.

I've heard great things about Eisner's Contract with God Trilogy and have never gotten around to reading it.

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I'll second (or is it 3rd or 4th?) the kudos for Marjane Satrapi's work - I think she's written 3 graphic novels now, and they're all worth the time spent with them.

One that hasn't been mentioned thus far is David Mazzucchelli's 'Asterios Polyp' - a beautifully executed tale of the dissolution of a narcissistic architect's marriage, and the man's efforts to start anew. Uniquely illustrated, gently poking fun at human efforts to appear smarter than we really are, with meditations on aesthetics and the artistic life thrown in for good measure. One of my favorite overall book discoveries last year, that held up well upon a recent second reading.

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