Monday, July 26, 2010

Jim reads comic books

by Jim

I remember first becoming aware of the concept that a comic book could also be a “real” book around the time that Maus hit Entertainment Weekly’s best of the year list about a million years ago. In the years since I started working at DGLM, graphic novels have gained more and more traction in sales and become increasingly respectable.

I’ve been thinking a lot about them for one incredibly obvious reason: I’ve started selling them. In the coming years, adaptations of a few of the novels I’ve sold will be hitting stores in graphic novel form. And as we move forward with these projects, I’m reading more and more books in the format and also becoming increasingly intrigued about how readers crossover from one format to the other. Take Laurell K. Hamilton: I’d guess that most of the folks buying her graphic novels were already fans looking forward to a different approach to the stories and characters they loved. But I have to imagine that there’s also a dedicated comic readership whose first exposure to Hamilton’s Anita Blake came through the adaptations.

While pondering this all, I also finally read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. If anyone else still hasn’t read it, you totally have to. It’s, well…amazing (truth in advertising!). and it relates here because it’s about two cousins who participate in the birth of the comics boom in the States in the 40s. It made me want to read more comic books and graphic novels. So I have.

I dug into Watchmen and was blown away by the richness of it all. Emboldened, I kept going. From memoirs of Iranian girlhood (Persepolis) to the biography of a mathematical philosopher (Logicomix) to tales of a dorky Canadian battling his girlfriends seven evil exes (Scott Pilgrim Saves the World), I’ve been incredibly impressed by the integration of art and language. It’s incredibly encouraging that so many artists and writers are committed to growing the format as its own art form.

Of course, the fact that it took me this long to really get behind the movement in full force probably speaks to a bit of snobbishness that I held onto until now.

I’d love to hear if any of our readers are graphic novel obsessives. And I’m completely open to suggestions for what to read next!


  1. Oh Jim, you must, must, must read Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen. It's not about Superman- it's a coming of age story about a guy whose parents named him Clark Kent. It was extraordinary, really subtle, amazing storytelling, and the art was amazing.

    You also must, must, must read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, which is actually a memoir in graphic novel form. It's about her coming out as a lesbian, and her discovery that her father- who committed suicide- was a closeted gay man. It will gut you in a good way!

    Next should be JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT or SQUEE (or BOTH) by Jhonen Vasquez. Don't let the titles put you off- there's some amazing, deep (and sometimes anarchic) thinking in these books, and the art is gleefully chaotic.

    And if you haven't read Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN, it's like required graphic novel reading. Not only did it launch the lives of millions of teenage goths everywhere, it's just exquisitely wrought from words to art.

    And what SANDMAN did for goths, LOVE & ROCKETS by Jaime Hernandez did for riot grrls and alts. A seriously great and under-appreciated title, for sure. Likewise GHOST WORLD by Daniel Clowes.

    Everybody and god will tell you that Frank Miller and Alan Moore are AMAZING. I will tell you that they are old-school, perverted misogynists with absolutely nothing interesting to say.

    But I guess to be absolutely fair to their contributions to the genre, you should read Alan Moore's FROM HELL and V IS FOR VENDETTA. You should also read Frank Miller's SIN CITY and BATMAN: YEAR ONE.

    And now I will shut up, before I go into the DC canon of graphic novels and manga.

  2. Joann Sfar, especially The Rabbi's Cat (there are two volumes so far) and the Dungeon series he does with Lewis Trondheim. The colors, the whimsy, and the wisdom... LOVE Sfar's stuff.

  3. I second Sandman (though I couldn't get past the -spoiler- convention).

    If you can bend reality enough, I'd also suggest The Invisibles.

    My personal favorite is an indie that isn't done yet, Dorothy (by Illusive Arts).

  4. I've got boxes of old Archie comic books in the attic. Does that count as obsessive?

    I think that being open minded to any genre that lures in a reader is to be applauded.

  5. I enjoy writing, but I've really gotten into making my own graphic novels/comics.

    I started them because I didn't see enough diversity in comics. I've got three webcomics up now (all paranormal) and hopefully one will be a hit with readers!

  6. Might I also suggest BONE by Jeff Smith? I never understood the name, because when I first heard about it years ago, I assumed anything named BONE would be violent, but no, it's sweet and cute and yet great story-telling.

  7. Superman: Red Son blew my mind in so many ways-- it takes the mythology of Superman and turns it around in such a natural way while it answers the question "What if Superman had landed in communist Russia, instead of Kansas?"

    I also highly recommend the first volume of Thor, by J. M. Straczynski. I know superheroes aren't considered to be very literary, but J.M.S. really pushes his readers to ask questions about what faith and the gods mean for humanity from the first issue.

  8. I could go on and on about comics, but will try to keep this succinct. I don't have my to-be-read pile in front of me, so pardon any gaps in information.

    My recent favorites include:
    Y: The Last Man

    Fables (fairy tale characters in real life).

    Midnight Nation by J. Michael Straczynski (of Babylon 5 fame).

    Fray by Joss Whedon. Think Buffy in the far future.

    Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis. It's extremely graphic in every sense, but there's a strong thread of heart and storytelling--and absolutely stunning art--that makes it all worth it.

    The Walking Dead, if you like post-apocalyptic/horror tales

    Oh, and if you're into the more traditional superhero comics, run, don't walk, and pick up any of the recent Green Lantern titles.

    A few that came highly recommended to me, but I haven't had a chance to read yet:

    Pride of Baghdad by Brian K Vaughn (stray animals in the midst of the Iraq war - story is told from their perspective)

    Lions, Tigers & Bears - an indie comic that I, sadly, know very little about, except that the comic store owner was very enthusiastic about it.

    Astro City (gorgeous art deco style drawing, and supposedly a good story to boot)

    Queen & Country - James Bond-ish spy thriller

    Looking forward to everyone else's recommendations. I can never have too many comics!

  9. Wow, a lot of what I was going to suggest was already mentioned. I second midwinter-az's suggestions of Fray, Fables, and Y: The Last Man. I also really recommend Runaways, a comic about a group of children who discover that their parents are secretly supervillains, and that they have powers of their own.

    As multiple people have suggested Sandman, I'll go for a slightly more obscure Neil Gaiman comic, 1601. It's a re-imagining of the Marvel universe of superheroes (and villains), but set in 1602. It's great, not to be missed if you were ever into superheroes.

    I love the graphic novel as a medium for storytelling, and that it's getting increasingly acceptable as an art form and not "just" pop-culture chic. This post made me so happy. :)

  10. I"ll add Blankets by Craig Thompson to this list. It's a great coming-of-age story that hits all the right notes.


  11. Love Persepolis. It's one of my favorites!

  12. Try "The Psycho" by James Hudnall and Dan Brereton.

  13. It's a bit like someone asking for musical recommendations and saying 'there are these guys called The Beatles', but you can't go wrong with Alan Moore.

    From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are both great (if you've ever seen the movies, please, please don't let that put you off).

    A little bit further off the beaten path, at least in the US: The Ballad of Halo Jones is an early SF series by Moore that's just wonderful, and A Small Killing is a graphic novel from the early nineties that's subtle and uses the medium so cleverly.

    As a primer for how comics work, what the medium can do, how a comic strip manipulates time, read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.

    Grant Morrison's brilliant, very influenced by Borges, lots of metafictional stuff. Start with WE3, move onto Doom Patrol and The Invisibles. He's done a fantastic, self-contained, 12 issue run of Superman, All Star Superman.

    Paul Pope's THB (difficult to track down, but he's working on a reissue) and 100%.

    The Adventures of Luther Arkwright - an epic parallel universe sexy, action-packed series written and drawn by Bryan Talbot that was at least twenty years ahead of its time. His more recent Alice in Sunderland and Grandville are also fantastic.

    Talbot and Kevin O'Neill, artist on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, both did early work on Nemesis the Warlock, which is well worth a look.

    Oh, and Death Note. An incredible, twisty-turny series.

    (And as a general tip: if you're looking for stuff from the UK, try, where everything's below cover price and there's free international shipping).

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