The Bodacious Belgrade Blog

October 15, 2008

The 10 Best Graphic Novels

It’s no secret i grew up reading comic books, and it was by far the most passion inducing love of my life up until my mid teens.

Usually as one grows up one puts away the toys of childhood, but in the case of comics, during the 80s and into the 90s the entire medium did a rather extraordinary thing, they grew up too. As i matured, new writers appeared and made complex, multi-layered works. The medium has thus become a respected part of the cultural landscape. Hell they keep making movies based on all these superhero staples of my youth. Man, i sometimes think if i were 13 years old today watching all these nifty superhero movies, i’d pretty much spontaneously combust from overload of awesomeness.

I continue to read graphic novels. Now i prefer to grab a book at Barnes & Noble, hike it up to the cafe, and in a one or two sittings read it over starbuck’s white chocolate mocha, thus avoiding the $20 price tag for a book i can read in about 2 sittings. Here in Serbia, of course i’m just plum out of luck. No graphic novels for me. Nuts.

Thus, i am compiling my official list of the 10 absolute best graphic novels out there for anyone who might want to pick up some visual storytelling and have their mind blown.

10. Ronin by Frank Miller

A classic.

Inspired by Lone Wolf & Cub (which i so wanted to put on this list, but at 7,000 pages it’s hard to tell someone where to start) it takes place in a bleak future. It has an ancient samurai legend, gritty plot, beautiful, groundbreaking storytelling and in the process of telling it’s tales manages to turn everything on it’s head. Killer plot. VERY well done surprises.

Really, this is masterful storytelling, something that can only be pulled off in a graphic medium.

9. League of extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1, Vol. 2, & Black Dossier by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill

Poor Alan Moore. The single greatest writer the comics medium has ever known, and they take his amazing work and butcher it into horrendous films. So forget the film. It has almost nothing to do with the books, The books are awesome.

Essentially Moore takes every english fantastical literary reference from or in Victorian era england, and throws them into 2 fantastic stories together. Mr. Hyde, Alan Quarterman, the Invisible Man, hell even Sherlock Holmes has a cameo.

Aside from Moore’s stupendous writing half the joy of reading these is to decipher the myriad of references strewn about. I can’t possibly list them all here, nor would i want to spoil the fun.

If i had to recommned just one of the 2 volumes, i have to go with the second. Hyde’s character is particularly well done and the ending is brilliant.

8.  V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

Many people love the movie. Sadly, as a fan of the graphic novel i was rather unimpressed.

Read the novel to see why. It is so much more intelligent and nuanced. This is Alan Moore’s manifesto to anarchy and a brilliantly told story.

7. Cerebus, High Society, Church & State I & II

Yes, there are 3 volumes here. it’s worth reading them all and considering them all one entry.

Cerebus is a strange story. Dave Sim, the writer and artist started cerebus in the 70s as a sort of Conan satire. Hethen ahd some epiphany and decied that Cerebus should be 300 issues, cover his entire world view and take about 26 years to finish.

He did.

Pretty impressive.

Along the way he changed as a person. A LOT. By the time he ended the series he was probably one of the most disliked writers in the field and Cerebus had become very difficult to read. (i did stick it through to the end. I had to know. But it had stopped being enjoyable years ago.)

However, in the series’ peak period it was truly, truly, truly GREAT and one of if not THE most respected comic in the industry. Read these 3 amazing novels and see why. The sense of humor is just fantastic, the characters are brilliant, and the pacing is the best ever done in he medium.

6. Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid On Earth by Chris Ware

The story is simple. Lonely isolated loser with overactive imagination in his late 30s meets his father for the first time.

The exectuion… genuis. This is told using the graphic medium in so brilliant a way that it cannot be translated into any other medium.

55. The Dark Knight by Frank Miller

Frank Miller is one of the towering giant of the industry. Nowadays he’s finally getting recognition thanks to Sin City, but for years he’s been changing the face of the comics medium. The reason that Batman is all big nowadays? Frank Miller. Singlehandedly.

Back in the mid 80s Batman was one of those superhero staples. No one really thought too much about him. Batman, guy dresses up fights crime, blah blah blah. There were no movies, no cartoon, no nothing about Batman because nobody cared.

Then Frank Miller came along, hot on the heels of his brilliant daredevil run which made his name in the industry, and did a 4 issues series called Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

In in Miller made the Batman that you see today. See, before then superheros dressed yp and beat up criminals because, well, that’s what they did. Miller took the appraoch that a guy who dresses up like a bat and beats up criminals is probably a borderline nutjob, totally obsessive, and thus recreated the greatest superhero ever known.

Batman Begins? Miller once again, tsken from his Batman:Year One series. Now of course Batman The Dark Knight Returns seems like business as usual, thnaks largely to Chris Nolan’s exceptional Batman movie this past summer. Finally someone has made a truly exceptional supoerhero movie.

4. Bone by Jeff Smith

This is just plain fun. And i mean this gaint, sprawling graphic novel is REALLY fun. Most of the choices on this list are very serious works and many of them are rather intense, but Bone is an example of someone making a comic that is basically really, really, fun and enjoyable. It’s been collected into a single $40 book that has the complete story (anyone looking to get me a gift can start here) and can be enjoyed by both adults and kids.

Originally published in black and white it is currently in the process of eing colorized, and very well i must say.

3. Sandman ‘Brief Lives’ by Neil Gaiman

What can be said about the Sandman series that hasn’t been said before? This is hands down the best series ever done in comics and the graphic novels it’s been collected into are literary gems.

The overall arch follows the persona of Dream as he comes to grips with the need to either change or perish. He is one of the family of the Endless including Death, Destiny, Delirium, Desire and Despair.

The Brief Lives book follows Dream and his sister Delirium as they try to track down their long lost brother Destruction.

Pick up ANY sandman book. It put Neil Gaiman on the map, and is probably the hippest most respected series ever made. The entire arch contains an encyclopedia of mythology and is one of the best reads in any medium.

2. Elektra by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz

This is an astonishing read.

The story is wonderful and bizarre, frank miller does fantastic comics dialogue (not sure if it can translate to movies which he’s into now) and the ART!!! Bill Sienkiewicz’s art is jaw dropping. The WAY the story is told is in a league of it’s own. The point of greatness for me is that it does things with the medium never before attempted and which could ONLY be done in that particular medium.

Elektra is an assassin. She is in a mental institution. There is a demonic entity attemptint to install his puppet into the White House. That’s about all you need to know. Everytime i reread this i am constantly amazed by the storytelling.

1. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I cannot describe how bloody good this is. This is essentially the Moby Dick of graphic novels. Seriously. This thing has depth, subtlety, multilayers, themes, subthemes… this is a serious work of literature by any standard, it just happens to exist in a graphic novel format and deal with the deconstruction of the superhero archtype.

There were some superheros, but due to public resentment they have all been retired. (The Incredibles directly used this idea, and all dorks like me smiled in recognition). Someone is killing them.

This seems pretty straightforward. But my Gd, it’s so much smarter than that. You REALLY just should go out and get this and see for yourself. The movie is due out in 2009, yes i’m peeing myself in anticipation, and most fans have long been cynical about the idea since you cannot make a film that can truly do justice to Moby Dick, much like you cannot do justice to the depth of storytelling Alan Moore acheives in the comics medium.

But i must see the attempt.

Lastly i would just mention that in all the literature i have read, and as a librarian’s son, i read and have read a lot, the character of Rorshach remains one of the most fantastic characters EVER. (second only to Jack Shaftoe in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy)

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