A Graphic Lit Starter

I have a real passion for comic books, sequential art, or whatever you want to call it.  I think it’s an exciting medium to be a part of because it’s a young art form, so it means there’s still a lot of new ground to cover.  The downside to being a newer art form is that many people who would enjoy it just aren’t trying it out.  I think one of the major reasons for this is superheroes. 

Comic books rose up on the backs of superheroes and as other trends, like romance or horror comics, died off, the superhero comic kept going.  There is no other medium so married to a genre and as a result, many who aren’t interested in superheroes don’t get exposed to books they’d otherwise love. 

To help remedy this, I’m laying out a selection of graphic novels to try out if you have no interest in superheroes.  This is by no means a comprehensive or “best of” list.  It’s just a starter for people coming to the medium for the first time.

BONE by Jeff Smith
Bone is simply the best family comic on the market.  And when I say family, I mean family.  Read this with your kids and everyone can have a good time.  Mixing influences that go from Tolkien to Charles Schultz, Smith tells the story of the Bone cousins: Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone.  Forced from their home in Boneville, they find themselves in The Valley where they tussle with rat creatures, the Hooded One, and Rock Jaw the mountain cat as a Lord of the Rings style war erupts.  Both hysterically funny and suspenseful, it’s a masterpiece of storytelling.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
Now that we’ve covered the family book, we travel to the other end of the spectrum.  Ellis and Robertson give us the story of Spider Jerusalem, a reporter in the future as he takes on an impossibly corrupt government and President.  Yes, Spider is vile and over-the-top, but he also wears his humanity on his sleeve and makes the book compelling because no one cares more than he does.  It’s a great piece of satire and political drama all in one. 

CRIMINAL by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Criminal is my personal favorite crime book still being published.  Every storyline is its own piece, so you don’t have to worry about getting caught up at the beginning of every one.  At the same time, the stories are tangentially connected, so you’re rewarded for reading the whole thing.  My favorite storyline is Lawless and it’s the one I refer people to reading first.  It’s the story of an AWOL soldier who has come home to find out who killed his brother and then settle up. 

FROM HELL by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
Forget the stupid movie with Johnny Depp.  The original graphic novel is a look at the Jack the Ripper murders not as a whodunit, but as an exploration of murder as an event and it’s ramifications through a society.  Make sure you have a strong stomach, though; as it pulls no punches in its depiction of the murders and the slum they took place in.

BOX OFFICE POISON by Alex Robinson
BOP is the story of a group of friends and acquaintances as their lives drift together and apart.  As the story unfolds, the characters develop in ways much closer to real life than what we’re used to seeing in movies and TV.  I know several people who were sad when they reached the end because they felt like they were saying goodbye to some new friend they’d made.

GHOST WORLD by Daniel Clowes
David Boring is considered by many to be Clowes best book, but I think this one is a better introduction to his work.  Again, this one was adapted into a movie that went in another direction, but in this case that’s a positive development.  The book and movie work like side by side examinations of the same theme taken from two different angles.  Both are worth looking into.

Every male animal on the planet is dead.  All that’s left are females with the exception of Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand.  I know there are many male fantasies that start this way (maybe without the monkey), but this is a long, strange trip as Yorick and his partners try to find out what happened, what to do about it, and how to survive in the new world.  The story also features one of the all time great endings I’ve ever read.

SANDMAN by Neil Gaiman and lots of artists
Considered by many to be the greatest comic book series of all time, Sandman is a mix of horror, fantasy, mythology, and modern fiction that doesn’t have another work to compare it to.  In its pages, gods, angels, and demons from mythologies dating back to the beginning of human civilization mix with everyday people.  Over it’s multiple volumes, we take along trip with Morpheus of The Endless as he tries and fails to figure out the workings of the world and himself.

Anything anyone would like to add to the list?


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