Saturday, June 18, 2005

Essential Reading

Two weeks since a blog, I am slipping, I try to get one a week churned out, but to make up for it, here is a stupidly long blog.

So I was in Bicester a week past, getting more ink from Jon at Atomic Tattoos (01869 247536 plug plug), whilst there I had a peruse of the local toy and book stores, something I do in every town I visit. I popped into a small book shop as I usually find them not only more interesting than the multi-conglomorates, but they rarely have a coffee shop filled with pretentious students reading "The Da Vinci Code" in a bid to look interesting.

After a quick peruse, I asked at the counter where the Graphic Novel section was (always presume they have one, it makes them feel inadequate that way - make them think comic books in book stores is the standard because, damnit, it should be that way). They didn't have one. Apparently they had the Star Wars Episode 3 adaptation and that was it, according to the woman at the counter the had a GN section years ago but it died off and they discontinued it.

Lesser comic fans would have walked out, dismayed. But not I. I explained to the woman that I work in a comic shop and a big fan of the industry in general and that I was happy to help out by recommending a list of essential, preferably adult themed comic books (yes fine, kids may be the future of the industry, but adults are verifying the medium as literature). In my arrogance, I thought this would be a quick, 20 minute job. Bang together the Top 20 sellers and e-mail it over. I now realise what a big undertaking this is.

How do you summarise an entire medium into 20 books? Preacher and Transmetropolitan combined are 20 books. No, I need more. I need depth, and I need reasons. Remember, the people at the book store don't know comics, and whilst Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns may seem obvious to us comic readers, it may not be so obvious to them.

This is just scratching the surface here, there are many more GENRES that I haven't represented here, never mind individual titles. Many of my favourites I haven't listed here as I have tried to boil it down to Essential stock.

Just post your comments for any comics I may forget, audience participation needed.

Watchmen: Arguably the best selling comic of all time. The super hero genre dichotomised, and a real life arms race cautionary tale, as relevant now as it was 20 years ago during its first printing. Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons

Maus; A Survivors Tale: Still the only comic ever to win a Pulitzer prize award. This amazingly personal work deals with the Jewish struggle for survival in Nazi Occupied Poland, a real life narrative told to the author from his father. The genius touch is the use of animals as metaphors for people and races. Jews are portrayed here as Mice, Germans are Cats, French are frogs and so on. Art Spiegalman.

V for Vendetta: Coming out in November as a Motion Picture. A tale of totalitarian fascist dictatorship recommended for fans of Huxley, Bradbury and Orwell. "V" fights the system in his homage to Guy Fawkes by blowing up the Houses of Parliament in the opening pages of this brilliantly crafted tale of humanity. Alan Moore / David Lloyd.

Blankets: A semi-autobiographical remembrance of first love told beautifully over 500 pages, as one man tries to deal with love, family, loss of innocence and religion. Craig Thompson.

Jimmy Corrigan: A beautiful dichotomy of life's mundane aspects, peoples inability to express their true emotions to each other and one mans all out fear of living. A true masterpiece of a comic ground breaking in its combination of both word and image, and former Guardian book of the year. Mr F C Ware.

Bone: A prefect read fans of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings - of any age. Join the Bone cousins on their quest through a magical world on a voyage back to their hometown of Boneville. Featuring bugs, plagues of locusts and Dragons! Available in the complete black and white epic, or as separate colour versions. Jeff Smith.

Strangers In Paradise: Think romance comics are dead? Proving once more that super heroes are just one genre within a medium, Terry Moore appeals to both genders with this simple tale of young people in love.

Preacher: A 9 volume, mature readers saga. Not for the faint of heart or the easily offended, but if you've ever laughed at the cracks in religious ideology, this book is for you. Combining the kind of tough talking, no-nonsense action sequences from a Clint Eastwood movie (acting era) with the thought provoking ideas of a Tarantino flick. Join one man on a quest to find God and ask him the ultimate question: Why does he treat his creation so poorly? Garth Ennis / Steve Dillon.

Hellblazer: See the movie? Forget it. Before Ted "Theodore" Logan flipped his lighter to the annoyance of millions and before Preacher hit the comic stands; Garth Ennis wrote 45 odd issues of the bleak, poll-tax era, horror fantasy starring John Constantine; chain smoking, trash talking modern day mystic.
Also, check out the two volumes by Warren Ellis, one of the best comic writers in the industry.

A Contract With God: The first ever Graphic Novel by arguably the most important figure in the comic industry ever; Will Eisner. Before this, comics were written purely for the periodicals, this was the first comic that was decidedly packaged for book stores and long-term shelf life. A masterpiece of sequential story telling.

Kingdom Come: DC Comics meets the book of genesis, in this future tale of super-heroics gone wrong. An old man takes a walk through a prospective future, where the overpopulation of super-hero prodigies builds to the point of inevitable collapse. Mark Waid / Alex Ross.

Marvels: The Marvel Universe seen from the eyes of a young photographer upwards through the ages, examining the golden, silver and modern age Marvel icons. See the Marvel universe from a unique point of view, as one man deals with being a normal human sharing a city with Marvels. Kurt Busiek / Alex Ross.

Hellboy: If for no other than the speculation of casual fans who have heard of the movie, this book will sell. Mike Mignola's horror fantasy featuring the kind hearted red demon who likes nothing more than to explore haunted houses and punch Nazis.

Sin City: Clearing up at the box office and in the best comic shops (we sold out week of release). Frank Miller's creator owned crime noir set in a shared universe set a new standard for sequential story telling, and in a move similar to Alfred Hitchcock's directing, its not what you see that works best, its what you don't.

Pedro and Me: A very moving account of author Judd Winnick's friendship with HIV victim Pedro, detailing how they met, how he dealt with his friends departure and how he honoured his life's work after he passed.

Transmetropolitan: Future gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem goes on a Hunter S Thompson drug fuelled rampage in a totalitarian future, battling the corruption of politicians and bringing the truth to the people.

Neil Gaiman: Author of best selling novels "American Gods" and "Coraline" cut his craft in the world of comics with a wealth of material to choose from. The complete Sandman library (Vol.s 1-10), the Death tpbs, Black Orchid, Midnight Days, 1602 and the Last Temptation.

Swamp Thing: The work that made Alan Moores name. Teaming with a variety of artists, Alan Moore reset the standard not only for modern day horror, but for what could be achieved with sequential storytelling. This set for the standard for the entire Vertigo line of comics and introduced the character of John Constantine. Swamp Thing Vol. 1-7

Authority: Warren Ellis' deconstruction of the super hero genre continues in the groundbreaking Authority. In a world where no one can save themselves, this superhero team decide they can save the world, whether they want saving or not. With excellent characterisation and cutting dialogue, Authority changed the superhero landscape with an effect which is still visible today.

Batman: Must have reads (Batman as a prefix): The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, Arkham Asylum, Black and White, Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, Hush Vol. 1 and 2, Death in the Family.

Superman: Essential Supes stories: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Man of Steel Vol. 1, Death of Superman, Return of Superman, World Without a Superman, Superman / Batman Vol. 1, Red Son.

Spiderman: Amazing Spiderman Vol. 1-8 (written by Babylon 5 creator JM Straczynski), Ultimate Spiderman Vol. 1-12.

X-Men: Ultimate X-Men vol. 1-10, Origin, New X-Men Vol. 1-7 (Grant Morrison), Days of Future Past, Weapon X.

Resource Books: Will Eisners Comics and Sequential Art. Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics


Now, some people may wonder why I am helping out a book store, a place that some perceive to be the natural enemy of the Comic shop. Bollocks to that. I want people of all ages to be able to walk in to ANY book store and buy a Graphic novel. There will always be a place for the comic store as long as there are readers, but if there aren't any readers, they will be no need for a comic store.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice list, actually felt quite pleased with myself because ive read almost all of them.
But what no Powers? or Barry Ween? Well I guess you only had 20 slots, not like you undertook a Wizard top 100 or anything, infact I even challange you to do a top top 100, depends on how man your feeling sid, you think you could do it?