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Essential Graphic Novels

ndifference:  I will always remember the evening in '89 when Thorne asked my opinion of comic books.   I thought of the Iron Man and Archie's of my youth and I scoffed.  I snorted.  And I looked surprised when he shoved a tome called V For Vendetta into my sceptical hands and sent me off into the night to read it.  Back at home I stared down at the clownish, grinning mask that adorned the cover and then opened the book.  I didn't get much sleep that night because I read it cover to cover three times.  More than read it, I savored it.  This wasn't the air-headed, poorly-written children's diversion I recalled comics being.  This was something much more serious.  This was a blending of literature and art that I didn't know existed.  Thorne followed V with Watchmen and turned me on to the idea of superheroes having feelings, having emotional issues, having doubts and pain to counter-balance the triumphs.  It was nothing short of epiphanic enlightenment.  I became a fixture on his couch, plowing through whatever he wanted me to read next, never disappointed.

This is not a complete listing of all graphic novels that everyone should consider essential.  If you feel the need to add to the list, go right ahead.  I had to consider how I wanted to lay this out, to hit the highlights, without nuking anyone's browser.  I'm just going to work from the premise that "grouping-by-author" is as good a way as any to present it and, with Thorne's incomparable assistance, give you a sampler of graphic fiction and non-fiction that amply demonstrates the power of sequential art.


justthorne:  It always seemed to me that comics grew up with me as much as I grew up with them. It was especially during the 1980's that comics pioneered toward achievement in literature. How or when could we regard an illustrated story as literary? Perhaps by contrast to comics' longer-standing tradition as pulp.

Pulp by its nature eschews individualism, because it's cranked out under deadlines and necessarily relies upon formulas, and because it's understood to be disposable, and therefore not worthy of a writer's finest hours. Literary values, by contrast, embrace individualism, celebrate invention, and encourage the author to write toward the greatest lasting value. The sea change of the 80's was writers becoming a driving (and marketable) force in the inherently visual medium.

This owed to numerous factors at the time: an influx of fresh British authors (writing so daringly that readers would seek them out), the spreading influence of Japanese manga (inspiring new heights of visual narrative craft), the onset of a thriving indy market (freed from monthly deadlines), and an industry-wide movement toward creators' rights and ownership.

Thus the threshold between pulp and literature was blurred, and frequently overcome altogether, as quality writing itself became the new market value. When the people behind the stories took on new significance, comics themselves could become a bold new frontier for expression of the human condition itself, and embrace the mission of literature.

Scott McCloud

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Understanding Comics

Understanding Comics - The Invisible Art is a tour de force of insight, not just regarding sequential art itself, but of visual communication altogether. McCloud's approach is to boil down a workable definition of comics themselves (and therefore an identifiable history spanning thousands of years), and then explore the medium's implications to narrative and explanation, usefully informed by comparing the comics of different cultures. "The Invisible Art" refers to its many subconscious powers that involve the viewer and shape perceptions, assuring its relevance to anyone interested in visual expression.

Chapter Two, for instance, weighs the relative impacts of iconicism, photorealism, and lingual cues. Chapter Four is especially far-reaching, showing how time works in the panel, and therefore how time is an inevitable result of composition itself (Artists and critics alike will never look at composition the same way again).  But Chapter Three might be the jaw-dropper of the entire book, in which McCloud shows that the gutters themselves between panels create the irresistable involvement of the viewer, who can't help but fill in the moments between. Of course, the book itself becomes its own strongest evidence, a powerful narrative and explanation made clear purely by sequential art itself.

Alan Moore

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Watchmen, artwork by Dave Gibbons

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons "proved the concept" of the graphic novel once and for all with the epic elaborate detail of Watchmen</em>, in which Moore skewers "superhero" conventions from both directions. On one hand, he revels in the unseemly motivations of people who would put on costumes as their excuse for beating people up - Rorschach and the Comedian practically vie for reprehensibility. On the other, in this fictional 1985, Moore imagines that the world would be a drastically different place if even one truly super-powered being existed - the towering, blue, and naked Dr. Manhattan, who won Viet Nam for America, and serves as a personal nuclear deterrent against the Soviets.

But beyond its lurid subject matters, Watchmen</em> remains a landmark for its pacing. The first couple chapters are like gradually bracing into a tense cold bath, so the slow-motion car wreck of Chapter Three is even more startling. Chapters Five and Twelve (the last) are page-turning frenzy, even as the underlying mystery unfolds between with awkward confrontations and understated red herrings. Rorschach's chapter especially stands out as its own self-contained short story, "The Abyss Gazes Also," that would slide perfectly (though horrifically) into any literary anthology.

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From Hell, artwork by Eddie Campbell

Moore will always be most remembered for Watchmen, but From Hell is surely an even more towering work. Lavish scratchy linework by Eddy Campbell is used to illustrate late 19th Century London, as Moore deconstructs class motivations, the reckless self-interest of royal agendas, press sensationalism, and the underlying conspiracy behind the most famous serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper. The movie gets it badly wrong by making a whodunit out of it, because the book's greatest strength is that it follows all the major characters' involvement from beginning to grisly ends. Over and above the 500-page novel, Moore provides almost fifty pages of text annotation, detailing his research and making plain his creative judgement calls, a surprisingly satisfying read for its own sake.

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V For Vendetta, artwork by David Lloyd

Overtly Orwellian in nature and concept, this grim tale explores an alternate future wherein Britain is reduced to a fascist state under the control of the Norsefire Party.  Opposing the system is a lone operative simply named V, adorned in a cape and Guy Fawkes mask and all the symbolism they represent.  However, this story isn't V's.  He is a larger than life character, the champion, the redeemer, the symbol of hope.  This story belongs to those whose lives are touched by V as he conducts his campaign.

David Lloyd's artwork is nothing short of cinematic.  Far from being a "hired gun" on this project, Lloyd was a true collaborator, influencing the direction of the work in both narrative and stylistic senses.  It was Lloyd who decided against using "sound effects" and thought-balloons, inspiring Moore to severely restrict the traditional use of caption boxes; just a few of the reasons why this novel is hailed for the groundbreaking work that it is.  The shading and coloring throughtout the book are subtle, the inky wash creating a perfect atmosphere of gloom, working to heighten the tension in this political thriller.  

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Swamp Thing Vol. 2:  Love and Death, artwork by Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Shawn McManus

Love and Death is the most effective single novel of Alan Moore's Swamp Thing series, in which he reinvented the series' pulp origins, aspired resoundingly to literary merit, and heightened the comics medium forever. Swamp Thing's journey is to shed his illusions of human origin and grow into his legacy as an elemental force of nature. Abigail Cable's journey is to realize that her love for this plant is not merely platonic. All this within a context of deeply subversive horror, in which Abby realizes she's been unknowingly party to incest with her malevolent demonic uncle. Add to that a grisly journey through Dante's Inferno to rescue her, and the most transcendant love scene in the history of comics, and this novel remains as groundbreaking twenty years later as it was upon original publication.

Grant Morrison

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Doom Patrol - The Painting That Ate Paris, artwork by Richard Case and John Nyberg

Imagine a painting, on an easel in a room, of the painting, in a room, and so forth recursively. And then imagine a painting of this, on an easel on a sidewalk in France. And then imagine the painting of that. The Painting That Ate Paris. Thus Grant Morrison pits the Doom Patrol against the Brotherhood of Dada, whose leader evaluates plans by such standards as, "It's so embarassing that it HAS to work."

Morrison discards superheroic traditions into the waste dump between gleeful revelation and lacerating mockery, riddling his stories with horrific nonsensical villains (like the one who has every power you've never thought of) and inspired counter-intuitive solutions (like defeating the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse simply by abstracting it into a hobby horse). Truly a liberating read, if you've any affection for superheroes but are sick of what's been done before.

Also recommended:  Doom Patrol:  Crawling From the Wreckage

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Arkham Asylum, artwork by Dave McKean

To be perfectly honest, I don't remember much of the writing in this novel.  As a plot line, Morrison takes the old cliche, the inmates are running the asylum, and runs with it.  Arkham Asylum is where the insane supervillians (which incorporates pretty much all of them) go after Batman thwarts whatever failed induced-catastrophe they were trying to perpetrate.  These aren't just your normal lunatics.  These are the diabolical ones.  After Batman enters the asylum to set things straight, he discovers that, from a psychological perspective, he isn't much different from them.  

Why have I forgotten much of the writing?  Because of the artwork by Dave McKean.  It.  Blew.  My.  Mind.  Like Ralph Steadman in full flight or Egon Schielle after his third bottle of  Jägermeister, the sizzling mixed-media artwork is hypnotic and intense.  McKean is more well-known for his covers, but Arkham Asylum treats us to panel after panel, page after page of his inventive genius.

Frank Miller

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The Dark Knight Returns, artwork by Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley

Frank Miller's mission was to reinvent and rescue Batman from years of character abuse, and his genius was to turn to the character's future, rather than his past. The Dark Knight Returns ten years after his disillusioned retirement.  His convictions rage more grimly through his creaking limbs and delirious tendencies as he lumbers into fresh battle with old enemies, futuristic streetgangs, and even an ideologically-opposed Superman himself. Miller's literary advantage is the context of the "possible future" itself, where battles to the death take on more mythological and even apocalyptic proportions. (The aged Joker's final moments are unexpectedly characteristic, that could never be done equal justice with "the modern ageless version" of the character.) In effect, Miller manages to outdo the entire superheroic tradition by rendering them even larger than "larger than life."

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Elektra: Assassin, artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz

Elektra: Assassin was a middle-80's collaboration between two comics greats, Frank Miller and Bill Seinkeiwicz, at the peak of their powers. Miller had been pioneering moody and stacatto narrative in Daredevil (in anticipation of The Dark Knight Returns), and Seinkeiwicz had brought real media painting and pastiche into the comics world during his run on New Mutants (with a healthy doze of Steadmanesque "gonzo" abstraction). Elektra wraps all this talent into an unprecedented surreal adventure as she attempts to assassinate a demonic (but telegenic) presidential candidate, and achieves a victory nearly as unsettling as the original threat.

Neil Gaiman

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Season of Mists, artwork by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Matt Wagner, Dick Giordano, George Pratt, P. Craig Russell

I am loathe to talk about this book in great detail for fear of playing the role of spoiler to those of you who haven't read it.  If you are a fan of Gaiman's non-illustrated fiction such as Good Omens and Neverwhere, the entire Sandman series will keep you as captivated as anything you've read.  The inventive passion for story-telling and for inserting curveballs into the most unexpected of places are hallmarks of Gaiman's singular artistic vision, and nowhere is it more evident than in Season of Mists.  Writing a series about Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, provides richly fertile ground for an imagination like Gaiman's, and this novel shows what he can accomplish when he takes the bit between his teeth.  Brimming with mythological figures, both historical and freshly-minted, Season of Mists is a wild ride of surprise, of treachery, of lost hopes and redemption.

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The Kindly Ones, artwork by Marc Hempel, Richard Case, D'Israeli, Teddy Kristiansen, Glyn Dillon, Charles Vess, Dean Ormston, Kevin Nowlan

The Kindly Ones is the last major novel of Gaiman's Sandman series, and truly the payoff that does justice to the phenomena of dreaming itself. Our own dreams don't tend to make sense to others, scattered with our own random casts of characters, fears come true, and deeply personal non-sequiturs. But with eight volumes of novels and short stories for preface, we can drop into Morpheus' own unravelling nightmare and all its twists of fate take on unnerving familiarity, as if Morpheus' dream were our own. Gaiman's balance of sense to non-sense is expertly done, all to make the inevitable tragedy surprisingly plausible, and the novel is especially gifted with perhaps the finest art team of all the novels, led by Marc Hempel's fantastic play of line and shapes, shadows and expression.

Also recommended:  the rest of the Sandman series.

Los Bros Hernandez

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Blood of Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez

This is such a tour de force of graphic fiction I'm a bit hesitant to speak of it lest my words fail to do it justice.  Using such Latin American artists as Garcia-Marquez and Frido Kalho as a wellspring of inspiration, with Blood of Palomar and it's epic centerpiece, Human Diastrophism, Gilbert Hernandez stakes his claim to those same artistic heights.  

Blood of Palomar, like much of the work of the Hernandez brothers, centers more on relationships than on action (although there is enough of a plot in this novel to satisfy anyone), specifically centering around the uncanny knack Gilbert and Jaime have for portraying the strength of the women that populate their stories.   Like the women of the Buendia family in One Hundred Years of Solitude, their strength is derived from facing adversity, both internal and otherwise, with grim resolve that sometimes borders on desperation.  It is this strength that helps maintain (or reclaim) dignity in the face of a serial killer stalking their Central-American town and an invasion of maniacal monkeys.  This novel is a perfect, triumphant mixture of tragedy, drama, comedy, sexuality and humanity, poignantly expressed in dialogue and through Gilbert's masterful ink work.  This is a work of which every writer, no matter the genre, should sit up and take notice.

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The Death of Speedy by Jaime Hernandez

Not to be outdone by his brother, Jaime delivers his flim-noir gem in the form of The Death of Speedy.  This book delves into intense social realism using a SoCal barrio as the setting for a gang war and the banalities that lead up to it.  The emotional depth of the characters and the dramatic pacing of the story are as astounding as anything I've read, made all the more immediate through Jaime's mastery of artistic technique.  Sometimes artwork can fail to live up to the writing (see Hellblazer below) or the writing can fail to live up to the artwork (see Arkham Asylum above).  Not so with Jaime Hernandez.  Here the compelling drama of the story is perfectly matched by Jaime's deft ability to manipulate the passage of time via changes from one panel to the next.  His precise linework, perfect angles, and balance of negative space, along with what I can only describe as camera-work - closeups, longshots, panning between panels, etc., accentuate the story and heighten the realism into a remarkably unforgettable experience.

Also recommended:  everything you can get your hands on by these guys.  Seriously.  Flies On The Ceiling and Wigwam Bam are also among my favorites, but Duck Feet really serves as the perfect catalyst to both the novels listed here.

Paul Chadwick

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What would you do if you were abducted by aliens and had your brain transplanted into a body made entirely out of a regenerative, rock-like substance?  Perhaps you would hire a press-agent and manager and become a celebrity, like Concrete does.  Like most fantasy and science fiction, Concrete requires a pretty big leap of faith on the front end to accept that premise.  That faith pays off handsomely in this collection of socially and environmentally conscious tales that weave such a rich emotional tapestry.  Chadwick's careful hand, his plot-lines and dialogue reveal Concrete to be more human, despite being a walking boulder, than most characters created through fiction.  In fact, Chadwick has such a good command of story-telling that, at book's end, you completely forget you had to make that leap of faith.

Garth Ennis

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Hellblazer:  Dangerous Habits, artwork by William Simpson

The Hellblazer series had some good writers plying their craft - Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, and Warren Ellis - but it was Garth Ennis who really shook up my brain with Dangerous Habits.  For those of you who don't know, Hellblazer is John Constantine, a character whose literary life started with a bit-part in the Swamp Thing saga.  Far from being your typical superhero, Constantine can't fly, shoot lasers, or piss jets of fire.  He's a bit of a mage, but his "superpower" lies in his ability to bullshit and manipulate better than the best of con-men, and in this novel his skills are put to the supreme test - to save himself from certain death after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

To be honest, I didn't find Simpson's artwork, nor that of his colorist, to be compelling at all - just too derivative of run-of-the-mill superhero fodder of the 70's.  That the story works so well, despite whatever drawbacks the art brings, is a testament to Ennis and his ability to weave a griping tale.

Also recommended:  Preacher Vol. 1:  Gone To Texas

Peter Milligan

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Shade the Changing Man: The American Scream, artwork by Chris Bachalo

Most great art starts with a great premise.  The more open the premise, the more room is allowed for the imagination to stretch far and wide.  Case in point is Shade The Changing Man.  How's this for a foundation - Shade, a resident of the dimension of Meta, must travel to earth (America, specifically) to contain an alarming leakage of insanity that is threatening both worlds.  To complicate matters for Shade, when he arrives in America he unwittingly inhabits the body of a serial killer who is scheduled for execution.  

Milligan's handling of the complex plot-line is pure genius, taking full advantage of the "enemy" being an almost complete abstraction.  Shade finds himself policing outbreaks of cultural anxiety in forms such as a plague of Hollywood Blvd. stars, a rampant, widespread Marilyn Monroe fixation, and a JFK sphinx.  Bachalo's linework, incomparable shadows, and sumptuous detail make for a perfect marriage of writer and artist.

Chester Brown

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I Never Liked You

I Never Liked You is among the most bittersweet treasures in comics, a touching autobiographical reflection over several years of Brown's preadolesence. The central narrative traces his awkward chemistries with neighbor girls, but the emotional scope is much more vast (in particular as his mother's mental health degrades toward her eventual death). Brown illustrates his story sparely, with perfectly expressive linework and often just a couple of panels per page, scattered like flecks of memory. The book is a testament to the effective subtlety of visual literature, as bosoms expand over time with no fanfare, his pervasive suicidal mindset is made clear in exactly one panel, and another single image of a centerfold iconically summons up his other great autobiographical novel, The Playboy, and drops it perfectly into context here.

Bryan Talbot

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The Tale of One Bad Rat

The Tale of One Bad Rat seems almost stereotypically familiar at the outset, and then turns our head around with its unexpected course. At first, Helen seems to be merely disaffected youth, hopeless and homeless in a British rail station. But her journey both brightens and darkens as she embarks upon a spiritual and geographic pilgrimage inspired by her namesake, Beatrix Potter. Brightens, as Talbot's lush watercolor landscapes leave behind the urban decay, but darkens, after her pet rat's death and as the all-too-realistic horror of Helen's past becomes clear. It ends with a stirring spiritual victory amidst the gorgeous English countryside, but only after a harrowing personal exorcism from a hell too frequently hushed up in the real world.

Jason Lutes

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Jar of Fools

Jason Lutes is very much a novelist who chooses to work in the comics genre.  Jar of Fools is excellent prose, perfectly enhanced by the delicate pacing of the artwork.  In this poignant tale, a down-and-out, alcoholic magician tries to remain afloat as the threads of his life become unraveled - the death of his brother, a failed romance, and the pain of watching his mentor succumb to the debilitation of Alzheimer's conspire to suck the magic out of life.  The characters unfold as the story develops, each revealing a beautiful mixture of heartbreak and unforeseen strength as, together, they seek out the path to redemption.  Despite its format, this is, without a doubt, a serious literary achievement.

Daniel Clowes

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Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron

Take a bit of David Lynch, mix in a melted slab of John Waters, a pinch of Russ Myers, and throw it on the wall in 50's B-movie black and white, and you still wouldn't have anything that quite measures up to the surrealistic expression of deformity in Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron - where the grotesque and the brutal are the norm.  Indeed, the oddball in this piece is Clay, the "normal" one, who is on a quest to find a woman he saw in a porno film.  Along the way he weathers encounters with a cult, a fish-girl, a fellow content to have crabs eating an infection in his eyes, a dog with no head, and he reacts to them with a detached acceptance as admirable as Griffin Dunne at the end of After Hours.  

This is a disturbing book, I'll make no bones about that.  But it is also irresistibly beguiling in it's ability to evoke sympathy and care for the assorted characters that inhabit it's murky corridors.

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Ghost World

Clowes had just finished his surreal masterpiece of horrific dada, Like a Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, when he turned on a dime to surprise everyone with the funereal understated tragedy of Ghost World. In somber twintone, Clowes depicts two best girlfriends on break from high school as refreshingly as if no one had ever done it before, uniting them in corrosive hostility for the entire world around them (old suburban Los Angeles, aging shabbily in the glare of 90's pop culture). His genius is to bury the evolution between Enid and Rebecca admist the mundane encounters with the bizarre that justify their lives. So when the novel's impact arrives like a sudden landmark birthday, more is passed and lost than we've ever expected.

The book and the film (for which Clowes co-wrote the screenplay) are sufficiently different that both are highly recommended. The movie's timeframe is more compressed, and centered around a new central plotline, which in turn makes the longer wistful wander of the novel all the more impressive. They do justice to one another without risking redundancy.

Chris Ware

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Jimmy Corrigan:  The Smartest Kid on Earth

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth turns out to be an imaginary alter-ego to a middle-aged man whose life is mired in trembling disappointments and halting paralysis. This condition only worsens within an unexpected reunion with his similarly uncomfortable long-lost father. Flashbacks and revelations trace their hereditary spinelessness throughout several eras, lifetimes of misery sprinkled only lightly with bitter humors. The mammoth density of the novel is a landmark all its own, but it's Ware's crisp iconic artwork and design strength that sell it.  His relentless precision and clarity do equal justice to monumental architectural shots, the somber passing of years and seasons, and that quiet bolt of terror before answering an unexpected phone call.

Cobbled and compiled by justthorne and ndifference
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balikbayan-box Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2007
Good list.
can't wait for the other volumes to come.
zphoenixdownz Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2006
y the last man
initial run of the authority
zphoenixdownz Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2006
pride of baghdad
zphoenixdownz Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2006
writing - Garth Ennis
art - Jacen Burrows

not well known or easy to find, but well worth it. i'd go so far as to say this is the most uncompromising "graphic novel" ever.

good write-up: [link]
zphoenixdownz Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2006
sphere of vision implied
interzonepolice Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2005  Professional General Artist
best. list. ever.

as a graphic novel reader, i was super happy to see this. however, i didn't see anything on the suture gallery to perhaps add to a favorite or something so that i may express my appreciation.
zeruch Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2005  Professional General Artist
I think there are a few overlooked (and largely obscure) gems that could be added to this list:

Stray Toasters - Bill Sienkiewicz. visually his most realized work and thematically a chaotic and claustrophobic parade of internal monologues and strange interactions of people under pressure and full of phobias.

Cages - Dave McKean. Terry Gilliam called it brilliant, and I can't argue with that. An almost surreal drama played out with a small clutch of rather endearing characters.

Why I Hate Saturn - Kyle Baker. This is very lighthearted and very weird. It is both very cerebral in much of it subtext, but highly subtle in a lot of its commentary. It is equal parts Cintra Wilson pop-culture style beatdown, Robin Williams zaniness, and Spike Lee takes Manhattan.

Gaiman's best work for me is still Black Orchid, because it relied so little on the crutch of any of the things that made him famous (read: pandering to the then growing goth/dark adolescent culture) and was his first full blown mix of crime-thriller and warped super-hero epic.
justthorne Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2005   Photographer
I would agree with everything you've mentioned. And I don't just mean "respect your opinions," but actually share them myself. Stray Toasters and Cages would both be rather dense and daunting to new readers, but both are entirely worth it (much like Jimmy Corrigan, for that matter). And Black Orchid slays me just as much for the McKean artwork as Gaiman's narrative itself.

Obviously, this list was compiled with many conscious and painful omissions. But neither was it intend to be complete. My all-time favorite was actually left out because it's so hard to find a copy. Have you ever read Paul Auster's City of Glass ?
zeruch Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2005  Professional General Artist
I would agree with everything you've mentioned. And I don't just mean "respect your opinions," but actually share them myself. Stray Toasters and Cages would both be rather dense and daunting to new readers,

They're dense and daunting to the old ones too :D ST took several reads before I even got past the surface level absurdity (then again, I first read it when I was 14).

...Black Orchid slays me just as much for the McKean artwork as Gaiman's narrative itself.

Well, I am an admitted adherent to the school of Sienkiewicz, and I consider him and Jasper Johns to be the 2 greatest artists of the 20th Century. Period. Full stop. All of the ones (in comics) who followed shortly thereafter and claimed at least some thanks to Bill always came into my orbit of interest: Dave McKean and Ashley Wood are the most glaring examples, and somewhat in parallel Kent Williams and Jon J Muth. The entire "high-art" aspect of comics today I think can largely be attributed to Sienkiewicz's work in the first half of the 80s making it acceptable.

Obviously, this list was compiled with many conscious and painful omissions. But neither was it intend to be complete. My all-time favorite was actually left out because it's so hard to find a copy. Have you ever read Paul Auster's City of Glass ?

When you first mentioned it it rang a bell but I did not know why. Then I looked it up. I have not read it, and I haven't even seen it in a store yet, but I remember being interested in it soley because Dave Mazzuchelli was involved. I always felt his departure from comics (for the most part he does commercial illustration in Japan as I understand it) was a big loss. This definately looks worth investigation.
justthorne Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2005   Photographer
Yeah, I'm still struggling with my first "beginning to end" read of Jimmy Corrigan (after having read it serially upon release), so "dense and daunting" is fresh on my mind.

Yep, I've been with Sienkiewicz since the beginning too, since his origins as a Neal Adams clone, and yep, McKean's Black Orchid artwork reminds me frequently of Sienkiewicz' work on Big Numbers, which kicked my ass into orbit at the time.

And yes, if you can find the damn thing, City of Glass is tragibeautiful beyond belief, an accomplishment that would make McCloud proud, and both reliant upon and an excellent showcase for Mazzuchelli. Thanks for that update, I always wondered what happened to him (though I've been "out" of comics altogether for about five years now.)

And to be clear, if I had to pick out the one graphic novel that's perfect and sublime in every way I want a graphic novel to be, it would be City of Glass. But I didn't list it in our round-up above cause it's so damn hard to get a hold of.
zeruch Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2005  Professional General Artist
I didn't get as much out of Jimmy Corrigan as I thought I would, but that may be just the fact that I need to give it another go.

McKean admitted he was a big fan of Sienkiewicz, and it showed. In some ways it still does, but I do love what he has evolved into (and I just caught Mirrormask, which takes his visions one step further). Cages was the apex for me as a complete work, but his artwork in general always amazes, including his musical collaborations with Iain Ballamy (they co-own a label, and he does all of Ballamy's cd packaging, as well as all the cd packaging for Ballamy's former employer, Bill Bruford).

I will seek City of Glass.

IMDB shows that Bill is workingon a Stray Toasters movie, but I think the likelihood of that seeingthe light of day is about as high as seeing the rest of Big Numbers. Bill unfortunately has not been given a project (or allowed to do one of his own design) that really fires him up, so as a result his only comics work has largely been ham-boned ink jobs, and he dedicates most of his energy to commercial illustration/storyboarding.
Shadowulf026 Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2005
Another great book that Garth Ennis worked on is "The Punisher Vol. 3: Welcome Back Frank." Volume 4 and the Max series after aren't all that great. But volume 3 is quite stunning.
bastardepiphany Featured By Owner Sep 20, 2005
Morrison, and yet, no Invisibles! Doom Patrol doth suxest. :)

Wish they'd bring out the rest of Shade in trade already. It's been a bitch trying to get the rest of the run through ebay.

Does DA do any writer-artist hookup with comics the end goal?

(Now off to see the Drawn & Quarterly... can it be believed they find it hard to get enough quality submissions to do four times a year their magazine, no longer Quarterly?)
hesir Featured By Owner Sep 20, 2005  Professional General Artist
I think there is some sly hook-ups going on... I found this [link]

bastardepiphany Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2005
hesir Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2005  Professional General Artist
If we are talking Gaiman Mckean Collab's and looking at the writing more than the art, then surely "Signal to Noise" and "Violent Cases" would be the ones...

demonlight Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2005  Professional Writer
Frank Miller's Ronin is sadly lacking, as are some of the Dark Horse Alien comics, which by far outshine most of the films. Gaiman's Black Orchid was underrated as well.

Your list made me gurgle with aproval, in general.
ligoscheffer Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2005
Black Orchid written by Neil Gaimen with art by Dave Mckean has always been on of my favorites.
the-esoteric Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2005
have you ever looked at a comic called The Age of Bronze?
ah-art Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2005
I second Maus and Age of Bronze. And while they aren't really graphic novels per say (well they sort of are) I recommend the collected edition of Bone and Blankets. Also Whiteout and Transmetropolitain are staples in every gn collection
darkcrescendo Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2005  Hobbyist Writer
Watchmen was like an initiation.

Rorschach still stalks my shadows at times.

hesir Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2005  Professional General Artist
Okay... some further suggestions for the second (or third even) Essential Graphic Novels list… The first of which was excellent to see btw.

I have missed several essential “graphic” novels out, and have restricted myself to only suggesting those that particularly merit inclusion due to their writing… so in no particular order, barring Maus being first on the list...

:bulletpurple: "Maus" – Art Spiegelman. Winner of the prestigious Pulitzer prize for literature, Maus has to be one of best examples of what can be done with the graphic novel form. Much more than it appears on the surface the book tells the harrowing true story of a Jewish holocaust survivor, retold to his son decades later. Don’t let the funny animals fool you into dismissing this. [link]

:bulletpurple: "Cerebus" by Dave Sim – Any of the collections from “High Society” to “Form and Void” – For something that started out as a simple parody of the Conan-esque comics of the seventies, Cerebus is an at times mind-bogglingly complex, ambitious, emotionally charged (Jaka’s Story), controversial and just laugh-out-loud funny read. Each collection resembling a phonebook in thickness there is plenty to get stuck into as well.

:bulletpurple: "The Building" and "A Contract with God" - Will Eisner, beautifully observed insights into small lives… Eisner is a master of graphic storytelling. If you haven’t read any of his work, treat yourself.

:bulletpurple: "Cages" Dave McKean, artist, sculptor, musician, writer and now movie director… This book discusses creativity and the restrictions imposed upon it from without, especially by those who do not have any innate connection to it. If you’ve ever been frustrated by a critical review read this book.

:bulletpurple: "Krazy Kat" by George Herriman, The mind-bending visuals and gender-bending relationships aside it is the language of Herriman’s strip and the “unique” spelling’s and malapropisms that make it a joy to read.

Krazy him/herself ever interested in language asks Ignatz “"Why is `lenguage', `Ignatz'?", "`Language' is, that we may understand one another," replies Ignatz, but the dissatisfied Krazy asks whether "a Finn, or a Leplender, or a Oshkosher" can understand Ignatz and vice-versa, to which Ignatz can only respond in the negative. "Then, I would say," Krazy concludes, "lenguage is, that we may mis-unda-stend each udda."

His own language is a mixture of ethnic dialects, primarily New York Yiddish and Tex-Mex Spanish accents, combined with anachronistic syntax and literalized metaphors.””
(Quoted from the essay “Some say it with a Brick” [link] )

:bulletpurple: "Heartbreak Soup" - Gilbert Hernandez, (Hey, let's face it, pretty much anything from the "Love & Rockets" stable by the Hernandez Bros. is worth checking out) In addition to the two collections mentioned above this is a must. Especially for anyone who loves the work of Marquez, Saramago, Fuentes etc… beautifully told stories “about a little central American town called Palomar and the interconnected lives of its inhabitants.” Not to be confused with the trendy restaurant on the Newcastle quayside or that song by Razorlight.

:bulletpurple: "Why I Hate Saturn" - Kyle Baker. Screenwriter, animator, and cartoonist for The New Yorker (amongst others), Kyle Baker tells the tale of Anne, a columnist for a typically trendy/obscurely elitist magazine. She spends her time procrastinating over deadlines for work and the novel she’s been paid a hefty advance for and drinking with Ricky, a guy who seems to have women all figured out and comes off as verbally unbeatable. She waxes lyrical on men, music, pizza napkins, Mexican theme bars, and not being able to do anything without valid I.D. Then as if her life isn't troubled enough her seemingly unstable sister comes to live with her, claiming she's the `Queen of the Leather Astro-Girls of Saturn'...

:bulletpurple: "Powers" – Bendis/Avon Oeming - Bendis is known for his film noir gangster tales like “AKA Goldfish” and but it is here that he really hits his stride creating a procedural cop drama based around two homicide detectives whose specialist area is that of dead superheroes (ie Powers)… Superbly paced, gritty and darkly funny with fantastic dialogue and with one of the best female comic book characters in a long time in the shape of the wisecracking Deena Pilgrim, whose interview technique has to be heard to be believed. [link]

:bulletpurple: Age of Bronze - Eric Shanower Only the first two graphics of a seven part continuing comic book series by Eisner Award-winning cartoonist Eric Shanower have appeared as yet, regardless this well researched and depicted retelling of the struggle for Troy.


N.B. A side mention must go to "Little Nemo" by Winsor McCay if only so that those of you who’ve read Gaiman’s Sandman can see the direct references made to the visual/stilted language of this early representative of the comic artform (The Doll’s House - during Jed’s dream sequences).
OmniNashi Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2005
What a fantastic feature! Simply, gorgeously, FANTASTIC! :glomp: Graphic Novels are the most lovely combonation of literature and artwork, and they are each so unique in of themselves, I really love it!

...Boy, I sound like fangirl. But what else is a budding manga-ka to say? :heart:
morore Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2005
maus by art spiegelman?
justim Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2005
Lots of good stuff here to check out, some of which I've not heard of.

Also highly reccomended for fans of absurdity and unecessary violence are JTHM (Johnny the Homicidal Maniac) and Squee, by Johan Vasquez, creator of the Invader Zim cartoon. Very cool style, and filled with hilarity.


hokuto Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2005
............. I am BOOKMARKING THIS. And taking it with me next time I go book-shopping. These all sound so amazing, and the only ones I can claim to have read are Watchmen and the Sandman series. ;o;
Boogster Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2005
I fear there's been a terrible mistake.

Where's Tintin? Where's Asterix?
sumants Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2005   Writer
Neither of those guys would qualify in the "graphic novels" category. They're just not long enough.

Maybe in the larger context of comic books.
somedrunkblackspoon Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2005   Writer
As well, this excerpt of text from the introduction -- This is not a complete listing of all graphic novels that everyone should consider essential. If you feel the need to add to the list, go right ahead. I had to consider how I wanted to lay this out, to hit the highlights, without nuking anyone's browser. I'm just going to work from the premise that "grouping-by-author" is as good a way as any to present it and, with Thorne's incomparable assistance, give you a sampler of graphic fiction and non-fiction that amply demonstrates the power of sequential art.

I guess readers don't read those. HAH
Boogster Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2005
It wasn't a serious complaint. :)
somedrunkblackspoon Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2005   Writer
the only serious complaints mean america goes to war OH NO
ndifference Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2005  Professional Writer
I'm afraid you didn't notice it says Essential Graphic Novels Part 1.
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