Five Favorite Graphic Novels

Let me emphasize that word "favorite": I wouldn't necessarily claim that the following are the best graphic novels ever created, just ones that particularly please me. As you'll see with the last item, I'm not above cheating. But graphic storytelling is such a raffish art form that I don't feel guilty at all.

1. Ghost World (1998), by Daniel Clowes.
Something about the graphic-novel genre lends itself to stories about troubled kids, as witness both this entry and the next one. Clowes's tale of two oh-so-superior and oh-so-witty (but actually quite needy) high school girls is funny, touching and eye-popping all at once. Its luster has only increased since it became an indie movie hit, with screenplay by the author himself, in 2001.

2. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006), by Alison Bechdel.
Written and drawn close to the bone, this is the story of a girl coming to terms with her father's homosexuality at the same time that she is beginning to sense her own nascent lesbianism. She shows us the beefcake photos that her father hid away from the rest of the family and shares the odd thoughts that knowing about his orientation leads to: for example, she reflects, had her dad discovered his true self sooner, he might have been a happier man, but "Where would that leave me?"


3. Black Hole (2005), by Charles Burns.
I grew up slavering over the horror comics of the early 1950s (see #5, below), and Burns is the artist who best evokes that gore-alicious era. I like this number in particular because its central plot-device mocks 1950s Puritanism: a plague that strikes sexually active teenagers only!

4. Missouri Boy (2006), by Leland Myrick.
Because I am a Missouri boy myself, I have a special fondness for this slim volume, which takes the protagonist from birth in 1961 to a momentous trip to California in 1985. "The Candy Striper," an episode from 1982, beautifully captures the hesitancy of a gawky guy attracted to a girl but unable to find a way to let her know.

5. The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics (2008), edited by Peter Normanton.
This is the cheat: Obviously, it's not a graphic novel but an anthology of tales mostly from early 1950s horror comics. The genre was squelched by psychiatrists and Congressional busybodies before it ever got the chance to spawn any full-length progeny, but it's not hard to imagine some of these stories being teased out to book length if only the creators had been allowed to continue and refine (if that's the right word) their art.

What are some of your favorites?

-- Dennis Drabelle

By Christian Pelusi |  July 17, 2008; 10:01 AM ET Dennis Drabelle , Fiction
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Alan Moore's "Watchmen." I'm not a big graphic novel (or comic) fan, but reading this a couple of years ago made me see what all the fuss was about.

I am sorry I never got around to reading Art Spiegel's "Maus." That's supposed to be a classic.

Posted by: KLeewrite | July 17, 2008 10:29 AM

I cannot believe that Watchmen is not on this list! I know you said this was a list of what please you, but the best of the best should always be pleasing!!!

Posted by: DudeAbides | July 17, 2008 10:33 AM

I hate to be a third chime, but Dennis if you haven't read Watchmen then read it. If you have read it, then please explain why it wasn't included.

Posted by: Taxman | July 17, 2008 11:39 AM

I agree about Watchmen, although V for Vendetta would also be a good choice that is pretty representative of Alan Moore. It's a shame about both of those being turned into movies.

Marvels (by Kurt Busiek and amazing art by Alex Ross) is a really good story of the world of superhero comics from the point of view of everyday folks.

Maus (by Art Spiegelman), Persepolis (by Marjane Satrapi), and Safe Area Gorazde (by Joe Sacco) are all really good, but they are all non-fiction, so I'm not sure if they belong in this conversation.

Posted by: aoeusntahoeusntaoheu | July 17, 2008 11:39 AM

Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Boy on Earth and Paul Hornschemeier will both break you at your most fragile point.

Posted by: Novisdupre | July 17, 2008 1:58 PM

Probably the most popular currently - Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I just started it and it is hard to put down. It's also a movie, but I haven't seen it.

Posted by: md | July 17, 2008 2:14 PM

Jimmy Corrigan is a beautiful book, I had no idea what to expect when I started and I did not know what to say when I finally set it down.

Similarly, Craig Thompson's semi-autobiographical(?) book Blankets is a heart breaking but hopeful read. Drawn and inked in black & white, it sets the perfect tone for its bleak upper-Midwestern setting.

Also, Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve books are a favorite, I have read them as individual comic books, but believe most of them are now compiled.

Posted by: basil | July 17, 2008 2:19 PM

As with other commenters above, "Maus" and "Jimmy Corregan" would definitely be on my list. And I'd probably add "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" by Kim Deitch.

Also, some works from Japanese creators:

Fumiyo Kouno's "Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms" is a lovely and sad rumination on the lives of a family through (if I recall correctly) two generations in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.

"Eden: It's an Endless World" by Hiroki Endo, is a contemporary serialized work that's still ongoing. It's a very interesting and complex SF title.

And "Ode To Kirihito" by Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka, the godfather of Japanese manga, has to make the list!

Of course, this question is really a tough one for me, because I absolutely love the form! I'm sure when I go home and look at my bookshelves I'll want to add about 20 titles to my list!

Posted by: C | July 17, 2008 4:21 PM

Age of Bronze, Eric Shanower's series on the Trojan War is excellent -- it's projected to be a seven-volume series and he's on the third volume but the most recent is volume 3, part 1. So who knows how many there will be in the end. Anyway, they're good.

Posted by: Nan | July 18, 2008 3:44 PM

Like choice #5, this is a bit of a cheat too, but Harvey Pekar's work in the American Splendor series deserves a mention I think. Some of those not-doing-much-in-Cleveland storylines seemed so vivid and true to me, they could hold their own with most American realist novels.

Posted by: mark tarallo | July 19, 2008 2:56 PM

It is important that Americans read this book about Indian/Hindu Nationalism.

Title: Lies, Lies and More Lies. The Campaign to Defame Hindu Nationalism
ISBN: 978-0-595-43549-4
ISBN (10): 0595435491
LCCN: 2007904121
Publisher: iUniverse
Publication date: June 26, 2007.
Author: Vivek
Tags: Hindutva; Communalism
Links
http://www.amazon.com/Lies-More-Campaign-Defame-Nationalism/dp/0595435491/
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?z=y&EAN=9780595435494&itm=4
(Book Available on amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com)
Distributed by: Ingrams, YBP library Services, Baker and Taylor, and Alibris

Review

A passionate and thoughtful call for perspective on hot-button Indian social issues., January 4, 2008
By Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA) -

Lies, Lies and More Lies: The Campaign To Defame Hindu/Indian Nationalism is a sharp retort to unsavory portrayals of Hindu Nationalism (Hindutva), including accusations that equate the philosophy with pogroms and ethnic cleansing. Though author Vivek admits that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should not be excused of the killings that have happened under its watch, notably in the Gujarat riots, he decries the tendency (especially among intellectuals) to unilaterally condemn the entire BJP and all of Hindu Nationalism, or even equate both with fascism. Worse, too much misinformation has spread concerning Hindu Nationalism and the BJP. Lies, Lies and More Lies spells out the reasoning behind Hindu Nationalism precepts: injustice exists under the current legal system that largely leaves temples of Christianity and Islam to themselves but taxes and restricts Hindu temples; religious conversion needs to be banned because there is no way to distinguish between voluntary and forced conversion; and more. Too little attention is being paid to the threat of Islamofascism, argues author Vivek; demographic birth and immigration trends that are gradually increasing the percentage of Muslims in India and a Muslim community that is too slow to condemn the pogroms it perpetrates fuel an immediate national crisis. Above all, India's salvation lies in preserving its new legacy of democracy and equality. "Without proper guidance, there is a real danger of Hindutva degenerating into a rampage of revenge. Hindutva is not to be equated with communal riots that kill innocent humans. Hindutva cannot be an ideology that relegates another individual to second-class status. It should be a force that makes all Indians conform to the pluralistic, secular tradition of our land that respects one and all." A passionate and thoughtful call for perspective on hot-button Indian social issues.
Synopsis


The last decade has seen the publication of a plethora of books like Christophe Jaffrelot's, The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India, Thomas Hansen's The Saffron Wave and more recently Martha Nussbaum's The Clash Within that have been highly critical of the Hindu Nationalist Movement in India. This genre of books has been a one-sided, prejudged narration that has failed look at the movement from the Hindu perspective or even accord Hindu Nationalism a fair and scholarly treatment. At times these books have highlighted dubious incidents to put forth their point of view or held up radical fringe elements as representative of Hindu Nationalism. This campaign unfortunately has been sustained by a section of the Indian Diaspora in the United States and it is especially important that the broad American academia and public be made aware of the reality. Lies, Lies and More Lies presents the other side of the story in a balanced manner with tangible proof backed by sound references that puts to paid many of the false innuendoes against Hindu Nationalism that have been bandied around for years; in fact it is inadvertently a point by point counter to many charges found in Nussbaum's The Clash Within.

Posted by: Vivek | July 20, 2008 7:17 PM

Thanks for the interesting recommendations. Obviously, I should try Watchman again, esp. since Gaiman is a favorite reviewer here at BW. I'll simply say that I did start it once, didn't much care for it, but maybe as Bob Dylan would say, I'm younger than that now.
As for Maus, it's always seemed to me that the concept was better than the execution, but again let me stress that I was flagging personal faves, not pretending to pontificate on what is the greatest.

Posted by: drabelled@washpost.com | July 21, 2008 12:17 PM

Watchman was a sea change in the state of graphic novels. Also by Moore, "From Hell" is also very good. "Top 10" collected in two books looks at a "NYPD Blue/Hill Street" collection of cops in a city where everyone is a super hero (exiled from the "real" world).

Will Eisner's "A Contract with God" is really 4 interconnected novellas, but can claim greatness, with the young Will thinly disguised in the last story.

Barefoot Gen (of Hiroshima) also semi-autobiographical story of the artist's life before and after the bomb.

Also add, Bone, Strangers in Paradise, Joe Sacco's comic reportage "Safe Area Gorazde", Kurt Busiek' Astro City series is set in "Novel sized" story arcs and is quite good, and also Powers by Bendis and Oeming about the problems with being cops in a world of super-heros.

Posted by: kdt | July 22, 2008 4:08 PM

The first three are great, and I haven't read the last two. I would definitely add Maus and Persepolis.

Posted by: julia | July 31, 2008 3:27 PM

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