TOP 10 GRAPHIC NOVELS OF ALL TIME (AS OF APRIL 2016)
(my reading preference is fluid sometime,s what can I say...)
Disclaimer: This is, admittedly a very modern list. I came late to the comics party and I was already a freshman in college by the time I was blessed with some of the books on this list that reinvigorated my interest in comics and ultimately pushed me to create my own. I put this list together as the debut post for this blog almost as a way to tell my story and history of my creative inspiration at least from the realm of comics. Much of my inspiration comes from film and television as I truly believe I grew up during the Animation Renaissance of the 90's and early 2000's then informed and still informs much of my creative output. Nevertheless some of these choices I know will illicit very polarizing reactions and I suppose thats a good thing one way or the other. Some of these will have you drawing lines in the sand but others will probably garner more of a meh moment. So with that out of the way, here is my list of my favorite graphic novels or collected runs in comics...ever...for now.
1. Fun Home A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
I read Fun Home in grad school. IT IS INCREDIBLE. In short it tells the story in very Daria-esque illustration a tale of family and self discovery and reflection. Alison Bechdel for those of you who do not know is a widely celebrated writer/illustrator in the comics world and a definite voice on Feminist & LGBT issues as well as the portrayal of women in general in literature, comics and popular culture and media. Her writing has given birth to a test called the “Bechdel Test” to determine a woman purported importance in a story and whether or not that importance revolves around a man. Deep stuff. Great book. Fantastic story and illustration.
2. Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
In my opinion, Jeph Loeb has done his best work with Tim Sale. In fact I wish they had done more team ups other than the 4 collections they did at what seems like almost the same time. Dark Victory is the last in a collected run the duo did on Batman that includes Batman Haunted Knight, Batman The Long Halloween and Catwoman When in Rome. All of them are great and visual masterpieces. Dark Victory reintroduces Robin for the first time and gives us a new foe for Batman to fight called "The Hangman Killer." Loeb and Sale make great use of almost all of Batman’s major villains in this one book. Loeb writing is tight and cerebral and doesn't over tell and Sale's artwork is striking and stands out as some of the most unique comic work I've ever seen.
3. Black Beetle by Francesco Francavilla
I have a secret love affair with pulp heroes. I still remember to this day being pulled out of the theater with my best friend by his babysitter after she heard the word “damn” during The Phantom. Francesco Francavilla is not only a talented artist but he is a great story teller. He crafts the world of Black Beetle as though it has a rich 80 year history like Doc Savage or The Spider. Francavilla is also expert when choosing his color pallets which make for rich pages that pop while still maintaining the dark shadowy underbelly of the crime and corruption the Black Beetle fights.
4. Planetary (pick any volume) by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday
So if someone told me that fictional secret world archiving and archaeology was cool, I would beg to differ. That is, until I read Planetary. Warren Ellis is guy who in my opinion, almost never misses. I don’t know what it is about his stories but they always are well rooted in real world science or folklore but then he turns in on its ear and makes it way more interesting then you could imagine. For example he not only creates his own villainous version of the Fantastic Four within the pages of Planetary he also creates strange and interesting reinterpretations of people like Captain Marvel (DC, not Marvel who I guess I should call Shazam now?) and Tarzan. I still think thats kind of stupid. Either way, the tales of Elijah Snow and his team are some of the best graphic literature you will come across.
5. Umbrella Academy (Volumes 1 & 2) by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bà
Ok, let me begin by saying if Gerard Way reads this: GIVE ME HOTEL OBLIVION NOW! Ok I got that out of my system. Umbrella Academy came out of nowhere and for lack of a better phrase it is super f#$king cool on so many levels. The story tells the tale of a group of children born at the same time across the world with special abilities raised by an monocle wearing alien disguised as a human who fight zombified frenchman and mechanized Eiffel Towers. If that sentence did not convince you to read it then I can’t help you. Also, if you have ever seen Gabriel Bà’s artwork before you are sorely missing out. The cartoon-esque, Bruce Timm-like flair he has is perfect for the zany violence and beauty sprawled across each page.
6. Watchmen By Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Literary classic. If you are a comic or literature lover, you need to read this book. Many say that the way Lord of the Rings is written it makes you smarter because of the mental workout you put yourself through to read it. That is exactly what Watchmen is. It’s one part comic, one part novel, one part epic poem and all masterpiece. Legend has it that Moore and Gibbons originally were going to use DC characters for this story of a superhero who is murdered and the subsequent investigation reveals and plot to kill more but DC felt it was too edgy of story for their actual characters such as Captain Atom and the Question (don’t quote me on this) so Moore and Gibbons made up their own. Good thing they did because it’s amazing. Also, I don’t care what anyone says The Watchmen film, setting aside Moore’s very public and understandable feelings about his work being adapted, was what I consider to be the best possible way it could have been done. Kudos to Zak Snyder.
7. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volumes 1 & 2) By Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
Ok round two of how great Alan Moore is! This movie adaptation was so bad it was good for a laugh so I don’t endorse that at all. The books however are fantastic with a slight caveat here and there. I specifically list volumes 1 & 2 because I feel they are the best in the series. Black Dossier would be in the 3rd place followed by the Nemo spin offs. I can't really say that I am a huge fan of Volume 3 : Century only because its a bit too abstract and far out for me. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen tells the tale of Victorian literary characters existing in the same world, coming together to save it. Yes, it’s Victorian Justice League. The Invisible Man, Mina Harker, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Hulk style) are all here and are all totally f@#ked up. It makes for great stories and conflict and the etching style lines of Kevin O’neill makes the book almost read as though you can FEEL it all. Wanna see who much you really know about classic literary characters? Read this and tell if you paid enough attention in English class.
8. Doc Unknown Volume 1: The Secret of Gate City By Fabian Rangel Jr. and Ryan Cody
Over the course of the last 4 years I developed an obsession with Kickstarter Comics. There is something intoxicating about supporting something you believe in and seeing it come to fruition, especially when it is a great concept you can believe isn't a mainstream hit. That's what Doc Unknown is. He is a pulp hero much more in the vein of Doc Savage mixed with the Phantom. He fights ghosts, Nazi's, Vampires and boxing-snake mob boss. The art work of Ryan Cody perfectly compliments Rangels world building and punchy dialogue. Yea, it's awesome and I can't wait to see more of it. (Technically there are 3 volumes and one-shot right now, go read up).
9. We3/JLA Earth 2 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Earlier I lamented briefly about the zany absurdity of Alan Moore's writing, well Grant Morrison is right up there with him. Some of his stories are incredibly crafted and while very far reaching and outlandish still make sense and aren't too much to follow. Some of his other stories, not so much. We3 is a story about weaponized animals, a dog, a cat and a rabbit trying to escape a government facility and protect each other. JLA Earth 2 is the story of the Justice League being approached by the greatest hero of Earth Two; Lex Luthor, for help against their criminal counterparts the Crime Syndicate. These two are listed with each other because I found them at the same time and each resonated for one reason or another but its really the team of Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely that you need to pay attention to. They are the real Dynamic Duo.
10. Black Panther Volume 4 By Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr.
This run revitalized Black Panther as a character and his origins. It also presents a powerful depiction of the greatest and most powerful people on the planet: Africans or more specifically, Wakandans. I think I find this collection so important because one John Romita Jr's artwork is phenomenal and he draw like Leonardo DiCaprio does movies; selectively. Reginald Hudlins' take on the character of T'challa and his people is also fantastic, showing a powerful and collaborative nation whose people are full of pride and push forward to create a better world. Lastly the first six issues show a harsh but truthful satirical critique of the Westerns worlds view on Africa and the rest of the world when they don't play the game we want them to. Belongs on your shelf, trust me.
Bat woman: Elegy By Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III (Really this should be #11 because this is one of the best origin stories ever told, written or illustrated)
TRUTH: Red, White and Black (Captain America) By Robert Morales and Kyle Baker
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted By Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Batman Death in the Family By Jim Starlin
Batman Incorporated by Grant Morrison and Yannick Paquette
reMIND by Jason Brusker (big reason for and influence on what little success I have found in making your own comics)