Comics have played a large part in my life for as long as I can remember. Whether I’m reading other peoples or making my own there isn’t a day that goes by where they don’t enter my mind. So here’s a list of graphic novels that, in my opinion, you should read before you die. I’ve left out the usual suspects that regularly appear on these types of lists (Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Maus, Batman Year One, etc). They are all amazing books and worth checking out, but for this article I decided to focus on the books that mean the most to me, and that may not always get the level of attention they deserve.
Blankets by Craig Thompson
If this book doesn’t have an emotional impact on you in some capacity then I’d suggest you go seek medical advice on how it’s possible you’ve lived this long without a heart. Thompson weaves a heartfelt tale of childhood innocence, the things that can take it away from us, and the impact that has as we grow older. His loose and natural illustrative approach carries an emotion that a more realistic style would lack in telling such a story. Painfully honest, at points heartbreaking and inspiring, but always profound (and the book itself is heavy as a brick!)
Promethea by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, and Mick Gray
What started as an apparent science-fiction/superhero story quickly became a roadmap through the worlds of magic and belief systems. Anyone who knows anything about comics will know Moore’s reputation for constructing elaborate, long form tales that slowly unravel in ways you don’t expect, and this is him at the top of that particular game. This book would have been nowhere near as powerful without the art team of Williams III and Mick Gray. The things they’re able to achieve on every page are spellbinding (literally in some cases). No corner of the page is left untouched, every single square inch is used in some way to strengthen the art and story. Promethea is comic book perfection.
From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell
Another Moore book that wouldn’t have been the same if any other artist was on it with him. Campbell has the perfect dose of old fashioned illustrative style in his art to carry this tale of Jack The Ripper into a place of terrifying realism, while carrying with it a sense of humanity and the whole way. Moore yet again hits us with a highly complex structure, which, when combined with Campbell’s world class storytelling, drags you so far into it that you can almost smell the blood and piss-soaked streets of London.
Lore by T.P. Louise and Ashley Wood
A wonderful balance of prose and sequential storytelling, this is T.P. and Ash at their finest. Too discuss this story in detail would give away too much of what makes it so crazy and effective. Just grab it (actually, if you can, grab the over-sized hardcover version, experiencing Wood’s art in a larger format is always an absolute thrill).
Cages by Dave McKean
Life a lot of people I’ve always been a fan of McKean’s art style that was used for his run on Sandman-related covers. But this book, which is mostly ink work, is even better. Wonderfully jagged yet soft linework, everything uneven in a way that seems to infuse the pages with emotion and movement. Whenever anyone asks me to recommend a comic for them to read this is always high at the top of the list.
New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke
This stunning retro-inspired story crosses around various corners of the DC universe and creates the same level of excitement and joy within me that comics did when I was a kid. Cooke’s storytelling is hard to beat, and his art (when combined with the amazing talents of colourist Dave Stewart) is a great balance of old and new style sensibilities. If you can get your hands on the oversized Absolute edition of this then grab it immediately. Seeing the art in that larger format is wonderful, and the back-up material is a whole other book to itself (where Cooke provides numerous notes and art on the development of the series). An animated version of this book was made and is just as impressive, which I’m sure has a lot to do with the fact that Cooke was also heavily involved in its production.
Essex County Trilogy by Jeff Lemire
Each of the three stories that make up this trilogy are remarkable on their own, but when combined they are truly something special. Jeff Lemire (currently writing/drawing the wonderful Vertigo series Sweet Tooth) has a rough yet tender humanity to his writing and art, creating a touching and emotional world of people. Within pages of reading their stories you will feel a sentimental attachment to the characters that makes you feel as if you’ve known them for years.
The Nobody by Jeff Lemire
Another Lemire masterpiece that operates with a detached and isolated sense of pacing and mood. A subtle mystery that will leave you wanting more. This is the story of the Invisible Man told in a way you’ve never seen before.
Local by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly
Great stories, great art, great comic, and that’s all you need to know. Go buy it!
The Wintermen by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon
A riveting story of a Russian policeman who was part of a superhero project, this book is a fascinating read. One of those wonderful moments where I grabbed the book due to it being illustrated by one of my favourite artists, and then got completely and unexpectedly swept away by the story as well.
Join me next time when I discuss the wonderful world of 3A Toys.