Recently I picked up the magazine The 100 Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time! magazine from Future Publishing. I thought it’d be interesting to go through the magazine and see which ones I’d read and which ones I needed to. The magazine was very well written with some really thoughtful commentary on the books presented within resulting in my “to read” list gaining quite a few additions.
While the magazine covered many great graphic novels – and indeed you’d need a slew of magazines to cover all the graphic novels that you should read in a lifetime – there were of course a few of my personal favourites left off. Thus, I thought I’d write up my own list.
So here, in alphabetical order (because I really can’t organise them from most to leave favourite/ good/ whatever,) are ten graphic novels that I think are definitely worth checking out.
Best of The Spirit, The
Will Eisner’s The Spirit is a cornerstone in the evolution of the comic book medium. Convinced of the artistic merits of the comic book medium before anyone else thought of it as any more than kids fair, Eisner pushed the idea of “comics for adults” further than anyone before – and possibly since – with works such as his A Contract With God trilogy.
A seminal work, The Spirit is where Eisner was really experimenting. He pushed the comics medium as far as it could go and in the process introduced aspects of the medium that are now taken for granted.
Splash pages, text being incorporated as part of the artwork rather than floating separate from it and using the physical shape of the comic page and its panels to tell a story. All of these are things Eisner originated and all of it can be seen here, in a selection of twenty two Spirit stories from between 1940 and 50. But it’s not just the art that is amazing, but also the stories themselves. Action, adventure and tales of the deeply personal, this is a collection every comics fan needs to read.
Even in 1998 vampires were an overused horror trope, the plot “device” of a new vampire reluctant to drink human blood was already making reader’s eyes roll.
Into this environment was released Crimson, a vampire tale written by Brian Augustyn and illustrated by Humberto Ramos. However, readers who stuck with the series were treated to a story that ends being much bigger and grander than that description would suggest.
As readers follow Alex Elder trying to acclimatise to his new life as one of the un-dead, things slowly become stranger and stranger. First strange variants of vampires show up, then werewolves and scantly clad vampire hunters (with boob-belts, no less). By the end of this blood soaked epic – which has been collected into four trades – everything from dragons to Biblical disasters has roared across the page.
While you can be forgiven for thinking of Crimson as just another vampire comic at first glance, when the story kicks into high gear in the second volume you’ll be treated to one of the best horror epics this side of Sandman.
Doctor Strange: The Oath
Before his entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange had been relegated to supporting character and magical deus ex machina since the ending of his third solo series in 1996. However, during this time one limited series reminded comic fans just how great a character the good Doctor was and how even with all the magic and mysticism he can be part of some supremely powerful, moving stories.
From the mind of Brian K. Vaugh and the pencils of Marcos Martin, The Oath delivers a powerful tale that delves right into the soul of what makes Doctor Strange the man he is. When Wong, Strange’s best friend and confidant, has an inoperable brain tumour Strange has a decision to make. In his possession is Otkid’s Elixir, a magical potion that is said to cure cancer. There is only a small amount of the Elixir left and Strange must decide to either use it to save his friend or to produce more for the benefit of all humankind.
All aspects of Strange’s character are at odds in this tale; his medical and magical responsibilities, his desire to save his friend and do the best for humanity at large. Going from humorous to devastating at a moments notice, The Oath helped define who and what Doctor Strange was for a modern audience.
In all those horror films, what is the monster was beautiful? That’s the basic question that Girls asks and the results are pretty terrifying.
Created by brothers Josh and Johnathan Luna, Girls tells the story of Ethan Daniels who lives in the small town of Pennystown and the horror that is unleashed upon them after Ethan tries to help a naked, injured woman he finds laying in the street.
While horror and violence is a big part of Girls, it is much more than just a horror story with an interesting take on the monster. It is also an interesting look at the relationships and interactions between men and women and just how much sex dictates what we do.
While it can be a little slow at times, if you stick with it you’ll be treated to a fascinating, dark tale that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.
Between the hugely successful novel and the (not so wonderful) film trilogy, most people will know the story of The Hobbit. However, you may never have quite seen it like this.
This graphic novel adaptation of Tolkien’s classic fantasy story needs to be seen just for David Wenzel’s amazing artwork alone. The adaptation by Chuck Dixon, (here using his full first name, Charles,) which only leave a few small moments out from the original text, is incredibly faithful, but it’s Wenzel’s beautifully detailed and painterly artwork that is the real star of the show.
Real enough that you can believe it but fanciful enough that it fits perfectly in Tolkien’s world, every single panel of Wenzel’s work could be an artwork in its own right. If you’ve never read The Hobbit, or if you’d like to revisit it, or even if you just love gorgeous artwork, then Dixon and Wenzel’s adaptation is certainly worth checking out.
While Infinity Gauntlet may remain Marvel’s best line-wide event, this 2013 semi-sequel comes pretty close to toppling it. Dealing with three major calamities – a threat to the whole universe from an alien race called The Builders, inter-dimensional destruction and once again Thanos invading Earth – the heroes of the Marvel Universe have their work cut out for them.
Like many of these events you have to wonder how all the parts can possibly come together, but in the skilled hands of Johnathan Hickman it all works wonderfully. The threat never lets up and it truly does feel like the heroes might actually lose, something that doesn’t happen all that often in comics. Jim Cheung’s beautifully detailed art keeps that action flowing nicely and never do things become confusing, even with so many characters on the page. “Epic” is a word that is overused, but it truly does feel appropriate here.
If your only experience of Marvel Comic events is Avengers: Infinity War, or you’ve just looking for a deep, thrilling superhero story, you definitely should check out Infinity.
Like Crimson, I, Zombie takes a much overused horror trope and put an awesome spin on it. Gwen is a revenant, a zombie-like being who still retains her mental faculties. She must eat a brain once a month, but other than that she can easily pass for a normal girl, albeit one who is slightly paler than usual with strange yellow eyes.
Luckily, Gwen has a easy supply of brains, thanks to her job as a gravedigger. However, consuming brains of the recently dead means Gwen inherits their memories. Sometimes, these memories reveal unfinished business the person wanted to accomplish in life and Gwen feels the need to help them do so in death.
What starts off as a kind of detective story slowly builds into an epic battle between all kinds of human and supernatural forces. The first issues of I, Zombie barley hint at all what the final issues will be like, and it’s one hell of a ride!
If you’ve only ever seen the (butchering that is the) TV series adaptation, do not expect the same here. Instead, be prepared for a truly original zombie adventure story that will go places few corpses have gone before.
Paying For It
Comics aren’t all about spandex clad heroes, monsters and crazy adventures. Sometimes they are about regular, everyday people. Such is the case with Paying for It, “a comic strip memoir about being a john”, by Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown.
As the name and that description suggests, Brown’s book is about paying for sex, a subject that is taboo and shunned still among many groups of society. Due to this subject the book was quite controversial upon release, but to pass it off as “just a book about hookers” is missing the point entirely.
After his long-time girlfriend breaks up with him, Chester muses on how he feels about any possible future romantic relationships and realises he desires the physical closeness of such a relationship, but without the emotional ties – and possibility to again be heartbroken – that comes with it. To this end, he begins to regularly hire prostitutes and finds this arrangement – at least for him – preferable to the “standard” male/ female relationship.
Each of the prostitutes in the book are presented as fully-formed characters, not just the regular characterisation of short skirts and knee-high boots proliferated by Hollywood. Each encounter with one of the girls is very honest, both the good and the bad.
Paying for It is a fascinating look into male/ female relationships and an honest glance at what happens under the red light.
Phantom: For Those Who Came In Late…
The character that inspired the modern superhero, every comics fan should have at least a passing familiarity with Lee Falk’s classic character. Titled after the line made famous by the original comic strip’s introduction panels, For Those Who Came In Late… collects together seven classic Phantom stories designed to give the uninitiated a gateway in to the Phantom’s world.
Featuring adventures from both Lee Falk and Scandinavian writers and artists, the stories presented herein tell of how the Phantom legend started, how the current Phantom – the 21st – became the man he is, how the first Phantom gained his famous Skull Ring, and more.
If you’ve never read a Phantom story this is the perfect place to start. If you have, this is a wonderful tome to help you become reacquainted.
In the late 1990’s, Marvel publisher Bill Jemas felt that Marvel comics had become inaccessible to new readers due to the large amount of continuity. He wanted to relaunch the heroes afresh, free of the ties of history but still recognisable as Marvel heroes. The result was the Ultimate line of comics, the first series to be released under it was Ultimate Spider-Man.
Taking Spidey’s original 11-page origin and expanding it into a six-issue arc, writer Brian Michael Bendis introduced a whole generation of readers to Spider-Man. The book felt new, but retained the classic sensibilities. All the characters fans of old knew and loved were there, but slightly updated for the 2000s. Veteran Spidey artist Mike Bagley brought his fast, action filled pencils to the book, carrying along Bendis’ plot wonderfully.
Now, I’m not personally a huge fan of Bendis’ writing…on other books. His work here is by far his best and while I feel his celebrity in comics is overstated, he deserves all the props he received for this title. There are 22 volumes in all of Ultimate Spider-Man, and nearly every one is a must-read.
If your only exposure to Spidey is through films and cartoons, then you really need to check out Ultimate Spider-Man. If you are a fan of Spidey’s comics and haven’t read this…well, it’s about time you fixed that.