A very readable history of comics around the world featuring illustrations and full pages in their historical context. Much of the focus is on comics movements in the U.S., Japan, and France, though there is lots of information on those in the rest of Europe and South America, with particular attention paid to Spain, Italy, and the U.K., and even a brief history of Korean manhwa.
Why I picked it up: I’ve got a huge, beautiful reference book on comics on my shelf, L’art de la bande dessinée, that I can’t quite read. (It’s in French.) I need more context to make sense of the entries on work I’m less familiar with.
Why I finished it: I had to read about why Trondheim and Sfar’s L’Association emerged in reaction to the commercial side of the French bande design scene, since I love so many books by creators with ties to L’Association. But mostly I was building a reading list. I found hundreds of titles and creators I’d never heard of before in this book. I hope, as I start looking for their books, that some are available in English. If not, what I’ve read about in this book will keep me hunting through comic book stores in countries around the world for the rest of my life.
It's perfect for: Larry, who runs the amazing Fantagraphics bookstore, gave me a great deal on the French reference book I mentioned above, which was part of a book display. So I’m going to hand this off to him next time I’m down there on a shopping spree.
After his deadliest battle to date, Batman is bruised, battered and scarred. And forever changed. Now, on the streets of Gotham, in place of the cape and cowl roams an 8-foot mechanized suit of armor. More powerful than ever before, Batman’s pursuit of justice has never been more swift or efficient. But who is the new Dark Knight? And why is he…or she here?
In the most shocking chapter in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s #1 New York Times best-selling series, comics’ greatest creative team throws the most unexpected twist in Batman’s history with BATMAN VOL. 8.
Praise for BATMAN VOL. 7: ENDGAME:
“ENDGAME: their biggest story line in terms of cast and scope during the duo’s classic four-year run on the series and one designed to celebrate the character’s 75th anniversary.”—USA TODAY
After Macbeth and Banquo meet three witches in the dark woods of Scotland who prophesy Macbeth's rise to power, Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to kill their King in his sleep. The murder stirs the King's sons to avenge their father, and soon the whole kingdom is fighting to restore peace and morality.
Why I picked it up: Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play I read on my own -- I finished it while waiting in line at an Iron Maiden concert -- and it remains one of my favorites. Plus Gareth Hinds has adapted other classics into graphic novel form, including The Odyssey and Beowulf, challenging works which benefit from his clear and colorful style.
Why I finished it: Hinds’s illustrations capture the action perfectly. From the creepiness of the weird sisters to the bloody hands of Lady Macbeth, I couldn't stop reading this book.
It's perfect for: Miles. He and I have talked about how Shakespeare is best experienced in a theater or on film. This adaptation is right up there with both options. I think he'd love seeing Macbeth hallucinate the ghost of Banquo at a royal feast, a scene that doesn't come through well in a reading of the play but which looks beautifully gory in this book.
Young Victor Frankenstein still feels grief from his mother's early death, so he focuses his studies on bringing the dead to life. Unfortunately, the budding young researcher suffers a mental breakdown at the moment of success and abandons his creation. Worse, the monster, who is bright enough to learn language on his own, finds no companionship among people. It tracks Frankenstein down and makes him promise to build it a companion. Victor reneges, which sends both creature and creator into escalating spirals of violence in search of revenge.
Why I picked it up: I wanted to read a good graphic novel adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic. Of all the books I looked at or read, this was the only one that didn't feature the monster on the cover. Instead, there’s a closeup, scratchboard portrait of Victor's haunted visage.
Why I finished it: The adapters tell not only the well-known parts of the story (skulking in graveyards to amass human construction materials, for example), but also capture Shelley's subtle characterizations and the emotional warmth and benevolence of the Frankenstein family. Even a supporting character, the beloved and wrongly accused servant Justine, is drawn and written with sensitivity and respect.
Readalikes: It's fun to read a good graphic novel adaptation of an influential book. It's another to use the characters and situations from it to make something else. So if you’ve already read one or more illustrated versions of Frankenstein, here are a few books that are a bit different. Detective Frankenstein by Alaya Dawn Johnson, illustrated by the prolific Yuko Ota, merges Frankenstein with a Victorian detective story in Choose Your Own Adventure style. Cartoonist Batton Lash uses the monster to explore legal, political, and social issues related to marriage rights in The Life-Partner of Frankenstein.
A girl named Rita lives in a decadent old Southern mansion with her hardworking mother and an older man named Edmund, a magician who tells Rita she will be his wife. He is cruel to both her mother and her, who both assist him on stage. When his tricks push Rita’s limits and her mother dies because of his neglect, Rita escapes to New York. Living simply as a waitress, she pays little heed to the criminals, cops, and the veteran who all seem to want something from her. But after men in Central Park are horribly murdered and she meets a French detective who appears to know more about her than she knows herself, she must face the ghost of her mother and reconcile with her past.
Why I picked it up: Gene offered this to me, saying something about my taste in weird, creepy, even Gothic stories. (Editor’s note: I originally read this book because Kim Thompson mentioned it during a lecture at my local Alliance Française.)
Why I finished it: This strange story bears rereading. Written in the 1980s, the sexual politics seem dated: Why in the world would Rita marry a man who plays cruel tricks on her, such as appearing as her long-dead father? But the whole story had a surreal, hallucinatory quality to it that I liked, and it often felt as if I were watching a Fellini film. For instance, in several crucial scenes a group of 18th Century French nobles pass through Rita's awareness while continuing to dance.
Readalikes: Boucq's drawing style reminded me of slightly sketchier drawings of Milo Manara, and the content was equally strange. This graphic novel is much tamer than much of Manara's work, so I'd give it to anyone who likes his collaboration with Fellini, Trip to Tulum.
Adorable cartoon cat Pusheen (sometimes along her little sister Stormy, too) demonstrates the essential elements of her perfect weekend, how to have a sleepover, where she likes to be petted, and where to sleep.
Why I picked it up: I love the Pusheen animated gifs!
It's perfect for: Richard, who likes to incorporate holidays into his booktalks -- he can use this page for several of them.
Hopeless and despairing of ever making the art he feels is in him, David is spending the last of his money in a New York bar when he runs into his uncle. He vents about getting fired, his failed art career, and his frustration at always being mistaken for a famous artist with the same name. He goes on until he remembers that his uncle has been dead for some time. This is no ghost, though, but death himself, and he shows David how his life will play out -- totally suburban and forgettable. But it doesn't have to be that way. What would David give to make the art he has always dreamed of creating? His life? Done deal.
Now David has 200 days left to live, and the ability to magically sculpt any material with his bare hands. Is that enough time to achieve the artistic immortality he desires? Can he learn to really live in that short time?
Why I picked it up: I’m a fan of Scott McCloud's books on comics -- Understanding Comics, Making Comics, and Reinventing Comics -- but never really liked his fiction. I was dying to see if this 488-page goliath of a graphic novel could live up to its positive buzz.
Why I finished it: It did. The Sculptor is both a technical masterpiece and an emotionally satisfying read. Simply colored in black, white, and a grayish blue, McCloud utilizes perspective, framing, and character development to shape a dreamy, solid story. McCloud's own creative evolution seems to be reflected in this book when David first shows an art promoter the results of his first manic rampage of creativity using his new (but secret) powers. The sculptures are intriguing, but thematically incoherent. With hard work and over time, David’s art becomes more focused and elegant. I was also very impressed by the care McCloud put into creating the New York City setting, and was not surprised to read he had used Google Maps’ Street View to help create consistent, accurate exterior scenes.
Readalikes: The tragedy of the Sculptor is that, of course, once David has given up all but 200 days of his life, he falls in love. Meg is part of a performance art group that fools David into thinking she is an angel. Once he realizes he has been tricked, he is furious but also intrigued by her. I love romances where the lovers know they are running out of time, because really...aren't we all? I find it both heartbreaking and inspiring that once Meg has accepted that David's abilities and fate are real, she helps him make the most of the time they have left together. This reminds me of one of my absolute all time favorites, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, about a librarian who involuntarily travels in time, the woman who loves him despite the dangers of his condition, and the fact that his life will end much too soon.
After a two-year stay in the hospital, a heavily-medicated bipolar artist wants to get his creative mojo back and stops taking his pills. He finds out his meds weren’t just keeping his condition in check, they were also inhibiting his super powers.
Originally published in Polarity #1 - #4.
Why I picked it up: I was scanning the shelves at a local library for graphic novels I hadn’t read, and the colorful cover caught my eye.
Why I finished it: As Tim becomes more paranoid, he believes he’s being watched. He also seems to be moving very, very fast. Is he just having another meltdown? In one moment it becomes clear that he is not. A gun is pulled, and Tim quickly head-butts the man holding it, creating quite an explosion (brains, eyeballs, teeth, etc). It instantly went from a quiet book about a troubled young man to something much more.
Readalikes: The best exploration of living with bipolar disorder that I’ve ever read also happens to be one of the best autobiographical graphic novels out there: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney.
The government tightly controls who can and cannot have children, and Eric is ineligible for fatherhood due to acne. He convinces his long-term girlfriend, Syd, that they should move to a desert commune, run by back-to-the-land types, who do things the old fashioned way.
Why I picked it up: My friend Douglas recommended this, and he hasn't failed me yet.
Why I finished it: I fell in love with the overwhelming bright, gorgeous orange Goldstein uses to convey the atmosphere of the world outside the domed city Syd and Eric have left. And I was totally blown away by what Goldstein achieves with such poetic brevity in this short book. She not only successfully creates a future where people sacrifice basic freedoms for convenience and comfort, but she weaves in a poignant story about what happens when romance takes on the weight of parenthood and partners are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices.
Readalikes: Just as Syd and Eric's reach for a better life has unexpected consequences, taking them to places that are both revealing and transformative, Chad in Can’t Get No by Rick Veitch finds his world disrupted after his invention of a truly permanent marker brings him wealth and then infamy. Not until he journeys to the far reaches of society is he able to come to terms with the choices he has made.