Thursday, October 4, 2012

Graphic Novels: some of my favorite titles

I developed a taste for comics (or graphic novels) later in life. As a young person, I didn't really read comics. Not sure why: no one that I can recall did as a matter of fact, not my brothers or cousins or classmates. It just wasn't part of our lives growing up.

But in my early 30s I started reading books by writers like Alan Moore, Frank Miller and others. I started reading the classics but soon branched out into personal favorites. I still read comics frequently though I try to just read for 30 minutes or an hour each day because 1) they go so fast and 2) I am too interested in too many other kinds of writing.

Jason Lutes' Berlin
Lately, coming back from Berlin, I've been reading non-stop about the city and that has led to other kinds of connections: Christopher Isherwood, Joseph Roth, Käthe Kollwitz, Robert Walser, and others. I was up at Drawn and Quarterly recently and discovered Jason Lutes' Berlin which is fascinating. Set in the years between the end of WWI and the start of WWII, his book explores the political turmoil in the city through the eyes of a cast of characters from all walks of life.

The work is beautifully drawn, compelling, tragic and funny. Apparently Lutes is only halfway through his story though he hasn't published a new one in a number of years. For some reason, this makes it even more appealing to me (nothing's worse than starting a series that's already over).

The End of Men?
A couple of years back, I was really into the work of Brian K. Vaughan. His series Y: The Last Man took inspiration from a nearly forgotten Mary Shelley novel, The Last Man. In Vaughan's version, a deadly virus hits in the Earth and every male mammal on the planet dies suddenly. All except one man, Yorick, and his pet monkey. The series traces the end of the world as we know it as Yorick crosses the US in search of the cause or a cure for the disease in order to start life again. Along the way, he encounters lesbian terrorists, Israeli spies, Russian agents, and every woman wants him for various reasons. Unfortunately, as they are want to do, Hollywood is now adapting this for film which I'm sure will make the series popular but also ruin it slightly.

Brian K Vaughan's other work (later than Y: The Last Man) is a more traditional super-hero tale: Ex-Machina, about a NYC politician who is a retired superhero but has been called back into active duty reluctantly. This series is an interesting exploration of the media, what it means to be "good" or moral, and what power actually means.

I tend to prefer graphic novels that are set in the "real" world. I don't like science fiction series or alternative universes (that's true of fiction, too, for the most part). The only exception to this is The Walking Dead which is great though I haven't seen any new issues in a long time.

Some other series I like include Matz's The Killer, and Jay Faerber's Near Death (set in the noirish streets of modern Seattle).

As I write this, I have to say that though I never liked comics growing up, I did love graphic illustrators and early graphic novelists like Frans Masereel were some of my favorite artists. I had (and still have) several of his "novels in woodcuts" that tell a story with only images. Frans Masereel himself was a fascinating figure and deserves an entire post himself.
Frans Masereel

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