Other Nexus Graphica Columns
For more information, you can try the following:
Beyond the Strip: Inside the World of Comics & Graphic Novels
V For Vendetta
The Last Days of American Crime
Lola: A Ghost Story
Recent Books of Interest
Almost Silent by Jason (Fantagraphics)
This hardcover collects four of Norwegian cartoonist Jason's out-of-print
books: Meow Baby, Tell Me Something, You Can't Get There From Here,
and The Living and the Dead. Similar to Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson, Jason relies
on the humorous side of horror in these mostly wordless tales. Perhaps none demonstrates this
unique confluence more than the charming and funny Night of the Living Dead-inspired
The Living and the Dead. After all, nothing says true love like giving your betrothed
the heart from a freshly-dead woman. Throughout the sublime Almost Silent, Jason
examines traditional relationships and social norms via a deliciously warped lens, quite
probably one constructed by Dr. Frankenstein himself.
The Last Days of American Crime Book 1 Written by Rick Remender Art by Greg Tocchini (Radical Comics)
For this violent, near-future thriller, Remender creates a reality in which, due to
ultra-stringent anti-terrorism legislation, the United States has slipped into a cesspool of
vice and corruption. Amid the chaos, career criminal Graham Brick plans one more big
heist. Though the background story borders on absurd (the government plans to broadcast a
signal making it impossible for anyone to knowingly commit unlawful acts), Remender wisely
focuses on the criminal elements, conjuring the best of the late Richard Stark with a
fascinating supporting cast. While his painted work is pleasing to look at, Tocchini
falters as a storyteller, often causing confusion. Even with these distractions,
The Last Days of American Crime offers an intriguing, nihilistic view on
the crime thriller.
Lola: A Ghost Story Written by J. Torres Art by Elbert Or (Oni Press)
Pre-teen Jesse and his family visit their Philippine ancestral home for the funeral of
Jesse's grandmother Lola. While there, Jesse begins to see and communicate with ghosts,
just as his grandmother before him. A conversation with a late cousin shapes much of this
tale of self-discovery and familial exploration. Elbert Or's art perfectly complements
Torres' insightful script for the engaging Lola.
Graphic Novels for Beginners
Copyright © 2010 Rick Klaw
The weekend before Christmas while wandering Austin Books1, I spied an old
friend looking over Watchmen as though he'd never seen it before. Lee surprised me
with his seeming unfamiliarity with the classic graphic novel. Like many of my
friends, Lee's comic geek quotient far exceeds the norm.
Turns out Lee was holiday shopping for a new friend unfamiliar but curious about
comics. I decided to talk him out of Watchmen.
Don't get me wrong. I've spent a good portion of my adult life attempting to convert
dubious adults to comics, explaining how the quality of this historically maligned
entertainment far exceeds its children-only reputation. I just don't buy it when
someone says they dislike all comics. That's akin to saying all movies, television,
or books are bad. As a media platform comics span genre boundaries and spawn nearly
every story type imaginable.
While I rank Watchmen among the great sequential works, its success depends
heavily on readers who understand the tropes of traditional super-hero comics. Writer
Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons expertly used the well-established storytelling
methods of the time (1986). By revitalizing and reinventing the superhero genre, then
entering its 50th year, the duo influenced an entire generation of writers, artists, and
filmmakers. For a reader new to the form, Watchmen may as well be written in Greek.
The week between Christmas and New Year's, I received these tweets from award-winning
young adult author and playwright Shannon Morgan:
I'm doing a reading challenge in 2010 + want to explore graphic novels. I'd like to read 3 or 4 to start...
and am thinking MAUS, WATCHMEN, SANDMAN #1, and/or SIN CITY. I'd love your recs for essential GN reading!
I first met Shannon at the 2009 Writers League of Texas Agents Conference, where I spoke on
the panel Beyond the Strip: Inside the World of Comics & Graphic Novels along with authors
Alan J. Porter and Tony Salvaggio.. As we discussed the inner, often esoteric workings of
the comic book industry, Shannon chronicled the event live via Twitter. Her decision to
finally begin exploring graphic novels surprised me, given how we met. I presumed a certain
knowledge of the medium.
The first volume of Neil Gaiman's Sandman (Preludes and Nocturnes)
assumes a working knowledge of the long-running DC continuity, and, much like Watchmen,
is not a good selection for the novice. The second volume (actually collected first) The
Doll's House, works within the series' own mythos, which makes it much more
accessible to neophytes.
When Sin City exploded on the scene,2 Frank Miller's explorations of crime
fiction appeared dynamic and original to many comic book fans. Nothing before quite embraced
the seedy world of the noir novel like the initial storyline (later
re-titled Sin City: The Hard Goodbye). But to anyone who ever read 1950s-era crime
fiction, Miller's words and ideas read like a second (or even third) generation clone of
Mickey Spillane, who was himself a poor imitator of the far superior Raymond Chandler. While
the art remains remarkable, in the ensuing 20 years many similarly themed comics have
eclipsed Sin City, such as the Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips collaboration
Criminal, Tardi's West Coast Blues, and Paul Grist's Kane.
Maus presents a conundrum for the pretentious "literature crowd." It uses funny
animals and illustrations to tell its story, but it won a Pulitzer Prize. Surely the
acclaimed Maus cannot be a comic book!3 Upon its publication, bookstores
typically shelved Maus in Judaica rather than with the rest of the graphic novels,
which for a time were all kept in humor. Masterfully employing sequential art techniques,
Art Spiegleman's extraordinary Holocaust tale provides a perfect gateway for the new comics reader.
Another excellent starting point, Marjane Satrapi's memoir/coming-of-age novel Persepolis
relates her Iranian childhood, Viennese eduction, failed marriage, and eventual relocation
to France. This poignant, engaging tale offers a fascinating feminist account of the 1979
Iranian revolution and her contemporary Muslim family.
In his first solo book endeavor, Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli tracks the life of
the titular character, a renowned "paper architect" and university professor. Beginning on
his fiftieth birthday, this lush non-linear graphic novel follows Polyp's surreal life through
a failed marriage, dashed hopes, and a bizarre road trip. Even through all this strangeness,
the diverse characters of Asterios Polyp ground the book with a sense of
reality. Mazzucchelli masterfully and beautifully manipulates the comic book form to create
perhaps the best graphic novel of decade and a tale embraceable by anyone eager to explore
Inspired by Walt Kelly's Pogo and the French artist Moebius, Jeff Smith's
beautifully-rendered, high fantasy Bone chronicles the tribulations of the
exiled Bone cousins (Phoncible P. "Phoney" Bone, Smiley Bone, and Fone Bone). Pursued by
rat creatures, the kin attempt to avoid the evil Lord of the Locusts while befriending the
mysterious Thorn and her even more enigmatic grandmother. By injecting humor, usually
centered around Fone's crush on Thorn and the interaction of the cousins, combined with
a subtext-infused plot and likable characters, Smith successfully created an exciting and
accessible all-ages adventure.
I explained all this to Lee. Though dubious at first, he eventually agreed with me. Sort
of. He insisted on an Alan Moore graphic novel. An undisputed master of the form, Moore's
works tend to rely on and expand the existing graphic narrative tropes, so most of his
books don't work well for the neophyte. Lee and I explored several options before he
settled on V For Vendetta. Originally published serially during the height of
the Thatcher/Reagan era, V relates the struggles of an anonymous anarchist
terrorist in a post-apocalyptic fascist Britain. Moore and artist David Lloyd used
forties and fifties British thriller movies as the template for the nihilistic comic,
resulting in his most approachable work for newer readers. Hope Lee's friend enjoyed it.
A frequent destination for area geeks, Austin Books is perhaps the finest comic book
establishment in the country, and equal to any shop that I've visited in NYC, LA, San Diego, or Chicago.
Originally serialized in Dark Horse Presents #51-62 and 5th Anniversary Special
A similar argument is often employed when attempting to explain
how 1984 and Brave New World are not science fiction.
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications
The Austin Chronicle,
The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures
RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations
With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains
Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews,
and other things Klaw, Geek
Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.
He can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.