Growing Down

As I grow older, I grow different. Six years ago, I entered into a relationship that would rather change me for the worse. Two years later, I surfaced with more than a few new issues. However, I got one really great thing out of it – a love of graphic novels.

Comics and graphic novels are genres that I had always considered lesser to classical literature and modern fiction, and had never bothered to test drive myself. I saw the artwork as tacky, the titles as cheesey and the concepts as less than vital. I looked down on them. How wrong I was.

With encouragement from said relationship, I began with The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and moved onto Watchmen by Alan Moore. I was hooked and baffled. Okay so there were moments of cheese, but they were totally allowed to be there because of the incredibly complex, fundamental themes. The genuine exploration of timeless issues through fantastical filters. The highest rewards of escapism and intellectual and philosophical development. The open-mindedness, the acceptance, the willing and readiness to delve into a topic through the eyes of, for instance, some kind of space worm, without having to explain itself. Because why fucking not?

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Since then, friends have recommended hundreds of titles and series to me, and I can’t think of anything better than sitting down in my garden on a sunny weekend and reading a graphic novel. And it’s such a great thing to share and talk about. The more I think about it, the more I want to share all these cool stories with the people I know who don’t read comics yet.

I’m obviously very new to the area, and this stuff has been widely appreciated for many years, so I in no way know my stuff, but this is what I’ve found so far, and I’m really, really grateful for those who do know it being infectiously enthusiastic about it.

So, here is my recommendation. Take it, if you will. Read some comics – they’re amazing. Here are some of my favourites so far:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

“… two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series.”

Refreshingly modern, blunt and beautiful, imaginative, colourful, thrilling, wholesome and magical, hilarious. One of the best, it’s still ongoing and there’s time to catch up.

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Fables
by Bill Willingham

“When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Fabletown’s sheriff, a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the killer is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.”

Need I say more? This series is huge and it’s funny, dark, and familiar. An addictive train of ‘what if’s.

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Sandman by Neil Gaiman

My absolute favourite.

“… an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps Death’s younger brother Dream instead. After his 70-year imprisonment and eventual escape, Morpheus goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine and an all-powerful madman.”

Gorgeous artwork ranging in style. Wonderful, dreamy, surreal narratives spanning the whole of time, colourful and chilling characters, epic backstories, and really clever design. I’m just in awe of Neil Gaiman and the artists working on this series. The original 75 issues were produced between 1989 and 1996, but Gaiman has recently started releasing a long-promised prologue series, ‘Overture’, which is just as exciting, beautiful and satisfying as the rest.

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Watchmen by Alan Moore

A groundbreaking classic tale of war, politics, conspiracy, life and mortality. A must-read.

“It all begins with the paranoid delusions of a half-insane hero called Rorschach. But is Rorschach really insane or has he in fact uncovered a plot to murder super-heroes and, even worse, millions of innocent civilians? On the run from the law, Rorschach reunites with his former teammates in a desperate attempt to save the world and their lives, but what they uncover will shock them to their very core and change the face of the planet!”

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Death Note by Ohba Tsugumi

“An overachieving 12th grader, Yagami Light is an aspiring young man who seems destined for success. Unfortunately, his daily habits bore his incredible intelligence–So when a strange black notebook falls from the heavens during his class, it isn’t long before he takes it for himself. In his room, he finds, to his horror/fascination, that the Death Note is real, and owned by Ryuk, a Shinigami (Death God).
Any person’s name written in the Death Note will die in 40 seconds…. without fail.
With this supposed gift of God, Light swears upon his grave that he will ‘cleanse’ the world of the evil and needless people that inhabit it, thus creating a utopia for all. With the world’s greatest detective, L, hot on his tail, will Light’s ideals prove too fantastic to realize, or will he succeed bringing justice?”

I finished reading this recently, having started it a couple of years ago and not quite been on the ball about hunting down the rest, but being very excited about receiving a Black Edition volume (thicker, combining two original volumes each, and suedey-feeling) as a gift, and later discovering that you can pretty much read the whole saga for free online, or even on phone apps. Like here: http://mangafox.me/manga/death_note/ (Scroll down for a list of respective chapters with links.)

It’s bloody thrilling. And what a concept. Tasty as hell. It does suffer a dip in excitement in the late-middle, but stick with it, the ending is so ultimately satisfying. I’m really looking forward to watching the anime series and even the 2006 film version, which stars the awesome Ken’ichi Matsuyama from Norwegian Wood – another film adaptation that I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

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But don’t take my word for it. Local libraries stock a ton of these, and here is a list of some of the biggest titles in the genre:

http://www.empireonline.com/features/30-comic-books-you-should-have-read

Also, if you own an iPad, there’s a fantastic app called Comixology, which is a dream to read on. It even offers a ‘guided read’ function for anyone like me who suffers a brain-fart when offered a full page of images and doesn’t know where to look first.

Happy discovering!

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