I happened to catch a list of ‘5 must-read graphic novels‘ on the Guardian website. As I’ve got older, I’ve finally been able to accept that all lists are essentially subjective, and to not get upset when one of my favourites gets omitted. But this list is more subject to change than most as there are still a huge amount of comics I haven’t got to reading yet…
David Barnett at the Guardian went with:
- The Wicked + The Divine (Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie)
- Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
- Sandman (Neil Gaiman)
- Watchmen (Alan Moore)
- Captain Marvel (Kelly Sue De Connick)
- Plus mentions of The Invisibles, and The Dark Knight Returns.
So in terms of the graphic novels which changed my life:
V for Vendetta: Amazon
Many years ago my uncle kindly gave me his comic collection, including a number of the British title Warrior. Like 2000AD it contained a number of different storylines, and V for Vendetta was an obvious standout due to the tone and subject. Since then it’s obviously been the subject of a film and an accompanying re-release. The addition of colour in the new editions doesn’t necessarily improve things – the stark beauty of what David Lloyd originally drew possibly worked better in black and white. But before Watchmen, From Hell, or Batman: The Killing Joke, this was my first encounter with the work of Alan Moore, and one of the first times I’d read something which tackled an adult theme.
The Death of Captain Marvel: Amazon
This was in the same comic collection donated to me. I’d never really been familiar with Captain Marvel, but that didn’t change the impact of a wonderfully written story and one which broke with the comic tradition of having a big battle and a happy ending.
It’s handled with a reasonably light touch, and the fact that assembled Marvel superheroes are in attendance to only feel the helplessness anyone encounters with the illness of a friend or loved one probably helped me cope with the same emotions when I went through similar circumstances in real life. And it also goes back to a time when I thought death in a comic book was more meaningful, before a wave of reincarnations established it more as a marketing gimmick.
This graphic novel collects issues #1-4 of the Wolverine series which launched in 1982. What’s interesting to me is how one-dimensional Wolverine had been up to this point – this series really defined him in terms of a ‘failed samurai’ who aims to live as an honourable warrior within a code he’d set himself, but finds himself regularly failing due to circumstances.
It just about edges out The Longbow Hunter in my list, which similarly re-invented Green Arrow and Oliver Queen into my favourite superhero due to the more self-contained nature of the storyline, and the impact it had on me with my ongoing interest in Japanese and samurai culture.
I actually got around to reading Transmetropolitan fairly recently, and I wish I’d discovered it earlier. The black humour and love/hate that journalist Spider Jerusalem has for the dystopian future city which fuels his muse is a fine inspiration for any writer. It’s easy to summarise it as ‘Hunter S Thompson meets William Gibson cyberpunk’ or something similar, but that means you’ve missed the fact that Spider doesn’t just blindly hate people and his surroundings – he’s caught between needing them and wanting to do what’s right to help them, and the fact humanity often disappoints him on an individual and group level.
The most personally subjective choice in the list, but I make no apologies for picking the Kieron Gillen and Jame Mckelvie title which could have been written personally for me. It’s a modern fantasy in which music powers magic, and the music in this particular case is 90’s era Britpop, which fueled my teenage years. If you were caught up in a passion for the likes of Blur, Oasis, The Manics, Kenickie etc, then you’ll feel instantly at home, particularly with the digs at the likes of Shed Seven.
The fact that the magic element also gives it a compelling storyline makes it work as a narrative as well as a reminiscence of the last time I can remember one pop culture dominating my life, and the nation to the point of making national news. Given the way the internet encourages deep interest in niches, it’s probably the last time it’ll happen in the UK for a long while, as there really isn’t a mainstream anymore, and the main media channels are no longer the arbiters of interest they once were.
So that’s the list. Others which almost made it include Preacher, Watchmen, a handful of Batman graphic novels (The Dark Knight, The Killed Joke etc), Persepolis, Sandman, and most of the other titles which have widespread awareness and acclaim.