So, last week we did the first part of my top 12.
I’d wager there were a couple of surprises in there. Maybe some books you hadn’t heard of, let alone read!
Just to give you the rundown, here was what I had, from #12 to #7:
- #12 – Transformers – Target: 2006
- #11 – Infinity Gauntlet
- #10 – Rat Queens
- #9 – Death Vigil
- #8 – Lazarus
- #7 – The Authority
Now, let me say…there are a lot of graphic novels I enjoy. In these lists, I’m limiting myself to the ones that I genuinely got something out of. Either they amused me or blew me away with storytelling, or whatever. The point being, they had to be transcendent in some manner. The graphic novels that truly affected me in some way.
Transformers, for example, was a book I read when I was in my early teens, and it’s where I was blown away by the fact that a writer could take a whole host of characters and weave a complex story. Ultra Magnus’s perspective alone grabbed my attention with his PTSD analogy (before I really understood what that was!). This was deep stuff for teenage me.
Infinity Gauntlet was about the scale. So many characters. Rat Queens was about bringing adult humor to a genre that was previously so po-faced and dour. (I love fantasy, but let’s face it… It’s not usually the wittiest of genres!). Lazarus gave me complex world-building at a time when I was devouring The Expanse on TV and craved complicated worlds to explore. The Authority was the first time I ventured into a superhero book and found that it could be both colorful AND dark and gritty.
As for Death Vigil… well that book was a revelation. Reading the synopsis didn’t particularly excite me, but I trusted Stjepan Sejic’s storytelling (more on that later) and adore his art. The book was fantastic.
So, with that established, let’s start the countdown of my top 6 graphic novels. These books are my favorite reads from the past forty-odd years.
Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Michael Avon Oeming & Pat Garrahy – First published 2000
For many years I’d collected comic books that were firmly planted in the Marvel and DC superhero genre. My visits to Nostalgia & Comics would reap me a bagful of the latest X-Men, Deadpool, or Batman comics.
But honestly, I started to get bored of the genre. More often on my visits, I would wander into the Independents section, and see what they had to offer.
Powers was one of the first books to open my eyes to a whole different ball game.
It follows the story of Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, detectives in the ‘Powers’ division. These were ordinary cops that investigated super-crime. The first run was ‘Who Killed Retro Girl’ which was exactly what it sounds like. A murder mystery.
I loved it and stuck with the series moving forward. I have a pretty extensive collection of Powers graphic novels, but the original story is still my favorite.
Written by Alan Moore, Art by Dave Gibbons – First published 1986
So, you’re probably doing a spit-take by now and saying to yourself…”How the fuck is Watchmen at number 5?!”
Yes, I know, Watchmen is the granddaddy of graphic novel goodness. And it is, without a doubt, an amazing book. The cover alone is iconic.
So why doesn’t it crack my top 4? Why is 5 as high as it gets. Well, mostly because it’s a book I admire rather than love. For me, it’s like the Schindlers List of graphic novels. I KNOW it’s good. And I enjoy reading it. But…for me, it lacks a sense of fun.
I want a book that makes me laugh out loud, or brings a limp to my throat. I want a book that brings joy to me every time I read it. And as much as I admire Watchmen, it doesn’t truly do that as much as some of the other books in my top 12. In fact, it really earns its place here on reputation. Almost all of the other books on my list would come off the shelf for a read before I dive into the world of Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, The Comedian, and Dr. Manhatten.
It’s an important and seminal work…but it doesn’t bring me joy. LOL
Written by Grant Morrison, Art by Steve Yowell – First published 1987
Grant Morrison is responsible for A LOT of my favorite comic book storylines. But this one…is my absolute favorite.
Back in 1987, teenage Jon had graduated from Transformers to the more serious Sci-Fi anthology comic, 2000AD. To this day I LOVE the characters I met within its pages.
Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson, Strontium Dog, Durham Red, Slaine, Rogue Trooper (incidentally the reason Michael’s codename in my Songbird books is Rogue!), D.R & Quinch… the list is endless. Of them all, Zenith was my favorite story.
Zenith is a superhero…kind of. He’s shallow, self-absorbed and his powers ebb and flow with his bio-rhythms. Oh, and he doesn’t care about being a superhero, he’s way more interested in promoting his popstar career. It’s not spoiling anything to say that he is eventually dragged into fighting the good fight.
As a book it was rebellious and the antithesis to the more dour books like the Watchmen and, the other seminal work of the period, The Dark Knight.
For years I’d lost this story. My old collection of 2000ADs was lost to the past. But recently they re-released all four phases of the Zenith story in beautiful hardback collected editions. I love them!
Story by Mark Waid, Art by Alex Ross – First published 1996
So. Two things to get out of the way upfront. First up, there’s no Dark Knight Returns on this list. I love it, but not in my top 12. Secondly, that art…
Admittedly, it’s the fantastic painted art by Alex Ross that draws you in at first. His work is astonishing. But once you’re in, you start to find a simply wonderful story.
What happens when the old generation of heroes, the classics we all know and love, get too old. What happens when Batman, Superman, and Wonderwoman hand the reins of superheroes over to a younger generation that maybe doesn’t hold the same values that they did?
This is the core question asked and from there the story flows. As the line between superhero and supervillain becomes blurred, it’s up to the old guard to re-enter the world and try and put things right.
As DC books go, this is the cream of the crop for me.
Final note: Don’t bother with the follow-ups, they pale in comparison.
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, Art by Fiona Staples – First published 2012
I don’t even know where to start with piling superlatives onto this book. Honestly.
Okay, let’s start with the art. Fiona Staples draws simply beautiful images. It’s a unique style that is clean and uncluttered. She doesn’t shy away from drawing just about anything too, from gruesome death to weird sex. The fact that she’s the only one that’s done art for the whole run, makes this feel like one big cohesive story. It’s truly wonderful.
And then there’s the story.
The basic jump-off point is that Alana and Marko become star-crossed lovers. He’s a prisoner in a galactic war between two factions, and she’s the prison guard. They bond over a love of sappy romance novels, fall in love, marry and have a child, Hazel.
Alas, Hazel is considered an abomination by the powers that be for both sides, and hence they end up on the run.
So far, so unconventional. That alone makes it interesting, but then you add in some of the most imaginative and interesting characters ever committed to paper.
Like The Will, a bounty hunter with his truth detecting pet, Lying Cat.
Or maybe Prince Robot IV, a humanoid being with a TV set for a head.
Or Hazel’s babysitter, Izabel. A teenager who was blown up and killed by a landmine on her home planet and now is a partially dismembered ghost.
And sooooo many more.
Through the writing, the book also deals with a multitude of different societal issues. PTSD, addiction, gender identity, to name but a few. But more than that, it’s a story about parenthood and family. The sacrifices you’d make for the people you love. It has a depth beneath the beautifully weird visuals that not many books ever even scratch the surface of.
The comic has been on hiatus for a few years now, and I am frothing at the mouth to get a new fix of it. This book really should be on everyone’s To Be Read list.
Story and Art by Stjepan Sejic – First published 2011
Anyone that knows me well, knew what the number 1 would be.
I adore this book. Why? Oh, so many reasons. One of which is that it is one of the only books EVER to almost bring me to tears reading it.
And as Wifey will attest to, I have a heart of stone and that’s no mean feat.
Okay, so the book is a simple love story. Lisa is a writer who writes and posts erotica online. Ally is a data programmer who reads Lisa’s stories. The two have a common interest in BDSM, something Ally is a veteran in and Ally is keen to dabble.
What starts out as a kind of itch-scratching exercise starts to become something more, and as the two fall in love, they both need to deal with all the insecurities and issues that love brings. It’s a VERY human book, in which you can instantly recognize all the pitfalls of a relationship about to go off the rails.
Because we’ve all been there. We all know how petty jealousies and miscommunication can sabotage even the best of relationships.
The story builds to a peak, and you’re expertly dragged along for the ride by Sejic as he uses a combination of wit, humor, and charm to lull you into a false sense of security about the two protagonists before he tears your heart out of your chest. Honestly, Book 5 of the sage is a traumatic, but utterly wonderful experience.
As I said, it’s not all bad though. As many times as you want to reach into the pages of the book and slap one of the protagonists to start seeing sense, there are even more moments that just make you laugh out loud.
And then there’s the art. I’ve long adored Sejic’s work on multiple projects. From his work on DC (you should really check out his Harleen series, it’s epic too!), to Aphrodite IX, Death Vigil, Sunstone, and to his latest book, Fine Print, his art has such expression. He catches all the subtle nuances of a look or a gesture. While his writing is beautiful, it only communicates half the story. The rest is filled in by the art.
And yes, there is a fair chunk of BDSM-related art in there as Ally and Lisa explore their shared passion, but it’s fantastical rather than real. The outfits and the equipment are a fetishist’s dream. But to write this off as erotica would be wrong. It’s so much more than that, and I can’t recommend it enough.
So there you have it. My top 6.
But before we end this little jaunt down my favorite graphic novels, I’d just like to throw out a few honorable mentions…
Few more to mention that narrowly missed out on the top 12.
The Ballad of Halo Jones – Written by Alan Moore, Art by Ian Gibson.
There’s a reason why my book series is called ‘The Ballad of the Songbird’, and this is why. I read this in the pages of 2000AD and thought it was the coolest title ever. Ian Gibson’s quirky art style is the perfect complement to Alan Moore’s tale of a young girl who comes home one day to find her flatmate and best friend murdered. So she leaves Earth to go on an intergalactic adventure.
Anderson PSI Division – By Alan Grant and John Wagner. Art by Brian Bolland
I like Judge Dredd. But I always thought Judge Anderson was cooler. Where Dredd was a badass with little in the way of overt emotion, Anderson constantly struggled with hers. The price of being a psychic. This first story in particular is a favorite of mine as she fights the dark Judges.
The Long Halloween – Written by Jeph Loed, Art by Tim Sale.
If I’m putting a Batman book on my list, then this is my favorite. Sorry Dark Knight Returns. The Long Halloween is a fantastic story, set in the early days of Batman’s crime fighting career as he tries to bring an end to the murderous rampage of a killer called ‘Holiday’, who’s MO is to murder people on holidays. One per month. The Dark Knight’s whole rogues gallery is in attendance, and the wonderful art make it something a little different.
The last one, I promise.
Last week, I received my copy of Stjepan Sejic’s latest work.
This is only the first book in a series, so it’s hard to tell whether it will settle in my top 12, but it stands a very good chance on the first read.
It’s the tale that plays out on two levels, which come together at the end. First up there’s a whole complicated backdrop of Succubi and Cupids, and the race to become the undisputed God of Desire.
This dovetails nicely with the tale of Lauren. Once she was an ordinary girl who had love and lost it to chase fame and fortune. Her attempts to rekindle old romances and find someone to love, don’t go well. So she instead tries to find a way to forget.
It’s not at all what I expected, and the first volume is full of Sejic’s quirky humor, a sprinkling of sex, and a whole lot of gorgeous art.
I’m keeping my eye on this one!
That’s your lot. Next up, I think I’ll look at my top 12 favourite books of all time.
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