Friday, August 12, 2005


A couple of people asked me to explain my choices for best graphic novel, as posted on the Forbidden Planet website and briefly mentioned on this blog. Because of my rather loaded schedule, below find a somewhat hurried list of descriptions and explanations. The descriptions are almost all taken from the FP website. See their listings (via my list on their site) for more information on each.


The Compleat Moonshadow
Description: Journey from the farther reaches of outer space to the starry skies of the inner spirit as the young dreamer Moonshadow and his cynical alien companion ira set forth on the unforgettable intergalactic odyssey that science-fiction great Ray Bradbury called "beautiful, original, haunting."
Why It’s #1: This story of Moonshadow basically having all kinds of terrible things happen to him—including war, personal hardships, and much else--as he moves through life is about the search for identity and freedom. It’s the visceral nature of the first two-thirds of the book that allow the mysticism of the latter sections to work. It’s my number one because it is beautifully drawn and executed, because the dialogue is raw and pitch-perfect, and because a book like this could easily have fallen apart, been pretentious, etc. Instead, it’s an unqualified triumph, taking the most brutal scenes and images to make something beautiful.

The Nikopol Trilogy
Description: The inspiration for creator Enki Bilal’s latest film, Immortal! Alcide Nikopol is awakened in 2023 after 30 years in suspended animation, but his body is possessed by the Egyptian god Horus, on the run from his fellow gods!
Why It’s On This List: The description above doesn’t do justice to a complex, very funny and very moving book that is about the nature of immortality and the nature of the ephemeral. Should this concept work? Egyptian Gods? A future Paris? A man who comes back from suspended animation? Hell no. But it does because Bilal’s art work is so stunning and because the story is bravely and honestly told. Again, the audacity of the story and the audacity of the artwork together put this high on the list, because it would have been so easy for it to fall apart. The accomplishment is, like Moonshadow, astounding.

Description: How to describe Dave McKean’s surreal, experimental masterpiece? I really can’t do it justice. Let’s just say it’s about everyday life and not about everyday life at the same time.
Why It’s On this List: McKean uses a variety of art styles in this jazz-infused surreal classic. Again, it’s hard to describe it, but the effect is chaotic, edgy, and utterly convincing. It shudders and mutters its way into comprehension and back out again.

V for Vendetta
Description: If ever there were a topical graphic novel for these times, this would be it. A near-future Britain (well, it was when the book was written!), run by a right-wing dictatorship. Oppression, secret police and concentration camps. Enter Codename V, a faceless figure in a Guy Fawkes mask, slowly taking apart the fascist state in dramatic moves as the net attempts to draw in on him.
Why It’s On This List: I think Alan Moore has become such an icon of the field that a few people are going to be surprised that his highest book on this list is #4. But on certain days, V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The Watchmen could easily be 1, 2, and 3. Regardless, V for Vendetta is the most focused, edgiest, and most bloody-minded of all of his creations. It gives and takes no quarter. The illustration style is perfect for the subject matter and the drama that plays out is unsettling and utterly topical. It’s the kind of book that incorporates politics without becoming dated.

From Hell
Description: Alan Moore's Victorian masterpiece. A detailed graphic analysis of the Jack the Ripper murder case. Truly one of the greatest achievements of modern comics with evocative art by Eddie Campbell.
Why It’s On This List: I hate Jack the Ripper stories, with a passion. Most of them are crap or just played for the shock value. When I picked up Moore’s take on this subgenre, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. Instead, I found that he had managed to make the entire idea fresh and new. From Hell was one of the first graphic novels that I ever read, and it convinced me immediately that graphic novels could equal “real” novels and easily surpass them, in the best examples. This is on my list for a reason totally different than the reasons for the first four. The first four start out with original ideas and push them as far as they can go. In From Hell, Moore proved you could take traditional subject matter, reinfuse it with life, and come up with something startling, strangely beautiful, and deep.

The Luck in the Head
Description: The graphic novelization of M. John Harrison’s classic story from his collection Viriconium, set in the imaginary city of the same name.
Why It’s on This List: Ian Miller is an underrated artist, and this is one of his best efforts, combining photography and art to great effect. He manages to capture the nuances of Harrison’s work perfectly (at least to this reader’s eye). It makes for a strange, uncompromising fantasy—alien and alienating.

The Incal
Description: Moebius, joined forces with writer Alexandro Jodorowsky for THE INCAL! This new volume, a perfect jumping on point, presents the first part of the classic adventure of science-fiction detective John Difool, illustrated by Moebius and written by Jodorowsky and updated with new colors by Beltran. John Difool, a low class detective in a degenerate world, finds his life turned upside down when he discovers an ancient artifact called "The Incal." Difool's adventures will bring him into conflict with the galaxy's greatest warrior, The Metabaron, and will pit him against the awesome powers of the Technopope.
Why It’s On This List: When Jodorowsky stopped making films like Santa Sangre and El Topo, we lost a master of surreal filmmaking. But we gained a graphic novelist of bizarre and outrageous scope who found that without a film budget to constrain him, he could do anything his rather limitless imagination could conjure up. Sometimes that has led to excess, but in the Incal, Jodorowsky’s collaboration with the legendary Moebius, he perfected his individual-against-the-state mythos in stunning fashion. Jodorowsky’s satire of our modern society and his humanity shine through in what would be one of the more stunning SF films ever shot, if it could be brought to the screen.

The Watchmen
Description: Probably Alan Moore’s most famous comic, this along with Dark Knight really gave birth to comics’ popularity. Based around the notion "What would the world be like if super-heroes really existed?" this is a dynamic intricately plotted answer. Dave Gibbons’s meticulous art adds to the overpowering sense of detail.
Why It’s On This List: When I first encountered Watchmen, I had only the normal clichés of superhero comics in my head. This comic exploded that completely. Like In Hell, it subverts the genre and does so brilliantly. It’s on my list for that reason and because it’s unrelentingly adult.

Description: “Bone is in many ways traditional fantasy. It has all the staples: a magical kingdom, an imperilling evil, an orphaned princess who does not know the truth of her origins, and even dragons. But the three central characters, the Bone cousins, are weird, cartoony, Schmoo-like creatures, visually at odds with the naturalistically depicted world around them - a conceit that could only be pulled off in comics - and are rounded, conflicted individuals who manage to become heroes almost in spite of themselves. Writer/artist Jeff Smith has composed a 1,000-page epic which succeeds in breathing new life into old tropes.” – James Lovegrove
Why It’s On This List: I couldn’t really say it any better than Lovegrove above. Although I would add that it is an absolutely hilarious book, filled with slapstick humor.

Description: The legendary manga version of the anime by Japan’s most beloved animated film director, about a polluted future Earth.
Why It’s On This List: Although in many ways this manga version does not have the power of the animated version, it is much more complex and thus contains plenty of delights based on that greater complexity. Miyazaki’s vision of environmental issues and our relationship with the Earth is not only topical, it’s radical in many ways.

Box Office Poison
Description: Clocking in at 608-pages (!), this epic story of Sherman, Dorothy, Ed, Stephen, Jane, and Mr. Flavor is not to be missed. Alex Robinson's completely natural and inspiring knack for dialogue has made his story of dreary jobs, comic books, love, sex, messy apartments, girlfriends (and the lack thereof), undisclosed pasts, and crusty old professionals one of the most delightful and whimsical graphic novels to hit the stands in years.
Why It’s On This List: This is the only graphic novel on this list where I could take or leave the drawing style. Which is to say, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s the story that’s the thing, and this is why it’s farther down on my list. For me, the perfect graphic novel is a blend of the writing and the art. Here, the story being realistic, the art style fits the book, but it’s less interesting on just the art level than many of the books on this list. But the characters all ring true and the situations (as someone who worked in a bookstore, I can tell you) ring true as well. Page-turning narrative drive.

Description: The Frank book collects both of Jim Woodring's previous Frank books (now out of print) in one large hardcover. Woodring (whose toys are featured elsewhere in this issue) is a master of the surreal and often wordless adventure. The art, tho' often strange, is stunningly beautiful.
Why It’s On This List: Frank exists in that realm of dream logic that overpowers the need for standard narrative and shows that words aren’t necessary. Disturbing, brilliant, and often insane, Frank is the epitome of the modern surrealist ideal. Everything that happens seems right, even if it makes no causal sense. I came away from this book with my mind rearranged and permanently altered.

Sock Monkey
Description: This book is a compilation of the four "Sock Monkey" comics. Beautifully drawn and full of the black and at times bizzare humour Millionaire is becoming famous for. Featuring Sock Monkey and Drinky Crow.
Why It’s On This List: Using childlike situations in disturbing new contexts, Sock Monkey is radical and twisted. It often evokes more emotion than it should and more unease. It is more linear than Frank, but partakes of the same dream logic. “Maakies,” by the same writer, is even more insane.

Description: Our favorite demonchild, employed as superhero, in a series of occult and/or Indiana Jones-style adventures peppered with humor and convoluted Nazi subplots.
Why It’s On This List: The blockprint style of illustration is compelling and dark, while the stories are delightful, even for being dark. This is more traditional and superficial fare, but it’s exceedingly well executed.

Description: A small boy has nightmarish encounters with aliens, the Devil, and other nasties.
Why It’s On This List: Next to Vasquez’s Nickelodeon series Invader Zim, this is his best work, both hilarious and often genuinely disturbing. The best of the next generation of pseudo-Goth graphic novelists.


At 2:13 AM, Blogger banzai cat said...

Excellent reasons indeed. I'm actually wondering if I could procure a copy of "The Luck in the Head" here.

However, I'm astounded and aghast. You would rate the manga version of Nausicaa lower than the anime? I thought the comics beat the movie overall. Not only did it address environmental issues but also war, comradeship, treachery, etc. Granted it was black and white but still, the stark lines of the manga gave it a fuller power than the colored cell strips of the movie.

At 7:23 AM, Blogger Joe said...

I am wondering what Evil Monkey thinks of Sock Monkey?

At 7:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, you're probably right. The problem is, I got the manga in those crappy small-sized editions and it compressed everything so much that it was hard for me to read. So it might be a user defect. And I see now they've been reissued in larger formats, which is great. I am a sucker for the color versions of that insane jungle/forest, though.

Evil Monkey is Sock Monkey's illegitimate son, Joe! Raised by Drinky Crow!


At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Paul Jessup said...

EGAD! I didn't know Squee had his own comic! He is my favorite character from Jonny the Homicidal Maniac (besides Happy Noodle Boy).

BTW- excellent list. Although I wasn't as impressed with Watchmen. I thought Moore's other efforts much more focused and alot less aloof.

I miss the period of innovation in comics. You don't see anybody taking up Alan Moore, Dave McKean et al's lineage.

Sad, really.

I love Frank, also. It always seemed like a series of silent film stills from a parellel dimension.

Reading this list reminds me of a strange little thing I noted sometime last week I was going to post about in my blog and I forgot- that comics/graphic novels/manga have influenced my fiction far more than actual fiction I've read.

I feel that Swamp Thing, Sandman, The Cage and all those other vertigo comics (as well as some other underground artists like Paul Pope, and the crazy French Moebius and the infinite number of Japanese Manga) have played more of a part of shaping me as a writer than other novels I've read.

At 4:04 AM, Blogger Jay Tomio said...


I was wondering if you by chance have read any of Dave Lapham's Stary Bullets, and if so your thoughts?


At 6:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I haven't read S. Bullets. I'll check it out now, though. Thanks!


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At 3:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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