When I was at University, doing an English degree meant that I had an awful lot of reading to do, with not much time to read books for pleasure. However, I found a great compromise which let me have plenty of ‘chill-out reading’ whilst not falling behind on reading course texts – and that was graphic novels.
Graphic novels, for the uninitiated, are essentially comic books, but on a grander scale. You’ll find some that are dozens of comic book issues bound together, but you will also find those which have always been full texts on their own and never split into issues. Because of the nature of them, you can get through graphic novels very quickly, but all the while you get to enjoy the fantastic art that has been drawn to accompany the narrative.
In an age of cinema where every other film has superheroes fighting evil, there’s never been a better time to go and pick up some of the books that these films are based on. Here’s a list of the graphic novels you must read!
As the cover boasts, one of Time magazine’s 100 best novels. Set in the alternate 1980’s, the members of the now-disbanded Watchmen group must uncover the mystery of the murder of one of their old team-mates. Alan Moore’s Watchmen tells a different super-hero story – one where they must battle against issues such as government regulation and global-political involvement, as well as their own flaws and vices. The comic panels are accompanied by fictional extracts from biographies, interviews and commentary on the heroes. The slowly unravelling mystery will keep you saying ‘just one more chapter’ right until the end.
2. V for Vendetta
Another fantastic story from the mind of Alan Moore comes the book that saw the creation of the Guy Fawkes mask that is used by protesters world-wide, as well as members of Hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’. V for Vendetta is the story of an Orwellian Britain where the public live in fear of the ‘Norsefire’ taking them away for treason against the government. A faceless terrorist who goes simply by the alias of ‘V’ begins fighting against the oppressive regime, centring his resistance on the 5th November and the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot. We see the narrative through the eyes of Evie, a news reporter pulled into the chaos of V’s one-man crusade.
3. Superman: Red Son
Superman can often be seen as having boring or unimaginative stories, but Superman: Red Son goes about changing that. Red Son poses the simple question – what if the infant Clark Kent’s spaceship had crashed in the Communist Ukraine, instead of Rural America? The idea of the all-American superhero is turned on its head in the height of the Cold War, and the influence of a Socialist Superman makes the world a very different place. Mark Millar twists the tired narrative of the world’s most well-known superhero and brings something to the table that has never been seen before, even changing the stories of Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. If you only read one Superman book, read this one.
4. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
And where there is Superman, Batman is never far behind. This book changed Batman from the camp 80’s character into the dark and brooding hero that we know and love today. The Dark Knight Returns storyline has influenced both the Nolan Batman films, as well as the oncoming Batman v. Superman film. Set at a time where Bruce Wayne is now in his 60’s, the chaos of Gotham forces him to once again don the cowl to clean up the streets one last time. Things have changed however, with Batman now being hunted by the police, as well as causing the re-emergence of many of the Dark Knight’s old enemies. The Dark Knight Returns has cemented Frank Miller as one of the definitive Batman storytellers, and Klaus Janson’s stark, block-colour art style fits the tone of the brutal, back-to-basics Batman perfectly.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Maus is an autobiographical account of the Holocaust by Art Spiegelman, told through the use of anthropomorphic animals. Cats play the role of the Nazis, mice the role of Polish Jews. Maus is an incredibly important story of survival in Hitler’s Europe that is an emotional rollercoaster through the real life fear that Spiegelman faced in his childhood.
6. The Walking Dead Series
Popularised by the TV series of the same name, The Walking Dead takes the relatively tired concept of a zombie apocalypse and instead chooses to focus on the people surviving it, not the monsters. Following (now) ex-cop Rick Grimes, The Walking Dead shows a world where people have to trust their base instincts to survive. Relationships are tested and changed, unlikely bonds are formed… and a lot of people die. A lot. It’s Game of Thrones all over again – no one is safe. The series is still running, currently on volume 25.
7. The Scott Pilgrim Series
Made famous by the Edgar Wright film, the Scott Pilgrim series is an incredibly funny, endearing adventure that sees influence from anime, video games and movies. Bryan Lee O’malley’s 6-book series follows Scott Pilgrim’s ‘Precious Little Life’ – he’s 23, he’s in a rock-band, he’s ‘in between jobs’, and has an adorable high-school girlfriend. But upon meeting trendy delivery girl Ramona Flowers, Scott’s life is flipped into the extraordinary as he must fight her seven evil exes, in suitable video-game fashion, of course. O’malley’s cute art-style really suits the crazy storyline, and whilst the original volumes are in black and white, new editions have been printed in hardback and full-colour, which are just beautiful.
8. Batman: The Killing Joke
The Joker is by far Batman’s most famous villain, but his origin story has always been left ambiguous. With The Killing Joke, Alan Moore once again returns with another classic story that redefines the Joker’s story forever – The Killing Joke often now seen as the definitive Joker origin. With flashbacks to the Joker’s past interspersed with a scheme to kidnap commissioner Gordon, this story has everything you could ever want from a Batman adventure. You really get a chance to peek into the twisted mind of the clown prince of crime himself… if you dare.
9. Marvel: Civil War
Another comic-book series being made into a feature-film. In an event that’s splits the Marvel worlds’ heroes, the American government passes a law that requires all superheroes to register their identities to increase national security, and stop any more mass disasters from occurring. With Iron Man fighting for the government, and Captain America against, the two lead teams in a long-spanning conflict that pits old friends against one another, creating a huge rift through the Marvel universe.
A dark fantasy series from the mind of Neil Gaiman, The Sandman sees a dark ritual attempt to capture ‘Death’ go wrong, instead capturing the King of Dreams. After his release, The Sandman himself sets about recreating his kingdom, which has deteriorated in his absence. Throughout the series, we see many anthropomorphised representations of abstract ideas - The aforementioned Death, Destiny, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction .This creepy story is coupled by chilling art from a huge team of artists setting the tone of the book very well and really has the ability to give you chills. Any fan of the strange creative mind of Gaiman will definitely love this.
Unfortunately there isn’t enough space here to list all of the best graphic novels out there, but if you got through these you would definitely be off to a great start! Below are a few more that certainly deserve a mention. Happy Reading!
Batman: Year One
Daredevil: Man without Fear
The Love and Rockets
Hark! A Vagrant!