Is there a more misunderstood strain of popular culture than the graphic novel? Mainstream audiences are only discovering now what faithful fans have always known – the comic book is the medium of choice for many of the past century’s most progressive, visionary artists. As Hollywood continues to remake, rework and reboot to feed the box office machine, the most imaginative new stories being told are on the shelves of your local comic book store.
These books are brim-full of big ideas, complex, morally-ambiguous characters and eye-popping IMAX-worthy imagery; there’s more to this stuff than adolescent power fantasies and men in spandex.
Here’s a selection of the finest comic books for the graphic novel novice, all with a certain stylistic edge and not cape in sight.
Preacher by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon
You may well have seen the TV adaptation of Preacher, which has been receiving glowing notices since its original showing on AMC in 2015, but if you’ve not read the original graphic novel, you’re missing out. A head-spinning supernatural rollercoaster ride that explores and subverts many of The Big Questions of morality, religion and family, it’s an astonishing work. It also earns extra points for having been written by Garth Ennis, a proud son of Belfast, no less.
Criminal by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Criminal is a series of knife-sharp, noir-tinged tales about the people who live on the wrong side of the law. As with much of Brubaker’s work, the stories in Criminal twist and turn into unexpected shapes with dizzying frequency, making each tale both utterly compelling and deliciously disorientating.
Providence by Alan Moore
It might be obvious to include Moore, but he casts such a long shadow over contemporary graphic novel writing that it’d simply be contrarian to leave him out. It is, however, worth looking further than the heavy hitters like Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke. Providence, his most recent comic series, straddles the worlds of classic New York-based noir and the portentous paranormal horror of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos to haunting effect.
Saga By Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Picking just one book by Vaughn is reminiscent of a certain scene from Sophie’s Choice but we’re recommending Saga as it is his current series, still ongoing and there is something masochistically pre-Netflix-esque about not being able to binge on the whole story right away.
Saga tells a classic love story of two people from warring races who get together against the odds and start a family. Set in a sci-fi meets fantasy world featuring magic, spaceships, psychic cats, teenage ghosts and intergalactic aristocrats with retro TVs for heads…Saga is beautiful, funny, action packed, infinitely imaginative and drop dead cool. Good luck to anyone ever attempting a big screen adaptation. Also recommended Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina.
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