Monday, December 1, 2008

en-tur-tain-munt's top five (non-superhero related) graphic novels

Finally, here it is. I know I said I'd do at "top ten" for this (as I did with the superhero ones), but there just isn't enough time to waste to do something like that (because I know few of you will appreciate it). After this, there will be no writing about comics for a while.
Just like the first time around, there are a few rules I set for myself while making this list. Since I am only doing a top five for this specific set of graphic novels, I forced myself to only use an artist/writer once, rather than have one take up the entire list (Alan Moore, specifically).
I also told myself that I wouldn't (and couldn't) include anything involving Jhonen Vasquez. Vasquez is the artist, writer, and creator of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Squee!, and I Feel Sick; and is also the creator of the cartoon Invader Zim. If I were to include him, the list would be biased and flawed, since I grew up reading and watching the material he created. As such, I have removed him from the equation. I will write about him specifically on a later date.
As with the first posts, the names of the graphic novels will be links to their Amazon pages.
Click here for part 1 of the superhero graphic novels post, and here for part 2.

#5 - V for Vendetta (originally published from 1982-1988) Set in the near future in post-apocalyptic England (London, specifically), V for Vendetta centers around an anarchist trying to bring down the fascist and corrupt government that now runs the entire country. Known only as V, this masked man takes a young girl under his wing (named Evey Hammond) and is assisted by her in this process. The methodical manner of his take down of the British government is near beautiful, and writer Alan Moore (of Watchmen fame) once again proves himself as the master of comics writing. The characters of V and Evey are (once again) multi-layered and complex; leading you to believe that this is an actual event you are reading about, rather than bizarre fiction. There was, of course, a movie based on this graphic novel, starring Hugo Weaving as V and Natalie Portman as Evey. It was directed by the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix trilogy, Speed Racer), and is a pretty good adaptation of the source content. I'd suggest you read this before you see the movie, if you haven't seen it.

#4 - Ghost World (originally published from 1993-1997) Drawn and written by independent comics guru Daniel Clowes, Ghost World follows two best friends named Enid and Rebecca as they basically live their 90's teenage girl lives. Enid is a weirdo whose style and attitude change with each issue, and Rebecca dislikes this, leading to a rift between the two. Throughout their "journey" of maturity and friendship, they run into suspected Satanists, pedophiles, and a strange man named Bob Skeetes. This graphic novel epitomizes what teenage life was like in the 90's; and condenses the attitudes and actions of Generation X into two characters.
This was also adapted into a movie (with the screenplay written my Clowes himself) starring Thora Birch as Enid and Scarlett Johannsson as Rebecca, released in 2001. Though it has a few differences from the book, it is still a pretty true adaptation. Check it out, but read the book first (of course).

#3 - Creature Tech (originally published in 2002)Doug TenNapel is brilliant. As the artist and writer of several graphic novels (Gear, Iron West, Earthboy Jacobus) and the creative mind behind the animated TV show CatScratch, he's built something of a mini-empire. TenNapel's best work, a 2002 book called Creature Tech is about a man named Dr. Michael Ong who is sent to a small hick town in California to essentially open a bunch of government-owned boxes to catalouge what paranormal things lie within (almost like how Area 51 is always depicted in movies). Along with his humanoid praying mantis sidekick and a backpack-like parasite with mind-controlled arms (like Doctor Octopus) attached to his back, Dr. Ong must stop a paranormal spirit from resurrecting a giant, dead space eel that is buried under the town.
Sound bizarre? It is. It is one of the most insane premises to any graphic novel I've ever read, and I absolutely love it. The story is well-told, the ideas are striking and original, and the characters are memorable. Essentially, everything you could ask for in a graphic novel.
Apparently the rights for this book are being fought over by 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.; to be adapted into a live-action movie. Fingers crossed they do it justice.

#2 - Teenagers From Mars (originally published in 2005)If Ghost World is the epitome of 90's Generation X-ers, Teenagers From Mars is the epitome of 00's Generation Y-ers. Named after a Ramones album and set in a southern town named Mars (of course), where a "MallMart" employee is sick of his shitty, boring life. We've all been there, but we haven't all had our favorite comic shop shut down, been arrested, and been to a city-wide bookburning before, all while planning on starting a "comics liberation army" of sorts. I'd write more about the awesome storytelling and stuff, but I'm far too afraid that I may spoil some things about the book.
This isn't really a spoiler, but the best scene in the entire book is when Mason beats the shit out of a customer. Absolutely fucking awesome.

#1 - Blankets (originally published in 2003) Before I get into the finer points of this graphic novel, I'd love to share with everyone my relationship with the writer and artist of this comic, Craig Thompson.
When I was young, there were two magazines that I read: Disney Adventures and Nickelodeon Magazine. I preferred Nick Mag because they "got" my generation. They knew what to say and write about to keep kids interested. During the general period that I read this magazine (estimated 1998-2002) and unbeknownst to me, a comics artist was taking the magazine by storm. He would write and illustrate several pieces for it over the four or five years I read it, and I'd always love his art style. I didn't realize until recently that it was him that I liked back then, when I saw all of the old comics on his website.
Flash forward to 2007. Vance and I were in a Borders looking at music, when an album caught his eye. Titled Friend and Foe and recorded by a band named Menomena (whom I interviewed earlier this year), this album featured artwork like none we had ever seen (which I also wrote about, sorta). So Vance gave it a listen. Then I gave it a listen. We both liked it, so he bought it. Turns out the album art was done by none other than Thompson himself, and that he was a close friend of the band. They are now one of my absolute favorites. Weird how things work out, isn't it?
But on to the book itself. I "discovered" it in my local library around 2005, when a friend of mine recommended that I read it. I did, and was completely blown away. The story is a retelling of Craig's childhood and late teenage love life, more specifically his relationship with a girl he met at Church camp, Raina. Thompson's unique art style and well-written dialogue between characters make this a must-read on par with Moore's Watchmen. You can honestly feel the sentimentality that Thompson feels dealing with the situation when you look at the artwork and see how much time he must have invested in telling the world this story. It is not only a wonderful book, but a wonderful piece of art.

Special thanks to Vance for helping me out with this one.

1 comment:

Menomenation said...

I have not read blankets but I'm going to just as soon as I can secure a copy. I am however absolutely obsessed with Menomena and their drummer Danny Seim's project Lackthereof. The artwork for Friend and Foe is absolutely unbelievable and once you understand the themes of the album it becomes even more poignant. Based on what little I know about these amazing people I would venture to say that all of them shared a similar upbringing that drew them in different directions artistically. At the same time they have a unique understanding of each others experiences and aesthetics witch draws them together perfectly for such collaboration. I'm almost scared to explore blankets because I know it will be as powerfully moving as the music of these fine musicians.