From where do you delve into the world of graphic novels? Or comics, for that matter—the distinction’s increasingly a blurred one, as the former gains broader readership and the latter becomes more complicated, nuanced and depth-driven. You may have encountered the classics—you’ve read Maus, yes?—but what about more contemporary or obscure offerings? We polled a few of Vue’s more sequential-art inclined writers to share a few of their favourites, old and new, to offer an eclectic spread of image-based storytelling books to consider.
Blurbs by Paul Blinov (PB), Brian Gibson (BG), Mike Kendrick (MK) and Samantha Power (SP).
All Over Coffee
Sometime in 2007, visiting San Francisco for the first time, I popped into the famous City Lights bookstore and found its publishing imprint had issued All Over Coffee, collecting weekly strips about the city that Paul Madonna had been doing for five years. Snippets of poetic thought appear in frames of the port city’s nooks, crannies, buildings and landscapes. For me, it’s like a time-capsule, personal postcard-album and coffee-table art book all in one—especially since, apparently, today’s San Francisco, awash in tech-money but increasingly class-driven, is nothing like the city of a decade ago. BG
Heady emotional dramas rendered in delicate lines, ready-made to be adapted into indie rom-com flicks are all well and good, but no graphic novel holds a candle in my heart like Bone. Jeff Smith’s personal foray into Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces took a decade to finish, but will be remembered for much longer. Like the best literary series aimed at young adults, Bone grew up with its audience, trading wholesome chuckles for an increasingly dark narrative full of depth and mature themes. Smith’s art complements his writing, somehow seamlessly blending the cartoonish figures of Bone and his cousins alongside the horrific creatures that sow the seeds of their destruction as the heroes meet their eventual destinies. MK
The Cage predates the term “graphic novel”—first released in 1975, it’s now back in print thanks to Coach House Books. It also utterly defies characterization: Martin Vaughn-James’ strange, panel-a-page trip through a mysterious labyrinthine complex totally devoid of people, is a hypnotic mystery. It baffles as it intrigues, offering no answers but unwavering tug that plays out in the aftermath of … something, hinted at in text and image but never seen. Sometimes it feels like looking on ancient ruins; other times, as if the action’s just departed the room, still tense with its reverberations. The effect is unsettling—there’s nothing quite like this, anywhere. PB
Good noir is cozy and comfortable. Great horror is suspenseful and jarring. Combining the two creates an addictive and beautiful mix in Fatale. Writer Ed Brubaker and illustrator Sean Phillips are longtime collaborators, and each of their projects is magic, but Fatale finds their toned skills in new territory. The ethereal story revolves around an elusive woman who exists throughout history and the men drawn to her: it’s a story that in the wrong hands could play sexist or exploitative, but Brubaker and Phillips create thrilling beauty and mystery. It may not be the first of their collaborations to start with—for that Sleeper or Criminal may fit—but Fatale should not be missed. SP
Kazu Kibuishi has become something of a staple in the middle-schooler graphic novel scene, but his big break would come while serving as editor for the eight-volume Flight anthology. A generous take on the idea of graphic novels, the series eschews the “novel” half to focus on the graphic. This octet of short stories served as a print-format salon of contemporary artists, both industry veterans and neophytes alike. Individually, every story tells a tale of whimsical escapism loosely inspired by the broad concept of “flight.” Taken as a whole, Flight is one of the last decade’s most beautiful and inspiring collections of art and storytelling this side of the Scholastic book club. MK
A Late Freeze
At Wizard’s on 109 Street, I bought Danica Novgorodoff’s 2006 mini-comic A Late Freeze. What could have been cutesy—the cover shows a robot and bear as pals, snow blotting and blurring down around them—was instead a marvelously odd, modern fairy tale with hints of Oz. I was bowled over by how much poignancy, sadness and poetry could be packed into just 44 pages. Whenever we’ve had comix-loving visitors stay with us for a day or two, I’ve always excitedly recommended the book to them as bedtime reading; none of them have been disappointed yet. BG
The Little Man Short Strips 1980 – 1995
Chester Brown does not limit his storytelling, and it’s to our benefit. The well-known author of the now legendary Louis Riel graphic novel, and Paying For It, a memoir on his time paying for sex, also released a collection of his short strips. This is not short-storytelling, but a collection of false starts, doodles, half thoughts and abandoned projects. It collects work Brown stopped and started, published or not, between 1972 and 2006. And it’s inspiring to go through these half-formed ideas to really know that creativity is a process and not a final perfected product. SP
The Outside Circle
Crafted and partly set in Edmonton, The Outside Circle should be required high school and university reading. Brothers Joey and Pete—caught in a cycle of gang-culture, drugs and violence—are separated when Joey ends up in jail. There, he realize how much the violence he’s embraced has effected the much-younger Pete; he embarks on a path of rehabilitation that draws on traditional healing circles and ceremony. Author Patti Laboucane-Benson’s spent two decades researching healing and reconciliation, particularly around incarcerated aboriginal men, and both her research and empathy are represented on each page. PB
Good science fiction isn’t found in many places lately. Truly great science fiction that holds a social conscience, a reflection on society, but also uses a truly strange imagination to conjure beings with horns, or wings or TVs for heads, and beyond. Saga is this intersection, and also manages a sense of humour and, goddamnit, a bit of heart. It’s one comic created today that creates real connection to the characters involved and one of the only romantic storylines worth telling. SP