Thoughts On: Graphic Novels

Long time no see! It seems a bit awkward of me to post after abandoning this little blog to be left in the dark for so long (Wow! I just checked, 8th of December was my last post). But here I am, with some free time again, so I may as well jump back in.

Graphic_Novels_Dan_Cartoon

During my period of Summer work in the holidays, I took an even keener interest in hoarding as much books as possible – partly because I was working at a book shop, but also because I thought it might be worth expanding my personal library and knowledge of fictions to help me out in my University courses. So I’d been buying all manner of books. Mostly it was science fiction and fantasy because I have a soft spot for that stuff when it’s done right. But before Christmas was due to come around I hinted towards family – who were desperate to find a present for me for Christmas – about some specifics I wanted. I ended up looking for graphic novels, because over my years I’ve been getting more interested in the visual aspects of other mediums, like that of film or video games.

So far I’ve read the following of what you could consider graphic novels (I’ll use this as a blanket term because I knew there’s the other nuances for them, like comics or mangas):

  • Fables by Bill Willingham and Lan Medina – An urban fantasy series covering the conflicted lives of the legendary folk figures of myth, as they struggle to settle in the run down inner suburbs of New York City. I’ve read up to Volume Six: Homelands of this series, and while I enjoyed the first four volumes, I felt things were going slightly downhill in regards to its quality. I also became dismayed to find it’s an ongoing series that currently has around twenty or so volumes with no plans to stop. I think this was the first time I came to find I didn’t enjoy reading such huge issues, and prefer a tighter and more compact narrative over a sprawling epic focused on retaining a fan base. However the setting is interesting, and I always enjoyed the character of Bigby Wolf. I recommend Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us video game prequel, if you’re interested in Fables but not sure you want to dive into the comics.
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins – A superhero mystery set in the 1980s, at the height of a Cold War ready to escalate due to tensions between the US and the USSR. The main plot revolves around the death of The Comedian, a member of the superhero group called the Watchmen. I loved this work, mainly because I’d always found the superhero formula seen in comics a bit boring, and – forgive me for sounding like a psuedo-intellectual eighteen year old – despite these people being in awful complex situations, the usual answer of shoot first and ask questions later approach always felt like wasted potential. With Watchmen you see quite a mature approach not otherwise seen in other superhero settings. It shows the dynamics of relationships between most of the story’s characters, how their powers, their duties and their pasts reflect in what they do and how they behave. They conflict in ideologies, beliefs and attitudes. Even the conflict of the plot leaves you feeling almost unfulfilled, as both the reader and the characters acknowledge the gravity of the situations that unfold in the plot. I seriously can not recommend this enough for anyone interested in trying out Graphic Novels as a medium, even if you don’t like superhero comics like me, it’s well worth a read. I would like to mention I’ve also read V for Vendetta and From Hell, both of which are masterpieces that I feel deserve their own posts, so I’ll leave them out of this for now, but if you get the chance, read them.
  • Lady Snowblood by Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura – Set in four parts,  it’s a revenge story focused on the main character Oyuki, “Born to be a child of hell, walking a path of vengeance for crimes committed against the family she never met.” I quite enjoyed this series, although it surprised me how graphic it was. In between stylishly framed backdrops and skillfully drawn martial art scenes, a lot of the book was very sexually charged: constant renditions of girls down on their luck having to prostitute themselves, girls kidnapped by local gangsters being forced into Brothel work, Yuki herself either avoiding rape from every male adversary she meets or seducing vulnerable girls for her own pleasure. As beautiful as she is, the story makes sure to remind you she isn’t some angelic hero of virtue, she does horrific and even despicable acts within the story. Probably the most disturbing being that she forces a servant to rape his Master’s daughter, before killing them both in order to pin the blame on him. While acts like this were quite heavy handed, the book somehow manages to retain a sense of humour in some parts. At first I felt a bit confused because of all the jumping tones – from tragic to comic, yet after the first book I’d come into the swing of things. Altogether it was a well paced, stylish and consistent story with an appropriately melancholy ending. I hope to read more of Kazuo Koike’s work, possibly the classic Lone Wolf and Cub, or a newer title like Colour of Rage.
  • Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks – The story of an entertainment journalist who travels to New Zealand, to the town of Hicksville, to discover the origin story of Dick Burger – a figure dominating the comics industry of the book. While the novel details the journalist Leonard Batts, a lot of the story is from the people of Hicksville itself, I liked this book because it felt quite elusive around most of the branching and interconnecting story lines. The novel has tons of allusions, references and odes to many famous and respected pieces and comic artists, writers and editors. The thing with Hicksville is that I will probably need to come back to it at some point in the future, to appreciate further the references established in the story and the styles. The most interesting aspect of Hicksville is that it’s both a love letter, and a critique of the comics industry – of the amazing talents and creativity that always crops up, and of the business side of things tending to milk such creativity, or leashing it to whatever keeps to more sensible practice. I’d say it’s definitely worth reading even if you’re not an avid comics or graphic novel reader.

So, these are some of the starting materials I’ve had, and I have to say I’m enjoying what I’m reading. I’ve even got a list of titles that I’m keen to dive into at some point:

Whenever I have the free time, I will hopefully find copies of these to read. Graphic Novels are a new medium for me, but I find I enjoy them quite a lot.

Feel free to share and recommendations in the comments!