Friday, September 16, 2011

Top 10 graphic novels

1. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller, 1986)
2. Watchmen (Moore, Gibbons, 1986)
3. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth (Chris Ware, 2000)
4. Maus (Art Spiegelman, 1986)
5. Batman: Arkham Asylum (Morrison, McKean, 1989) / The Killing Joke (Moore, Bolland, 1988)
6. Palestine (Joe Sacco, 1996)
7. Black Hole (Charles Burns, 2005)
8. Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi, 2000)
9. Epileptic (David B, 2002)
10. Alice in Sunderland (Bryan Talbot, 2007)

As a kid I devoured comics; the Beano was my favourite but I read most British comics from the Dandy and the Topper to Buster and Whizzer & Chips (though I preferred the publishers DC Thomson to IPC). This was the 1970s and early 80s, when the term 'graphic novel' didn't exist; or if it did, it certainly wasn't mainstream. I used to read some American comics but was never that into superheroes, except maybe Batman (and Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew… but that's another story).

The graphic novel didn't become mainstream (ie marketable) until the mid-80s; indeed, three of my favourites – Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and the first volume of Maus all came out in 1986. Ostensibly, a graphic novel can just be a collection of comics compiled into one volume but by the 1990s it was clear that comics were for kids but graphic novels were for adults, tackling adult themes such as war, sex, relationships and, well, anything at all really. However, as Wikipedia notes, a lot of comic books have been given the term graphic novel retrospectively to cash in on its popularity.

You may notice that all the graphic novels from my list come from the 1980s onwards. Yet my favourite comic book artists of all time don't feature at all. These would include Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland), Will Eisner (The Spirit, A Contract with God; Eisner is often credited as the 'father of the graphic novel'), Robert Crumb, HergĂ© (Tintin), George Herriman (Krazy Kat) and Raymond Briggs (The Snowman, When the Wind Blows) – all of whom were drawing long before the 1980s graphic novel craze. Hence I wouldn't class their work as graphic novels, though perhaps they are (retrospectively… but at the time, they were comic strips in newspapers/children's books/comics). Of the younger generation of artists working today, Charles Burns, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes and Joe Sacco are among my favourites.

Poor film adaptations have put me off reading most graphic novels (if I haven't already read them) such as Like Hell, V for Vendetta, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 30 Days of Night, 300, as well as the now never ending superhero franchises. The most successful adaptations, perhaps, are those which either disguise their source material entirely, such as A History of Violence and Road to Perdition, or draw attention to it, such as Sin City and Persepolis. So far, only Persepolis (the film) has made me want to read the graphic novel (which I am currently doing).

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