7 Graphic Novels you should already have read

My brother Chris bought Argo Bookshop here in Montreal last year. It is a tiny store with a very limited selection that gets by because every book on the shelves has a reason for being there. They don’t have Twilight and they don’t have the Da Vinci code. Instead they have the best selection of modern classics with the highest quality ratio around.

Chris needs to diversify though, for provincial-policy reasons mostly, and needs other genres. I told him I’d write up a list of excellent comic books that would fit in with the rest of the Argo collection. After sending it to him I realized it’s something that anyone who loves comics should read through, so here is my list and notes on each book.

Note: I only wanted to include self-contained graphic novels that someone could buy and walk away with, so miraculously good series like Transmetropolitain, The Invisibles and Swamp Thing are not included.

Comics Connoisseurs: Please leave a comment with your favorite graphic novel and why you think it’s classy enough for Argo so I can give a longer list to my brother :)

Blankets – Craig Thompson

A long (lots of pages, many images without too much text, so a fast read), beautiful and touching story of two young people struggling with love, sexuality and Jesus. Perfect for any human being, especially a young one.

Ghost world – Dan Clowes

A perfect storytelling experience about two young women and their awkward lives. Subtly ironic and hilarious if you give it time and energy, but could be deemed pointless by someone not paying attention. BEWARE FILM VERSION OR FILM VERSION COVER.

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth [Hardcover] – Chris Ware

A design masterpiece, this book explodes the comics medium with page after page of original and effective layouts. It tells the story of a lonely man and his dreams (I don’t remember the plot as well as the art). It has a very unusual shape and the hardcover version is spectacular, so it might be better to get that than the softcover.

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography – Chester Brown

Drawn in a style reminiscent of a black and white Tintin, this book is simple and to-the-point with it’s retelling of history. The quality is excellent and the educational value is non-debateable. I’m sad that someone borowed my copy and never gave it back.

A contract with God and other Tenement Stories – Will Eisner

Will Eisner is commonly regarded as the father of classy graphic novels. This is just one of many books he wrote about normal people living their lives in the modern world of his day (decades ago). It’s a great example though, and appropriate for just about anyone.

V for Vendetta – Alan Moore

Tragically cinematized, this is one of the most beautiful and classy action comic books ever made. It is demented and trippy in it’s special way while also being deeply political. The art is one-of-a-kind paintings, a potentially-gimmicky choice that I’ve never seen executed so perfectly. Avoid copies with mentions of the film on the cover.

Clumsy – Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown is adorable, and in this book he tells the story of his own relationship with a girl. He draws his comics, apparently, directly on paper with the pen, without editing and with a total disregard for proper style. Despite the messy nature of the art, and in this case also the composition of the book, which jumps around in time like crazy, each page is gripping, and the juxtaposition of silly moments with tragic ones can make you laugh and cry within the same 30 seconds. His other books are also excellent, but this was his first and is a perfect exacmple.

Ungrateful Biped – Jeremy Clarke

Okay so it’s not a graphic novel, it’s a website, and its not one of the best comics of all time, it just happens to be the one that I created myself. It was a daily comic strip about my life, hopefully thoughtful though often dark and moody in a way I can no longer relate to. Lots of people liked it at the time I was drawing it (2003), and it remains my proudest creative achievement (though Zombierotica takes a noble second place). If you’re jonesing for some non-superhero comics, the archives just might give you what you’re looking for.

Comics Connoisseurs: Please leave a comment with your favorite graphic novel and why you think it’s classy enough for Argo so I can give a longer list to my brother :)

9 Replies to “7 Graphic Novels you should already have read”

  1. Great choices. I bought Blankets for my wife last year and she bought Jimmy Corrigan for me. They were both excellent. And of, you should mention The Watchmen, Tekkon Kinkreet, Akira, any Sandman collection (aka also anything by Neil Gaiman), and even though there are 28 volumes, Lone Wolf and Cub is a great read.

  2. Blankets is a beautiful book, introduced to me by Justin. Try also:

    1. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, about wanting to fit in. Won lots of awards.

    2. Same Difference and Other Stories by Derek Kirk Kim. Anything by him is good.

    3. H…e also wrote/illustrated with Gene Luen Yang, The Eternal Smile. Winner of Eisner Award and more. Compilation of short stories.

    4. The Hipless Boy by Sully. Compilation of a stories. About “a hipless boy in a hipster neighbourhood.” You’ll recognise the places around Mile End and Plateau. Local artist.

    5 & 6. Shenzhen and Pyongyang by Montrealer Guy Delisle. Hilarious, about his experience as supervising animator overseas.
    So many, Justin has a longer list of little gems of a read. Prod him if you want more. : )

    4. The Hipless Boy

  3. Thanks for the recommendations guys. I remember reading Derek Kirk Kim’s ‘Same Difference’ story online back in 2003 when he was writing it one row at a time and posting it on a regular schedule. Some day I need to buy a copy and read it all in a row :)

  4. @Chris: I think he already has Sandman #1, with a promise to order the others for anyone who wants more. I’ll have to check out Tekkon Kinkret as I’ve never heard of it. Watchmen I consciously excluded from my own list despite the fact that it ultimately deserves a place. I think for the case of Argo it was just too sullied by the ridiculous movie adaptation, which was enjoyable but also trashy as hell. Every self-respecting comic shop should have it in stock, but Argo can live without the pop implications. Also, V for Vendetta is there, so I figure “Alan Moore before he became awful” is covered ;)

  5. I know this is an older post, but I can’t believe nobody mentioned Maus! Great story about WW2 Germany, with the Jews represented by mice and the Nazis as Cats. Really, an excellent read.

  6. Dougal, totally! I think maybe no one mentioned Maus only because it is such an obvious choice. With it’s prizes and classy subject matter I think it’s the graphic novel with the widest mainstream inclusion (i.e. you’d probably find it in as many historical fiction sections as you would comics sections).

    In fact it was the only graphic novel my brother already had in his store :)

    FWIW: The comic he has sold the most was one he himself found, an illustrated adaptation of Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Apparently it’s really well done, though my brother is a huge beats fan, and at his store what my brother likes is what people end up buying, so it makes sense that it won the bestseller prize for Argo Bookshop ;)

  7. Hi Jeremy,

    I only read this in 2012… Anyhoo, ever heard of Joe Sacco? Totally recommended, I am a big fan of his work, especially “Safe Area Gorazde”.

    That said, thank you for all the other recommendations!

    Cheers, Massiel

  8. Hey Jeremy,

    I just want to throw “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel on this list. I was blown away when I read it. Dark, funny, true and absorbing. Love it.


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