Michael Gaydos's moody townscape is the perfect setting for Brian Michael Bendis's self-destructive private eye. Alias has been sucked into the Marvel mainstream and transformed into The Pulse: but it was fun while it lasted.
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The Shadow Gallery is delighted to introduce Metronome - a 64-page graphic novel by Véronique Tanaka: a "silent", erotically-charged visual poem, an experimental non-linear story using a palette of iconic ligne clair images. Symbolism, visual puns and trompe l'oeil conspire in a visual mantra that could be described as "existential manga" if it wasn't for the fact that there is a very human and elegantly-structured tale providing a solid foundation to the cutting-edge storytelling.
We were introduced to the work of Véronique Tanaka by Bryan Talbot, who tells us that he met the artist at the Angoulême comics festival, and was bowled over by her work. See Metronome for yourself, and find out why.
The Readers of the Lost Art, Newcastle City Library's Graphic Novels Reading Group, challenged its members to produce a list of twenty titles to recommend to someone who had not previously read any graphic novels. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing a bit better, so here's my list, with commentary:
Disclaimer: the trick with these "make a list" games is always to read the instructions carefully. In this case, what was wanted was not a list of the twenty best graphic novels, or even personal favourites, but an introduction to the genre. My list isn't comprehensive - I wouldn't know what manga to recommend, for example - but it does aim to offer tastes of as many different things as possible.
Once the decision has been taken to include as many different creators as possible (i.e. not to list Alan Moore's twenty best!), then twenty became quite a long list to fill. The first flow of ideas gave me about a dozen titles; longer reflection added some "how could I have overlooked --- ?", but also some interesting or entertaining books which would not make my personal top twenty.
Lloyd's fluid, shadowy blacks and Moore's bitter response to the Thatcherite eighties manages to be neither depressing, nor didactic, nor even dated: the nuanced presentation of V's campaign of terror against a repressive regime asks questions which just don't go away.
Sandman remains Gaiman's masterpiece, and no library that is serious about the graphic novel should be without the complete run. Sandman in its entirety is one of the minority of graphic novels that has anything of the weight of a novel, but it divides structurally into a number of arcs. So rather than start at the beginning, before the book has really hit its stride, The Doll's House would make a good jumping-on point. Brief Lives would be another way to sample Sandman.
Published concurrently with Sandman, and suffering from being overshadowed by it, Shade is weird, funny and touching. The eponymous hero is nominally the same character as Steve Ditko's alien warrior, but this Shade sets out to look for America, armed with his madness and accompanied by a girl called Kathy. The early issues have at last been republished, on the back of Milligan's success with X-Statix.
Bilal's solo work in comics and cinema is strange, science fictional and haunting; but I prefer the more structured narrative of his collaborations with Pierre Christin. Partie de Chasse, published in 1983, is a winter's tale of power struggles in the last days of the soviet régime.
Most people have read some Asterix: this is your chance to explain to the novice that they have been reading - and enjoying - graphic novels all along. The original French version is loaded with puns and allusions - amazingly, the English translation (by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge) actually improves on many of these!
Explaining why grown-ups can still love superheroes:
My first choice of Morrison's work would have been Flex Mentallo, but it seems that's not going to happen. Well, Animal Man is good too: it plays games with narratives, it takes one of the sillier superheroes and makes us care about him, and there's a genuine point in what Morrison has to say about how we treat animals.
Just because you have superpowers doesn't mean you have to be a career superhero; Jennifer Jones chooses to be a private eye, instead. A story about living in a world with superheroes in it, not a superhero story - sadly this series got dragged into the Marvel mainstream, but the early stories are fine. Bendis shows off his flair for dialogue.
Given the difficulty of writing a conventional text book that confronts the Holocaust without being trivial or grandiose or just embarrassing, would you believe a comic that accosts the subject through the medium of furry animals? Maus succeeds by narrowing its focus: it's about one man's experiences, and how they changed him, and his wife, and ultimately their son, too.
Bryan Talbot thought that it would be incidental to his story that his heroine had been abused as a child; but it's another topic that's too big to be handled lightly. This is a thoughtful account of recovery and survival, and it's ravishingly beautiful.
There are altogether too few books on the literary theory of comics; and those that are beginning to appear are prone to abstraction, post-modernism and all-round incomprehensibility! Comics are the perfect medium for talking about comics, and although Scott McCloud's ideas are sometimes idiosyncratic, they are clearly expressed and always stimulating.
Eddie Campbell's autobiographical strip takes anecdotes about himself and his group of friends, and makes them say something true and touching about growing up and moving on. The later How to be an Artist is fun for the insider's eye view of comics, but the earlier stuff is more universal.
Raymond Briggs has a fine gallery of portraits of ordinary working-class couples: look at When the Wind Blows and (another favourite) Fungus the Bogeyman. This reflection on his parents shows where they all come from.
Adrian Tomine works a similar territory to Dan Clowes; aimless young people do the wrong thing and fail to relate to each other. This collection of fragmentary, open-ended tales includes the sublime Dylan and Donovan - other readers might prefer his more recent work, like Summer Blonde, which expands into more sustained narrative.
some stuff you can only do in comics:
Nevada - Steve Gerber / Phil Winslade / Steve Leialoha
Nevada explains what was going on with the chorus girl, the ostrich and the standard lamp in the infamous "deadline doom" issue of Howard the Duck; admit it, every collection needs a comic whose villain has a lava lamp for a head (for entirely logical reasons.
or any available collection of Rick Veitch's Rare Bit Fiends, the title under which Veitch collects his dream diaries. Comics are the perfect medium for conveying the matter-of-fact impossibility of dreams, and the dream is a recurring narrative motif, from Windsor McKay's Little Nemo (first runner-up on this list list) to Neil Gaiman's Sandman.
How to explain Finder? In the gray area between SF and fantasy, it describes a word of high-tech gadgetry and controlled environments inhabited by a number of different "tribes", each with their own customs and appearance. The background is complex, and can be confusing, but the story is about human relationships.
Sleaze Castle: The Director's Cut - Terry Wiley / Dave McKinnon
When I first wrote about Sleaze Castle, I didn't know that its tragic destiny was to remain incomplete. But this "first" (in narrative order, not order of composition) is a satisfyingly self-contained introduction.
"Fables" is the term used by the characters from the fairy tales to refer to themselves, after they have been exiled from their kingdom by the Adversary, and have made their home in New York, where they set up their own enclave but conceal their nature from the local population. The book puts a new slant on familiar characters: Prince Charming, for example, seems to have been married to most of the women at one time or another. Nothing life-changing, but often fun.