Do you find yourself wanting to explore the worlds of graphic novels, but are unsure as to where you should start? Have you perhaps caught yourself wishing that you, too, could learn to love this particular form of storytelling? Trying to familiarize yourself with this new and uncanny world of literature can seem daunting at first. Well, have no fear! This volume of “Quintessential Comics” should hopefully give you a good place to start. These titles are in no particular order and some contain mature content, so be advised. Okay then, let’s get started.
Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” almost has to be on this list if only for the fact that it is one of the most recognizable and influential graphic novels to date. Set in an alternate Earth timeline in which the United States is on the brink of World War III with the Soviet Union, this graphic novel contains a grittiness unlike any other work of its kind. With pencils by Dave Gibbons and color by John Higgins, this work really captures the “realness” of the world in which the story takes place. With their help, Moore manages to create a bold world in which the heroes might not always win and even if they do, it begs the question, “Does the end justify the means?” If you’re looking for something raw, or just want a change of pace from most comics, be sure to check this out.
This one makes the list for two main reasons. First, the artwork by Alex Ross is some of the best I’ve seen. His style perfectly captures the iconic nature of the heroes and the battle of good versus evil. Second, it holds a special place in my heart. This graphic novel is one of the first that I read back in high school and remains one of my favorites to this day. This one also takes place in an alternate timeline, but in a future where metahumans (individuals with powers) are running rampant across the globe, and the heroes of the golden age have all but retired. What happens in a world where Superman himself has lost hope in humanity? If you want to find out, pick this one up at your library.
Now, this entry technically can’t be classified as a single graphic novel, as it’s a series of comics that is still running. However, it’s such a wonderful series that I can’t leave it off this list. Have you ever wondered what Romeo and Juliet would be like if it took place in space? Well, look no further. Full of rich character development, action, suspense and that very awesome sci-fi/fantasy mix, “Saga” is sure to keep you captivated for the long haul. I can’t think of a series that I’ve read in recent memory that rivals the extent to which this work fleshes out its characters. If this one sounds like something you’d like, stop by the library for more blaster fire, space travel and romance than you can handle.
I can’t imagine creating a “Top Five” list for graphic novels and not including this title. Creator Art Spiegelman delivers a tale of the anguish brought about by the Holocaust in a format unlike any you’ve seen before. This one is framed by an interview with Spiegelman’s father, accounting his experiences during the war. By depicting the Jewish characters as mice and the Nazi soldiers as cats, Spiegelman evokes emotions that I feel are unique to this method of storytelling. The first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, “Maus” has since been praised by critics, in addition to gaining its academic merit. Anyone who believes that graphic novels can’t be powerful needs to give this one a read.
Rounding out this list is another moving tale featuring a young girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution. Categorized as a graphic autobiography, this piece by Marjane Satrapi really brings something new to the table. Accompanying beautifully simplistic black and white panels, this poignant story effortlessly captures the tumultuous period of adolescence amidst such a harrowing event. Don’t miss out on this one.