The Unity Books team, one of our generous ComicFest sponsors, and our Wellington City Librarians have collaborated what they think are the best Comics/Graphic Novels. This list was phenomenal so we’ve broken it up. Below is just part one of many posts to come over the next week.
Share your thoughts and additions for this list in the comments section below or flick us both a tweet at @wcl_library and @unitybooks
Dylan Sherwood, Unity Books:
Tain’t The Meat… It’s The Humanity – Jack Davis
This is an essential volume in the continuing EC Library series published by Fantagraphics.
Jack Davis and his partners in crime at EC were hugely influential on the Zap comic artists of the ‘60’s who in turn did their best to shock and awe their peers. Let your host in howls, the Crypt Keeper, tell you terrifying tales that have stood the test of time. Even when the characters are dead, these panels are alive and kicking.
Also recommended: Corpse On The Imjin! and other stories – Harvey Kurtzman
Cruisin With The Hound – Spain Rodriguez
Spain’s “Trashman” character makes sense when you read the wild and unruly autobiographical yarns collected here. Misspent youth in biker gangs and all manner of sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and violence make for fascinating glimpses of a genuinely rebellious life. The interview with the author by Gary Groth is just the file in the cake. !Viva Spain!
Also recommended: Che: A Graphic Biography – Spain Rodriguez
Skin Deep – Charles Burns
Three twisted tales from 1988-1992, rendered in stunning black and white by a horror comic maestro. “Dog Days” follows the trials and tribulations of a man living with a transplanted dog heart. “Burn Again” recalls the tortured life of a child faith healer turned televangelist as he prepares his Doomsday cult for Armageddon. “A Marriage Made In Hell” is a 50’s style love comic with a plot that could have been written by Ed Wood Jr and directed by Pedro Almodovar.
Favourite Charles Burns comic? Black Hole.
West Coast Blues & Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot – Jacques Tardi
If the downward spiral trajectory of film noir and the moodiness of Jean-Pierre Melville’s hard boiled characters strike a chord, look no further. Tardi’s masterful adaptations of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s brutal novels are perfect reading material for a rainy winter night.
Also recommended: New York Mon Amour – Jacques Tardi
Hip Hop Family Tree #1: 1970’s -1981 – Ed Piskor
It’s a treat to read Piskor’s history of Hip Hop in book form after checking out the Boing Boing online serial. The paper and format are well chosen and the vignettes of victors and villains who contributed to the birth of a new form of music are rivetting. I’m looking forward to the next volume.
Also recommended: The Beats: A Graphic History text by Harvey Pekar et al., art by Ed Piskor et al., edited by Paul Buhle.
No Man’s Land – Blexbolex
An infernal detective story full of black humour that unfolds at a relentless, insane pitch with the unfortunate narrator careening from one strange episode to the next. This book employs a unique spot colour print process that gives it a handmade, screen printed look that, combined with a beautiful palette, is very easy on the eye.
Also recommended: Ballad – Blexbolex
Prison Pit Book One – Johnny Ryan
Raw, brutal, rough and bloody, this is the perfect antidote to tweeness. Our hero, Cannibal F*ckface, must fight to live on a barren and extremely hostile planet where rules are made to be devoured and excreted and the only winner is humour.
Further trauma can be found here: Prison Pit Book Four – Johnny Ryan
Dungeon Quest Book One, Dungeon Quest Book Two & Dungeon Quest Book Three – Joe Daly
You don’t have to be familiar with role playing games to find this series hilarious. This satire of sword and sorcery tropes is captivating, great artwork and funny dialogue spouted by ridiculous, brave characters on a silly and savage quest.
Also recommended: The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book – Joe Daly
Congress Of The Animals & Fran – Jim Woodring
The first and second graphic novels to feature Woodring’s character, Frank, who dwells in an incomparable world unto itself. Dali and Disney could have dreamt this up together. The ink vibrates on the page and tickles your subconscious so whether or not the stories make sense to you at the end, these trips are well worth taking.
Also recommended: Weathercraft – Jim Woodring
Frith, Wellington City Libraries:
Relish, by Lucy Knisley
I love this book. Being a mix of colourful, appealing comic strips, memoir, and love letter to food WITH RECIPES, it’s got what I’d call a broad appeal base. The recipes are amazing, and reading Lucy’s stories of growing up with two foodie parents, gathering food wild, working in restaurant kitchens, holding stalls at country markets, and selling cheese to some very picky customers is like warm, delicious nostalgia for the childhood food experiences you wish you’d had. Perfect winter reading.
Darth Vader and Son AND Vader’s Little Princess
These are hilarious, one-shot or one-page cartoons depicting scenes that didn’t make it to the movies, but you know must have happened. Like when Luke gives Vader a terrible tie, and he has to wear it to the Imperial council. Horrifying.
A Taste of Chlorine
I said I hated this once. But once I got over feeling all bitter about relationships I appreciated it. The art is so lovely and it paces the story really, really well, with swimming sequences (the story takes place in and around a pool complex) being a page of turquoise panels and stroking arms, putting you firmly in the protagonist’s point of view (he doesn’t particularly relish the repetition, either). It’s also a slice of life ending – the reader is left to draw what resolution they can from the final panels of the book, or conclude that such a resultion may be impossible, or out of reach (ooh, spoiler!). Definitely one for the post-modernists among us.
First of all this is kind of R16 for pretty explicit nudity/ sex scenes, abuse of all kinds, and torture. Habibi puts the ‘graphic’ into graphic novel, that’s for sure. But the story is beautiful, a love story about growing up, finding a place to be, and against the odds, to be with the one you love. Habibi follows the lives of its two main protagonists from childhood to adult life in a fictionalised version of Islamic culture, and touches on themes of identity, social roles, survival, environmental degradation, power and faith. The main characters’ religious ideals – and the overarching narrative of Islamic creation and myth – are woven into the story and play a large part in the climactic scenes. The look and art of the book is inflected by this too, with ideas around writing and sacred words a large part of the design of the gorgeous, black and white illustrations. At over 600 pages this is a loooong comic book, but very worth a read.
Graphic novels as protest journalism. Zahra’s Paradise tells not ‘the’ story, but ‘a’ story of the Iranian 2009 revolution, and so presents an on-the-ground and tragic view of disappearance and extra-judicial brutality after the 2009 elections. It is lightly fictionalised and written under a pseudonym for the authors’ safety, and the story of his missing brother, and their mother’s tenacious search for him or his remains, is moving and informative.
Hark, A Vagrant!
Kate Beaton makes jokes about history (and the Great Gatsby!) in comic book form. What could be better?
An examination, in comic panels, of the global economic system from the ground up. Straight-up and straightforward, with the author’s comic-self guiding you through tricky concepts and time periods, it’s a useful and fun (NOT a word I ever thought of applying to economics before) introduction to one of the systems that run the world. Perfect if you’ve forgotten all your high school economics, or just want to get an overview.
Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep, Vols. I-VI / Phillip K. Dick
Phillip K. Dick’s tale of despair and humanity in a ruined urban wasteland future is the story that became ‘Blade Runner’, and is known and renowned round the world. The grim, but flashy details of the futuristic world and android struggles translate better in comic book format than they ever did as a novel, in my not-very-humble opinion.
The Night Bookmobile / Audrey Niffenegger
Every person has, shadowing them through their life, their personalised bookmobile, filled with everything they’ve ever read, comforting them in low times and inspiring them for high. The book is a story of the protagonist’s brief encounter with the mobile library and her quest to re-discover it, no matter the cost. One for the librarians from the author of the Time-Traveller’s Wife.
And of course the inestimable Calvin and Hobbes. I loved this when I was a kid, and of course I paid most attention to Calvin, even though I thought him a brat and sympathised more with Susie, the (would-be) victim of Calvin’s many pranks. Now reading it as an adult, I get the jokes. And they’re great jokes.