“Words and pictures are yin and yang. Married, they produce a progeny more interesting than either parent.” ? Dr. Seuss
The signs call out from under forgotten awnings or run-down strip malls. They can be seen peeking out from the dark corners of a bookshelf or the variety section of the Sunday newspaper: comics or graphic novels. They go by many names but offer the same product: pure, unbridled creativity.
So often, people are told that comics aren’t literature. Literature takes up a reader’s time. Why would anyone stop off for the colorful fantasies marketed at children? Adults are expected to read Hemingway and Tolstoy with their whiskey and coffee, searching for a meaningful experience in sentences. They scan newspapers, tossing the “Sunday funnies” towards the only person at the table still eating cereal without raisins in it.
Not that I am saying by any measure that reading literature and the classics is a bad thing. On the contrary, I am pro-reading in all its forms. It's the stigma that because two mediums of art are mixing and there isn’t “prose” per se, that comics aren’t literature worth reading.
I’m here to change minds and lead readers into the wonderful world of graphic novels and comics. Why? Because for every novel that has made me stay up to the break of dawn, staring out of a window and wondering about my existence, there is a comic that has done the same thing. We live in a time where there is an astounding desire for comic-themed superhero movies churned out with minimal effort, but still we see comics shoved to the backburner. “That stuff’s for nerds!” No, it’s like the berry you find under the leaf — that stuff is the good stuff.
Unfortunately, to find these “berries,” there are still a whole lot of leaves to go through. That’s where I come in. I will humbly suggest good finds I’ve made, and I would be delighted to hear some you all as readers have found. With that, let’s talk comics.
“Saga” (Image Comics) — Written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples
Without giving too much away, imagine Romeo and Juliet in space, but the adult version. This story centers around an ongoing war across space between “horns” and “wings.” The people of the planet Landfall (called “wings” due to the genetic trait that they all have wings of some sort, whether it be insectoid, angel or otherwise) and the people living on Landfall’s moon, Wreath (called “horns” because every single one of them has horns of some sort) have beef, major beef. They have been killing each other for longer than either side remembers and somehow involved the rest of the galaxy.
Mako is a wreath soldier and Alana is a soldier for Landfall. They fall in love, elope and have a baby. Their respective societies lose their cool in a big way, making it their mission to find and kill the budding young family.
What makes this graphic novel so special is the crispness of the art, for one, by Ms. Staples. It absolutely blows me out of the water with its beautiful colors and vivid imaginings. The story is so enthralling that I read six editions (roughly 400 pages) in a night. This is the real deal. It’s a story about pure love in impure situations and the difficulties of parenting when the entire galaxy is trying to kill you. It’s devilishly funny without being obnoxious, having me laugh out loud one minute and crying the next.
Oh, and it’s not a kid comic. Sex, graphic violence and drug use are just a few things that mother wouldn’t approve of throughout the series. The best part? It’s ongoing.
“Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” (Oni Press) — Story and art by Bryan Lee O’Mally
Have you ever been 22, confused and not quite sure what the hell you were doing? Then this is the series for you. Best known for the Michael Cera depiction of the main character — which I highly recommend by the way, the movie is absolutely one of the strangest film experiences you can have. This comic, however, is also one of my favorites. It follows the life of a slacker, dirtbag bass player in Canada as he finds the girl of his dreams and subsequently fights for her love.
Chalk-full of videogame references, it’s a flavor more on the “nerdy” side, but still has just as potent of a story. Scott wrestles with fighting for a girl he loves, literally, through a league of her evil exes, and she seems to have a type: vengeful and powerful. Ramona is a damsel, and she’s in distress, but she sure doesn't need anyone to save her. O’Malley does a fantastic job of showing the intense emotions that tend to follow around love, capturing the misery, joy and confusion perfectly.
The art is less hyper-realistic than “Saga,” but is still gorgeous. The versions I read were in black and white, although there are colorized versions. The art holds up either way.
This comic might hit a little too close to home for some of us that can’t figure our lives out and occasionally drag others into our mess. It’s a great comic to read while you’re in college, or maybe just experiencing some tough love.
“Calvin and Hobbes” (Andrews McMeel Publishing) — Story and art by Bill Watterson
Here is a comic for all ages that you can sink five minutes or five years into. Originally a “Sunday funny,” Watterson is sharp and genius in his strips. This classic, if you haven’t heard of it, is a must. The story follows a young boy, Calvin, and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who comes to life in his imagination.
Calvin is the kind of kid that everyone wishes they had until they have him. A tornado of chaos, creativity and mischief. Calvin’s many personas include Spaceman Spiff, Stupendous Man and Wongata: King of the Jungle. He is the founding member of G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid of Slimy Girls) and is in constant competition with Susie, the girl down the street. He is a snowman extraordinaire and an explorer of everything and anything.
Watterson expertly captures childhood naivety and the deep philosophy of young children. Calvin’s refusal to conform and his rough life philosophy cause the mind to reel and the belly to jiggle at the same time. Both hilarious and deep, Watterson created one of the most beloved characters and one of the most successful comics of all times, a gateway drug for a smaller me. Watterson himself is an interesting character, barely ever giving interviews and generally being a recluse. Calvin and Hobbes being so popular, Universal was keen to market merchandise. Watterson was against this and held an unyielding position that merchandising would cheapen the comic and the characters.
That seems like a good start. Get reading!