I recently discovered an amusing bit of advertising, a list of “The World’s Greatest Graphic Novels,” as compiled by DC Comics. “Start here with the essentials,” the subtitle suggests. What follows is a list of books, all published by (surprise, surprise) DC Comics.
Now I don’t begrudge DC for trying to position its products as the greatest graphic novels of all time. That said, I find this list to be a bit sad. Comics as a field has become incredibly vast and diverse, and there are numerous people pushing the boundaries of the art form in wonderful and exciting new directions.
So I’ve decided to put together my own little list. My selection criteria are as follows:
- The book must be a graphic novel. That means no memoirs or other non-fiction. It also means no anthologies from an ongoing series. For the purposes of this list, a novel must be a unified work with a limited scope. Anything with “Vol. 1″ after the title is automatically disqualified.
- The book must have high-quality artwork. That doesn’t mean it has to be realistic or even virtuosic, but it should have a distinct and consistent aesthetic that demonstrates that a good deal of thought has been put into the images on the page.
- The book must be well-written. Strong characters and good dialogue are a must. The plot must be coherent and develop naturally. This does not imply that every story must be about the banal and quotidian, only that they must follow the principles of good storytelling.
- Finally, the book should work with the strengths and limitations of the comics medium. The comics page itself should be treated as a work of art, and by extension the entire book as a sort of “art object.” Every book on this list needs to say, “this is what comics can do.”
I’ve gone through my personal favorites and put together a list of ten titles. We’ll go through them in descending order. Stay tuned for #10!
You know who can write a coming-of-age story better than John Green? Faith Erin Hicks, that’s who. And she can draw, too. Friends With Boys may not have any cancer patients or shallow philosophizing, but it does have plenty of character drama, attractive manga-style artwork, clever plotting, and impeccable comic layouts. If that’s not enough, there’s also a ghost.
The story centers around Maggie McKay, a girl who is starting high school after a childhood of homeschooling. According to the author biography, Hicks herself was homeschooled until high school as well, and (also like Maggie) has three brothers. As such, Hicks is clearly using her own life experiences as material, but rather than taking the easy route and writing a memoir (as far too many other cartoonists have done), she has instead synthesized a fictional scenario using her own childhood as a basis. Well played.
Have you read any comics by Der-Shing Helmer? No? Shame on you! As artist-writers go, Ms. Helmer is up there with the best of them, and frankly, she’s more than the webcomics scene deserves. She took a hiatus that lasted a couple years, but now she’s back and better than ever–and producing two comics simultaneously, no less!
I suppose I’m biased, given that Helmer works in one of my personal favorite genres–long-form speculative-fiction adventures–but her writing stands up beautifully regardless of one’s preferred subject matter. Her worlds are original and very completely realized, a tough thing to pull off. Her characters are complex and unique. Her writing can be a talky at times, but not so badly that it distracts from the experience. These are stories one will remember and think about.
As I launch into the exciting world of Chapter 2, I thought this might be a nice time to give you all a little peek into the process of making each page. Let’s take a look at the making of Page 1, start to finish.
The page begins as a script. I went back and forth a lot on what to open the chapter with, and ultimately decided to show Claire waking up on the first page, then cut to the parents talking on the second and third pages. Here’s what my script said:
We open with Claire awakening the following morning, happy at first and then transitioning to irritation as she thinks back to the events of the night before. She wants answers. She gets up.
Ruth is out at the shoreline, collecting marine life samples. Alan meets her with a cup of coffee on the way to the lighthouse. They discuss his dreams and his unsettled thoughts over the last couple days. Ruth mentions that she’s going on a trawling trip later.
As you may have noticed, these pages don’t really resemble that which I finally drew. These were a first draft and I ultimately scrapped them and tried again. (The slashes across the pages indicate that they are not for use in the final comic.) I eliminated the page with Claire because it seemed unnecessary and because I have a bad tendency to start chapters with characters waking up. Instead I decided to jump straight to the parents, and to merge their two pages into one, as it seemed a lot of that was filler. Here’s the final thumbnail (with this and all other images, I will display only the first panel. Click to see the rest):
As you can see, the dialogue and blocking are more or less solidified at this point, and the panel arrangements have been decided.
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Hey, remember that teaser I posted back in December? Well, it turns out it’s not another abandoned project, because Chapter 1 of that comic, which will is called The Non-Seen, will be debuting in the Comic section on April 1. I’d hoped to post this announcement a lot earlier so that there could be a period of anticipation, but I was too preoccupied with the comic itself to get the announcement together. The Reader Orientation is available now, and the first few pages will all appear on Tuesday. For the first month there will be two pages a week, and after that it’s probable that I’ll have to go to one page per week, but we’ll see. Enjoy!
Hello all! My new comic is in the works and will begin appearing in this space soon. Honest. In the meantime, however, I’m re-running a series of strips which most of you will not have seen before. In 2010 I drew a semester’s worth of comics for my college newspaper (The Daily Campus of the University of Connecticut). The comic was called Bucephalus and it was a silly space opera. Very un-Sunrise-like. In any case, while you wait for the new comic, I provide these strips for your enjoyment. Bucephalus will appear every weekday from February 3 through March 21, in the comic section (formerly known as the Sunrise section).
Will Bucephalus ever be remade, nicer and better? Well, let’s see how much you guys like it.
The complete anthology of Sunrise, my now-completed webcomic, is now available for purchase. Until February 16, the option of a signed and/or drawn-in copy is available. See this page for more details, or see below and after the fold for additional pictures and information. Click here to go ahead and order a copy for yourself.
This is a fateful date. You are probably already aware that it is Pi Day (especially so at 1:59) but it is also, coincidentally, the day that the Zarks were born. For it was on Pi Day in 2002 that I happened to create, almost absent-mindedly, a creature called a Zark to serve as a bit enemy in the embarrassingly-titled comic Space Kid. I’ve related this story a million times before, so I’ll just give the synopsis:
- Zarks turn out to be cooler than Space Kid
- Zarks gradually take over comic
- Zarks go on to star in video games and stuff
And so, to celebrate the first ten years of Zarkdom, I present the following show of rare and/or unseen images from their storied lineage. And if that’s not enough, I also offer you a digital copy of the complete Zirconius comics, a guide to the Easter Eggs of Into the Titan, and some old backstory: Maz’s journal. (Links are below the fold.) Share and enjoy.
So, they’ve appropriated a character who preaches not just an environmental message, but also an anti-consumerism message, and they’re using him in advertisements. Advertisements! Advertisements for cars! I don’t care if he is fictional… this is slander.
And, on a side note, how do you make a movie out of Dr. Seuss and get a PG rating? Actually, forget asking how, what about why? Also who, when and where. Someone has to account for this whole travesty.