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.