Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Attack of the Graphic Novel - Elen Caldecott

I have a new book coming out at the beginning of July. The sensible thing to do right now would be to tell you about it. Maybe show a photo of the cover, or quote from a review, or something. If I was a proper businessperson, that’s what I'd do.

But I’m not a businessperson. I’m a writer, a reader and a booklover first and foremost. So, that’s not what I’m doing.

Instead, I wanted to tell you about some books that I’ve recently got excited about. Well, not books. Not exactly. I have stumbled into the darkest recesses of the library and struggled through the angst, boy stench and geek glares to find the graphic novels section. Yes, I’ve been reading comics.

It started at Christmas, when my husband told me that there was a Season Eight of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. ‘Season Eight’? I squealed in a hopeless fan-girl way (knowing full-well that Season 7 saw the end of Buffy's Vampire-fighting days). ‘Yup,’ he said, ‘and I’ve got you episode 1.’ He then handed over a comic. I was wary to begin with. After all, Sarah Michelle Gellar in 2D must be missing a dimension?

It took about three pages for me to be hooked. It was an experience similar to watching TV or reading a book, but not exactly like either. I felt as though the characters spoke and moved in front of me, but with no time taken up with description or linking scenes. I had to work quite hard to keep up, but at the same time it was a quick read.

Since then, I’ve read the first few episodes of the brilliant Fables; the intriguing Y: The Last Man and the deliciously long Walking Dead. I’ve got most of these from the library and the ragged pages and mile-long date stamps suggest that I’m far from being alone. The library only has a small number of copies of each episode and the wait for current lenders to return them is agonising.

It strikes me that if I had an iPad then graphic novel apps would be so easy to spend money on. They have the addictive quality of a good TV Box Set, where you find yourself saying ‘just one more’ even though it’s 11pm and you know you’ll be bleary eyed in the morning. It would cost a fortune, but they’d be available right then and there and wouldn’t smell like teenage boy.

Are there any comics...sorry, graphic novels...that you know of that I should add to my list?

Oh, and in case my editor reads this, then the new book is called ‘Operation Eiffel Tower’, it's out on 4th July and you can read more about it on my website:


JO said...

Posy Simmonds - Madame Bovary. It takes the graphic novel into new territory.

Elen C said...

Really?? Is there a Madame Bovary graphic novel?? I have to read that!

Nick Green said...

Graphic novel are a superb way to learn punchy dialogue. When characters are limited to small white bubbles, there's rarely a wasted word.

Mind you, in an old favourite of mine from the 80s ('Grendel', series two) there was an entire issue with no dialogue or captions at all, just silent Hitchcock-like suspense right to the end - where the only words of the story appear in a banner: 'Eventually, I killed him.'

A much under-rated art form.

Gillian Philip said...

X-Men are always good value. Also the Constantine graphic novels (and no Keanu Reeves). And V for Vendetta and From Hell and 300, all of which became movies... and my kids adore the Manga Shakespeare... I loved comics as a teenager and they've only got better. Would adore to have any of my books graphic-novelised. And they encourage 10-year-old reluctant readers, big time!

John Dougherty said...

The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman. If you only read one series of graphic novels, it has to be The Sandman.

Summarised by Gaiman as "The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision", it's a wonderfully cross-mythologising story with a brilliant cast of characters. Can be read out of sequence, but probably best to start from book one if you can. Gaiman's graphic novels featuring the Sandman's sister Death are also well worth reading - but after you've read Sandman, for full effect. In fact, any graphic novel with Gaiman's name on the front is a safe bet.

And just about anything by Alan Moore is worth looking at, too. Anyone who remembers the IPC/Fleetway comics of the 1970s should definitely read Moore's Albion (plotted by him, written by his daughter Leah, if I recall correctly).

Anna Bowles said...

Anything by Alison Bechdel is fantastic. She won the Time Book of the Year award for her graphic memoir recently.

Elen C said...

Oh, some great suggestions! Thank you.
My husband read The Sandman series a few years ago, but I didn't pick them up while I had the chance. Silly me.

John Dougherty said...

If the superhero genre appeals, there's also, of course, Frank Miller, whose The Dark Knight Returns did so much to revitalise Batman; he also did a great run on Daredevil, some of which has been collected in graphic novel form.

Other names to look out for include Warren Ellis (The Authority, Planetary, Transmetropolitan, and loads of other stuff), Brian Michael Bendis (Powers, Ultimate Spider-Man and loads of other stuff,), Grant Morrison (Zenith, Animal Man, and, er, loads of other stuff), Garth Ennis (Troubled Souls, The Boys, and, you guessed it).

Many of these writers did a lot of their early work on 2000AD, most of whose graphic novels are also worth reading.

Sorry, my inner geek doesn't often get this much of a chance of express himself. I'll stop in a minute.

I should say, though, that in my opinion almost none of the graphic novels I'm recommending above are suitable for children.

Elen C said...

Good job I'm not a child then!
Though I remember the boys in school reading 2000AD. I'm not sure if I'd like superhero stuff. What I liked about Walking Dead and Y:The Last Man was there ordinary people reacting to mental situations.
It's great that a whole new world of reading has opened up to me!

Gillian Philip said...

If it's real life you like you can't do better than Marjane Satrapi's PERSEPOLIS, about pre- and post-revolutionary Iran.

John Dougherty said...

I know you're not a child, Elen! That was just a general health warning with a wide readership in mind.

The worst superhero stuff is just silly. But the best is sublime. Miller's Daredevil is superhero noir, while The Dark Knight Returns is dystopian near-future fiction. A lot of the modern stories I've mentioned ask serious questions about the whole genre - how would people really behave if given extraordinary abilities, for instance. Powers is a police story; the protagonists are non-powered detectives in a world where superpowers are relatively commonplace.

And how can you say you love Buffy, but you're not sure if you'd like superhero stuff? In the very first episode, Xander tells someone, "Buffy's a superhero." And if she isn't, who is?

John Dougherty said...

Oooh, you've set my inner geek off again. I've just done a search and found this:


Can't believe I haven't mentioned Alan Moore's Watchmen or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen yet! And, of course, there's Maus.

By the way, I've not read Y yet - our library has a few of them, but I want to start with book one. And I haven't come across Walking Dead, but I must look out for it. Haven't read Fables, either, but I've read a few of the spin-off, Jack of Fables - it's great fun.

Penny Dolan said...

These posts are a revelation - in many ways, John!

keep planning to spend a day in local library indulging - though I know I could bring them home of course. But then there'd be the smell of teenage boy . . . Not sure I could cope again.

Meg Harper said...

I so agree about Alison Bechdel. I read 'Fun Home' because it is one of Nick Hornby's favourite books. It gave me huge pause for thought - excellent!

Catherine Johnson said...

Halo Jones! She's Alan Moore's fantastic heroine from 2000AD and Salmon Doubts which is about fish and Scott Pilgrim who was always a better book than a film.

Balrog said...

There's also transmetropolitan, the authority, 100 bullets. A good list to check out for the best graphic authority http://www.top100graphicnovels.com

Becca McCallum said...

You can find some good comics online, for free - usually by young, non-established artists/writers who build up a following, maybe make some money through blog-donations, and eventually publish their work.