Thursday, February 18, 2016

How I Learned to Read and Love Comics and Graphic Novels

I didn’t grow up reading comics. I have been always been a reader but comics were not a genre or format that appeared on my radar too often. It was simply never really my thing. Truth to be told, for a long time I didn’t really realize that comic books and graphic novels were a thing at all. It is sort of funny considering how much I love things that are shall I say comic adjacent or related, like cartoons and superhero movies. But for whatever reason, I never got around to the source material, which again is strange considering that often if a movie is based on book I will try to read the book.

I first came across the graphic novel Watchmen when the movie came out. It was a movie based on a book, so had to read the book. At the time a fellow reader and I had a conversation about how frustrating it was reading comics and graphic novels. This will sound wrong and strange to long time fans of the format, but the pictures were the problem. The pictures were slowing us down and it wasn’t always clear who was speaking or sometimes what order one was meant to read the panels. In reading Watchmen I realized that I had to learn how to read a story told in a graphic format. It was not the same as reading a regular book.

After Watchmen the occasional graphic novel or comic made its way into my reading pile, but not too many. That changed in 2011 with The New 52, the relaunch by DC Comics of its superhero comic line. I decided it was time to learn to read comics. So I forced myself to read more slowly and dived into the New 52. They were mostly superhero stories. Some I stuck with, some I didn't. More importantly the New 52 introduced me to the world of comics. Since then I've found many superhero and non-superhero comics and graphic novels to love.

Each month my book group has a theme and we read book based on the theme. In January the them was graphic novel or comic and the book chosen by the masses was Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson. It got mixed reviews. Among other complaints, many in the book group expressed frustration with the pictures. (If you are used to ready fairly quickly, pictures really slow you down.) The January meeting got me thinking about some of the great comics and graphic novels I've read over the last few years. Here are some of my favorites:

Title: Saga, Volume 1, Author: Brian K. VaughanSaga rules! I don't have the words to fully describe the epic wonderfulness of this series. It is an intergalactic love story. A man and a woman from opposite sides of a war meet when he is her prisoner. They fall love, run away, and have a child. Both sides want to end them before anyone realizes that is possible for people on opposite sides of the war to not hate each other. The series open with a woman giving birth. How many times have you seen that in comic, a novel or anywhere else? The story is amazing. The artwork is amazing. If you read just one comic or graphic novel, read Saga.   

Title: Lumberjanes, Volume 1, Author: Noelle Stevenson  Friendship to the max! That's what I learned from Lumberjanes. At Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types five friends encounter mysteries, crazy boys, secret caves, and all kinds of supernatural shenanigans. They respond with a kick butt attitude, resourcefulness, creativity, a sense of adventure, and above all they always remember the importance of being and having good friends. 

Title: Bitch Planet, Volume 1, Author: Kelly Sue DeConnickThe back of my copy of Bitch Planet ask "Are you non-compliant? Do you fit in your box? Are you too fat, too thin, too loud, too shy, too religious, too secular, too prudish, too sexual, too queer, too black, too brown, too whatever-it-is-they'll-judge-you-for-today? You just may belong on Bitch Planet." I consider myself my feminist and this hit all my feminist buttons in a good great way. In a nutshell, women who are too whatever are sentenced to imprisonment on Bitch Planet, hello patriarchy. I have only read volume 1 and don't know how the story is going to play out, but already I love it. Almost as good as the story are the "ads" at the end of every issue. Every part of this book was well thought out. If you only read two comics or graphic novels, read Saga and Bitch Planet

Title: Hawkeye, Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon (Marvel Now), Author: Matt Fraction Matt Fraction's Hawkeye is about Clint Barton and Kate Bishop when they're not being Avengers. Now I don't know Hawkeye's origin story. I don't know why there are two Hawkeyes and can't say if this is canon or whatever, but I will say that I really enjoyed Fraction's run as the author of Hawkeye. Clint and Kate get to be heroes without superpowers. It was awesome.

Title: Sex Criminals, Volume 1, Author: Matt FractionThe premise of Sex Criminals is provocative. When Suzie has sex timr literally stops. For years she thought she was the only one who this happened to. Then she meets Jon. They hook up and think what should we do while time is standing still? Rob banks, of course. It sounds ludicrous and dumb, but it's not, I promise. Sex Criminals is about that first real adult relationship. They have issues to work through - his depression, her family, and the like. Sex Criminals is funny and not as graphic as the title might imply. It is a definite must read. 

Title: The Fade Out, Volume 1, Author: Ed Brubaker I just started The Fade Out and am pretty impressed so far. It is a noir mystery set in 1948 Los Angeles. A man wakes up with a dead woman in the other room and little memory of how either of them got there. I love old noir movies and books like The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon. The Fade Out reminded me of those movies. The writing and the artwork really evokes the seediness and glamour of post-war Hollywood. I can hardly wait to read Act Two (volume 2) and see what happens next.

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