Comics are undeniably art. However, they are much harder for readers to get into when compared to other art forms such as books or movies due to the sheer volume of issues in ongoing series. Thankfully, that’s where the graphic novel comes in. Instead of long, sprawling epics they are more self-contained stories, and although they are dominated by the likes of DC and Marvel, you’ll be excited to learn that graphic novels exist in every genre!
Perhaps you’re hoping to find a new art form to appreciate, or maybe you’re an experienced reader looking for a new classic to fall in love with. Either way, read on to discover our top five picks.
Writer/Artist: Majane Satrapi
An autobiographical graphic novel about Satrapi’s own experiences growing up in Tehran, living through the Islamic Revolution and her time bouncing between Iran and Europe, Persepolis walks a tightrope between humour and heartbreak. The graphic novel explores our global search for an identity whilst shining a light on political and cultural beliefs that are mostly unknown in the Western world. Although Persepolis was adapted for film in 2007 – with Satrapi herself as co-director – the graphic novel remains the definitive edition of the story. Persepolis shows that not all graphic novels have to be about costumed heroes punching each other through buildings, fun as that can be. They can also tell quieter, more personal and heartfelt stories.
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
Writer/Artist: Guy Delisle
Another autobiographical graphic novel, because who doesn’t love those? Guy Delisle wrote this in response to his time working as an intermediary between a French animation studio and the North Korean studio working on an adaptation of the Corto Maltese comics. Set in the titular capital of this isolationist nation, Delisle’s novel offers a rare look behind the curtain. From details on mundane life in the country to more disturbing images, like the fact that he saw no disabled people in his time there, this travelogue is filled to the brim with unease and paranoia. A must-read for those interested in North Korea or unsettling real-life stories.
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Dave Gibbons
Although arguably responsible for the ‘gritty’ phase of superhero comics, Watchmen remains a touchstone in the maturity of the superhero genre. Loosely basing their characters off heroes from Charlton Comics, which had been recently acquired by DC, Moore and Gibbons commentate on the nature of superheroes and what superpowers would do to normal people in the ‘real world’. Though attempts to expand the world of Watchmen has led to a dilution of these themes (the 2019 HBO series being a wonderful exception) and the creator has tried to publicly distance himself from the work, taking Watchmen as a standalone story leads to an intriguing and thought-provoking experience.
Crisis on Infinite Earths
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: George Perez
The grandfather of superhero crossover events. Crisis on Infinite Earths began as an attempt to streamline the DC comics continuity and expanded into a large-scale cosmic story that saw DC heroes and villains across multiple worlds unite to face an incredible threat. Though some characters may be lost on those not caught up on the wider DC canon, as Perez is well known for creating dense artscapes peppered with characters, Crisis on Infinite Earths is an important milestone for the superhero genre. Within these pages, worlds are born, worlds die, and DC comics, and superheroes as a whole, would never be the same again.
Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War
Writers: John Wagner/Alan Grant
Artist: Carlos Ezquerra
Judge Dredd: The Apocalypse War is a masterclass in worldbuilding. When writers Wagner and Grant figured their world of Mega-City One was getting far too sprawling to effectively tell stories, they hit the reset button in the grandest way possible: all-out nuclear war. In both expanding and destroying their world, they managed to write a story about the human ability to persevere, even in the darkest moments. Though some moments only resonate properly with context, Apocalypse War and its prequel Block War are must-reads for anyone interested in dystopian crime stories.
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