Superman or Green Lantern Ain’t Got Nothin’ on Me

Taken from the Facebook page of the Carnegie Library.

Taken from the Facebook page of the Carnegie Library. Photo by Ian Eberhardt. Drawing by Elyse Anderson.

I am a middle-aged woman, mom, librarian, and (drum roll please) a comic book geek. I started actively collecting comic books around 1980 as a teenager, but even before that I had a bunch of Archie Comics, Harvey Comics, Mad Magazines, and compilations of Peanuts that I appropriated from my grandfather.

Comics—I mean graphic novels—are more than just the sum of their parts, writing and illustration. The image on the paper evokes emotions—pleasure, fear, creepiness, hilarity, anxiety, romance, passion. A great graphic novel will have a talented writer at its helm, but can only work when an illustrator translates the feeling on the page with style.

My favorite emotion-evoking graphic novels:

Swamp ThingSaga of the Swamp Thing How can I describe what this is about without making it seem lame? Set (mainly) in the swamps of Louisiana, a man dies and becomes a plant elemental, fighting on the environment’s behalf. It’s also a romance between a woman and a monster. It really is so much more nuanced than I can relate here. I enjoyed Len Wein’s pulpy original from 1972, Secret of the Swamp Thing, but Alan Moore’s tenure (1984-1987), with illustrations by Stephen R. Bissette, is masterful and groundbreaking. This was the first mainstream comic book written for adults, not because of eroticism or violence, but for its complex thematic elements. I love this so much that Moore’s more famous Watchmen and V for Vendetta series were disappointments.

Here is a bonus for those familiar with Alan Moore and Frank Miller (of The Dark Knight Returns fame) but haven’t seen this yet: Alan Moore vs. Frank Miller.

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Heartbreak SoupLove and Rockets by Los Bros. Hernandez. This series in toto is one of the most poignant pieces of literature I have read. Favorably compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the authors use the panels to convey deeper meaning. Little bubbles emanate from the mouth of a sickly child causing his older brother to warn him not to laugh. A tough female sheriff’s inner dialog is conveyed as thought bubbles. A wordless panel shows a baby in a playpen while blood is pooling on the floor from out of view. In opposition to my colleague, I enjoy Beto’s work more. When I picked up part 2 of Duck Feet (a story set in the fictional town of Palomar, somewhere in Latin America), it changed my literary life forever.

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Building StoriesBuilding Stories (contains 2 books, 5 booklets, 1 newspaper, 5 folded sheets, 1 folded board, in a box) by Chris Ware. So sad. So depressing. So, so awesome. Every piece fits together in ways that don’t become clear until you read all of them. It doesn’t matter what you start with either. The cast includes a few people, a few bees and a building. You get snapshots of their lives and interactions at different points in time. Excuse me, Chris Ware, but just how did you look into my mind and write about my life?

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SandmanSandman by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is my very favorite writer right now, and his latest effort Ocean at the End of the Lane  is among his best work. I remember not being terribly impressed by this series until issue 3 or 4, but since then I have been an avid and obsessive Neil fan. The series has a few different artists, and the interpretations of the material changes in interesting/disturbing/beautiful ways. Bonus nerd alert: the character Matthew (the crow) is really Matt Cable from the Swamp Thing.

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Here is one that was critically acclaimed, but I am giving a pan to:

Are You My MotherAre You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel. There are so many references and quotes taken directly from other books she read, and the illustrations, while expertly drawn, are mostly of those quotes, and Bechdel herself talking to her mother, reading a book, or looking at her computer. Why be graphic at all? So boring!

These are all graphic novels on the “Dark Side.” My next post will be about some of my favorite lighter fare. Do you have any favorites that you’d like to share? I need new blood!

See you in the funny pages,

-Joelle

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Superman or Green Lantern Ain’t Got Nothin’ on Me

  1. Our children’s librarian is a huge graphic novel fan as well. I have to admit, the few I’ve tried have completely overwhelmed my senses. Though I would love to develop a literary appreciation for them. I promise I’m not a ‘graphic novel’ snob :) I think I might try a couple of your recommendations, even the Are You My Mother? – because if it’s boring for you, it might be just my speed :)

  2. Great piece! I want to read them all because of your own enthusiasm. Thank you!

  3. Don

    Sunshine came softly through my window today … and landed on the page of a graphic novel, as it frequently does. Thanks, Joelle. (Carlos and I were talking about this composer just this past Sunday)

  4. Jackie

    You go, Joelle! I’m a huge Batman fan, too. Check out my work lanyard next time our paths cross ;)

  5. e

    Fantastic! I LOVE that you linked to that Miller v. Moore thing…I linked to that in a blog on here about Daredevil! Excellent stuff. Thank you!!!

  6. Check out Adrian Tomine’s “Optic Nerve”

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