Tag Archives: graphic novels

Graphic Story Recs for Hugo

Hugo nomination time is upon us! Apart from hoping that many listeners of Galactic Suburbia will remember to nominate us for Best Fancast (but only if you love us, obviously), I’m very keen to join the chorus of voices making recommendations for the Best Graphic Novel category, which has suffered from occasional neglect and malaise in the past (not to mention a whole bunch of cynicism).

Here are my favourite SF/graphic novel pics of the year. I hope I haven’t forgotten any!


If you like weird comics and grand space opera, this is definitely the comic for you. I was blown away by the (very reasonably priced) trade of the first six issues of this brilliant, slightly warped new series by Brian K Vaughan (of Runaways) with gorgeous art by Fiona Staples. Random Alex, you need to check out this comic!

I love the combination of space adventuring, drama, angst, domesticity and creepy alien bounty hunters, all against a war torn galactic background. The story begins with the birth of a baby to a star cross’d couple from opposite sides of a massive space war – and rather neatly, the story is narrated by that same baby which means at least I can take comfort in the fact that THE BABY MAKES IT to the end of the story. Not everyone else does.

Plus, did I mention? BABY. The two hapless parents may have made one, but they don’t have much idea how to look after it, and juggling domestic issues like nappies and breastfeeding while escaping assassins and scary alien plant menaces (not to mention dismembered ghosts) makes for a really original and fun contrast.

Graphic violence, kinky sex, dismembered ghosts, baby cooties and a wonderful jumble of magic, science and lunacy. Reeeeead this comic. Then think about nominating Fiona Staples for Best Professional Artist, too – her covers are things of beauty.

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Fabulous Graphic Novels For People Who Hate Superheroes

Hate superheroes? As Deborah Biancotti says, they probably hate you too. Meanwhile, as requested by Sean the Blogonaut, here are some of my recs for fantastic graphic novels that don’t include capes, masks, or anyone saying “Holy Rusting Metal, Batman!” (Yes I did rewatch Batman Forever recently, thank you for asking)

These are the ones that occur to me right now. There are of course many, many other superhero-free graphic novels out there, and the best thing about a list like this is not only that I will remember a bunch more as soon as I hit “publish” but also, I hope, that many of you will think of your own super-obvious examples and will share them in the comments. So then I get to find out about new things to read too, hooray!

<strong>Fun Home, written & drawn by Alison Bechdel
Always top of my recommendation list, this is an extraordinary memoir which demonstrates the power and scope of the graphic novel as an art form. This is the sad, rich story of a young woman who barely gets a chance to come to terms with her own lesbian identity before her family is confronted by the revelation that her father is gay, and has been keeping it from his family for many years. Bechdel chronicles her relationship with her father in minute, almost painful detail, with her childhood home (the house he was determined to renovate to perfection) standing as a powerful symbol at the heart of the story. The only flaw in this exceptional book was the almost-invisibility of Bechdel’s mother, but she has since rectified that with a sequel dealing with that equally important relationship in her life, which will be released in a few months.

Friends with Boys, written and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Just released this month, the whole graphic novel has been released as a serial webcomic, so you can check it out before buying. I love the art style of this one, which is the story of an earnest, shy teenage girl trying to deal with going to public school after a childhood of home schooling, the loss of her runaway mother, the friendship of her beloved older brothers slipping away from her, and the ghost that haunts the local graveyard. I love it to bits, and plan to get hold of it in hard copy for rereading purposes, and to pass on to my daughters. It has great things to say about individuality and friendship and bullying and family… and if nothing else, the high school performance of a zombie musical has to be seen to be believed.

Rapunzel’s Revenge & Calamity Jack, written by Shannon & Dean Hale and art by Nathan Hale
More YA titles, this series takes the common trope of reimagined fairytales, and smashes them with a gorgeous Wild West with Occasional Steampunk landscape. Vivid art, and two compelling protagonists. Might possibly be bending the rules of this list because Rapunzel is pretty much depicted here as a superhero.

The Forgotten, by Tony Lee and Pia Guerra
My favourite Doctor Who graphic novel, this story captures the personalities of the Tenth Doctor and Martha excellently, but tells a story of Moffat-like (even Gaiman-like, with one particular plot twist) complexity. The best part is the structure, which requires the Doctor to delve back into memories of all his former selves, and specific eras of his adventures. I love the special touch with the stories set in the 60’s, which are drawn in black and white! One for the devoted fans to relish.

Logicomix, written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, art by Alecos Papadatos
I’ll admit I haven’t read this one, but it’s one that my honey will enthusiastically recommend to anyone with an interested in the sciences or, more importantly, the history of mathematics. Narrated by Bertrand Russell, it moves between the late 19th century and the present day, and introduces the reader to many of the great thinkers of history. It’s a mighty tome and a bestselling book, which comes with colossal geek cred.

Questionable Content Vols 1 & 2, written & drawn by Jeph Jacques
Another webcomic that I love, this has been going for many years, but the first 500+ strips are published in hard copy across these two books – it’s basically an indie music geek soap opera, featuring a guy, his sociopathic pet robot, and the many fierce and spectacular women in his life, many of whom work in the cafe Coffee of Doom. The second volume is particularly strong, covering the material where the writer-artist really came into his own, and found his voice, with some hard-hitting revelations about one of the central characters, plus the usual dollop of banter and bad customer service. It also contains the moment when Jacques had to decide whether his comic really was just a will-they-won’t-they romance or… something else. Thankfully, he embraced the unknown and the story has gone from strength to strength. Sadly they seem to only be putting out one print volume of the collected strips per year. I’d buy more.

Sorcerers and Secretaries, written and drawn by Amy Kim Ganter
An American manga told across two volumes, and published by Tokyopop. It tells the story of Nicole, a student and secretary who goes from unrewarding task from unrewarding task, only really happy when writing down the stories in her head. The boy who wants to catch her attention is determined to help her with getting published, once he figures out it’s the only thing she cares about. It’s utterly fluffy, but has very nice art, and while I wasn’t 100% behind the romance, I very much enjoyed the focus on the creative process and the inner thoughts of a fantasy writer.

Hark, A Vagrant, written & drawn by Kate Beaton
Yes, another compilation from a webcomic. If you haven’t previously experienced the bizarre and wondrous world of historical mash ups, literary satire and general stylish pop culture snark that comes out of Kate Beaton’s brain, then rush NOW to the Hark, a Vagrant site to catch up. Or, you know, buy her book! I bought several this Christmas as gifts, including one for me. Definitely the book to get the history/classic literature reader in your life, who thinks comics are silly. They have no idea how silly (and awesome) comics can TRULY be until they have seen this!

2011: A Year in Reading (Graphic Novels Edition)

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m curled up with my family watching the animated adventures of Batman. As you do. It seems oddly appropriate considering how my year in reading ended up!

In September, it looked unlikely that I’d even hit 100 books read this year, let alone equal the 120 books I read in 2010. But then I took an interest in the DC Reboot, and one of my best friends rediscovered comics and started raving about the Ultimate Spiderman, and one thing led to another, and my house spontaneously filled with graphic novels.

So, yes. My total books read for the year is 143. Of which 61 are graphic novels/manga, all but one of which were consumed in the last three months. YEAH BABY.

Let’s talk about those first. I’ll do a separate post about the actual prose books, for those people (cough, Alisa) who aren’t interested in comic books.

My stand out graphic novels/trade paperbacks for the year were:

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Paradise Island and the Steve Trevor Problem

The Wonder Woman Chronicles: Vol. One

This was a ridiculously exciting find – the first ten months or so of Wonder Woman comic stories from her debut in All Star Comics (Dec 1941) and several espionage-themed serials in Sensation Comics, through to the launch of her very own title in the summer of 1942 – all collected in graphic novel form. I was intrigued to see how Wonder Woman was established right from the beginning, as part of my ongoing quest to look at how she has been portrayed over the years, and why it seems to be so impossible to script a movie with her in the central role.

What struck me at first was that I already knew Wonder Woman’s origin story perfectly. There were no surprises in seeing it in its original form: indeed, it comes across as very much a by-the-numbers version of the story that has been repeated apparently with little changing for about 70 years.

Her entire first story takes place on Paradise Island, and begins with Steve Trevor’s plane crashing. Diana, daughter of the island’s queen, nurses the unconscious man and falls in love with him without him opening his eyes or saying a word. Yep, he’s just that hot and manly. No one is surprised by this, least of all Diana’s mother. We do rather get the impression that his gender is the only important thing about this love story, which is… well, nicely reversed, I suppose, if about as romantic as Snow White and her Prince with the creepy dead-woman fetish.

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Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Vol. 1

I heard about these comics from somewhere and snapped up the first collected volume when I found it in my local library. In 1968, Wonder Woman underwent a major reinvention. All of the elements essential to her character – her powers, costume, and chisel-chinned love interest Steve Trevor, were removed so that Diana could go through a Carnaby Street makeover. Equipped with new martial arts skills, a rugged private eye sidekick, an elderly Chinese mentor and the very latest in hip and groovy outfits, Diana Prince became a new kind of force to be reckoned with.

It’s a little bizarre to see such an iconic character plunged so specifically into the pop culture of the Swinging Sixties. You would be forgiven for thinking these comics were actually created in the 90’s as an Austin Powers style spoof, given how laden they are with cliches of the time period. There are nightclubs full of hip cats, London boutiques full of groovy threads, and people say things like “you better bug out, doll… the fuzz frowns on chicks cruisin’ in this pad solo” entirely without irony.

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Captain Britain & the Hugo Packet

As you all may have guessed by now, I’ve been reading my way through the Graphic Novels section of the Hugo packet. It’s been a really interesting way for me to get a taste for what is out there, and has been easing me back into graphic novels as a format – already I’ve been looking beyond this shortlist and picking up other titles from my local library!

But I’m not going to be reading Captain Britain, by Paul Cornell. Which is a shame, because I was looking forward to it. I’m interested in Cornell as a writer, and also in the idea of a British superhero… but sadly this is the one Hugo-nominated graphic novel on the shortlist whose publishers decided to make it complicated.

The others all provided the works in a pdf format that I found easy to open, navigate and customise on my computer, for comfortable reading. This one instead provides an html link that opens a web reader which feels fussy and annoying, strains my computer’s capacity, and basically is trying too hard to control how I might want to read it. And oh yes, they only provided two issues as a ‘sample’ rather than the entire work.

I realise at this point that I am basking in utter entitlement. Only a year or two ago, the concept of a Hugo packet, of voters receiving a whole bunch of free works to help educate their vote, was revolutionary. Indeed I think this is the first year that every shortlisted work is represented in the packet, though I could be wrong in that.

But… yeah. Over-entitled I may be, but the fact remains, my time is pretty tight, and educating myself before making my Hugo vote isn’t my absolute top priority. As it is, I’m picking and choosing which works and which categories I am going to try to cover. Anything I can’t easily and comfortably access is absolutely not going to get read, and Captain Britain just lost me and my vote.

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader

Written by Neil Gaiman, pencilled by Andy Kubert, and inked by Scott Williams.

Yep, another one from the Graphic Novels Hugo Packet!

This two-issue mini-series of Batman comics was commissioned to bring the iconic Detective Comics title to a close, and to provide a moment of closure before Batman was once again reinvented for a new audience of readers. Neil Gaiman, who also writes an introduction to this graphic novel, was pretty much given free rein to write whatever he wanted, and he produced what he felt was a story that provided a ‘The End’ for Batman.

The thing that makes characters like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman so unique is that they don’t ever end – and yet there are countless deaths and alternate futures provided through comics such as the Elseworlds series or even more standard storylines, because when you have a character who lives on forever, ageless and constantly being reinvented, it’s fun to mess with the formula. There’s hardly a character in the DC Universe who hasn’t been killed and brought back, or lost their powers, or in some way been divested of the very elements that make up their character.

Writing ‘the End’ feels like an important thing to do, despite the fact that it has little weight or sense of permanence. The truth is, nothing in a comics universe has weight or permanence. There have been so many reboots, retcons, alternate worlds, dimension-crossings that it’s hard to tap into the kind of emotional resonance that a novelist or screenwriter can summon up by killing off a beloved character.

The beauty of Gaiman’s story is that it acknowledges all these things. It is a very meta story at its heart, that shows a deep love and respect for the long, complex and utterly incomprehensible Batman backstory. The premise is that Bruce (at least, we think it’s Bruce) is witnessing his own funeral – or, rather, that of the Batman. Mourners have gathered from both sides of the law – Batman’s allies and friends, and his worse enemies. One by one, they bear witness to how the Great Detective died.

Bruce has several mysteries to solve. Where is he? How is he able to observe his own funeral? Why does everyone have a different version of his death?

At its heart this is a very simple what if kind of story, but it has some moments of real brilliance. Alfred’s story was really extraordinary, and I loved the focus on the old school Selina Kyle’s Catwoman, a character who for me has never been better than she was in the old 60’s and 70’s comics.

The artwork too, deliberately evokes several different eras of Batman, and there are many lovely touches of nostalgia to balance out a mixture of sentimentality and sharp wit in the script. On the whole this is a very readable story, which anyone could pick up but I think would mean more to those who have traversed some of the many threads of Batman’s history. It’s the first so far from the packet which I have been genuinely tempted to pick up in hard copy, if only for archival reasons.

While I’m sure this makes for a pretty slender graphic novel, being only two issues, it is fleshed out with a whole bunch of value-add content, particularly several Batman universe stories previously written by Gaiman, to which he refers in his introduction. You can see here the progression of his interest in Batman as a concept, though he has never properly “done” Batman before. The best of these is a meta-story about Batman and the Joker hanging out together behind the scenes of the comic, which should be a one page joke and yet manages to be a far more substantial and poignant piece. I also was quite interested in the Poison Ivy origin story, though the Riddler one felt far less effective and well-realised.

So yes, Neil Gaiman can write Batman, and does so rather cleverly. Anyone surprised? I think my favourite ‘end of Batman’ story is still the arc from the animated series Batman Beyond & Justice League Unlimited, but the cleverness of this story makes it almost completely compatible with almost every other version of Batman’s possible future. That’s what is so very clever about it.

Fables Vol 12: The Dark Ages

Written by Bill Willingham; Pencilled by Mark Buckingham; Art by Peter Gross & Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred, David Hahn; Colour by Lee Loughridge & Laura Allred; Letters by Todd Klein (Vertigo Comics)

Another freebie from the Hugo Packet. Like Girl Genius, Fables is one of those things I’ve been meaning to get to for some time. It sounds on paper like it is exactly the sort of thing I love to read: a world that takes fairy tale images and iconography and does something new and inventive and meta with them.

Sadly, unlike Girl Genius, this one is not for me.

I was reasonably compelled by the first chapter of the selection which has been nominated for the Hugo – the character of Gepetto, a former evil dictator, and his reluctant attempts to fit in now that he’s just one of the people, did catch my attention. But after that first promising chapter, I mostly found myself bored.

Yes, I started reading quite far in, and yes the story isn’t meant to be read that way. But I should be able to tell from this volume whether it’s worth my time to go back and read Fables from the beginning, and from what I see here, it’s really not.

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Girl Genius Vol 09: Agatha Heterodyne & the Heirs of the Storm

This graphic novel is one of the freebies that was sent out with the Hugo packet to help those with voting rights become more informed about the shortlisted works. Can I just say, how awesome is reading comics in e-format? I need to digitise my JLA collection stat.

Girl Genius, written and drawn by Phil and Kaja Foglio, is a webcomic available free, which also releases the stories in graphic novel format each year. I’ve been interested in this one for some time and gone so far as to bookmark the site, but have never got around to actually finding the time to check it out properly. This fantastical steampunk (or gaslamp fantasy) tale of “Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!” has been running for ten years and I knew going into it that starting at Vol. 9 was asking for trouble.

Sure enough, it was hard to get into at first. I liked the artwork, which is bright and gorgeous and features some beautifully human-shaped women (by no means a common event in any comic art). I liked the steampunk/gaslamp iconography, but for the first several pages it seemed like it mostly consisted of young people in corsets and tight trousers shouting at each other.

Gradually, though, Girl Genius got under my skin. The slow dripfeed of backstory and worldbuilding meant that by the time I was halfway through, I pretty much knew most of the relevant things that had happened so far, and what was at stake. I was also very attached to many of the characters, mildly invested in the romances, and starting to laugh at the in jokes.

Agatha and her friends are stuck in a sentient castle that may or may not want some of them dead. One of her love interests is dying in any case, from a mysterious and extremely colourful ailment, and the other is wandering around with an Agatha-imposter, flexing his muscles and generally getting into trouble. As promised on the tin, there is adventure and romance and mad science. The worldbuilding is beautiful, especially the concepts of the Sparks, and the way that magic, science and engineering intersect with each other. The characters are appealling and I particularly loved the scenes where the two boys were forced to work together, acknowledging that they both care for Agatha and, it seems, have a secret past of their own.

Agatha Heterodyne is definitely worth your time, especially if you have a thing for strong, talented female heroes, snark, steampunk, love triangles and people building shiny things in dark laboratories. It has a feel of a particularly smart manga to it, and you can read it without paying a cent. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Ooh, and you can buy the collections in pdf form. I’m so there!

New Books For Old

I can tell the end of The Creature Court is on the horizon, because I’ve spent the day being hit in the head by other books. Important, exciting future books which are not yet. The trouble is, now I’ve answered the last questions about Book 3, my brain is telling me that the job is all done, which is patently not true.

Also both the books smacking me over the head today are the Wrong Books and in no way the one I planned to write next. For which I have sensibly been applying for grants, and planning to use to put a proposal together for Voyager in the second half of the year.

Damn it. Work’s not done. Work’s not done. Could someone inform my brain of this important fact? I don’t have time to construct a lavish Shakespearian alternate universe right this second.

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