As I approach my 3rd consecutive Comic-Con, I still consider myself a neophyte to the world of graphic novels, but I’ve discovered that some of the best storytelling in science fiction, fantasy, and thriller is being told in comic form. Here are my current top picks:
One of my favorites, and a fairly recent discovery, is Vertigo’s The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, which opens with a kind of satire on Harry Potter and that kind of phenomenon, but quickly moves into something darker that’s tied up in the history of literature itself. In The Unwritten universe, places where famous books were created have power, and the protagonist, Tom Taylor, discovers that his father’s series about a young wizard named Tommy Taylor might be more than fiction. (Bonus: includes magic doorknob.)
The third trade paperback (or TPB) is out tomorrow, and I’ll definitely be hitting up my local comic shop, where last week I browsed the shelves and picked up something new that sucked me in right away: Image Comics’ Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma. Initially I grabbed Morning Glories because it looked interesting and was inexpensive, as TPBs go, but I’m really glad I did, as it has elements of Lost in the setting of an elite prep school for geniuses. One aspect of this graphic novel that I really appreciated is the sense of pace and timing of reveals. A lot of messed up shit happens in the first volume, and from the very first page the reader knows this school isn’t on the up-and-up. But instead of dragging that out, the school becomes a horror show within a few issues, and the stakes are raised, while at the same time, there are plenty of questions yet to be answered. (I could definitely see this one developed as TV show.)
Though I’m excited to get in on the ‘ground floor’ of new comics (it appeals to the hipster in me), the drawback is that I have to wait a long time for new volumes – I prefer to read them in graphic novel form, rather than as individual issues. Another new comic that I’ll be waiting awhile for is IDW’s Kill Shakespeare by Anthony Del Col, Conor McCreery, and Andy Belanger.
I’ll be honest – I have a type. I love meta comics just like I love meta TV, primarily when it revolves around literature. Kill Shakespeare pits Shakespearean heroes like Hamlet, Juliet, and Othello against villains Richard III, Lady Macbeth, and Iago in a quest to find the wizard William Shakespeare, who has taken on a god-like persona in some circles. Though I wonder why the creators chose Juliet as the lead heroine rather than, say, Beatrice or Kat, and they occasionally slip up on their ‘thees’ and ‘thous,’ I found the beautifully rendered book to be a real tribute to the Bard, with enough puns to do Will proud.
Another book I picked up when I was at the comic shop last week was the newest volume of Vertigo’s House of Mystery by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham, with too many artists to list. House of Mystery is an anthology series that centers around the titular house where people enter and pay their bar tabs by telling stories. (Each story has a different artist for a unique look.) Some of the patrons, however, can’t leave the house for various, mysterious, and sinister reasons, including a woman named Fig, who has a special relationship with the manor.
House of Mystery exists in the same universe as Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, but definitely has its own voice. Though at times the stories can get downright grotesque, if you’re looking for creepy campfire tales, you’ve come to the right place. The overarching mystery allows the writers to develop characters that we care about, and ties the whole premise together. (Though much of what the hell is going on is still unknown.)
And, of course, the series that started it all for me, Vertigo’s Fables by Bill Willingham. With 14 – soon to be 15 – volumes on the shelves, it would take way too long for me to summarize the complex world that stretches beyond Fabletown. At its most basic, Fables is about characters from fairy tales and folk lore who fled their homelands to our world when the great Adversary took over. And though the plots have become complicated, even brutal at times, what draws me into the stories are the characters. I dare you not to fall in love with Bigby (formerly the Big Bad Wolf and now sheriff), Snow White (deputy mayor of Fabletown), Boy Blue (horn-player turned office assistant), Flycatcher (the frog prince whose arc may be the most tear-jerking of all), and all the rest. Even Bufkin, the flying monkey, stole my heart in the last volume.
Fables has spawned a couple spinoffs: Jack of Fables gets super-meta in following Jack who is, among other things, a giant-killer, water-fetcher, and candlestick-jumper, while I prefer Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love, which follows Cindy the super spy on her missions of espionage. Her adventures are just taking off.
Now, dear readers, what have you got to say on the subject? Agree? Disagree? Want to recommend something new? Tell me in the comments.