By guest poster James Reekie.
Rather than the top ten “best”, “greatest” or “you need to read before you die!” graphic novels, my list is simply the “my most thumbed 10 books at the time of writing…”. The nearest shelf to my desk wherever I make my studio always carries my current favourites and all of these books are currently within arm’s reach.
I struggle to read long reviews or descriptions about comic books. For such a visual and immediate medium it seems very redundant to launch into long expositions of a book’s plot, artwork and the characters’ motivations and journeys.
Handily the lovely people who post to Wikipedia have done it all for me! To read up on each book, follow the link, and for each entry I’ve noted my personal reasons for the choice and a ton more links to further reading. Given how cheap a second hand copy of these books are on amazon, if you are even mildly interested I suggest you simply pick up a copy and try it out.
No. 10. The Umbrella Acadamy
Writer: Gerard Way Artist: <ahref=”http://fabioandgabriel.blogspot.com/”target=”blank”>Gabriel Ba
Not being a huge fan of Gerard Way’s music (in rock band My Chemical Romance), it took me a while to pick up his first graphic novel. It’s an excellent piece of work.
The book has good characters and great plot but the thing that I really like is the sense of style and design. The lettering, colouring and line art all flow together seamlessly and is fairly brave in places, but the real reason this book stays on my shelf is that for once in modern comic books the design of the package is particularly exquisite. From the stunning cover, two tone chapter headers, gothic typography and logos it’s worth picking up for the design alone.
No. 9. Hellboy – Conquerer Worm
Written and Illustrated by Mike Mignola
Mike Mignola’s art is so deeply original, abstract, graphically expressive and economical, that when you first discover it there is a tendency to just copy it. I must have filled one sketch book at least with poor rip offs after discovering Mignola’s art.
Above all else he is a master storyteller and the glorious design of each and every panel is a joy to behold.
No. 8. Long John Silver
Writer: Xavier Dorison (in French) Artist: Mathieu Laufray
This book feels timeless. Drawn in pen and ink and watercolour the art looks as though it was produced in the golden age of comics rather than in the last few years and is, in fact, an ongoing serial. The story, though it seems a little “Boy’s Own” at the start, is much deeper and trickier and the characters are wonderfully written.
A modern classic that really makes me consider ditching the computer for Indian ink and washes.
No. 7. The Wintermen
Writer: Bret Lewis. Artist: J P Leon
Set in modern Moscow filled with Mafia gangs and corrupt politicians, prostitutes and policemen, the shadow of the soviet empire stretches heavily over this wonderful story. The research drips from every panel, the winding tale is deeply involving and the graphic art from J P Leon is masterclass in abstract realism and composition.
No. 6. Daredevil – Echo
Written and Illustrated by David Mack
Some stories are more suited to the comic book medium than others. Echo is almost a perfect tale for a comic book. A deaf superhero who can replicate any motion she sees perfectly; Echo’s world is entirely visual. David Mack’s collaged pages, using everything from pencils, painted acetate, to ribbons and scrabble tiles, wonderfully bring this character to life and as a reader you feel like you are viewing the world through her eyes.
One of the biggest and fairest criticisms of comic books in general is that the art is either very safe or doesn’t experiment enough with the medium. This book is a fantastic example of what can be done.
No. 5. Criminal
Writer: Ed Brubaker Artist: Sean Phillips
I love low down, dirty double crossing, pulpy crime stories: Criminal ticks all the boxes. The swirling, interlinking plots are fascinating and the characters are incredibly rich and magnetic. Sean Phillips describes his ink style as “drawing with a broken stick.” You couldn’t get more atmospheric and evocative than that for this tale. His backgrounds of bars and alleyways often described with a simple angular scrape are a masterclass of expression and restraint.
Another book that I would comfortable giving anyone to read.
No. 4. 100%
Written and Illustrated by Paul Pope
Even though I’ve selected three or four pretty super-hero-y books in this list, I’m not really a tights-and-cape kind of guy. Paul Pope’s sci-fi social romantic drama is the kind of story I want to tell.
Intelligent and poignant, his art is deeply original and evocative but it’s the characters and their journeys that make me come back to this book again and again.
No. 3. Batman – Year One
Writer: Frank Miller Artist: David Mazzucchelli
Again, so much had been written about this book I don’t want to add too much more to the internet’s bulging entries on the subject. Every aspiring artist should study Mazzucchelli’s artwork. The composition, the mastery of form, his simplification and beautiful line…
I often flick through this book before starting work to remind myself what I want to achieve in my own art.
No. 2. Batman – Dark Knight Returns
Written and illustrated by Frank Miller
If I had to recommend or give someone a comic to read for the first time, it would be this one. So much has been written about this book I feel it’s pretty redundant to add my 10 cents. This, along with Arkham Asylum was the only comic book my local library had. I read it as a child and liked it but it didn’t strike much of a chord. I picked it up cheap online as an adult and in re-reading it realised why it is considered such a high watermark of the medium. The depth of the story, the characterisation, the art…
If you only read one, read this one.
No. 1. Judge Dredd – Cursed Earth
Writers: Pat Mills, John Wagner, Jack Adrian. Artists: Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland
This book is start of my journey, page one, chapter one. I was in a newsagent whilst on holiday, aged 10 or 11, and spent all my pocket money on a newsprint collected magazine of the first half of this story. That dog-eared copy was my drawing bible for the next 10 years. I copied panels and compositions, idolising Mick McMahon’s wonderful expressive artwork and the cultured line work of Brian Bolland.
This book made me want to be an illustrator.
About the Author. James is a talented London-based artist, designer and illustrator. You can check out his excellent and distinctive work on his website, link below.