‘Mixing the personal with the political’ … Persepolis.
Danny Fingeroth is an American comic book writer and editor. He was group editor of Marvel comics’ Spider-Man books, and is the author of many comics for Marvel. An expert on superheroes, he is the author of Superman on the Couch, among other works. His latest book is The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels, a comic book companion which looks at the medium’s history, details 60 must-read graphic novels, profiles the movement’s legends, and covers everything else you need to know about: film and television adaptations, manga, documentaries, conventions, books, magazines and websites, as well as how to make a graphic novel.
“Here are my subjectively chosen top 10 graphic novels. But why these? The very nature of a guide is premised on the idea that, a) here are the things that someone with a reasonable amount of experience reading and thinking about comics feels are the coolest things out there, and b) here are some things that, like them or not, the author of said guide thinks are essential for anyone conversant in the medium to be familiar with.
“But for my top 10, I decided to take the crème de la crème, the graphic novels that I most enjoyed. These are graphic novels, some famous, some less well-known, that do what all great literature does, in that they give you such a pleasurable experience while reading that you’re simultaneously eager to uncover the ending, yet also dreading it, knowing that the experience will then be over.”
1. Maus by Art Spiegelman
If producing a serious, straightforward narrative about the Holocaust is difficult, Spiegelman’s tactic – interpreting genocide through the medium of a comic strip populated by cats, mice and dogs – might appear to make it almost impossible. Yet while Maus probably sounded like an absurd proposition in 1973, when its first chapter appeared, it has proved perhaps to be the definitive literary graphic novel, garlanded with a Pulitzer prize and enough critical praise to cement its place in any canon of memoirs.
2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s impressionistic memoir of her childhood before, during and after Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1979. Originally published in France, where Satrapi now lives, it is divided into two books, The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return, each of which seamlessly mixes the personal with the political. As a child of a secular home, yet unmistakably Iranian and conscious of her Persian heritage, Satrapi is caught between the various social tides of the Islamic revolution.
3) The Quitter by Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel
The Quitter might seem an unexpected title for a memoir by one of the graphic novel’s greatest exponents. And yet, as he reveals in this book, this epithet is an important part of Pekar’s self-image. In painstaking detail, he shows exactly what he means by it, picking out example after example from his childhood and early adulthood. And, as always, his self-assessment is brutally on target.
4) A Contract with God by Will Eisner
Fans quibble over whether Will Eisner’s A Contract with God is really the first graphic novel. But it was certainly among the first, and more importantly it was the one that gained notice, and acclaim, for this new form, which combined the depth and subtlety of great fiction with the visual storytelling at which comics excelled. The four pieces that make up the book – A Contract with God, The Street Singer, The Super and Cookalein – depict immigrant life in 1930s New York, and, with their unprecedented look and grown-up stories, they revolutionised the comics form.
5) It’s a Good Life, if You Don’t Weaken by Seth
This fictional tale of a cartoonist named Seth who’s obsessed with the work of an obscure cartoonist is a fascinating journey into forgotten corners of popular culture. Seth’s curiosity about Kalo seems to be matched by fear of what he might discover: specifically, fear that he’ll find the cause of Kalo’s apparent decline is something to which he himself could also fall prey – whether that be some personal flaw, a professional limitation or just the plain hard facts of life.
6) Stop Forgetting to Remember by Peter Kuper
In Stop Forgetting to Remember, writer-artist Peter Kuper takes his own advice to heart, delving into memories as a means to understanding the present. The book is subtitled The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz, but it soon becomes apparent that this is really the thinly veiled autobiography of Kuper himself. Kuper’s merging of a photo of himself with a drawing of Kurtz on the book’s jacket is just one of many clues that this is the case.
7) Kings in Disguise by James Vance and Dan Burr
The saga of Freddie Bloch, a 12-year-old kid whose family has fallen on hard times in the pre-New Deal depths of the great depression, Kings in Disguise is one of the saddest graphic novels ever produced, although one not without undercurrents of hope. Reminiscent in feel to the classic depression-era movie The Grapes of Wrath, based on John Steinbeck’s novel, Kings in Disguise also owes something to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
8. Brooklyn Dreams by JM DeMatteis and Glenn Barr
Serialised in 1994–95 but not collected as a graphic novel until 2003, Brooklyn Dreams is a coming of age story set in Manhattan’s less celebrated, but no less iconic, sister borough across the East River. It tells the story of a transformative summer in the life of the young Vincent Carl Santini, beautifully conveyed by writer JM DeMatteis (a rare example of a creator who excels at both superhero comics and personal graphic novels) and versatile artist Glenn Barr. It’s really something special.
9) Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot
Imagine having dinner with the most clever, well-read, entertaining person you know, a committed historian and accomplished raconteur, with a thousand interests and the ability to manipulate multiple stories and ideas like an expert juggler balancing a thousand plates on spinning sticks, and you have some idea of what Alice in Sunderland is like. Except that, instead of being limited to the spoken word, your dinner companion has access not only to the traditional graphic novelist’s arsenal of words, pictures and colours, but also to a modern Photoshop-driven array of visual magic tricks that can combine images from dozens of periods and modify them to fit the narrative being told. A candidate for “greatest graphic novel of all time”, Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland is certainly the most ambitious.
10) Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker
Why I Hate Saturn turns a savage but loving eye on twenty-something singles struggling for meaning and romance in 1980s New York. Then it turns plain weird – but in a good way. The brilliant Why I Hate Saturn appeared at a time when graphic novels were just beginning to develop cachet. Maus and A Contract with God had blazed the trail, but as yet nothing else had really registered on the media radar. It was a big risk for Baker and DC’s Piranha Press to put this book out – but it paid off.
Full article and photo: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jul/30/comics