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Top 17 Best Graphic Novels:

March 2016

Graphic biographies fill this month’s list of my recommendations, visualising the extraordinary lives of Thoreau, Turing, Belushi and The Smiths. First-person autobiographical accounts include Sam Glanzman’s diaries of his World War II service on board the USS Stevens and Carlos Giménez’s insights into post-war orphans in Franco’s Spain. On the fiction front, Daniel Clowes serves up his first new graphic novel in more than half a decade in Patience, while Hubert announces the dazzling debut of Flemish wunderkind Ben Gijsemans. There’s plenty more to pique your interest here, such as Jacky Fleming’s ferociously funny The Trouble With Women, but my Top Tip has to be Igort’s triumphal achievement, The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks, giving voice at last to the unheard and suppressed victims in the Ukraine and Russia in two major albums, now combined and translated into one significant epic of humane testimony. Surely a graphic novel of the year…

by Mark Beyer
New York Review Books

The publisher says:
Enjoy the ecstasy of Agony. Amy and Jordan are just like us: hoping for the best, even when things go from bad to worse. They are menaced by bears, beheaded by ghosts,  and hunted by the cops, but still they struggle on, bickering and reconciling, scraping together the rent and trying to find a decent movie. It’s the perfect solace for anxious modern minds, courtesy of one of the great innovators of American comics. Now if only Amy’s skin would grow back… 192pgs B&W paperback.

Al Plastino: Last Superman Standing
by Eddy Zeno
TwoMorrows Publishing

The publisher says:
With a comics career dating back to 1941, including inking early issues of Captain America, Al Plastino was one of the last surviving penciler/inkers of his era. Laboring uncredited on Superman for two decades (1948-1968), he co-created Supergirl, Brainiac, and the Legion of Super-Heroes, drawing those characters’ first appearances, and illustrating the initial comics story to feature Kryptonite. He was called upon to help maintain the DC Comics house-style by redrawing other artists’ Superman heads, most notoriously on Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen series, much to his chagrin. His career even included working on classic daily and Sunday newspaper strips like Nancy, Joe Palooka, Batman, and others. With a foreword by Paul Levitz, this book (by Eddy Zeno, author of Curt Swan: A Life In Comics) was completed just weeks before Al’s recent passing. In these pages, the artist remembers both his struggles and triumphs in the world of comics, cartooning and beyond. A near-century of insights shared by Al, his family, and contemporaries Allen Bellman, Nick Cardy, Joe Giella, and Carmine Infantino—along with successors Jon Bogdanove, Jerry Ordway, and Mark Waid—paint a layered portrait of Plastino’s life and career. And a wealth of illustrations show just how influential a figure he is in the history of comics. 112pgs B&W paperback.

Belushi: On A Mission From God
by Alberto Schiavone & Matteo Manera
One Peace Books

The publisher says:
Animal House. Blues Brothers. Saturday Night Live. A gift for comedy practically unmatched in the history of cinema―John Belushi is one of America’s greatest icons. Belushi died of an overdose at the age of thirty-three, defined by fame, success, and an insatiable hunger for life. This graphic novel offers readers a new perspective on one of the most prominent figures in American comedy, chronicling Belushi’s rise and fall and showing how wild success can turn into sudden tragedy. Through a story rich in tenderness and passion, it brings to life the irreverent, excessive, crazy, profane, unpredictable spirit of an actor considered to be the ultimate testament to free thought and nonconformity. 112pgs B&W paperback.

Bird Boy Vol. 1: The Sword of Mali Mani
by Anna Szabla
Dark Horse

The publisher says:
Bird Boy follows the story of Bali, a 10 year-old boy, desperate to prove his worth to his Northern tribe, despite his small stature. Banned from the ceremony that would make him an adult in the eyes of his people, he takes matters into his own hands. To prove that he is capable of taking care of himself, he sets out into the forbidden forest and stumbles upon a legendary weapon. Bali fights his way across a dangerous land of gods, men, and beasts to keep the sword of Mali Mani, the savior of the sun, from the hands of the terrifying Rooks. 88pgs colour paperback.

Mike Mignola says:
Stunningly beautiful, strange (in the best way possible) and refreshingly original. Oh, and that little guy is just adorable.

Goldtiger: The Poseidon Complex
by Guy Adams & Jimmy Broxton

The publisher says:
Antonio Barreti and Louis Shaeffer’s Goldtiger, the iconic 60s comic strip that never was… until now! An obscure Italian artist and a down-to-earth British writer, worlds apart in both taste and ideology, came together to create a rival to Modesty Blaise that has lived in infamy. The duo’s adventures of Lily Gold and Jack Tiger were ultimately deemed too sensational for the nation’s newspaper pages and the strip was cancelled before it even ran. This enthralling book presents ‘The Poseidon Complex’, the complete serial, lifting the lid on comics’ most unsung creation and includes letters, scripts, interviews and sketches - all documenting the creation of the strip and the outlandish lives of its creators. It also presents ‘Goldtiger 2000’, offered to (but refused by) 2000 AD for its launch in 1977 and details Barreti’s continued refusal to let his groundbreaking ideas die, even if nobody wanted to publish them. 128pgs colour paperback.

Goodnight Punpun Vol. 1
by Inio Asano
Viz Media

The publisher says:
Meet Punpun Punyama. He’s an average kid in an average town. He wants to win a Nobel Prize and save the world. He wants to go far away with his true love. He wants to find some porn. But Punpun’s life is about to unravel… Read a revealing interview with Inio Asano (spoiler alerts!) here… 448pgs B&W paperback.



by Ben Gijsemans
Jonathan Cape

The publisher says:
Hubert is a solitary man who shapes his life by going to museums. He talks to few people and only about museums and art. When his neighbour downstairs, a lonely woman, tries to seduce him, he doesn’t understand. He takes photos of the pictures he likes - usually of beautiful women - and paints copies of the paintings at home. There is only one real woman who fascinates him; she lives in the opposite building and he can see her balcony from his window. One of the most beautiful graphic novels Jonathan Cape has ever published, Hubert marks the beginning of a great career. Translated from the Dutch by Julia Blackburn and Sandra van Beek. 88pgs colour hardcover.

by Carlos Giménez

The publisher says:
With a preface by Will Eisner, Paracuellos is a work of great courage, created at a time when telling the truth about Spain’s political past could get one killed. It is arguably the most important graphic memoir ever created in comics. Carlos Giménez’s autobiographical account of the plight of children in post-World War II Fascist Spain has won virtually every comics award in Europe, including “Best Album” at the 1981 Angouleme Festival, and the “Heritage Award” at Angouleme in 2010. In the late 1930s when Spanish fascists led by Franco, and aided by Hitler and Mussolini, overthrew the elected government, almost 200,000 men and women fell in battle, were executed, or died in prison. Their orphaned children-and others ripped from the homes of the defeated-were shuttled from Church-run “home” to “home” and fed a steady diet of torture and disinformation by a totalitarian state bent on making them “productive” citizens. Carlos Giménez was one of those children. In 1975, after Franco’s death, Carlos began to tell his story. Breaking the code of silence proved to be a milestone, both for the comics medium and for a country coming to terms with its past. An illustrated essay by Carmen Moreno-Nuno, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Kentucky, places the comics in historical perspective. 144pgs B&W paperback.

William Stout says:
The stories transcend just being about a historical moment in Spain. Their humanity will speak to everyone. The stories are heartbreakers, but Carlos never loses his sense of humor.

by Daniel Clowes

The publisher says:
The most anticipated graphic novel of 2016, from the creator of Ghost World.
is a psychedelic science-fiction love story, veering with uncanny precision from violent destruction to deeply personal tenderness in a way that is both quintessentially “Clowesian” and utterly unique in the author’s body of work. This 180-page, full-color original graphic novel affords Clowes the opportunity to draw some of the most exuberant and breathtaking pages of his life, and to tell his most suspenseful, surprising and affecting story yet. 180pgs colour hardcover.

Daniel Clowes tells Previews:
A very simplified and therefore somewhat misleading description [of Patience] would be “a violent time-travel love story.” In the beginning, I was mostly interested in the emotional and metaphorical possibilities of time travel - the notion of physically revisiting your own memories, and the ways we can turn into very different, almost unrecognisable people based on our circumstances and decisions. From that starting point I spent a lot of time writing and refining the story, literally telling it to myself over and over hundreds of times until the logic and clarity of the events felt entirely organic and inevitable. [It took] close to 5 years, though the tiniest germ of the idea, at least for the main character Jack Barlow, first emerged around 20 years ago in an aborted story of Eightball #16. I was definitely thinking a lot about [Steve] Ditko - the unpleasantly judgmental moral workscapes of Mr. A as much as the dread Dormammu - and [Jesse] Marsh, as well as [Jack] Kirby, Ramona Fradon, and Bob Powell, among many others. Our hero Jack undoubtedly fits somewhere on the Lee Marvin/James Coburn spectrum, though his look is mostly inspired by the insane Dell Frankenstein comics of the 1960s. I always wished Mr. Marvin had made a 1960s pop art science fiction film à la The Tenth Victim, and this story is in some distant way my attempt to fill in that blank.

Sam Glanzman’s USS Stevens: The Collected Stories
by Sam Glanzman
Dover Publications

The publisher says:
Legendary Golden Age artist Sam Glanzman set many of his tales aboard the USS Stevens, the actual World War II destroyer on which he served. This full-colour, hardcover treasury collects every single Stevens tale he ever published, more than 60 short adventures from Our Army at War, G. I. Combat, and other 1970s DC war comics as well as longer pieces from Marvel’s 1986 revival of Savage Tales magazine and the more recent Joe Kubert Presents. Plus, this outstanding collection also includes the final, four-page story about the warship, newly written and illustrated by Glanzman himself. Exclusive Bonus Material: New four-page Stevens story by Sam Glanzman; New Foreword by Ivan Brandon; New Introduction by Jon B. Cooke; New Afterword by Allan Asherman. 352pgs colour hardcover.

Garth Ennis says:
USS Stevens is both an excellent graphic narrative and an important record of an American warship’s service in the Pacific campaign of World War Two. It also serves as a fine tribute to the young sailors of the US Navy, who faced the forces of Imperial Japan in battle after battle, enduring countless hardships on the long journey to victory. Mr. Glanzman has my admiration, respect and profound gratitude.

Tales Of The Smiths: A Graphic Biography
by Con Chrisoulis
Overlook Press

The publisher says:
In one place for the first time and featuring new, never-published material, the illustrated story of the pioneering band, from Con Chrisoulis’s daily comic strip Tales of The Smiths is a comic book retelling of the band members’ teenage years, before the group was famous, and includes fascinating digressions about their influences (the New York Dolls, Nico, Sex Pistols, NY punk, Patti Smith, etc) and the times in which they were growing up. The story reaches its climax with the meeting of Morrissey and Marr, the formation of the band in 1982 and their first gig as The Smiths. 464pgs B&W paperback.

The Birth of Kitaro
by Shigeru Mizuki
Drawn & Quarterly

The publisher says:
Meet one of Japan’s most popular characters of all time-Kitaro, the One-Eyed Monster Boy. The Birth of Kitaro collects seven of Shigeru Mizuki’s early, and beloved, Kitaro stories, making them available for the first time in English, in an all-new, kid-friendly format. These stories are from the golden era of the late 1960s, when Gegege no Kitaro truly hit its stride as an all-ages supernatural series. Mizuki’s Kitaro stories are both timelessly relevant and undeniably influential, inspiring a decades-long boom in stories about yokai, Japanese ghosts, and monsters. “Kitaro’s Birthday” reveals the origin story of the yokai boy Kitaro and his tiny eyeball father, Medama Oyaji. “Neko Musume versus Nezumi Otoko” is the first of Mizuki’s stories to feature the popular recurring character Neko Musume, a little girl who transforms into a cat when she gets angry or hungry. Other stories in The Birth of Kitaro draw heavily from Japanese folklore, with Kitaro taking on legendary Japanese yokai like the Nopperabo and Makura Gaeshi, and fighting the monstrous recurring villain Gyuki. With more than 150 pages of spooky and often funny comics about the titular yokai boy, The Birth of Kitaro is the perfect introduction to the award-winning author Mizuki’s most popular series, seminal comics that have won the hearts of Japanese children and adults for more than half a century. 184pgs B&W paperback.

The Imitation Game
by Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis
Abrams ComicArts

The publisher says:
English mathematician and scientist Alan Turing (1912–1954) is credited with many of the foundational principles of contemporary computer science. The Imitation Game presents a historically accurate graphic novel biography of Turing’s life, including his groundbreaking work on the fundamentals of cryptography and artificial intelligence. His code breaking efforts led to the cracking of the German Enigma during World War II, work that saved countless lives and accelerated the Allied defeat of the Nazis. While Turing’s achievements remain relevant decades after his death, the story of his life in post-war Europe continues to fascinate audiences today. Award-winning duo Jim Ottaviani (the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Feynman and Primates) and artist Leland Purvis (an Eisner and Ignatz Award nominee and occasional reviewer for the Comics Journal) present a factually detailed account of Turing’s life and groundbreaking research—as an unconventional genius who was arrested, tried, convicted, and punished for his openly gay lifestyle, and whose innovative work still fuels the computing and communication systems that define our modern world. Computer science buffs, comics fans, and history aficionados will be captivated by this riveting and tragic story of one of the 20th century’s most unsung heroes. 240pgs colour hardcover.

The Trouble With Women
by Jacky Fleming
Square Peg

The publisher says:
Can women be geniuses? Or are their arms too short? Why did we learn about only three women at school? What were all the others doing? The Trouble With Women does for girls what 1066 and All That did for boys: it reminds us of what we were taught about women in history lessons at school, which is to say, not a lot. A brilliantly witty book of cartoons, it reveals some of our greatest thinkers’ baffling theories about women. We learn that even Charles Darwin, long celebrated for his open, objective scientific mind, believed that women would never achieve anything important, because of their smaller brains. Get ready to laugh, wince and rescue forgotten women from the ‘dustbin of history’, whilst keeping a close eye out for tell-tale ‘genius hair’. You will never look at history in the same way again. 96pgs B&W hardcover.

The Ukrainian And Russian Notebooks: Life And Death Under Soviet Rule
by Igort
Simon & Schuster

The publisher says:
Written and illustrated by an award-winning artist and translated into English for the first time, Igort’s The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks is a collection of two harrowing works of graphic nonfiction about life under Russian foreign rule. After spending two years in Ukraine and Russia, collecting the stories of the survivors and witnesses to Soviet rule, masterful Italian graphic novelist Igort was compelled to illuminate two shadowy moments in recent history: the Ukraine famine and the assassination of a Russian journalist. Now he brings those stories to new life with in-depth reporting and deep compassion. In The Russian Notebooks, Igort investigates the murder of award-winning journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkoyskaya. Anna spoke out frequently against the Second Chechen War, criticizing Vladimir Putin. For her work, she was detained, poisoned, and ultimately murdered. Igort follows in her tracks, detailing Anna’s assassination and the stories of abuse, murder, abduction, and torture that Russia was so desperate to censor. In The Ukrainian Notebooks, Igort reaches further back in history and illustrates the events of the 1932 Holodomor. Little known outside of the Ukraine, the Holodomor was a government-sanctioned famine, a peacetime atrocity during Stalin’s rule that killed anywhere from 1.8 to twelve million ethnic Ukrainians. Told through interviews with the people who lived through it, Igort paints a harrowing picture of hunger and cruelty under Soviet rule. With elegant brush strokes and a stark color palette, Igort has transcribed the words and emotions of his subjects, revealing their intelligence, humanity, and honesty—and exposing the secret world of the former USSR. 352pgs colour hardcover.

Thoreau: A Sublime Life
by Maximilien Le Roy & A. Dan

The publisher says:
“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust.” This graphic novel biography relates the forward looking inspirational life of the great author, philosopher and pioneering ecologist. Henry David Thoreau was also the father of the concept, still fresh today (viz “Occupy Wall St.”), of “civil disobedience” which he used against slavery and the encroachment of government. 88pgs colour hardcover.

Trump: The Complete Collection:
Essential Kurtzman Vol. 2

by Harvey Kurtzman & various artists
Dark Horse

The publisher says:
TRUMP was a lavish color satire magazine Harvey Kurtzman created for Hugh Hefner after leaving MAD magazine acrimoniously in 1956. With a star-studded cast (Mel Brooks, Will Elder, Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Al Jaffee) and Playboy‘s money and clout, TRUMP should have been huge. But for complex financial reasons, Hefner pulled the plug while the third issue was in production. For six long decades, the legendary TRUMP has never been collected . . . until now. With never-before-seen art, including the surviving contents of the third issue, this long-overdue collection will blow the minds of fans of Kurtzman, satire, and 1950s American pop culture. 168pgs colour hardcover.

Posted: December 26, 2015


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My Books

1001 Comics  You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett

Comics Art by Paul Gravett from Tate Publishing

Comics Unmasked by Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning from The British Library