I am well aware that graphic novels have a large and devoted audience, but for the majority of people it’s still not a respected medium. This may be because they reside in a gray area; most think of them as comics and solely for children or those you haven’t outgrown this childish indulgence, neither is it regarded as a valid art form, or as serious literature. Having majored in English Literature in university I actually encountered graphic novels several time in my studies. Bones in Education English for Young Adults, and Mauz in a contemporary American Literature Class. Which means that graphic novels are starting to be seen an alternate literary form.
The history of graphic novels is fairly short, the term becoming popular with Will Eisner’s A Contract With God, which was published 1978. Since then, aside from Alan Moore and Frank Miller few are aware of the range graphic novels have to offer, from front line journalism with Joe Sacco, existential crisis in Asterios Polyp, coming of age in Ghost World, historical fiction in From Hell, essentially graphic novels have all what regular novels have to offer, plus pictures!
I know there are a lot of lists like this, but perhaps mine will be different because it’s from an English Literature perspective…
Some of my favourites:
Promethea: Written by Alan Moore, art by J. H. Williams III, this is a graphic novel is creatively and beautifully done, with various issue emulating different artists in their themes. The only criticism that can be made is that this is a mouthpiece for Moore’s occultist beliefs, but that doesn’t hold back the story, and there isn’t a particular focus on one belief system, but seems to draw from several a message of transcendence and striving for a general well-being that is lacking in our society.
Fun Home: The first graphic novel to make a significant impression on me. As a someone who’s a big reader, I find that because graphic novels can be read rather quickly it’s hard to get attached to the characters or emotionally driven by the narrative. Perhaps because Fun Home deals with heavy issues or you can tell this is a narrative close to the authors heart, or because it includes literary references, it won me over to graphic novels.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns : A good ol’ fashioned comic book, but intended for a mature audience. Batman has always been my favourite super hero, unlike Superman or Spiderman there’s a darkness to him, the bat being a nocturnal creature, not on a clear side of the law and residing in a macbre city like Gothem, even bringing in a psychologist who claims Batman causes the existence of villains, who are there just to fight him. Here we even see him battle Superman, dark vs. light. Another thing that adds depth to this comic is that batman is old and struggling with the knowledge that his body cannot handle the strain of being a superhero anymore, but he has no other use for his body then to fight the evildoers who do harm to the good people of Gothem.