I’ve been a suscriber for years and Entertainment Weekly’s latest issue is another one of their “Best Ever” extravaganzas. Not only are they picking the best movies, books, music, TV shows, and plays of all time, but they’ve also got assorted “top ten” sidebars strewn throughout these lists in question. They’ve always been a graphic-novel friendly publication so it didn’t surprise me in the least that one of these sidebars was a list of the best graphic novels ever. Their choices are equal parts expected, unexpected, and “Of course ‘Watchmen’ is on there, how could it not be?” If nothing else, the list has three picks that I haven’t read and will now make it my mission to check out in the near future. Expect a podcast on them if the final volume of Hickman’s “Fantastic Four” doesn’t arrive this week.
10. “Y: The Last Man,” Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Pia Guerra (artist): The cynic in me thinks that the premiere of “Under the Dome,” which Vaughan developed, gave this title the edge. However, it’s a worthy choice if for no other reason than it’s one of the most accessible series you can give to someone. Yes, the premise is pure science fiction -- all of the men on Earth suddenly die except for one amateur escape artist and his pet monkey -- but it’s easy to grasp and the characters are relatable and compelling. This is one of the series I always loan out to friends who are looking for good graphic novels to read and if I was making a list of the “30 Greatest Comics Ever,” this would certainly be on that list at least.
9. “Stitches,” David Small: The first of their picks on the list that I have yet to check out. A graphic memoir focusing on the author’s childhood and how he lost his voice after an operation, Small takes us through his adolescent hell as he has to deal with this and his family who effectively put him in this situation to begin with. The question here is that after I’m done reading it, will I ever want to go back to it. (This will be a recurring theme here...)
8. “Mendel’s Daughter,” Martin Lemelman: Not Gregor Mendel’s, but the story of a Holocaust survivor as told by her son. While I haven’t read this, it does seem somewhat unfair to put this on the list with their top choice. After all, this is now the “other Holocaust graphic novel” and the lack of any kind of commentary in the magazine fails to explain why we need two such stories on the list. Was this one really that good? ...Yeah that’s an enormously dick thing to say, and I’ll be picking this up if for no other reason than to see how many of my words I’ll have to eat.
7. “Blankets,” Craig Thompson: I borrowed this from a friend years ago after hearing how good it was. The story of the author’s troubled childhood and transformative first love is certainly an intense, heartbreaking, and passionate work that will wrack your emotions like nothing else. However, it’s also so goddamn depressing that you’re likely not going to want to read it again. I still haven’t picked up a copy of my own after borrowing it. This book did get under my skin in a way that few things do, but it did so in a way that I really didn’t care to experience again. For me, that’s not the mark of any kind of great work. The best keep you coming back to them over and over regardless of how your emotions are played with while you read them.
6. “Chicken With Plums,” Marjane Satrapi: The last of their picks that I haven’t read. I’m actually kind of surprised that Satrapi’s “Persepolis” didn’t make the list given that it’s her most well known and (at least I thought it was) acclaimed work. That they picked this over “Persepolis” is intriguing to say the least and it makes me want to read this more to find out if there’s any justification for that. (“Persepolis,” though, is an illuminating work that everyone should read, particularly if your familiarity with Iran only comes from the nightly news, or their status as the bad guys in “Argo.”)
5. “Watchmen,” Alan Moore (writer), Dave Gibbons (artist): Because it’s the “Citizen Kane” of superhero fiction, that’s why. It should also be pointed out that “Kane” was Entertainment Weekly’s pick for the best movie ever, so there you go. However, while “Watchmen’s” ubiquity on these kinds of lists has become somewhat ridiculous over the years, there’s still no denying that it’s a quality work. Like “Kane,” even though “Watchmen’s” innovations have been absorbed by the medium to the point where they don’t seem that special in the work itself, the story being told therein continues to remain a compelling tale no matter how many times you read it.
4. “Sandman,” Neil Gaiman (and a whole lot of talented artists): No complaints from me here. Easily the crown jewel of DC Comics as far as I’m concerned and one of the most well-plotted and immersive epics I’ve ever experienced in any form. Gaiman is returning to the series with the prequel “Sandman Zero” next year and J.H. Williams III will be illustrating it. After everything the writer has done with the series so far, I can’t imagine this not being one of the best things I’ll read in 2014 already.
3. “Fun Home,” Alison Bechdel: The story of the author’s struggle to come to terms with her father’s sudden death and her own sexual identity. I’d heard nothing but effusive praise for this book, so I picked it up when I was at Comic-Con a couple years back. What I found inside was a beginning that was hypnotic in its melancholy and an ending that managed a terrific surprise given what we were led to believe about Bechdel’s relationship with her father. Everything in between... that hypnotic melancholy became progressively boring and the narrative structure proved increasingly repetitive as we kept covering the same events over and over again with not enough new insights to make things feel worthwhile. Even though it finished strongly, reading this a first time was such a trying experience that I haven’t felt the need to go back and give it a second chance.
2. “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” Herge: Now I like Tintin, but its placement here feels like an overstatement to me. All of Europe probably hates my guts now and I don’t blame them. Tintin’s adventures are thoroughly entertaining stories that can be enjoyed by kids of any age, though they’ve never really reached me in the way that they did for the crew at Entertainment Weekly. Also, I wouldn’t have picked this as the best Tintin story out there. His “Moon” adventures and the man-vs-the-elements tale of “Tintin in Tibet” came off as far more inventive and entertaining in my opinion. If you do decide to read “The Secret of the Unicorn,” be advised that it’s a two-part tale published over two volumes (three and four) in the current Little, Brown editions.
1. “Maus,” Art Spiegelman: Not my choice for the best graphic novel ever, yet I can’t argue with it. Putting aside its brilliant metaphorical take on the horrors of the Holocaust with the Jews portrayed as mice and the Nazis as cats, it’s also a thrilling (yes, thrilling) story of survival as we see how Art’s father Gregor survived the camps through his wits and cunning. Spiegelman also takes things a step further as we see how his father’s experience honed these instincts to a point that made him almost unbearable to be around later in life.
However, what really makes “Maus” great in my opinion is that it’s not a relentlessly depressing read that you’ll want to just experience once and be done with it. I didn’t read this until college mainly because I was expecting it to be just that, but the very last class I took (on satire, believe it or not) was going to be covering it. So I wound up borrowing the teacher’s copy of the first volume and after I read it, I went out on bought both volumes. Not only did I want to know how the story was going to end, I also knew that it belonged in my library as well. If it’s not in yours, then take this chance to fix it.