Sin City

After years and years of internal debate (within myself, that is), I have finally added all seven volumes of Frank Miller’s Sin City to our collection.  For those of you who have never experienced these books – and these are most certainly books you experience rather than simply read – they are the absolute essence of hard-core noir storytelling.  This is perhaps the quintessential distillation of Miller’s high contrast black and white art combined with his deeply engrossing and often shocking plotlines and characters.  The hesitation I’ve felt over the years comes from the level of violence, sex, and nudity in these books (just for the record, I realize I’ve also given you a very attractive reason for reading these books, but that’s just the way it is).  Miller is so iconic that he is probably responsible for a third of the “must-read” comics and graphic novels ever written (with another third belonging to Alan Moore).  His work on Batman – The Dark Knight Returns and the four issues of the Batman comic that became known as Batman: Year One – have done more to shape the current Batman Universe than any other set of stories.  Add that to Sin City, 300, Ronin, and his work on countless other titles, and you have a serious contributer to comic book history.  But as for the delay in adding this series, I loved it myself, but we really don’t have anything quite like it as far as mature content goes.  Then again, there’s nothing quite like it… that’s the point.  So, for those of you have somehow missed Sin City, now’s your chance.  And I’d love to know what you think about it, so please leave a comment on this posting, if you can!

Some new Gaiman

Okay, maybe not new to the world, but these graphic novels are certainly new to HPL.  The great Neil Gaiman is nothing if not prolific, and we recently added two more of his adapted works: Neverwhere, Coraline.

Neverwhere is actually written by Mike Carey, but it’s an adaptation of Gaiman’s novel of the same name.  Neil was even a consultant on this project, so it certainly received his seal of approval.  It’s a classic Gaiman-esque tale where an ordinary man meets and extraordinary person and is drawn into another world far beyond his reckoning.  It’s a perfect match for an illustrated version, as is Coraline, another story written by Neil that was collaboratively adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell.  Some people know Coraline only from the beautifully animated film that was released a few years ago, but the novel came first, then this graphic novel version, and then the film.

Basically, these are just as good as Gaiman originals, and a treat for any lover of comics, regardless of your connection to Gaiman.  So take a moment and enjoy.

The classic horror comics of EERIE!

The 1950’s and ’60’s were a serious stomping ground for horror comics, and two of the series that produced some of the best were Creepy and Eerie.  Dark Horse Comics has been republishing these issues, and a few volumes of the Creepy and Eerie Archives area available at the library.

Creepy came first, in 1964, but Eerie soon followed as a kind of partner in crime (both series were published by the same company).  These magazines – intentionally published in magazine and not comic format to avoid censorship by the Comics Code Authority – feature classic black and white art, telling tales reminiscent of one of the legendary books in horror comics, Tales from the Crypt by the then essentially defunct EC Comics.  Some of the legends of the business, such as Steve Ditko, Frank Frazetta, Archie Goodwin, Gene Colan, Neal Adams, and many others wrote or illustrated for Eerie, creating a massive anthology of horror stories that are still prime examples of the comic form.

Horror comics are not for everyone’s taste, but if you ever enjoyed the Tales from the Crypt television show, or even The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, you might want to give the Eerie or Creepy archive editions a try!

The Umbrella Academy

If you haven’t read this series by now, make a place on your reading list.  The Umbrella Academy is a series by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba that is one of the coolest superhero comics you will ever read.  The tales revolve around seven orphans – now grown to adulthood (well, most of them, anyway) – taken in and raised/trained by Sir Reginald Hargreeves.  There are currently two volumes in the series, Apocalypse Suite and Dallas, and they are perfect examples of what is possible in comics.  The stories hold to superhero expectations with the level of action, intrigue and suspense, but tear the roof of the expectations of how such stories can be told.  The powers of these 7 defy comic conventions and are somewhat unexplained; there is a tension and history between the 7 that is – I believe – unique to the genre; and they’re just unbelievably fun! 

The writer, Gerard Way, is the frontman for the rock group My Chemical Romance, and the artist, Gabriel Ba, basically wins an award for every series he’s ever drawn.  The Umbrella Academy is published by Dark Horse, and it’s a perfect fit for them, feeling artistically similar to Mignola’s Hellboy.  These are great titles, surprising and vibrant, and I hope you check them out!

The Escapist never dies!

In 2001, Michael Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a novel about two men who created a legendary comic book character, The Escapist.  The novel was widely acclaimed for its portayal of these men and those close to them, but also for its attention to detail about America in the 1930’s and 40’s and its culture, involvement in the war, the burgeoning comic book industry, and the unique environment that allowed for the creation of the comic book hero as we know it, today: where Siegel and Shuster created Superman, the fictional Kavalier & Clay created The Escapist.  Chabon’s book almost qualifies as an historical novel for the way it interpolates those early days of comics and the race by every other comic publisher to come up with their own “Superman.”  Yet there never was a comic book called The Escapist.  At least, not until 2004.

In 2004, Chabon teamed up with Dark Horse Comics to produce a series where multiple writers and artists created stories that in style and design felt like they were actually written in the 30’s and 40’s.  escapistsBut in 2006, Brian K. Vaughan took this one step further and created a brilliant and moving 6-issue miniseries taking place in current time called The Escapists, in which a young fan decides to use inheritance money to buy the rights to the famed character and bring him back to life (the character is said to have been out of fashion and unpublished for years).  The main character, Max Roth, enlists two others to round out the comic triumvirate of writer/artist/letterer, and what results is a true love letter to the medium of comics.  I had enjoyed the earlier series of Escapist based stories, but they were unrelated, homage pieces – nothing wrong with that, they just didn’t hold up to multiple re-readings.  Vaughan’s work, however, is just as the jacket says: “An awsome heroic adventure, a heartbreaking coming-of-age tale, an insider’s look at the funnybook industry, and an earnest defense of dreamers everywhere, The Escapists is the reason everyone loves comics!”  Other than the word “funnybook,” that’s exactly right.  Like all of Vaughan’s personal work – and I don’t know how he does it – his endings are perfection.  It’s very hard to nail a story shut and yet leave it perfectly wide open for the possibilities of a limitless future in six issues or even 60, but he does it every time.  If you want a great book to give to someone who doesn’t think they like comics, this is the one for the non-believer.  Oh yeah, and all the rest of us believers, too.

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