As longtime bookies know, everything we do here at 1book140 is highly scientific. For instance, when a few readers suggested we read a graphic novel in February, I subjected the idea to a rigorous process of analysis, then gave the thumbs up. The suggestion quickly gained steam, and @TheNevin, an aficionado of the medium and #1book140 vet, volunteered to be our curator and guide. After a bit of back and forth over Twitter, it was decided we would read four graphic novels this month, starting with Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. Nevin has organized the other three weeks by genre, as you'll see below. So, we'll be voting for THREE titles this month, instead of the usual one. Voting starts now and runs until Thursday. Discussion of Understanding Comics will run through the end of next week, and we'll begin our week two selection on February 13th; the week three selection on February 20th; and the week four selection on February 27th.
Week 1: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Rather than voting on the introductory title, we'll jump right in with a comic about comics. McCloud has plenty of challenging (and not always universally agreed upon) theories about comics, but also does a great job of explaining the basics. If you've ever wondered why people can take cartoony drawing seriously or how the reader's attention should "flow" from one panel to another, this book will get you started. The discussion on Understanding Comics will also be a great opportunity for everyone to talk about their own familiarity with (or uncertainty about) comics.
Discussion Hashtag: #1b140_1
Week 2: Our First Graphic Novel
There are plenty of great entry points to the world of graphic novels, and fortunately, a lot of them are as loved by the established fans as by the new readers. These titles showcase the variety that comics can offer, all while staying (more or less) realistic. There are plenty of fun fantasy and superhero stories out there, but we'll start with one about people.
Paying For It by Chester Brown
One of the most talked-about (or at least controversial) recent graphic novels, Paying For It is Chester Brown's autobiographical recounting of his history with prostitutes. He not only tells his story, but makes the argument for patronizing prostitutes is a valid, moral alternative to dating and marriage.
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Another autobiographical story, this one by an Iranian author. The view through her eyes as a child is simple and accessible, but the inside look at Iran will hold surprises a lot of readers.
(Reading Note: This was originally published as Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. Reading both of those is the same as reading The Complete Persepolis.)
The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman
Based on the experiences of Spiegelman's father in the Holocaust, this is the one graphic novel that even people who "don't read graphic novels" are familiar with. Using an approach unique to comic books, Maus renders the characters as animals to make this horrific story approachable, but without actually toning down the atrocities.
(Reading Note: This was also originally published in two separate volumes. The complete version is generally the easiest to find today, but either format will work.)
Habibi by Craig Thompson
Craig Thompson's Blankets is a human story told with beautiful, flowing linework, and is usually the first graphic novel that I'll give to someone new. But a lot of bookies have already read that, so the nominee is Thompson's new book. Applying the style of Blankets to a fable rooted in Islamic tradition, this sensual love story is frequently named the best graphic novel of 2011.
Daytripper by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon
Daytripper is a story about life. Specifically, it features vignettes from a single person's life told out of order and with an unexpected twist. Taken all together, though, they paint a picture of the beauty, potential, and fragility that exist for each of us.
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
The most "arty" of the nominees, this novel features a wide variety of art styles and distractions as it slowly unravels the mystery of the title character. Is he a narcissistic elitist? An aimless loser? Or something more? (Seriously, I don't know. This is one I haven't read yet. From looking at reviews, though, I see that this book takes full advantage of the tricks that only comics can accomplish, but doesn't lose sight of the story at its core.)
Discussion hashtag: #1b140_2
Week 3: The "Genre" Stuff
Here is where you'll find the superheroes, science fiction, and just plain geeky obsessions.
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
This "out of continuity" reimagining of Batman has since become central to his character. Years after being forced into retirement by a dystopian government, the obsessive, brooding Bruce Wayne finally comes back to face an old enemy. Along with Watchmen, this story marked the turning point for superheroes as they went from being silly childrens' characters to "serious" adult ones.
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison
Not all modern superhero comics are dark and cynical, and All-Star Superman makes the perfect counterpoint to The Dark Knight Returns. This mixes modern craft with everything that made the "Silver Age" (1960s) memorable: Crazy ideas, unpredictable plots, and victories that owed as much to Superman's morals as his powers.