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.
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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.
(Reading Note: This was originally a 12-issue comic series. Some collected editions contain the complete story, but others separate them into two 6-issue volumes.)
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Alan Moore was by far the most-requested author for this month, with V for Vendetta being the most popular choice. Even thirty years later, this story of rebellion against a totalitarian government feels relevant. Thanks to its style and conviction, it's one of the few works of popular art that have presented a terrorist as a hero and still received mainstream acceptance.
The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman
Surprisingly, Jonathan Hickman was the second-most popular author in this month's nominations. He only appeared on the scene five years ago, but his debut The Nightly News hit with all the subtlety of a carbomb. Like a modern V for Vendetta, this is about a revolutionary cult who directly attack the corporate-controlled media. Hickman's art has a strong design sense, and his pages often look more like marketing materials or magazine ads than a traditional series of comic panels.
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon
This is a talking animal story, but there's nothing safe or escapist about it. Inspired by a news story of lions who escaped from Saddam Hussein's zoo, Pride of Baghdad is a look at the Iraq war from the perspective of innocents who only want to find their own safety and freedom.
Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon
It's your typical story about a private eye in over his head... mixed with your typical story about a man with brain damage. As the protagonist loses his grip on reality, scenes are jumbled together and the art becomes sketchy and inconsistent. The pacing and visual language of comics becomes the perfect tool to depict unreliable perceptions.
Discussion hashtag: #1b140_3
Week 4: The Series
Many great comic works have been multi-volume series, or even ongoing stories. There's a unique pleasure in reading a serialized work. All of these nominees are the first volume of a larger story, some of which are still continuing today.
Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham and Lan Medina
The idea is that characters from classic fairy tales are secretly living in a small New York town. While clever ideas about what Cinderella and Prince Charming are up to today gives this series a hook, it's the original plot that keeps the comic going. Volume 17 will be out soon, and this series shows no sign of slowing down.
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley
A love of video games, music, and manga collide in this frenetic pop-culture fantasy. It may sound gimmicky and over the top, but the secret to its success is the realistic characters that populate it. At its heart, this is a serious story about growing up. It just happens to involve growing up in a world with ninjas and hyperspace tunnels.
The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman and various
When asked to update an obscure DC Comics superhero, Gaiman took the opportunity to create a sprawling epic that had nothing to do with the original source material. Often violent and heart-wrenching (especially in these early issues), but other times tender and philosophical, this is still often used as the prime example of how "mature" comics can have artistic purpose instead of just shock value.
(Reading Note: The first volume collects issues #1-8 of the comic series. If you are following along in Absolute Sandman, simply read the first eight chapters.)
Criminal Volume 1: Coward by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
A pitch-perfect homage to classic noir movies, Criminal is a little different than the other nominees in this category. Each book stands alone as a complete story, but they all take place in the same city. Major characters in one book might show up as supporting characters in another, giving fans a richer experience without actually making it any more difficult for new readers to follow. There are no heroes here, just different types of criminals, but it's hard not to root for them even when they're obviously doomed.
Bone Volume 1: Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith
Cute and fun, this is the only young children's story up for voting. However, Bone has a devoted adult following as well, partly because the story slowly grows into a surprisingly epic fantasy adventure by the end, and partly because Jeff Smith is a master of cartoon art. The action flows so smoothly that even simple physical humor seems hilarious, and the characters feel as classic as Mickey Mouse by the end of this first volume.
(Reading Note: If reading the "One Volume Edition" of this series, the first six issues correspond to this book.)
The Unwritten Volume 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Full of mystery, adventure, and literary references, The Unwritten may be the perfect comic for a book club. Protagonist Tom Taylor has lived his life under the shadow of his father's Harry Potter-like "Tommy Taylor" series, but this comic opens as he starts to learn the secret truth behind it. All literature is actually a war for control of the human spirit, and Tom has been unknowingly thrust into the middle of the battle.
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