The Taser's Edge

Sure, watch the Watchmen, but then do some reading, too

So it’s coming out this Friday.  After long years of waiting for not a few die-hard fans:

To begin with, I have probably read a lot of comics/graphic novels, but I do not consider myself at all well read in the format.  To end with, in honor of the release of the Watchmen movie, I provide you with this list of nine comics/graphic novels (and one graphic children’s book) which are better than Watchmen, the book, in no particular order:

1. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman–Hopefully you realize by now that Gaiman is a genius writer.  Check out this series for proof.  If you go to Duke, check out the Absolute Sandman, Vol. 1 from Lilly.

2. From Hell by Alan Moore–See, I don’t hate Moore.  I just don’t understand why everybody’s crazy for The Watchmen.  I think it might be that it was about the first graphic novel that literary critics noticed.  Returning to From Hell, you might recall that a movie of the same name was made of this book, starring Johnny Depp.  I’ve heard that it’s awful.  This book, however, is amazing: Jack the Ripper, Freemasonry and occult stuff, meticulously researched Victorian England, tons of sex and gore.  For all I know all those things make a great synopsis of the movie, but they actually do all click on the page.  Watch out if you think illustrated sex and gore might bother you, because there’s a lot of it.  Furthermore, Eddie Campbell did the art here, and that deserves mentioning.  Huge parts of the book could have been done with no dialogue whatsoever, and you would not miss a thing.

3. Epileptic by David B–David B is a French writer, and this book is a memoir of growing up with his epileptic brother over decades of their lives, in which the two boys’ parents try absolutely everything (from dabbling in various occult groups, to visiting Catholic shrines, to brain surgery, to joining macrobiotic communes) to help their epileptic son, only to see him become more and more distant from them, unable to live a normal life.  If I had to choose one on this list which I think would appeal to ‘serious’ readers of all stripes, I would pick this one.

4. The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman–You know how I mentioned that Watchmen was one of the first graphic novels to be noticed by literary critics?  Well, this is the other big one.  So popular now that you might have had to read it in eighth grade or high school.  Please, film industry, if you absolutely have to make this into a movie sometime, do it right.  Oh yeah, the plot.  A very personal story of the Holocaust in which the Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats.  That might sound dumb or cheesy, but Maus is about as far from those two adjectives as you can imagine.  And if you’ve already read this, then check out Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers about 9/11.

5. Bone by Jeff Smith–The complete one-volume version of Bone was a wedding present to Holly and I from Aaron F., a high school friend.  Holly and I read it together over the first several weeks of our marriage.  Then we started Le Petite Prince but never finished it.  Bone is visually fairly cute, but then the plot becomes epic-er and epic-er.  Evil and good battling.  Dragons.  A princess, as I recall.  The outward cuteness makes this a good gateway book for those interested, which is I think why Aaron recommended it to people in high school.

6. The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi–Only a couple of the books on this list are anything less than incredibly well known, and this is at least halfway obscure.  Tatsumi is apparently a pioneer of serious graphic storytelling, and this is a book of graphic short short stories.  Incredibly dark stuff.  Perhaps mix Sartre,  Raymond Carver, and some dinginess together to do a graphic short story collection and you would get this.  Like From Hell, not for the faint of heart, although in this book’s case, that’s because of the intensely emotional subject matter rather than the visuals.

7. Get a Life by Phillipe Dupuy and Charles Berberian–Although all of the other books on this list are stories about very real and well-developed characters, this is the only one that can be described as celebrating the mundane.  Wonderful, gentle humor about day-to-day living in France.  As far as I know, this volume collects almost everything that these French comic creators have had translated into English.  I still don’t understand why the suits above haven’t made everything these guys do available.

8. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel–Bechdel’s memoir is about growing up with a mentally ill, closeted-and-raging-because-of-it gay father who lavishly decorates the family’s Victorian home and carries on gay affairs throughout his very much hurting marriage.  That’s a rather blunt and inartistic way of describing it, so I apologize.  But if you are a memoir fan (David Sedaris, anyone?), you would like this.

9. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick–Yes, this might be a cheating entry, because it is a childrens’ book, not a graphic novel or comic.  Except that the story is told graphically, the book is over 500 pages long, and it is so good that I couldn’t help pausing from time to time to clasp it to my chest and just breathe in its wondrousness.  (I literally do that from time to time with certain books; it’s how I know how much I like them).  I very much doubt anyone has ever had that experience with Watchmen.  Now they should make this into a movie, and it should be with the book’s black-and-white drawings mixed in with live action scenes and starring Freddie Highmore (Peter in Finding Neverland) or Alex Etel (Damian in Millions).  I never notice child actors, but those two are great.

Honorable mention (better in my opinion, but not incontestably better, than Watchmen):  Blankets by Craig Thompson; Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine; David Boring by Daniel Clowes; Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins

Notably missing from my list: Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware; The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.  This is due to lack of personal emotional connection, not lack of artistry on the books’ part.  The same critique might also be made of Watchmen itself.  But I have to admit, that trailer does look amazing.

3 Comments so far
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Sandman is pretty great, but I don’t know that I can agree that it’s better than Watchmen. It’s too hit-or-miss, and Watchmen has a lot of layers that Sandman doesn’t. Actually, I just lent Watchmen to Mom.

Comment by Zack J.

Sandman may be hit-or-miss, but I think that’s because of the ambition of its scope. 75 issues of the main comic over a 7-year run vs. a single graphic novel for Watchmen. And I think Sandman has plenty of layers. Not only do you get to know Dream well, but also many of his siblings, and then plenty of side stories as well. It’s an entire incredible set of universes, all of them original, or else beautifully cobbled together from disparate sources by Gaiman. Also, I just finished Absolute Sandman, Volume 3, so I’m probably still riding its wonder.

To me, Watchmen was just bleak, bleak, bleak, and I never felt like it never earned being so dark, aside from offering something totally different from stereotypical superhero comics. Like I wrote in my entry, I think my main problem with Watchmen was just a lack of emotional connection with any of the characters or the story. But maybe I should give it another try. Could’ve just been my mood.

Comment by tasersedge

That’s a good list, but I can’t understand why you don’t like Watchmen. I think the only one on that list that I’d put on my list is The Invention of Hugo Cabret (thank you, by the way, it IS wonderful). Sandman could make it too, but I don’t think it’s as complete a work as Watchmen. If we’re talking about layers, I think Sandman’s deepest elements are its allusions to classical myth. But if you look closely, you’ll see these things in Watchmen as well. For instance, ever notice that Silk Spectre II (Laurie) is Athena? The goddess closely associated with owls (Night Owl), with an all powerful aegis (Dr. Manhattan)?

Anyway, I think an addition to the list might be the Nausicaa series by Miyazaki. Also, Civil War is pretty tight, though it has nowhere near the amount of depth of these others. Oh–one more, and you’re going to laugh, but Trigun is actually spectacular. It is, dare I say, a masterpiece.

Comment by Ben

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