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.

Tuesday Reading Roundup, Week 7

1. The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 3 by Neil Gaiman–Thankfully, after a somewhat disappointing second volume, this one is possibly as good as the first.  Check your local library, although this is really probably good enough to drop the $60-70 on Amazon.  It makes me hope that whenever they start making films, they do it right.  I vote Guillermo del Toro or Alfonso Cuaron to direct.  Courtney, you should get Max to grab Volume 1 from Lilly Library.  For some reason, I think you might like it.

2. Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann–This thin volume will soon be finished, although I now doubt it will be finished before Lent begins tomorrow.  I feel like I get Lent, but I still don’t get Ash Wednesday.  I’ve still got 10 hours to figure it out, I suppose.

3. Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters by Elie WieselI haven’t actually started this book, but I randomly hoped that writing down that I was reading it would encourage me to read it.

4. The Lady, the Lover, and Her Lord by T.D. Jakes–Despite some ridiculous phrasing on Jakes’ part, at 25% through, I am surprising myself, but I actually like a lot of what Jakes has to say.  The fact that I have to read this book is what’s great about Dr. Esther Acolatse.  She has you read from all over the place–Karl Barth, the US Council of Catholic Bishops, T.D. Jakes, and the next author.

5. Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix–This is a book along the lines of Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus.  Marriage/Self-help from somebody who is actually a psychologist.  Haven’t begun it yet, but I have to get halfway through by this time tomorrow afternoon (circa 2:14pm).

6. On the Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther–Short and to the point.  This is, I think, the third time I have had it assigned at Duke.  But I’ve never read it as a work in the virtue ethics tradition, so we’ll see how that goes.

Tuesday Reading Roundup, Week 6

1. Night by Elie Wiesel–As I told Holly last night, I’m not quite sure why I haven’t read this yet.  It’s so short and so good that I read most of it in one sitting last night.  I also have to admit that I thought it was an autobiographical novel and not a memoir.  You’ll notice, as I did, that this is the only non-Christian book I’m reading this week.  That’s part of the reason that I chose to pick it up.  Of course, it still has to do with religion.

2. Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Alexander Schmemann–Yes, I have started it.  And you will start seeing quotes from it in about a week or so.  I think I’m going to post something Lent-y each week (Wednesdays, maybe?) during Lent.

3. De Trinitate by St. Augustine–Okay, I only have to read chapters 5 and 6.  But, as much as I want to hate Augustine (and I’m not sure why, but perhaps sex and predestination), I love the guy.  I do think, however, (pretentious alert) that he could use some work on his understanding of the Spirit.  Give me more, Augustine, please.

4. Generation to Generation by Edwin H. Friedman–Such a fantastic and wise man.  Tomorrow I’ll give you a lengthy quote to chew on.  Having read less than half of this book, I would recommend it to almost anyone half-interested in psychology, counseling, or their personal interactions with their families.

5. Treatise on the Virtues by St. Thomas Aquinas–Got to love him.  So much brain grinding.  So much grace of God working.

Honorable mention: The Absolute Sandman, Vol. 3 by Neil Gaiman–I put this on here because I doubt I’ll be able to stay away from it this week.  Even though Vol. 1 was much better than Vol. 2, I’m still going to give this an honest try.  The chances of it being read are also helped by the fact that I somehow (!?!?!?!) finished all my school readings for this week today.