Graphic Novels – Worth your time

February 26, 2014

Graphic Novels… how to describe them… an illustrated novel? They’re like comic books, but slightly more sophisticated? Less girly versions of manga? They’re basically a book but with pictures, but not for kids (sometimes and often)? They’re superbly illustrated stories?

Hm… Ah, bugger.

Personally, when I use the term graphic novels, I include manga and comic books in that category simply to generalize. There are quite a few out there, most notably the Naruto or One Piece series, or the unfortunate adaptation of the Twilight film to a graphic novel format. Some of them can go on for over 60+ volumes, and some can be as short as five, like Last Fantasy. Some are super duper funny, and others are unbelievably sad and emotional. Some are gorier than your worst nightmares, and others have more little adorable creatures than you can shake a stick at.

My plan here is to bring you to light on some of the greater graphic novel installations that you are less than likely to discover due to them not being stuck behind ones with huge followings, like Naruto. If you do read graphic novels regularly, perhaps you’ve already heard of them. Perhaps you disagree with me when I cite them as some of the best. Well, we all have our preferences. If you couldn’t tell the difference between a graphic novel and a plate of pasta, I hope to introduce you to at least one series you might be able to sink your teeth into and enjoy.

So, let’s get this hot dog stand rolling.

#6 – One Piece

#6 - One Piece

6 – The One Piece Series

One Piece is many things, which certainly spread themselves around through 70 freaking novels and a massive television series. It’s about a young man, named Luffy, who wants to be greatest pirate in all the history of ever to sail the seas, and to find the single greatest collection of booty in, once again, all the history of ever. Did I mention he can stretch his body indefinitely? Well, he can. It makes for some hilarious fights. He meets some nifty characters along that way, of course, such as a flirty cook, a tri-sword wielding stoic, a curvy navigator, a chronic liar with a Pinocchian nose, and a teddy bear thing, that like, can turn into a reindeer or some really cool stuff. The journey will take you to some fantastical locations and cities, and you’ll be treated to hilarious moments of absurd and silly fight sequences and, to say the least, some surprisingly tender moments.

While it’s very easy to sink into the awesome pirate themes, the biggest catching point is, for me, the awesome art style. Seriously. I feel like I’m walking through a Looney Tunes cartoon that fell into a bowl of a very angry Disney. It’s perfect – the villains are so much fun to look at, because they look so ridiculously over-menacing and it works just so brilliantly! Their stubble or toothy smiles or clothing style or anything else make them all so unique and spectacular. And that’s nothing compared to what some of the main characters can do. When Luffy is mad, his eyes bug out so far and his mouth opens wider than the Grand Canyon and his brows are so scrunched together in such unparalleled rage that I feel like if I make a sound he’ll leap out at me and smash my face against the wall.

The story is funny, intriguing, and heartfelt. The characters are thought-out, hilarious, and consistent. Please, treat yourself to One Piece.

#5 – The Dark Tower

#5 - The Dark Tower

5 – Stephen King’s The Dark Tower

Stephen King’s epic fantasy “The Dark Tower” has been around for quite awhile, and it’s been around the block. Now, Marvel has revived it anew in their graphic novel adaptation of the series, and it’s pretty darn great. The Dark Tower is about Roland Deschain, the youngest gunslinger to ever sling some guns. He apparently has to find the Dark Tower. Does he know what it is yet? Nah. Do I? No, I haven’t finished the series. But, I’ll give you some appetizers for the moment.

After some character reveals and plot twists, he’s sent off by his mustache wielding father to go investigate a neighboring community so he can one, aid the gunslinger’s war and two, hide out for awhile against, basically, Satan, or the Spider King. His friends Alain and Cuthbert join him, and he meets some fun people, including his star-crossed lover, a pitiful kid, and some more mustache wielding villains who look older than Dick Clark aging 200 years in 3 seconds. On his journey, he encounters one of Satan’s palantirs that doesn’t much like him, and after several adventures and fights, they return home, with less than pleasant company. There’s little I can say about the storyline – It’s a Stephen King story. It’s violent, it’s vulgar, it’s hilarious, it’s scary, it’s heart-wrenching, it’s bloody brilliant.

The art styles here are quite pleasing, gruesome as they are. You’ll see every blood splatter, busted face, everything, in lovely detail. All the characters are realistically drawn and brought to life with all the little details of their hair and face and posture and so on. The fight scenes are super fun to read because of how great they’re created with the amazing drawing. Somebody flying off a horse or someone’s head being thrown in a friendly game of catch all worked so well. My favorite part of it all is the lighting effects. It’s a very very dark set of graphic novels. (Hah, Dark Tower, Dark novels… eh, I thought it was funny.) On an old witch or an extreme close-up of Roland’s face, the lighting plays off to make them look so ridiculously over-menacing. The attention paid to detail on it is spectacular. I got goose bumps on every close-up because every shadow on someone’s face popped right out to me.

Sounds pretty great, huh? Thought so.

#4 – Lone Wolf and Cub

#4 - Lone Wolf and Cub

4 – Lone Wolf and Cub

Lone Wolf and Cub is, frankly, pretty heavy. Set in Edo period Japan, (and the novel has been acclaimed for its spectacular accuracy of the time period) it’s about a Ronin (wandering samurai) named Ogami Itto, the former Shogun executioner, who is now an assassin for hire. I can’t fully explain it, but the story is told in an episodic way, with each chapter being an individual assassination contract, with a couple exceptions. Over time, we learn more and more about what led him to his path of the assassin and what he hopes to achieve. It’s still a bit hazy to me, as the first book didn’t even fully explain it, but from what I gathered, Ogami’s family was disgraced and killed by a rival clan, but he got away before they could get him too, and he now wanders as a Ronin, all roads eventually leading him to his revenge. The fact that this is episodic doesn’t exactly progress the story that well, but that’s not the point. Each chapter is a different job that Ogami has, where in each one, he’s presented with different tasks and different characters. They’re meant to provide barrels of character depth to Ogami – and it works. Very well. We become so familiar with Ogami and how he allows himself to do what he does with such efficiency.

However, what makes him so mysterious is that he brings his adorable little child Diagoro along with him at all times, and the child plays a part in many of his assassinations, either as a distraction, something to throw his targets off, a spy, and anything else. His child is about 5 years old, give or take. The work of death is not exactly the place for a child, at all. Still, the authors embrace that fact and deeply explore the relationship between father and son – Only a son can know his father’s heart, as a father’s can know his sons. And, it cannot be ignored that a wolf cub is still a wolf. So, the two always travel together and are never apart. In the instances that they are apart, Ogami is not a happy camper. He is an unbelievably skilled swordsman, and it makes the fight scenes wicked awesome. The way everything is drawn here is infinitely down to detail, in such a perfect way that it’s realistic yet still so much fun to look at.

But, as I said, this is heavy stuff. There are several scenes that will make you cringe or not want to continue. Many of the chapters are very mature, either due to intimacy or some of the horrendous things a character might do. This isn’t exactly for everyone, but if it IS for you, you will not be sad you picked it up.

#3 – Kashimashi

#3 - Kashimashi

3 – Kashimashi

I have absolutely no reservations or embarrassment in saying that, personally, Kashimashi is my absolute favorite manga. Also, keep in mind that it is the single girliest thing on Earth. Like, really girly. More girly than those “Bratz” commercials. More girly than every single episode of Strawberry Shortcake put together. It’s more girly than roller skating with a poodle. Even more girly than that wedding you staged between Ken and Barbie on top of your bed with the Tinkerbell blankets. And I LOVE it. The story line is, simply put, about Hazumu (a boy), a rather feminine gardening nerd who gets crushed by an alien spaceship, but the aliens felt bad so they recreated him, but accidentally made him into a chick. Yay! The girl he loved beforehand, Yasuna, now expresses newfound interest in him, along with his childhood tomboy friend, Tomari. What ensues is one of the most hysterical, heart-warming, and heart-wrenching love triangles in the history of the entire universe. Along the journey, we meet other characters like the ridiculously funny Hitoshi (the alien), the desperate teacher Namiko, the confused Asuta, and several other equally great characters.

As I said, this is pretty girly. And there are several uncomfortable moments as such. Such as Asuta, who has been friends with Hazumu before his gender bender, not knowing how to respond to the fact that he finds the female Hazumu to be super duper hot. Hazumu trying to put on his/her first bra, with the help of Yasuna, made me squirm around uncomfortably in the Border’s (yeah, I read it while Borders was still a thing) chairs. Those are two mild examples – there are far more and far weirder scenes to witness. However, while this is super girly and cheesy and mushy and all that romantic comedy jazz, it really seems to be serious and thoughtful at its deepest core. It really dives into the concept of gender neutrality and loving someone for who they are. Yasuna, who could not connect to boys her whole life, can finally feel comfortable around Hazumu because of the switch. Tomari seems to have always had something for Hazumu and might be feeling jealous, because she is now opening herself up for Hazumu. It really got me to think – Tomari had something for Hazumu no matter what, and the fact that Hazumu is a girl now doesn’t seem to affect her, in the traditional sense. Yasuna, on the other hand, clearly liked Hazumu to begin with, but it seems that only because of the gender change can she do anything about it. Maybe it’s only because he’s a girl now, and not because of honest love, that she feels comfortable being intimate with Hazumu. Is that shallow? Should Tomari have done something about it earlier? I could barely tell who I was rooting for because everybody had so many good things that I wanted to see more of. While reading, I got so caught up in the drama, that the gender issue became transparent. It didn’t matter if they had all been boys or girls or asparagi, it would have been the same story.

To at least mention it – the art style is, to say the least, a traditional manga. It looks fine. Boys have short spiky hair, girls wear all those school uniforms, blah blah blah. The selling point isn’t the art, but the spectacular story I’ve already fangirled about. Anyway, do give it a spin.

#2 – Bone

#2 - Bone

2 – Bone

I feel like some part of almost everyone from my generation knows about Bone. It was all the rage a few years ago; all the volumes (9 in total) were being released in color and everyone in elementary school was flipping out over them. I had already read some of them in the library and bought the omnibus of the entire series (hah, hipster) and I loved it. The book broke (because books can break) in half, so I had it in two parts. I lent the second half of the book to a friend and he never gave it back (no matter how much he insists he did, I know he didn’t, and if he’s reading this, he knows who he is ^.^), so I’ve never been able to rekindle my love for the series for years.

Written by Jeff Smith, the bone series is about three brothers, aptly named Bone, fleeing from their home town due to some less than pleasant shticks in politics, and they come across a foreign valley with actual people in it, where they get into more trouble. However, even though Phoney Bone (the politician) gets a run for his money with the townsfolk, the problems transcend beyond just a few get-rich-quick schemes on Phoney’s part. The dragons have awoken, the rat creatures are on the move, and theres news of a mysterious hooded man. The Bones get caught in the web of action, and Phoney becomes a political leader, Fone Bone becomes a direct target of the hooded man, and Smiley Bone is just smiling and playing his uke. They travel across the world to save it, and pandaemonium, hilarity, and terror ensue.

Bone is a very light-hearted set of novels, it really is. I mean, the two best characters in the whole series are villains, rat creatures to be more precise. They’re constantly arguing because one of them loves Quiche. Big time. It’s hilarious. Also, there’s a whole section about Smiley Bone’s love of sandwiches. This silliness is prominent all throughout the series, even though there are lots of genuinely serious things happening. At one point, they’re walking through a wasteland of what used to be a tree-filled valley. It’s nothing but ash now, and ash is still falling. A full-scale war goes on in a giant castle towards the end, and somebody get’s hacked off at the waist. And while all that’s going on, Smiley is still making shenanigans with the rat creatures and Fone Bone is struggling to hold up a sword. It’s a perfectly seamless blend of humour and action and drama, and it’s unbelievable fun to read. Give it a shot.

#1 – Flight

#1 - Flight

1 – Flight

Here we have arrived at the cream on the cake – Flight. There’s not much I can coherently say about Flight, because it’s nothing I can put it into the right words, so here’s the best I got. Flight is different than anything else I’ve previously mentioned, for it’s not actually a graphic novel – it’s a collection of animated short stories. These can range between one page to sometimes 40, and there is an enormous variety of different story subjects and characters. These are written by a selection of different cartoonists, such as Jen Wang (Koko be good), Vera Brosgol (Anya’s Ghost), Doug TenNapel (Bad Island, Ghostopolis), even Jeff Smith (the aforementioned Bone). Some of these stories are set in present day and are about realistic things, like a cuban baseball player or two kids in a play, while others are about fairies and robots and aliens and other things.

The levels of creativity are through the roof in Flight, but what makes Flight so incredible is just how powerful all of the stories are, all for different reasons. Some of them made me choke up a little bit. During some of them I dropped the book laughing. Others play out like an action movie. There are a total of eight installments in the Flight series, and each volume has it all. You can’t help but give the artist’s credit – they only have a short bit of space to make you care about the characters and root for them. Some of them do this better than others, others don’t even try, because it’s not the point. Still, for the most part, within a page of each story, I had already vowed to go punch the author in the face if anything bad happened to the characters.

Maybe I’m just melodramatic.

Regardless, Flight has more to offer than almost anything out there. I still remember some of the stories in perfect clarity. My personal favorite: a little girl who thinks, nay, knows, that she is a princess from Pluto, but now here she is stuck in an ordinary kindergarten classroom. It’s great – she’s not snooty at all, she’s just like YUP I SURE AM FROM PLUTO! Sure, all the kids tease her, but she doesn’t give a rat’s derrierre, and just keeps on doing her thing. Eventually she ends up tryign to fly off of a balcony to retrieve a lost necklace, but forgets that Earth’s gravity is far heavier than Pluto, and ends up in a hospital. The culprit of the lost necklace, who visits her in the hospital, defends himself with “It’s not my fault! She’s crazy! She thinks she’s from Pluto!”

Still, “Why does that matter”?

She goes back to school, AND IS STILL JUST SUCH A SPORT! PEOPLE ARE LIKE BUG OFF AND SHE JUST SAYS D’AWW OKAY AND THEN GOES TO THE SWINGS AND HAS FUN! It’s the cutest darn thing and I was sitting there reading it just laughing and crying and acting as if I’d just watched a rom-com.

But the other thing about Flight is the quantity of different art styles. Some are more conventional than others, some are hand-drawn, some are painted, some are cel-shade, some are watercolor, and then everything in between. One story about the guy who floated into the sky on a lawn chair with balloons (or something) had some of the most amazing watercolors I’ve ever seen on paper. The hysterical renditions of people in Israel Sanchez’ art style always cracks me up and makes me want to read more. There’s always things to look at in Flight and everything will draw you in deeper.

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