February 2004

Michael Farrelly

library rakehell

Comics in Libraries

If your public, school or university library does not have a graphic novel collection, then your library is not up to snuff.

Rather than go over the tired ground relating how graphic novels are more than superhero/spandex brawls and colorful talking or go over the same ground as many graphic novel agitators (Maus and Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns) I'll give you ten books you might not have heard of but need to be reading and get others reading. These are required comics for all libraries and comic book readers.

10: Louis Riel

Imagine the comic style of Lil' Orphan Annie telling the story of a 19th century Canadian revolutionary and you have Louis Riel. Chester Brown tells the complicated story of Riel, who was at times a religious leader, utopian socialist and mental patient, with a deft hand. The production quality of the hardcover collection is worth mentioning, the striking cover design and sepia toned paper only enhance the power of Riel's journey.

9: Ghost World

Yes, the movie was wonderful, but as usual the book is even better. Stories of love, alienation and loneliness set in a world as weird and sad as our own make this graphic novel essential. A wise librarian could highlight the film/book connection to hook in readers who enjoyed the flick but would never think of picking up the book.

8: Cerebus (15+ volumes in print)

In the late 1970's Dave Sim set out to tell a 300 volume story. About an aardvark. Along the way said Aardvark, the titular Cerebus, has been a pontiff, a prime minister, a house guest who would not leave, the recipient of a vision quest and a minor character in the story of the last days of Oscar Wilde. Sim and his partner Gerhard have creating a mind-boggling story that is enormous in scope and terrifyingly personal in its condemnations.

7: The Couriers

Brian Wood and Rob G (that's just G) give you the best action movie ever drawn with this graphic novel. Simple premise, New York couriers get a surprise package in the form of a young Asian girl, ends up with Chinese attack helicopters over Brooklyn. Sweet car-chases, amazing gun- fights and characters who hum with life make The Couriers the best film you'll ever read.

6: Switchblade Honey

Warren Ellis does not care much for Star Trek. So much so that he remade the “space western” archetype into a workable piece of 21st century science fiction. A space ship that breathes fire, a captain who’s drunk and in command and an enemy who uses psychological warfare that involves sexual situations and Mickey Mouse. It beats every Star Trek episode to death just to watch them die.

5: V for Vendetta

While Watchman is the volume that most people are familiar with when it comes to Alan Moore, V For Vendetta is in fact the far more literate work. Set in a dystopian fascist Britain, this amazing serialized novel -- it was originally published serialized in a British magazine -- tells the story of the man from Room Five and his Guy Fawkes-inspired madness that ultimately liberates the British people from the prison of government.

4: Summer Blonde

Adrian Tomine writes uncomfortable fiction. His stories of love, obsession, sex, the madness of loneliness and the awkward pauses that fill our lives are almost excruciating to read. His smooth and realistic style only heightens the effect his stories have. You’ll find yourself fascinated at the characters and appalled by how few steps removed you are from their struggles.

3: The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius

Barry Ween is a foul-mouthed little guy. A child super-genius whose scatological commentary runs right along with his attempts to save the world/time stream and his friend Jeremy from the horrors of girls. Judd Winick, who writes and draws Barry’s adventures, has gotten lost in the world of superheroes these days and is doing a great disservice to comedy comics everywhere by not coming back to our man Ween.

2: Alec: After The Snooter

Eddie Campbell, artist to Alan Moore on the surreal From Hell, draws small comics.Campbell’s simple style -- he uses a basic nine-panel grid for most of his work -- belies the complexity of his themes and stories. After the Snooter is about artistic inspiration, the yen to create and shape the world around you. It’s also about movie stars and mortgages, comic book companies and kids in costumes.

1: The Metabarons (multiple volumes)

Alexandro Jodorowsky has taken those “Heavy Metal” art you used hide under your brother’s bed and given them the wildest stories imaginable. It’s the far-flung future and a bloodline of post-human meta gods rule the universe but find the damnedest time procreating. Just picture this scene for a second: a headless human stands before a conjoined set of twins floating in statis goo. The twins are the emperors of the universe and the action takes place in an enormous golden hall filled with machines and strange creatures of every stripe. That’s the calmest scene in any of the Metabaron episodes.

Find these comics in your library. If you find your library lacking, find out who is in charge of collection development and send them this article. Go ahead, I give you permission. No, actually I order you to do so. Every library interested in the expanding world of graphic novels needs to have most, if not all, of these books on their shelves. A little activism on your part could make that happen.