Beyond Watchmen – Five More Comic Books You Need To Read Now

Due to the hype surrounding the forthcoming big screen adaptation (fingers crossed, once, twice, thrice, it might just be okay…), it seems like you can’t go into a bookstore at the moment without being met by a mountain of lovely yellow ‘Watchmen’ books by the counter.

Watchmen

This is good news. Once a cult, in-the-know classic, now the cultural phenomenon everyone wants to be in on, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s 1987 work deserves to be read by, well, everyone on the planet really. In fact, the more people who discover comics the better, I say.

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The very beauty of the medium lies in the immediacy of pictures and words, not to mention the variety of what exists out there. At the risk of sounding like someone on QVC here, there really is something for everyone, and they’re something everyone can enjoy. Snobby elitist comic book fucks can stay behind the counter of bad comic book shops, thank you very much…

Which got us thinking – whether you’re new to ‘Watchmen’, or a comic veteran – wouldn’t it be handy to compile a list of the five best comics (and I’m going with that word because it’s sexy and cool rather than ‘graphic novel’, which to me just means a term publishing houses can use to charge more money for comics just by putting them in a nice cover) that you might want to check out after finishing Moore’s finest hour (which is ‘From Hell’, but after you’ve read that and ‘Watchmen’). Tell us if we’ve missed your favourite tome in the comments at the bottom of the page, wontcha…

1. Maus – A Survivor’s Tale

Here’s one for those few remaining bores who might still dismiss comics as folly for children; the 1992 Pulitzer Prize winning ‘Maus: A Survivor’s Tale’ is a memoir by Art Spiegelman, thirteen years in the making, recounting the struggle of Spiegelman’s father to survive the Holocaust as a Polish Jew.

Like George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, the stories’ characters are presented as anthropomorphic animals (Jews are depicted as mice – Maus being German for ‘mouse’ – the Nazi’s as cats, etc…), but this child-friendly presentation does nothing to dilute the awe of this staggeringly original work – and anyway, this is a story that children certainly should read.

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Perhaps it’s worth leaving the final word to Allan Moore: “Art Spiegelman is perhaps the single most important comic creator working within the field and in my opinion Maus represents his most accomplished work to date…”

2. Akira

Akira is a black and white Manga novel from Japan by Katsuhiro Otomo – based in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, featuring some outstanding art, it was one of the first Manga works to be translated in its entirety to English, and arguably kick-started the mania for all things Manga that raged in Western comic shops in the late nineties.

Sure, the whole reading-things-from-back-to-front (Japanese and much other Asian literature is read from the back page forwards) might confuse anyone used to UK/US published comics, but it’s a richly rewarding read once you get your head around the cultural differences and a perfect starting point to savour the output of a part of the world who take their comics seriously. And – while it’s rare you’ll find anyone saying this when comic-to-film adaptations are concerned – the animé film of the same name, and also directed by Otomo, is a staggering piece of work too.

3. Persepolis

Another memoir (and the only other example of a neat-o comic-to-film adaptation that I can think of), Persepolis is a black and white French-language graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi depicting her childhood in Iran after the revolution. In fact, it’s always struck me as quite remarkable Satrapi’s memoirs even exist – modern day Iran is after all a culture where it is inherently improper for a woman to expose her personal inner life to the world.

In fact, autobiographical works by Iranian women hardly ever exist, and so – aside from being a charming, frequently funny, extremely human tale – Persepolis is a fascinating insight into a story rarely told. It’s clear other people agree – to date ‘Persepolis’ has been translated into English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek and Swedish, and sold a staggering 450,000 copies.

4. The Dark Knight Returns

Personally, I don’t much care for Frank Miller (the artist, writer and film-maker behind ‘Sin City’, ‘300’ and ‘The Spirit’ adaptation that’s just been booted out of your local multiplex) – I think he’s a racist, sexist, homophobic, almost completely idiotic douchebag (what else can you say about a man who’s currently penning a work entitled ‘Batman Vs. Al Qaida’?).

But truth be told, you can’t pen a list of great/important graphic novels without mentioning DC Comics’ ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. One of the best-selling graphic novels of all time, Millers version of Batman’s latter days combines satire with superhero antics, whilst creating the sombre, grit voiced anti-hero that has come to define the character in the last two Hollywood outings, as well as all his recent comic tales.

Released in 1986, Miller’s finest hour wasn’t as influential in breaking the loose concept of the graphic novel to the mainstream as ‘Watchmen’ was, but it wasn’t that far behind either…

5. Sandman – Preludes And Nocturnes

A personal favourite – ‘The Sandman’ is a series of comic books that ran between 1989 and 1996, written by the ever creative Neil Gaiman, a man frequently described as the “rock and roll star of comics” and published in the United States by DC imprint Vertigo. It chronicles the adventures of Dream of The Endless, who rules over the world of dreams, and – fuck Marilyn Manson – without its existence, sales of long leather coats would be a third of what they are.

Sandman, you see, is totally Goth – the eponymous character even looks like an elongated Robert Smith – but the dark, intoxicating stories, aligned with the sheer intelligence of Gaiman’s writing, serves to construct a world worthy of being lost in. I could have picked any of the ten collections of compiled issues to recommend to you, but I’m going with the first (which holds issues one to eight), just because it’s where it all began.

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