A GOOD READ: Graphic novels not just for fans of action heroes

Essex Country is a librarian
Essex Country is a librarian's recommendation.
— image credit: image submitted

Archie Comics and Sunday newspaper comic strips were some of my favourite things to read as a kid. It wasn’t until later in life when I stumbled upon Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, Will Eisner’s The Heart of the Storm and Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic that I truly became hooked on graphic-novels. The combination of visual images and textual narrative make for some of the most powerful, dynamic and engaging reads.

Watchmen by Alan Moore, Maus by Art Spiegelman, Palestine by Joe Sacco and The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman have become some of the most recognized book titles and renowned graphic novels — ones I would highly recommend to anyone new to the genre. Here are a few others that are sure to leave an impression:

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf is an account of the notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer before he committed unthinkable crimes. Written and illustrated by Dahmer’s classmate and friend, Backderf gives terrifying insight from a classmate’s perspective into the psychopathy of a troubled teenage Dahmer in the 1970s. Dark, well defined illustrations work with well-written prose to produce a page-turning story that you’re unlikely to forget.

David Small’s memoir Stitches is also a dark and compelling page-turner. Set in the 1950s, David recounts his childhood growing up in a dysfunctional household with a distant, rarely-present father and a cold, bitter mother. At the age of 14, David undergoes a supposedly harmless surgery to remove a large tumour from his neck. The surgery leaves him with a mutilated throat and only one working vocal cord. A virtually voiceless teenager, David finds solace and a voice in his artwork.

In Essex County, Jeff Lemire’s black-and-white lined images capture the intense emotions of his characters and the beauty and vibe of rural Ontario. The story expertly weaves together three plot lines about small town life, young dreams and heart-break: a young boy grieves over the loss of his mother, two brothers are driven apart and a nurse unveils the history of the community. The storylines are driven by rugged illustrations that reflect a deep lingering sadness and a feeling of isolation. This is a heart-wrenching, skillfully crafted story.

For something with a little more action and (albeit dark) humour, try Chew written by John Layman. The book follows a homicide detective who gets psychic images from anything he eats — living or dead. He’s extremely effective at his job as long as he’s willing to taste the crime scene (and sometimes even the victims!). Exaggerated, sometimes over-the-top imagery combined with amusing well-written dialogue makes this a unique story that is humorous and highly entertaining.

Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon is one of the few super hero comics I’d recommend to just about anyone. Clint Barton (a.k.a Hawkeye) is a big-mouthed, self-made hero reminiscent of Ned Stark (Iron Man). The book compiles a number of well-written, designed and illustrated stories following Barton and his protégé, Kate Bishop, who fight for justice in New York City. My Life as a Weapon has it all: engaging dialogue, dynamic character development, minimal but eye-catching coloured illustrations and a well-paced storyline filled with action, drama and humour. Co-winner of the 2013 Eisner Award, Hawkeye is a fresh and gritty take on this everyman Avenger.

There are many enjoyable graphic novels and comic books throughout the library collection. Visit your local library and browse the shelves, or ask your librarian for more suggestions.

• A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Teresa Rehman works at the Coquitlam Public Library.


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