Salvatore Pane

Tag: Spider-Man

A Lot of Action and a Lot of Emotional Consequences: An Interview with Andy Schmidt

Mark Kleman–my Black List co-writer–and I recently had the opportunity to interview Andy Schmidt of IDW. A prominent face in the comics industry, Schmidt edits the G.I Joe and Transformers lines at IDW, runs online courses focused on comic creation, and writes the occasional mini-series. We specifically wanted to talk to him about 5 Days to Die, his new five-part series with the artist Chee that launched earlier this week. Read the interview, then buy the book at your local comic store.

Salvatore Pane: Your new comic launching this month is 5 Days to Die, a five-part mini-series with art by Chee and covers from Gabriele dell’Otto, David Finch, Michael Avon Oeming, Pablo Raimondi and Ben Templesmith. Give us the pitch. What’s the story about?

Andy Schmidt: It’s about a police officer named Ray, who is in a car accident that nearly kills his wife and daughter and critically injures him. The doctors give him five days before he dies. He’s hurt and he believes that the big crime boss in the city has put a hit out on his family. So, he’s faced with a decision: Stay and be with his family in the hospital, trying to repair their strained relationship, or go find and stop the people trying to kill them. It’s a tough, emotional decision for Ray, and it leads to a lot of action and a lot of emotional consequences.

SP: What’s your reasoning for releasing 5 Days to Die weekly over the course of five straight weeks? Why not go the traditional monthly publication route? On the flip side, why not collect all the material at once and release everything as a graphic novel?

AS: There are five Wednesdays (comic book day) in September so it all comes out this month. As for why the accelerated schedule, it just fits with the story. Each issue takes place over one of Ray’s final five days, so the increased schedule just was my idea to help add to the urgency of it all.

I didn’t want to do it as a graphic novel by itself. I like traditional comics and I thought releasing an issue as a day and making people wait the week adds to the fun of it.

SP: Tell us what it’s like to work with Chee. What specifically drew you to his work for this project?

AS: I’ve worked with Chee before and he’s an amazing storyteller. I like working with him, we had similar ideas about the kind of stories we like to tell and what’s most important for an artist to do, so we just click really nicely. And his style is a perfect fit for the crime, thriller, noir type genre.

SP: Hard-boiled crime stories are seeing a resurgence in mainstream comics through the work of Darwyn Cooke, Ed Brubaker, Howard Chaykin and a few others. Why do you think that is? Do you think it has anything to do with a turning away from the more lighthearted crime offerings of Hollywood like Cop Out and The Other Guys?

AS:  I don’t think it’s related much to Hollywood at all, at least not what Hollywood is doing now. I think a lot of us grew up enjoying crime stories. I love them. And I love film noir. So, for me, my main influences in terms of genre come from the stuff I grew up reading and watching, not what’s being produced now. And ultimately, there’s just a lot you can do with the hard-boiled stories that is a lot of fun to write and draw.

Mark Kleman: 5 Days to Die is a creator-owned project. Unlike Cobra Commander and Wolverine, the characters are yours and you have ultimate control over them. Does this make writing more or less difficult? What do you want readers to see in the characters of 5 Days to Die?

AS: It’s a bit of both. It’s easier to write in the sense that you’re creating them, so they don’t sound wrong to anyone because there is no pre-conceived notion of who they are or how they talk. That’s not the case for, say, Spider-Man. So that’s easier, but what’s harder is that they are mine and I have to create them. I can also rely on the back story of pre-existing characters to draw from, I don’t have to build the world as much, but all of that stuff is up to Chee and myself to build from scratch here. So it’s tougher and easier at the same time.

I’m hoping that people will see a bit of themselves in the characters of 5 Days to Die. Ray and Matt, the two main cops are both pretty complex and relatable. Ray’s sister-in-law has a pretty big roll and I think she evokes a point of view that much of the audience will share. But there’s real, genuine emotion underneath these characters, and I think that’s what carries the book (if anything does) from just being a fun concept to becoming a good story.

SP: Let’s move on and discuss your editorial work at IDW. You oversee the newly-revitalized GI Joe and Transformers franchises among others. G.I Joe in particular has seen a lot of reimaginings over the years, but the IDW-verse seems to be really sticking. What’s your vision for the line overall? How do you pay homage to the great Larry Hama stories of old without falling into the trap of the continual remake?

AS: G.I Joe is a very malleable franchise. It fits comfortably into a lot of different genres and lends itself to a wide variety of kinds of stories. Part of that is due to the varied history of the years. I try to make sure that comics feel grounded. So even when some big scifi element pops up, it still has a level of reality to it, that it works. And in other stories, we keep those elements out altogether. Ultimately, I just try to make sure the creators are telling good, honest stories that they’re passionate about.

SP: I think a lot of people were shocked by the brutality in the G.I Joe: Cobra series. It’s definitely one of our favorites from the line. Can you talk about the genesis of the series and what it’s been like to take a former gag of a character, Chuckles, and turn him into something really formidable and interesting?

AS: The use and development of Chuckles is due almost entirely to Mike Costa. He picked Chuckles, he developed the character for the series along with Chris Gage. The series itself came out of a phone call I was on with Michael, my Hasbro contact and Chris Ryall, the editor-in-chief here at IDW. On the phone, we knew we had two weeks to create the 16-page #0 issue. We didn’t think we’d have time to do one story with one creative team, so on the fly, I pitched a three-book launch with Origins and Cobra being the two books we I just made up on the spot. Michael liked the ideas. Chris and I hung up the phone and asked what I had on the two new books already. I guess I bluffed pretty well.

We figured out those two books in about two days and had 5-page scripts a day or two after that and all the art was done for the #0 issue a week after that. All that to say, we got darn lucky.

MK: You and Chee worked together on a comic adaptation of the motion picture classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Was it intimidating to bring the most honored story of Star Trek cannon to comics? How do you consider fans when approaching famous source material like Star Trek, G.I Joe, and Transformers as a writer or editor?

AS: Fans are a huge consideration. Not just because I like fans and am a fan of most of this stuff myself, but also because, that real core audience is the foundation of fandom. If they are really excited about something, they can get other people talking and something can really build.

Ideally, we’re building stories that appeal to long-time fans and potential new fans at the same time. That’s the goal, and it’s a tough one to hit sometimes.

SP: The famous saying about breaking into comics is that it’s like Fort Knox: every time someone gets inside, the authorities fix it so no one can ever use that route again. What’s the best way of getting your foot in the door these days? Self-publishing? Web comics? Going to conventions and making connections?

AS: That’s a bit over-stated. Breaking into comics is no harder (and I’m paraphrasing Brian Bendis here) then breaking into being a doctor. It often takes years and it takes training and practice but it can definitely be done. My other business is called Comics Experience where I teach online courses about comics writing and art and lettering along with other professionals. They’ve been a huge success and in large part because of all the strategies that we talk about on how to break in.

But honestly, all the strategies in the world don’t matter if you don’t have something professional to show once you get there. And that’s the major focus of Comics Experience, we help you figure out your art and your writing and give you the tips and strategies that are repeatable so you can create professional-level work every time out of the gate.

Self-publishing is probably the most popular way to get noticed in the industry right now. But it’s not as simple as just publishing something, you’ve then got to market it and sell it at conventions and get it into people’s hands so it gets noticed.

SP: Similarly, once someone has that first published work–be it via the smaller presses, self-publication, or the internet–what is the best method on contacting the bigger publishers like IDW, Image or Dark Horse? What is IDW specifically looking for in new talent?

AS: Send them the book! Put a cover letter in, talk to them at conventions. We’re all just people here. I suppose IDW looks for the same things all the other publishers are looking for, the right person, to fit the right project, at the right time. A great writer for Superman may not be great on Transformers, for example. But it could happen. You’ve got to fit the right talent together on the right project.

So, if you’re a writer, always be writing, and always be coming up with new stories that fulfill those basic story requirements and then add something on top. You’ve always got to be better than the guy next to you in line. And as an artist, always be doing your art, growing, and trying new things. A lot of people forget to experiment and challenge themselves. Again, this is something we do a lot of at Comics Experience. We’ve got an ongoing Creators Workshop with monthly challenges and critiques by professionals and all kinds of cool stuff to help people continue to improve and succeed.

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Flashback Monday: How I Single-handedly Fixed the Comics Industry in 2005

The worst paper I ever wrote in college was for a graphic novel course I took in 2005. I was at the height of my literary snobbishness, and the sheer idea of reading a comic book made me rip off my monocle, slam it on my mahogany desk, and announce that “This is preposterous!” I read a boatload of comics growing up–the entire 200 issue run of the Spider-Man Clone Saga–and those were all pretty awful. So imagine my surprise when I ended up genuinely loving almost everything we read in the course. My position totally changed, and there were some weeks during my second comic reading heyday where I’d spend fifty dollars on new releases alone.

Unfortunately, this newfound enthusiasm didn’t translate into a decent paper. I started writing one that compared and contrasted Cather in the Rye and Ghost World, but about two pages in, I realized I had nothing else to say on the subject and wrote the rest of the paper about the comic industry’s notoriously low sales and how that newfangled iPod and iTunes store might be the key to salvation (five years before the release of the iPad and digital distribution). I’ve attached a portion of the second half of the paper below. What was so odd to me while rereading this is how close it is to what actually happened once the iPad was released. However, it wasn’t the indies taking advantage of the new medium, it was the major companies, the Marvels, DCs and IDWs of the world.

Below is the second half of my 2005 paper. Don't worry, I won't bore you with the Ghost World/Salinger stuff.

….how can the graphic novel capture a wider audience? Scott McCloud spends much of Reinventing Comics discussing the complete and utter failure of the current comics distribution method: the direct market. “The readers are just as abandoned by the corporate system as the creators, despite the importance supposedly given their hard earned dollars. The average comic shop can offer only a tiny fraction of an industry wide selection that is itself extremely limited in scope,” (McCloud 77). The graphic novel has not reached its mass market potential because it is using a more flawed version of the corporate distribution system that prose books have being using for years. As a newer medium, graphic novels require a newer method of distribution. Later in Reinventing Comics, McCloud discusses the possibilities of the internet and how that can one day be the future of distribution for comics. Originally published in 2000, McCloud simply was writing from a point of time which could not possibly suggest the method I am about to propose.

In November, the Apple Corporation announced that it will have sold a total of 37,000,000 iPods, their biggest handheld entertainment device, by the end of 2005.  The latest version of the device, the fifth generation iPod, has the ability to display video and pictures. Realizing that an installed base of 37,000,000 users is an astonishing opportunity, ABC quickly cut a deal to allow television shows, including recent hits Lost and Desperate Housewives, to be bought through Apple’s online store, iTunes, for $1.99 each and then be allowed to be viewed on the user’s iPod. Within two months ABC and Apple had sold 3,000,000 videos, as a result, NBC, CBS, and FOX are currently scrambling to pursue deals of their own with Apple.

This device is targeted at the 15-24 age group predominately, and is quickly changing the way we consume media. No longer are we shackled to our televisions to catch the latest episode of whatever primetime show is our current favorite. Even radio is changing and moving into two distinct camps, the satellite radio stations and Podcasts, which are free radio programs you can download from iTunes and listen to on any portable media player. The reason I bring this up is not only because of the cross section between iPod users and the readers necessary to bring the serious literary graphic novel out of obscurity, but because I believe the iPod itself is a possible solution to McCloud’s distribution problem that caused “a huge number of America comic book retailers [to] shut down,” (McCloud 10).

The current iPod and its cheaper variation, the iPod Nano, have the ability to display pictures. If the comics industry, specifically the independent comics industry, applied a similar method of distribution on iTunes as ABC has, a whole new golden age of comics would occur. Comic shops, delivery, stocking, and paper consumption would be completely eliminated. Also, the problem of knowing what to buy but not where to find it, a problem McCloud also brings up, would be abolished to as the iTunes database is literally limitless and could hold everything from Jimmy Corrigan to Wacthmen and back again. Prices could be fixed by the individual creators, and amateurs could upload their work automatically, just in the way that iTunes handles free Podcasts. With this system in place, creativity would flourish, as readers would have the choice to buy from the big two comic companies, Marvel and DC, the independents like Image and Fantagraphics Books, and weekend cartoonists. Also, the stigma associated with comics being a geeky medium would be shattered by combining it with an item, the iPod, so closely connected to what is hip and cool. If Ghost World was released today as a $9.99 download direct from iTunes to your iPod, I would highly bet that its readership would increase tenfold from its current measly 90,000.

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Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup VIII: I Am the Terror That Flaps in the Night

1. Darkwing Duck #1 written by Ian Brill with art from James Silvani

In the year 1993, I won a Darkwing Duck trivia contest at my local Blockbuster. The prize: a television. That never made sense to me as obviously I had a TV if I knew so much about Darkwing. Regardless. DW is a touchstone for most kids born in the eighties and the wonderful BOOM! Studios (the folks behind Irredeemable), have brought Drake Mallard back as an ongoing comic. You want to know the best part? Like a Pixar film, the book’s aimed at children and adults alike. The first arc is titled “The Duck Knight Returns”, a play off the Frank Miller classic, and begins with a retired Darkwing working a soul crushing office job in a cubicle he shares with Mega Volt. It’s depressing. It’s awesome. It’s a comic book with Launchpad McQuack. If I haven’t yet convinced you to buy this, then please stop reading this website. You and I have nothing left to say to each other.

2. Soccer Comics written and drawn by Steve Gillies

Not only is Steve one of my fellow graduate students, but he also works with me. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve ended up in long, drawn out conversations about comic books that end up making everybody else leave the room (once, famously, he used props to explain Dr. Who’s Tardis to my then girlfriend. She broke up with me seven minutes later). So it delights me to see that Steve is working on his own webcomic. Check it out. It’s about soccer, and people like that now because of the World Cup and the US finally being declared a better country than Algeria. It was a long campaign, guys, but we did it.

3. Amazing Spider-Man #634 written by Joe Kelly with art from Michael Lark

Most people know that my obsession with Spider-Man borders on the insane. I followed him weekly for years during the 90’s and have to say Spider-Man’s better than ever. Aimed 100% at adults, the new thrice-weekly Spidey’s been spectacular ever since it launched in January 2008. But issue #634 marks the beginning of a new six-part storyline, “The Grim Hunt”, in which the Kraven family attempts to resurrect their fallen patriarch. You know who else is there? Kaine. The evil Spider-clone (seen above) from 1993. HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN! But seriously, if you have even a passing interest in Spidey, this is the story to read. It’s a landmark arc on the title and the culmination of a project that managed to successfully revamp most of Spidey’s villains (Vulture, you still suck).  And that Michael Lark art? Superb!

4. Gorilla Man #1 written by Jeff Parker with art from Giancarlo Caracuzzo

Hi. Do you see the above image? Ok. I don’t have to sell  you on buying this one. Just look at it.

Let’s move on.

5. Jurassic Park Redemption #1 written by Bob Schreck with art from Nate Van Dyke

Remember Jurassic Park? It’s back! In comics form! Usually, licensed comics are terrible, so I might be careful about picking this one up, but the buzz is good. It follows the two kids from the first movie about ten years later which is a nice connection and nod to the original film. Plus, Frank Miller’s doing covers. That’s pretty impressive comic lineage for a licensed book and proof that the fine folks at IDW are really getting behind this one. Definitely worth picking up the first issue.

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup V: In Which Spider-Man and Wolverine Go Back In Time to Fight the Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs

A lot of big name comics have come out in the last few weeks including the end of Siege (the conclusion to Marvel’s seven years in the making event run dating back to House of M) and Brightest Day (DC’s fourth attempt at a (practically) weekly series). I loved Brightest Day #0 and 1 but found myself more drawn to the kookier books which most likely speaks to my tastes as a comic book reader. So, without any further adieu, let’s talk some comics.

1. The Nightly News written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman

I bought The Nightly News completely on a whim for ten bucks. I was at the Free Comic Book Day Event in Scranton where Comics on the Green, the best comic store in NEPA, had a sale on graphic novels. I love Hickman’s work on SHIELD and Secret Warriors, so I figured I’d take a look at some of his indie credits. The Nightly News is the first book I’ve seen from Hickman that he actually drew, and holy crap was I blown away. His complete disregard for the traditional grid layout and reliance on graphic design makes Nightly News something that needs to be seen to be believed. The book just exudes cool, and it’s really smart too. It even includes a reading list in the back with entries from Noam Chomsky and Dan Kennedy. Definitely worth a pick-up, especially if you think comics ends and begins with Clark Kent.

2. Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #1 written by Jason Aaron with art from Adam Kubert

This is the type of book that makes me keep reading superhero comics, a book so goofy, so downright ridiculous that it can only exist in comic book form and still be played straight without irony. The very first page of Astonishing opens on Peter Parker and Wolverine who have been trapped in the prehistoric ages for months. Wolverine commands an army of missing links; Spidey studies bugs in solitude. Then the asteroid that wipes out the dinosaurs shows up in the sky. What are Spider-Man and Wolverine going to do about it? I have no idea, but I guarantee I’ll be sticking with this limited series.

3. The Walking Dead #71 written by Robert Kirkman with art from Charlie Adlard

For those of you unaware, The Walking Dead is the most consistently great indie book on the stands. No matter what the state of superhero comics, I can always depend on any given month’s issue of Walking Dead to deliver. #71 is no different. Rick and his gang of post-apocalyptic survivors have stumbled onto an unspoiled gated development outside of DC run by a bunch of upper-class yuppies pretending the zombie infestation isn’t really happening. As always, the true creepiness in the book comes from the human characters. Issue 71 doesn’t even feature a single zombie. Instead, we witness the growth of Carl, Rick’s young son pictured in the cover, and how he is completely unable to relate to children after everything he’s been through (seeing firsthand his mother and newborn sister getting blown away by a shotgun, strangling a young child to death, almost being raped, etc. etc.). This is one of the darkest comics I’ve ever read, and any fan of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road absolutely must check it out from the very beginning.

4. The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 written by Grant Morrison with art from Chris Sprouse

This is the first time I’ve ever mentioned a comic before reading it, but the build-up to this series has been so good that I couldn’t resist. Two years ago, the DC mega-crossover Final Crisis ended with Bruce Wayne deposited in prehistoric times to live with cavemen and dinosaurs (hmm… this is turning into a running theme). Since then, we’ve been treated to amazing stories where Dick Grayson, the original Robin, has had to fill in as Batman. But now, we’re finally going to see what brings Bats back to the DC Universe proper. And since it’s Grant Morrison doing writing chores, I would safely assume that this book is going to be all kinds of crazy. A definite pick-up to be sure.

5. Unpublished artist Jaime Castro

This is the final character sketch I’ll post from collaborator Jaime Castro, but hot damn, this is my favorite piece of concept art I’ve ever received from an artist I’m working with.  Jaime knocked this drawing of Dr. Boston out of the park, and Mark Kleman (my co-writer) and I, cannot wait to get the full comic back from Montgomery X. Chesterfield, Gentleman of the 22nd Century. More details to come.

Top Ten Graphic Novels for the Literary Inclined

A few weeks ago I workshopped a story involving superheroes. It wasn’t genre, and the piece took place after every hero and villain on earth lost their powers. So really, there wasn’t even much discussion of superheroics. Instead, the piece leaned closer towards doemstic realism except every once in awhile someone would say something like, “Is this about the Eternity Gems? Have you found the Eternity Gems?” with little to no explanation. Mostly, I used the bygone era of super-powered adventuring as a metaphor for feeling like your best years are behind you.

The workshop went really well, but what was particularly interesting to me was my classmates’ assumptions about comic books. It seems that most people still think comics are aimed at children and riddled with the genre trappings of not the Silver Age, but even earlier, before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and Will Eisner altered the face of sequential storytelling forever. It was with this mindset that I recently read Dan Phillips’ how-to on IGN about getting comic virgins into the medium. It’s a great article but purposely doesn’t have a list of books to recommend because Phillips believes (and rightfully so) that you should tailor your recommendations to that particular person. For example, if somebody liked the X-Men movies and asks what to pick up, don’t hand over The Saga of Swamp Thing by Alan Moore where Swap Thing goes back in time and fights the nothingness before creation.

What I’ve decided to do is come up with a list of required reading for the literary inclined, people who love prose but would never dream of stepping foot in a comic shop. Everything I’ve listed is in graphic novel format, meaning you can skip the comic store altogether and head to the more familiar Borders or Barnes and Noble. There’s a lot I’ve missed here (it was particularly difficult cutting Kingdom Come, Y: The Last Man, Civil War, All-Star Superman, The Sinestro Corps War, The Dark Knight Returns and We3 from the list, and everybody must know about Maus by now) and I’m not going to mention Jonathan Lethem’s graphic novel since I wrote about it a few entries ago.  But if you consider yourself someone who reads almost exclusively literary fiction, this is the list for you. Try and at least give one of these a shot, and let me know what you think. If you think comic books are all about four-colors and BAM/POW signs, then you’re in for a big surprise.

10. Superman: Red Son

Written by Mark Millar with Art by Dave Johnson

Pretty much everybody knows the origin of the original superhero, Superman. Krypton explodes and a scientist sends his only son in a rocket to Earth. He’s raised by farmers in Kansas and becomes the hero we all know who stands up for “Truth, Justice and the American Way”. Red Son is a re-imagining where Kal-El lands in Russia at the beginning of the Cold War. He becomes a Communist and helps usher in an era where the entire Earth (minus America led by President Lex Luthor) falls to Russian control. Millar’s take on Czar Superman is smart and bombastic, and this book has a concrete beginning, middle and end (all you need is this one 12 dollar graphic novel). This one comes highly recommended as an interesting political book with enough cameos to keep fanboys happy (did I mention Anti-Communist Batman?).

9. Astonishing X-Men vol. 1 Gifted

Written by Joss Whedon with Art by John Cassady

Joss Whedon is most famous for the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but he’s also a well-lauded comic scribe. Astonishing X-Men is his greatest work to date and perfect for anyone who enjoyed the films. The book is set in continuity but isn’t enslaved by it. Pretty much anyone with even a tangential understanding of the Children of the Atom can enjoy this book. With amazing art provided by superstar artist, John Cassady, Astonishing is the perfect example of a traditional superhero book that transcends comic stigmas and feels much more like a sci-fi drama ala Lost or Battlerstar Galactica.

8. Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis with Art by Mark Bagley

When Marvel wanted to relaunch Spider-Man to coincide with the 2002 film, they called up Brian Michael Bendis, a noted indie creator, to the big leagues. Ultimate Spider-Man is the definitive Spidey book of the last two decades, and this is the ground floor. The book starts with the origin: nerdy high school student Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider. The difference here is that even after 130 issues, Peter is still fifteen and the book is still amazing. He deals with contemporary problems, and Bendis has populated the book with a wonderful and expansive cast. When the Spider-Man film reboot hits in two years, you can be sure that it springs out of this book.

7. Ultimates vol. 1 Super-Human

Written by Mark Millar with Art by Bryan Hitch

Some people will criticize me for going with two Mark Millar picks and no Grant Morrison books, but I don’t care. Ultimates is easily the best superhero team book of the aughts. Much like Ultimate-Spider-Man, Ultimates takes place in a new reader-friendly universe with no previous continuity. This is the first story of the Avengers: Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. And Millar imbues it with his typical wit and penchant for the political. This book is smart and plays with the War on Terror in interesting ways. If you’re curious to see how Captain America is deployed during the Iraq War then this is the book for you.

6. Scott Pilgrim vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim’s Happy Little Life

Written and Drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Imagine a world with poor Canadians who start shitty bands. Imagine a world where Canadian hipsters engage in Dragonball Z-esque battles while dissecting two decade old Nintendo games. This is Scott Pilgrim. One part indie rock, one part Nintendo, one part fighting, Scott Pilgrim is the most awesome manga remix of the last fifteen years. O’Malley delivers believable characters that we truly care about even as he inserts them into hilarious and ridiculous situations. If superheroes aren’t your thing, and you’re willing to give faux-manga a try, definitely pick up Scott Pilgrim before the Michael Cera movie hits this summer.

5. Ghost World

Written and Drawn by Daniel Clowes

If you love Catcher in the Rye, then you’ll enjoy Ghost World. This lean graphic novel tells the story of two hipster girls during the summer after high school. It’s a very typical coming of age piece that could easily stand side-by-side with the best offerings of the genre from literary fiction. This is definitely a gateway drug for readers completely unaware that indie/literary comics actually exist. Its aims are not tied up with plot like many of the other selections on this list but with character.

4. The Walking Dead vol. 1 Days Gone By

Written by Robert Kirman with Art by Tony Moore

Drawn in black and white, The Walking Dead is truly one of the most terrifying books you will ever read. Writer Robert Kirkman doesn’t employ a lot of cheap jumpy shocks, but instead chooses to horrify readers with the actions of his living characters. The premise of the book is as simple as it genius: it’s the zombie movie that doesn’t end. What happens to these characters three weeks after the first zombies show up? How about two years? The best part is the theme Kirkman hits again and again: it’s not the zombies who are the walking dead, but the living, humans pushed to frightening extremes they never dreamed possible.

3. The Complete Persepolis

Written and Drawn by Marjane Satrapi

Do you like memoirs? Ok. Then go get The Complete Persepolis today. It follows Marjane Satrapi, a liberal girl who comes of age in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It’s poignant and terribly contemporary. And for my money, this is the best book on the subject I’ve read, light years ahead of Reading Lolita in Tehran. If you like coming or age tales or are even remotely interested in the history of Iran, this is an absolute must buy.

2. Watchmen

Written by Alan Moore with Art by Dave Gibbons

This one appears on every list of this kind and for good reason: Watchmen is the deconstruction of the superhero and comic book format. This is Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman seen through a postmodern lens. This is Cold War allegory of the highest order. This is everything superhero comics should aspire to. Incredibly intelligent and deceptively well-drawn, Watchmen is the rare book that is universally considered the best of its kind. If you’ve seen the mediocre movie and weren’t convinced, you owe it to yourself to give the ultimate graphic novel a try.

1. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

Written and Drawn by Chris Ware

Most people know Chris Ware. He’s a big McSweeney‘s dude and the closest thing the comic industry has to a Dave Eggers. This masterpiece of a graphic novel came out shortly after Heartbreaking Work, and the two writers are often compared. Jimmy Corrigan is about so much it’s hard to describe. It’s utterly postmodern and involves a fair at the turn of the century and a man who encounters his dying father after a lifelong absence. The book is painful. The book is dark. And at times, the book is uplifting. I put this graphic novel at the number one spot because even though I don’t consider it as strong as Watchmen, Jimmy Corrigan is the closest in terms of structure, tone and character to a literary novel. If you like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran-Foer, Keith Gessen or Ricky Moody then you will be shocked at how dense, how intelligent, how damn literary Jimmy Corrigan actually is.

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