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Posts Tagged ‘Comics’

Four “New Classic” Graphic Novels

Posted by Fred on June 24, 2008

For its 1000th issue, Entertainment Weekly published several lists of “New Classics,” defined as works created since 1983. The full collection is online as the EW 1000.  EW has always treated comics with respect (Time Warner has a vested interest in the success of the form, of course), and the list of 100 New Classic books includes four graphic novels:

7. Maus, Art Spiegelman

The story of The Holocaust and the experiences of one family that survived it.  Spiegelman famously used animal heads on human bodies to portray the players: Jews are mice, Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, Americans are dogs, Frenchmen are frogs, and Swedes are reindeer.  Spiegelman was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Maus in 1992.

13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Without Watchmen, there probably would be no such thing as a graphic novel.  Moore and Gibbons’ masterwork, originally published as twelve single issues in 1986-1987, is set in an alternate 1985, in which costumed heroes are real and the Doomsday Clock is set at five minutes to midnight. Some familiarity with superhero archetypes is helpful for a full appreciation of the story, which nominally tells the tale of heroes without superpowers (with one glaringly notable exception), dealing with human failings, neuroses and ethical dilemmas.  A film version of Watchmen, directed by Zack Snyder, is due to be released in March 2009.  It will probably suck.

37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

Drawing inevitable comparisons to Maus, Marjane Satrapi’s simple black-and-white panels are a heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.  The two volumes depict the author’s experiences from age six to fourteen, a time which saw the overthrow of the Shah, the rise of the Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq.  Persepolis was recently released as an animated film, written and directed by Satrapi, with voices in the original by Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux and Simon Abkarian.  In the US, the film was dubbed into English, and included Sean Penn, Iggy Pop and Gena Rowlands (in addition to Deneuve and Mastroianni).

46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman

With all due respect to Watchmen, I personally prefer Sandman.  Neil Gaiman’s 75-issue series, published by DC imprint Vertigo from 1989-1996, focuses on Morpheus, King of Dreams, and (to a lesser extent) his siblings that make up The Endless.  Gaiman summarizes the plot as “The Lord of Dreams learns one must change or die and then makes his decision.”  The best part of Sandman (in addition to Dave McKean’s great covers) was the wide-ranging exploration of mythology the series made possible, which Gaiman would return to in prose novels like American Gods.  Sandman is available in ten individual trade paperback editions, or the four-volume Absolute Sandman series, the final volume of which is to be released this November.  Although there has long been talk of a Sandman film, the closest we’re likely to get is a version of Death: The High Cost of Living, a 1993 three-issue miniseries focusing on Morpheus’ older sister, to be written and directed by Gaiman with Guillermo del Toro as executive producer.

There are other great graphic novels, of course (Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan and Planetary are personal favorites), but that’s a good list.


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Times-Dispatch movie critic: get out, dirty funny-page writer!

Posted by Fred on November 16, 2007

In today’s Times-Dispatch, Daniel Neman eviscerates Beowulf, giving it one star and saying it destroys a literary classic.  This is in itself not that surprising – Neman hates virtually everything, and he really hates movies that don’t aspire to be films.  I won’t quibble with the review – the quasi-animated style has been pretty universally panned (see, for example, Justin Chang in Variety), although reviews are running more positive than negative.  What got me was when he moved on from attacking Robert Zemeckis, who deserves it, to Neil Gaiman, who doesn’t.

The next lethal mistake was hiring Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary to write the screenplay. Gaiman is best known for writing comic books. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the characters in this, one of the greatest epics in all literature, sound like they’re in comic books.

“I am the ripper, the terror, the slasher. I am the teeth in the darkness. My name is strength. And lust. And power. I am Beowulf,” says Beowulf, as the audience groans and English majors open a vein in their wrists.

Oh, wait. There’s more: Later, our hero Beowulf tells his queen, “Keep a memory of me. Not as a hero or as a king, but as a man, fallible and flawed.”

One could quibble with the characterization of Gaiman as “just a comics writer,” given that he’s probably at least as well known now for American Gods and Anansi Boys as he is for Sandman. The bigger problem here is the assumption that there’s no good writing in comics.  It’s true for the spandex-and-tights set (I won’t defend Ultimate X-Men, for instance), but read Gaiman or Warren Ellis or Garth Ennis sometime. There’s lots of good writing out there in all kinds of different media, if you get down off your high horse to look for it.

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Marvel Digital Comics – get your geek on

Posted by Fred on November 13, 2007


Marvel is placing a bunch of their back issues online in a subscription service, Marvel Digital Comics. Subscriptions are about $10 per month or $60 for a year.  About 2500 titles are to be available, and marvel says you can see 250 for free.  The Free section appears to include only Astonishing X-Men #1 and Avengers #52, but you can open most titles and view about six pages without logging in.  The interface is a Flash app that runs in the browser – here’s the first two pages of the first appearance of Spiderman, from 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15 (click for full size):


There’s a wide range of titles available – here’s a list of the creators represented.  And here’s a list of what Marvel deems the highlights of the collection.  The biggest downside to the service is it’s web-based, which means you have to be online to use it.  No downloading issues to read on the train.  The app also seems a little slow, but that may just be because all the geeks are online at once.

I was never a huge Marvel fan.  growing up, I liked DC better, and now if I want something mainstream I prefer Wildstorm or Vertigo.  But clearly Marvel gets it when it comes to new media.  Their movie franchises are in far better shape than the moribund DC properties (even if it means some really questionable adaptations). They’ve reached out to writers from other genres, with Joss Whedon and Orson Scott Card both penning scripts.  And this effort shows that they are willing to embrace the internet.  The future of the industry is not paper books sold in specialty shops by geeks who actually know that Spidey first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15.  I’m not sure what that future is, but it certainly involves the web.

ico_shoutbox.gifvia Download Squad

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