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Posts Tagged ‘Watchmen’

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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