All-TIME Graphic Novels
"Graphic novel" is a vague moniker that gets applied to any extended form of comics, including non-fiction and short story collections. But here, at least, the term fits. Following the rules of the All TIME 100 books focusing exclusively on book-length fictional stories originally written in English here are the All TIME top ten graphic novels, in alphabetical order by title.
Andrew D. Arnold
Berlin: City of Stones by Jason Lutes (Drawn & Quarterly; 2000)
Part of an incredibly ambitious, years-in-the-making project, this is just the first volume of a series of novels that will all take place during the combustible Weimar era of the titular city. Drawn with clean lines and an attention to architectural detail that pays homage to such European comics as Herg�'s "Tintin," City of Stones follows a young woman art student who starts an affair with a weary leftist journalist against a background of boiling politics and decadence. Filled with rich characters and period detail, even if the follow-up books never come, it will still be one of the premier works of historical fiction in the medium.
Blankets by Craig Thompson (Top Shelf; 2003)
This semi-autobiographical novel set in the snowy hinterlands of Wisconsin tells the story of a lonely, artistic young man who struggles with his fundamentalist Christian upbringing when he falls in love. Fluidly told over 582 pages, Blankets magically recreates the high emotional stakes of adolescence. Thompson has set new bars for the medium not just in length, but breadth.
TIME.comix: Curl up with a Great Book
Bone by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books; 2004)
A series of black-and-white comics about three odd-looking creatures lost in a valley of dragons, talking bugs and rat creatures published over twelve years are collected here as a 1,300-page soft cover. Bone combines the humor and look of early Disney movies with the scope of the Lord of the Rings cycle. Smith draws characters that are both cute and scary, infusing every panel with dynamic energy. The best all-ages novel yet published in this medium, while children will read Bone for its breathless adventure and sight gags, older kids and adults will appreciate the themes of blind fanaticism and corrupting power.
TIME.comix: No Bones About It
The Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Kim Deitch (Pantheon; 2002) Deitch, an overlooked veteran of the 1960s "underground" comix movement, finally got his due with this trade-published novel. It follows the career of Ted Mishkin, a brilliant animator of the 1930s driven to madness by a (possibly imaginary) malevolent, bipedal cat named Waldo. Using a charming drawing style reminiscent of 1930s cartoons Deitch explores the nature of reality, the mystery of inspiration, the exploitation of pop culture and the redemptive power of art.
TIME.comix: The Transgressive Comix of Kim Deitch
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller (DC Comics; 1986)
One of the best-selling graphic novels of all time, this black comedy version of Batman's latter days masterfully combines satire with superhero antics without betraying it's central character's core of danger. Along with Alan Moore & Dave Gibbon's Watchmen, it redefined the concept of "superhero," and helped spark the first wave of "serious" interest in comics.
David Boring by Daniel Clowes (Pantheon; 2000)
Although best known for his book Ghost World, thanks to the movie version, Dan Clowes' David Boring, about a guy in search of a woman while the world may be ending, marked his first truly novelistic approach to graphical storytelling. Peerless in his ability to create offbeat characters and write sardonic humor, Clowes has lately gotten more experimental in his form, but David Boring remains his most readable and unified book.
TIME Magazine: Boring's Exciting Ride
Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown (Vortex; 1989)
Brown, who has sustained a career as one of comicdom's maverick creators, first became known with this fantastically funny, violent and absurd debut novel, a bizarre farce that includes Martians, vampires, Ronald Reagan and a doleful, miserable protagonist named Ed the Happy Clown. Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly has just begun re-publishing the chapters as individual comics with new covers.
TIME.comix: The Weird World of Chester Brown
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (Pantheon; 2000)
The most perfect novel yet seen in this format, Ware innovates in form and in content to create a uniquely American story, both tragic and gut-splittingly funny. Neither smart nor a kid, Jimmy reunites with his long-lost dad, finds him a great disappointment, and discovers an African-American sister he never knew about. Confronting race, history, and family this book proved incontrovertibly that the form could be as deep and complex as any prose novel.
TIME Magazine: Right Way, Corrigan
Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories by Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books; 2003)
A kind of über graphic novel that collects a series of smaller graphic novels all situated in a small town "somewhere south of the U.S. border," this giant tome by a seminal comic artist will likely be the author's magnum opus. Part of the creative team behind the deeply influential "Love and Rockets" comic book series (along with his equally talented brother Jaime) Gilbert has created a pan-American epic that spans multiple generations of a family run almost exclusively by women. Hernandez' Palomar combines the look of Archie comics with Faulkner's richness of character and place into the melodramatic sweep of a sexy soap opera to create one of the most remarkable works of any narrative art.
TIME Magazine: Graphic Sketches of Latino Life
Watchmen written by Alan Moore / drawn by Dave Gibbons (DC Comics; 1986)
Moore, who has become one of the most successful graphic novelists of the age (From Hell; League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), first broke out with this, his deconstruction of the superhero. Working with U.K. compatriot Gibbons, Moore created a complex murder mystery with intense, unforgettable characters that explored the themes of absolute power, love and the medium of comic books. It is the only graphic novel to also be included in the All-TIME 100 Novels list.
Andrew Arnold writes the TIME.comix column, covering the world of graphic literature. For more graphic novel recommendations, see A Graphic Literature Library: 25 books from 25 years for smart, sophisticated readers. Thoughts about this list? Write to Andrew Arnold at email@example.com.
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