Bibliophilia: Comics, Funny Pages, & Graphic Novels

Daniel Clowes' The Death Ray
Daniel Clowes’ The Death Ray

This past weekend hundreds of independent authors, illustrators, and cartoonists took time out of their busy schedules of drawing mutants killing pterodactyls and awkward romantic encounters to meet up at a hotel in Maryland. That’s right; this past weekend witnessed the annual independent comic convention SPX where indie comic heavies such as Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine mixed with up-and-comers in a celebration of debuts, conversations, and plenty of tweeting.  So in honor of SPX and the many great artists and authors associated, I thought that I would use this blog space to encourage everyone to read, one of my favorite types of books, a comic book.

The word comic carries with it a sort of juvenile context (of course it doesn’t help any that comics also go by “funny pages” or “comix”) which is why for quite a while they were considered lesser art forms or as something “you know, for kids.” Yet sometime in the late sixties when Roy Lichtenstein was painting large canvases of single panel war and drama comics and Robert Crumb started his perverse and subversive career, comics started to become noticed as a reputable art form.  Today, while we still have comics, comix, and funny pages, we also have the graphic novel which is a longer illustrated work that is given the same amount of consideration that any other novel is.  And since the indie comic world can sometimes be a weird and oblique world I thought I would point out some easy, entertaining, and thoroughly good entry points.

Asterios Polyp is an intense and beautifully written graphic novel by David Mazzucchelli that tells the story of an architect and professor obsessed with the beauty of duality in the aftermath of a relationship. In one key passage Asterios is giving a lecture on New York architecture and comments on the twin towers “Don’t you see? The brilliance of it is that there are two of them.” Yet for all of Asterios’ desire for harmony and companionship he and everyone else stand as their own individual with signature fonts, colors, and aesthetics given to them by Mazzucchelli to help define their personalities. It’s a book that is as beautiful as it is profound and enjoyable.

This year at SPX Julia Wertz unveiled her latest book The Infinite wait and although I haven’t had a chance to read it in full she has posted one of her stories from it, A Strange and Curious Place, online for free. This is Julia Wertz’s forth full book following the impressive Fart Party vol. 1, Fart Party Vol. 2, and Drinking at the Movies. Her work is mainly autobiographical stories that get their charm from her joyfully sardonic view of the world and her attempts to overcome obstacles that she places in front of herself and that the world places in front of her.  Her website is full of free comics to page through but I’d suggest this small excerpt from Drinking at the Movies for a good example of Wertz’s style of humor and aesthetic.

Daniel Clowes is perhaps most known for his comic turned film Ghost World. It’s a great starting point for getting used to Clowes’ use of non-linear, encyclopedic, universes and style of storytelling. It’s also chock full of what one would expect from a Daniel Clowes story: broken characters, dark humor, and references to arcane pop culture and the people who love it. And although Ghost World sets the pace for Daniel Clowes bibliography I feel The Death Rayis perhaps his most rewarding title. The Death Ray is a superhero comic about a boy who becomes super strong when he smokes cigarettes; also he has a retro laser gun toy that disintegrates people.

Jason is a cartoonist who tells the majority of his stories free of any text, or with minimal text. His comics are very cinematic to that effect and are a great showcase of his very clean style of drawing.  Most of his stories incorporate absurdist or fantastic elements like time travel, turning into a werewolf, or zombies but are told in a deadpan manner that brings out the humor of the situation.  My favorite story of his is Werewolves of Montpellierwhich is about an artist who dresses as a werewolf who ends meeting actual werewolves.

Finally I’d like to recommend Johnny Ryan’s multidimensional gross-out series Prison Pit Prison Pit is about an intergalactic prisoner and all of the fights he gets into in this intergalactic prison. It’s a comic that celebrates, and celebrates at full tilt, vulgarity. In fact it’s a comic that’s so vulgar I can’t think of any aspect I’d personally describe on this blog. Yet it is a book that is so aesthetically wonderful I’d feel remiss not recommending it, I just feel that the recommendation should come with a warning. It’s amazing, read it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about all the impaling.

So what do you think? Do you have any favorite comics, comix, funny pages, or graphic novels?  Please leave some comments below so that we can continue our discussion on comic books, Roy Lichtenstein, and how enjoyable vulgarity can be when done right.

– Jet Fuel Blogger, Lucas Sifuentes

2 thoughts on “Bibliophilia: Comics, Funny Pages, & Graphic Novels

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