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Pencil revolution

Pencil revolution
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First Published: Fri, Dec 25 2009. 08 20 PM IST

He’s met some cartoons in his time but it’s comic books and graphic novels that really interest R. Sukumar
He’s met some cartoons in his time but it’s comic books and graphic novels that really interest R. Sukumar
Updated: Fri, Dec 25 2009. 08 20 PM IST
He’s met some cartoons in his time but it’s comic books and graphic novels that really interest R. Sukumar
The 2000s were a good decade for comic books, although one of the finest comic book writers EVER, Neil Gaiman, didn’t produce any outstanding comics in this period. He was more into novels and the comics he did author in the decade—such as Marvel 1602—don’t really make the best-of-the-00s cut.
To me, the 2000s were good for comic book lovers for two reasons: one, Vertical’s decision to translate and publish manga master Osamu Tezuka’s books (you will, Dear Reader, hear more about these in the listing that follows); and two, the increasing tendency of Hollywood to look to comic books for source material.
The second reason merits elaboration. The Spiderman franchise was really born in the 2000s, as was the Fantastic Four; the Batman franchise was revived, and how, towards the end of the decade by Messrs Bale and Nolan; but it wasn’t just superhero comics that made the transition to cinemas during the decade. Frank Miller’s Sin City did, as did his 300; Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis did; Alan Moore’s once-considered-unfilmable Watchmen did; as did Constantine, Elektra, Road to Perdition, A History of Violence and American Splendor.
Here, in no particular order (or chronology) are my picks of the decade. I have tried to leave out superhero/fantasy/ crime comics and instead stick to what are called “graphic novels”.
BLACK HOLE
by Charles Burns
Set in the 1970s, this is a story about teenage alienation; a mysterious illness appears among young people, and is passed on through sexual contact. Burns’ richly textured black and white illustrations heighten the horror in an almost mundane sort of way.
(Left) Counterculture: A still from the animated film Persepolis. Paul Pope’s Heavy Liquid.
PERSEPOLIS
by Marjane Satrapi
A comic about growing up in Iran that perhaps became more popular than it should have, maybe because feminists as well as chick-lit addicts adopted it.
HEAVY LIQUID
by Paul Pope
If Philip K. Dick could have drawn comics, this story, set in a dystopian future, about a drug that gives people strange abilities, is probably the kind of book he would have produced.
EPILEPTIC
by David B
Translated from the French, this is artist David Beauchard’s autobiographical story and is a more stylish version of Persepolis. It’s also far more layered, with characters from the author’s and his brother’s fantasies appearing in the comic. The story itself is straightforward and tells how the family reacts after the author’s brother contracts incurable epilepsy.
LOST GIRLS
by Alan Moore
It was hard to pick this one simply because Moore produced the mystical Promethea and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the third book in this mini-series, The Black Dossier, is Moore’s unified theory of life and literature) during the decade. I picked Lost Girls because: It is the most beautiful work of erotica I have come across; its postmodern plot looks at the adult life of Alice (of Wonderland), Dorothy (of Kansas), and Wendy (of Peter Pan); and it is among the best illustrated (by Melinda Gebbie, Moore’s companion) and best produced comic books I have encountered.
BUDDHA
by Osamu Tezuka
The Buddha books sit nicely on my bookshelf, the spines of 1,2 and 3 forming an image of a young Buddha, those of 3, 4, 5 and 6 that of a middle-aged Buddha, and those of 6,7 and 8 that of an old Buddha. The spines, to my mind, reflect the genius of Tezuka, the father of manga. Like most manga, the Buddha books have their share of violence, nudity and humour—they would have probably been banned in India—but remain true to the story of a prince who became a mendicant and showed the world a new way. The 2000s was a good decade for Tezuka fans because Vertical decided to start publishing English translations of his books. Several of his works deserve to be on this list. Ode to Kirihito, MW and Black Jack are all outstanding works.
MCSWEENEY’S 13
Edited by Chris Ware
Ware’s style is distinctive. His clean lines probably reflect inspiration from an earlier era when comics, especially strips that appeared in papers, looked thus. Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth as well as his Acme Novelty Library series (the last being a series of books of different shapes and sizes where the comics, apart from being within the book, could be anywhere — on the jacket, for instance) mark him as one of the all-time greats. I picked his work in McSweeney’s 13 because it pretty much represents what he does; the 13th volume of McSweeney’s literary journal was dedicated to comics.
Dark Edge: A panel from Gilbert Hernandez’s graphic novel Sloth.
ASTERIOS POLYP
by David Mazzucchelli
The newest of the books on the list, Asterios Polyp is a literary masterpiece that pushes at the boundaries of comic books in terms of use of colour, the treatment of panels, and the story itself. A complex story of love and redemption (replete with an ambiguous ending) comes to life under Mazzucchelli’s pen. This is the man who illustrated Frank Miller’s Batman: Year 1, and several Daredevil books. Am I glad he decided to do his own writing.
PYONGYANG
by Guy Delisle
We’ve all heard stories about how people live and work in North Korea. Delisle actually spent some time there and captured the weirdness around him in this excellent comic. It’s funny, but also sharp.
SLOTH
by Gilbert ‘Beto’ Hernandez
I picked this over the mammoth Love and Rockets saga, because I think it is a better story (which I will not spoil for those who will make the effort to find and read the book by summarizing here). Like Burns’ Black Hole, Sloth is a book about adolescence, but it is a more cheerful and optimistic take on it. Beto’s strength has always been his carefully planned panel structure and almost-cinematic illustrations, and both are evident in this book.
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Epilogue
And three that almost made it to the list
(Clockwise from top left): Black Hole: By Charles Burns,Pantheon, 352 pages, $29.95. Buddha: By Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, 400 pages, $14.95 (approx. Rs700). Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea: By Guy Delisle, Drawn and Quarterly, 184 pages, $23.95. Epileptic: By David B. Pantheon, 368 pages, $18.95.
BONE
by Jeff Smith
Ever tried a picaresque fantasy saga peopled by almost shapeless creatures, the Bones? ‘Bone’ is just that and once you get used to the characters, it is a refreshing story, which is refreshingly told.
THE FIXER
by Joe Sacco
Sacco proved with ‘Palestine’ that comic books can serve as works of serious journalism (after a fashion). In ‘The Fixer’, his take on Bosnia, he uses the story of a fixer (the kind who thrives in most conflict situations because he can get things and get things done) to tell the larger story of the conflict. It’s a bit tedious in parts, but brilliant.
ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Tatsumi is one of the oldest living masters of manga and is widely credited with creating an alternative style of manga. This is one of three volumes of his stories put out by Drawn and Quarterly (I think I have two of the books) and captures the dark and unpleasant underbelly of life in 1960s Tokyo.
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First Published: Fri, Dec 25 2009. 08 20 PM IST
More Topics: Comics | Art | Heavy Liquid | Black Hole | Jeff Smith |