Where do you find these books?"

“Don’t you get bored of comics?"

“Your columns make me feel like I know nothing (about comics)."

These are some of the responses I usually get to CF.

For the record, my responses to these questions, in order, would be:

Amazon.com, Fact & Fiction (New Delhi), Landmark.


That’s not the idea; besides, you shouldn’t feel that way if you are not into comics.

This week’s CF is actually meant for people who aren’t into comics. It presents a list of 10 comics (I have cheated a little and included series) that sort of encapsulate the best the genre has to offer (in no particular order).

1) The Dark Knight Returns:

By Frank Miller

Because Frank Miller still writes and draws like no one else. Because there is something about Batman that makes him one of the finest (and most complex) comic characters ever created. Because this draws from everything Miller has done before and everything he will do after it (including the Sin City books). And because I still believe in Batman.

2) Road to Perdition:

By Max Allan Collins

Several movies are based on comic books; but this has to be the best. No other movie (not even Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City), comes close to it in terms of the similarity between print and book. See the movie; then read the book.

3) Wet Dreams:

By Alfonso Azpiri

Comics are meant to be funny and raunchy. And they don’t come any better than Azpiri’s. His women are straight out of schoolboy fantasies. The stories themselves are nothing better than adult fables, but you won’t catch me complaining about them.

4) Barefoot Gen:

By Keiji Nakazawa

The ultimate pacifist manifesto, Barefoot Gen tells the story of a young boy growing up in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing (the atom bomb, silly). We know it happened, so it is easy to forgive the melodrama Nakazawa infuses in his story. To date, the only book that really moved me.

5) Ode to Kirihito:

By Osama Tezuka

You can’t have a must-read listing (for comics newbies) without mentioning at least one Japanese author (this list has two). Tezuka’s work is here because it is representative, in a way, of all manga. And Ode to Kirihito, the subject of a recent edition of CF, is a classic in its own right.

6) Hellboy: By Mike Mignola

I’ve got to be joking, right? How can a pulp-ish story of a hell-spawn (who actually has a tail and a complexion the colour of well-roasted meat) be a must-read? Actually, I’m serious. Mignola’s art (he draws as well as writes) elevates this B-movie among graphic novels into that rare something: a B-movie that all others of the genre could well consider a benchmark.

7) David Boring:

By Daniel Clowes

Most people would have picked Clowes’ Ghost Story. However, it is David Boring that represents Clowes’ work best. It is a surreal story in three parts, all of which deal with Boring’s search for something (a girl, a place, a girl). The book may leave readers confused and unsure of what they’ve just read—that is perhaps just the end Clowes had in mind.

8) Watchmen:

By Alan Moore

From split panels in some parts of the book to present two parallel but unrelated themes, to one of the most intriguing first lines in the history of books (“Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face"), this is the ultimate superhero book, and, as evident from its ‘Who watches the watchmen?’ theme, one that looks at how super power corrupts.

9) The Sandman:

By Niel Gaiman

What The Lord of The Rings is to the fantasy genre, The Sandman is to comics (or graphic novels). Over the course of 11 books, Gaiman showcases a mix of myth, literature, history and his own unique brand of horror. Along with Watchmen, Sandman made comics respectable and, in this case, better than literature.

10) Maus:

By Art Spiegelman

When you retell something as horrific as the Holocaust using rats to personify Jews and cats, Nazis, the result can be something that is either farcical or strangely touching. Maus is the latter. And the fact that you cannot editorialize too much in a comic makes this the finest retelling of the Holocaust story I have ever read.

Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com