Hello. First of all, thank you Sarah for letting me guest blog! You can normally find me on Time For Twee which is a bit like a 16 year old girl’s diary about music and hanging out with my friends and eating too much food all the time.
I write for film and television, so it’s probably not surprising that I asked if I could write about graphic novels. They have a natural appeal as it’s storytelling via a visual medium rather than just words. Space on the page is as important as space on the screen, and it helps me think about ways of telling my own stories without using as much dialogue (show, don’t tell!). I love all books but I thought it might be fun to stick to graphic novels and if you’ve never read one before, perhaps this will be an encouraging introduction!
I think it’s a shame that I still feel kind of intimidated whenever I go into a comic book store – although there are loads of female graphic novelists and comic book artists out there these days, there’s still a sense that it’s a scene dominated by guys. As well, if you’ve never read a graphic novel before, it’s tricky to know where to start. There are so many brilliant ones to choose from. So here are some of my favourites...
Blankets by Craig Thompson
This is a heavy duty debut graphic novel - a coming-of-age autobiographical tale of growing up in a Christian family when your belief in God is coming into question, the joys and pains of being an elder sibling and the ecstacy and heartache of falling in love for the first time. It’s a painfully observant retelling of the awkwardness of adolescence and the never-ending uncertainty of relationships, drawn exquisitely in beautiful detail, as Craig meets his first girlfriend Raina at a Christian camp. As an outsider at home, in school and at camp, Craig depicts meeting someone who you understand and understands you with the obsession and thrill that sadly rarely lasts beyond your teens. He shares the intimacy of his long-distance relationship with Raina as he goes to stay with her family for two weeks – the perfect moments of pure cohesion with your lover and the heartbreaking alienation because you cannot possibly always feel the same way. Craig’s story is easily identifiable as he plays out the end of one phase of his life and the beginning of another. It would be easy for this story to become something bitter and angst-ridden but Craig is a delicate and fair storyteller. If you liked 500 Days of Summer, this is a good call.
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (Volume 1) by Bryan Lee O’Malley
‘BREAD MAKES YOU FAT?!’
Scott Pilgrim is the 23 year old Toronto slacker bass player in Sex Bob-omb and dating a high schooler called Knives Chau. She’s Chinese, so Scott thinks that’s pretty cool. Until he meets Ramona Flowers, a roller-blading, American, Amazon delivery girl who can travel through sub-space. As well as teaching Scott that eating garlic bread for every meal would make him fat, Ramona inspires a love in Scott that transcends everything, like ever. At first he thinks his biggest problem will be breaking up with Knives, but it soon transpires that in order to date Ramona, he must fight and defeat all of her seven evil exes, including the mysterious Gideon. So, if you’ve already seen the movie, you’ve got the gist – this is a wise-cracking, video-game loving story of triumphing over evil when you’re really super lazy but also happen to be totally awesome at kicking ass. The series of graphic novels tell a slightly different story from the film, but it’s stuffed full of quotable lines and cool, funny Canadian characters, from Wallace Wells, the gay roommate Scott shares a mattress on the floor of his apartment with, to Kim Pine, Scott’s sarcastic drummer not-evil ex-girlfriend. My favourite character is Envy Adams, singer of The Clash at Demonhead and Scott’s totally evil ex. But it’s hard to pick just one... If you like video games or pop culture or obscure band t-shirts (so that’s all of you, right?), you will love the books. Go read the books.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Anya is a Russian immigrant teenager, socially awkward, a bit chubby and generally uncomfortable with who she is. Weren’t we all? Well, perhaps I wasn’t a Russian immigrant but all the rest of it, I’ve been there and in some respects, I still am. I guess the even bigger difference than our country of origin between me and Anya is that I’ve never fallen down a hole and befriended a ghost. When one of Emily’s bones ends up in Anya’s backpack, it allows Emily to leave the place where she died, and become Anya’s BFF. Whether Anya likes it or not. At first, Emily is a positive presence in Anya’s existence, but... you know how your best friend was also often your worst enemy when you were a teenager? This book captures those moments of uncertainty about whose side your buddy is really on – yours or hers (IT’S HERS!!!). The cleverest thing about this story is how well it encapsulates adolescence without looking down on it. There is no condescension, and no teenager would ever feel patronised reading it – yet as an adult, it’s not angsty, it’s simply a wonderful reminder of what it was like to be that age. Truthful and funny and a tiny bit spooky (it’s got a GHOST in it!), this is a perfect read for anyone who loved Mean Girls or The Craft. Twilight fans might like it too, y’know, if you’ve reached the stage where you want to read something with an actual narrative...
HildaFolk – Luke Pearson
A little girl with blue hair and a sort of fox-dog-deer pet called Twig (WANT!!!) who lives with her Mum in a fantastic world. That’s Hilda. HildaFolk is the first in Luke Pearson’s series of stories about this charming, perceptive kid, who is brave and fearful and adventurous and joyful, as she explores and draws and tries to understand the magical beings she meets. This is a story about troll hunting, naturally, with all the warmth of a Tove Jansson book and all the heart of any Hayao Miyazaki film. I’ve followed Luke Pearson’s progression since stumbling across his blog years ago, and all of his books so far have been an absolute delight. It would be so easy for this little girl to be cloying or irritating, but she’s written with such careful strength and wonder and humour, it’s impossible not to love Hilda. There’s a special attention to the magical and unexpected details in the background, whilst also paying tribute to the truthfulness of being a kid. If you’ve ever loved a Studio Ghibli film or if you can’t get enough of the Moomins, you must get onto the Hilda books.
NOMADS – Lizzy Stewart
This very short little ‘zine has a meandering narrative, as the title would suggest. There’s no big story here – it’s simply an observation of female adolescence, patrolling your neighbourhood with your gang of mates – nostalgia-tinged, whimsical and occasionally inducing a stab in the heart – a single panel of a girl on a bench with a boy accompanied by the brief but poignant statement ‘We suffered the occasional loss’. Oh, the betrayal and the envy and the love and the gossip and the understanding and the wishing – as you pound the streets, lazily with no sense of purpose, full of sugar and possibilities and repetition and constant change. Lizzy’s depiction of purposeless, purposeful youthfulness is simple, and perfect for it. This would appeal to fans of The Virgin Suicides – so reminiscent of your dreamy, languid teenage years.
Paying For It – Chester Brown
Chester Brown is a Canadian cartoonist who’s been producing work for decades. Paying For It is an autobiographical, pro-prostitution story. By which I mean, Chester Brown visits prostitutes, pays for sex and thinks it should be legal, so he wrote this about it. It’s obviously controversial, starting with his decision to give up on romantic love and his desire to continue having sex despite this. He presents it a natural choice, to decide to become a ‘john’. I read this book curiously – I wanted to know why a man would choose to frequent prostitutes for a purely sexual relationship, completely forsaking any chance of love – could it be more than just selfish, mindless lust? Well, no. He suggests that he is helping these women, but whether he means to or not, I feel like his true guilt seeps through. This book is difficult to read and made me angry, disgusted and uncomfortable at numerous points. ‘Paying for sex isn’t an empty experience if you’re paying the right person for sex’ he insists. But I will argue until the end of time that the right person will only ever be someone you don’t have to pay for sex. Read this if you are a woman, if you’re a man – it’s an education in how not to end up a terribly alone and selfish human being, trying (and as far as I’m concerned, failing) your best to justify your lust by comparing it to precious love.
AEIOU Any Easy Intimacy by Jeffrey Brown
And of precious love... Jeffrey Brown’s ‘girlfriend trilogy’ documents every moment of his relationships – the butterflies-in-the-stomach beginnings, the heart-wrenching-awkward-unsure-middles and the inevitable-crushing-world-ending finality. All presented with a warm sweetness that is probably the only reason his ex-girlfriends haven’t sued him for his reveal-all honesty. Although told from his point of view, Jeffrey never shies away from his own inadequacies and failings, his neediness and insecurity but it’s not just a self-deprecating self-bashing. The story of his trainwreck of a relationship with Sophia, from the moment they alight the platform to the squealing of brakes on mangled metal as their romance shudders to a halt is as funny and adoring as it is painful and cringeworthy. Jeffrey is juvenile, Sophia is troubled – they are never going to make it. But if Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind taught me one thing, it’s that the end point isn’t necessarily what’s important. And it seems that Jeffrey’s books are based on a similar notion – sometimes love is agony, but it doesn’t matter because of the moments when it’s not. ‘Do you still believe in love?’ asks Jeffrey’s friend Daniel on the phone. ‘Yeah’ he replies mournfully. ‘I just don’t believe in girls’. Ouch. But oh so good. If you caught Save the Date featuring the awesome Alison Brie, Lizzy Caplan and one of my favourite actors, MARTIN STARR, it might interest you to know Jeffrey co-wrote that film! He also directed the Death Cab For Cutie video for Your Heart Is An Empty Room. Which officially makes Jeffrey Brown more emo than anyone ever.
Nelson – by various artists
I’ll keep this short – Nelson is edited by Rob Davis & Woodrow Phoenix, and written by 54 different artists, telling the story of one woman’s life, Nel Baker, in little yearly snapshots, from her birth. I’m very lucky to share an office with one of the contributing artists, Alice Duke, but it features many talented people such as the aforementioned Luke Pearson and the well-known Posy Simmonds who wrote Tamara Drew. A unique but simple project that constantly produces surprises, laughs and does a truly fantastic job of representing the wealth of different styles of drawing and storytelling to choose from when it comes to the world of graphic novels. You’re bound to find something you like here because every single page is completely different. It reminds me a little bit of The World According To Garp, in that it starts at the very beginning of a life, and takes you on through all the unexpected twists and turns. One of my favourite moments is when the invention of Facebook allows Nel and us to have a glimpse into the life of a character introduced early on, who we lose touch with as the story progresses. Just like real life...
And that’s it. I hope you’re inspired to find something new you might like, whether you’re a graphic novel veteran or if you thought comics were only for boys who like superheroes (you should probably like those too though).