Being a slow reader with many interests means that my “to-read” list is an ongoing work in progress. I recently made a push to chip away at my massive list and so, in another two part write up, I thought I’d share with you some of the highlights. Many of these books have been properly reviewed already by fellow CBD writers, and there’s no shortage of more in-depth reviews out there. However, some reviews can be vague and often overly “wordy”. I’ve tried to be more concise and to-the-point by offering up the premise, followed by the reasons why I feel the book is worthy of your time… and hard earned dollars. As such, all the books featured here are recommendations. With the holiday season fast approaching, the idea here is to help you cut through the clutter and get to the good stuff quick. “Good” is a subjective term of course, but I feel that many of these works are under appreciated and worthy of your attention.
The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century
Story: Frank Miller, Art: Dave Gibbons
Fresh off the success of Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, Miller and Gibbons collaborate on a new series of mini’s about a black female soldier who rises from the slums to become an idealized symbol of hope in a future dystopian society. Although I collected the original books from the 1990’s, it took me over 25 years to finally get around to reading this series in a collected softcover compendium.
Why you should read this: This is classic Frank Miller. A society lead by corruption, desire, duty, hypocrisy, the romanticized underdog, the destruction of God or utopian ideals… it’s all here. Admittedly, I think I would have enjoyed this series more if I had read them at the time of publication. However, after 25 years, the stories still hold up. I’m not a Dave Gibbons fan but his work is competent, although not as nice as his effort on Watchmen. If you’re a child of the 80’s and missed the Martha Washington series while growing up, this series is still worth reading, especially if you’re a Miller fan. If you like to collect, the original floppies are cheap and can be readily found in the cheapie bins around town. If you’re more of a reader, pick up the compendium.
The Underwater Welder
Story and Art: Jeff Lemire
Canadian talent, Jeff Lemire is well known for his works for both Marvel and DC, but his name may be better associated with his independent works. Underwater Welder is a story about Jack, who works out on an oil rig off the coast of Nova Scotia. On one particular dive, he has an experience that has him re-living his relationship with his father, all the while being pulled away from his wife and unborn child.
Why you should read this: The introduction, by Damon Lindelof, compares this story to the Twilight Zone. This is because it contains aspects of a supernatural experience. But woven into this poignant human study is a tale of a man dealing with various pressures. The Underwater Welder has a somber tone and is paced slowly. Lemire takes a melancholy approach to characterization and the unveiling mystery of Jack. I especially liked the transitions from one scene to the next, and how smoothly the story develops. The black and white illustrations are loose and sketchy but skilled enough to capture the maritime atmosphere of a small town in Nova Scotia. The ending is somewhat unoriginal but overall Underwater Welder is an excellent read.
Story and Art: R. Kikuo Johnson
Set in Hawaii, Night Fisher is a tale about a high school student, Loren Foster who struggles to find his footing while growing up in a tropical paradise. He is swept along by the momentum of his adolescence, experimenting with drugs, dealing with gossip, rumours and hijinks that ultimately lead him to trouble with the police. All the while, he struggles to make sense of the distance between him and his best friend Shane.
Why you should read this: I think many of us can relate to this isolated feeling while growing up, and all the dumb things we did for no seemingly apparent reason. I really like this story because it illustrates this awkward stage in our lives where we are simply trying to fit in. I especially like the way the story ends, without much fanfare or revelation. The art is graphic, simple and almost nondescript. I think this is a reflective story that may get the reader thinking back to their own adolescence.
Story and Art: Michael Cho
From another local talent, Michael Cho gives us the story about Corrina Park, an English major with high hopes who ends up working at an advertising agency. Frustrated by her life, she begins stealing from a small local convenience store.
Why you should read this: I had lots problems with this book. The story, the characters and the portrayal of advertising all felt clichéd to the point of being false. The art was overly tight, overly self-conscious, and there were some production issues that bothered me; like being able to see the bit mapping from low resolution scans and the overprinting of black over magenta in order to achieve a richer black, resulting in a pink halo around everything. However, I’m a big Michael Cho fan and the art is still gorgeous to look at. The story is somewhat enjoyable as a passing read and the production issues probably won’t bother the average reader. As such, I’m recommending this book, especially if you enjoy Michael Cho’s retro style.
This One Summer
Story: Mariko Tamaki, Art: Jillian Tamaki
Local talents, Mariko and Jillian are cousins who collaborate on this poignant tale of a young girl name Rose and her friend Windy who spend their summers in the small town of Awago. On this particular summer, Rose is apprehensive about her trip, but they make it to the cottage and Rose meets up with Windy. Together, they spend their days hanging out at the beach, watching horror movies and hanging around the local store, while at the same time, being drawn in by local teenage gossip.
Why you should read this: I’m not a manga fan but I would always see this book every time I walked into a book store. So, I finally picked it up and… wow! It was pretty amazing. This book is often discussed as a coming of age story by many reviewers but I think this is misleading. It does have aspects of kids coming into their own but there are several threads that run through the book, which become connected towards the end. It’s not so much about growth as it is about people trying cope with a situation. The story is beautifully composed and the art is sensitively drawn. Jillian Tamaki’s rendition of summer at the cottage is rich and layered that I felt immersed in its setting. She captures expressions and gestures so well that the characters really do feel alive. There is one thing I would have liked to have happen differently towards the end for added impact but to discuss it any further would be to take away the joy of the initial read.
Story: Joshua Luna, Art: Jonathan Luna
Oftentimes, I hear from young, aspiring, wanna-be comic creators about their own idea for a comic. However, when it’s described to me, I can’t help but roll my eyes at some of the crazy, and seemingly nonsensical ideas I’ve heard over the years. This is one of those stories come to fruition and I’m delighted to have been proven wrong. Girls is a 24 issue series that started way back in 2005. I picked up the compendium on a whim about 10 years ago and have just gotten around to reading it. Girls features the people of Pennystown, who are unable to leave due to a mysterious barrier that surrounds their very small town. While trapped inside, beautiful naked ladies appear… then stuff happens. How this story unfolds is incredibly entertaining so I wont elaborate on this basic premise, other than to say that this is an insane idea that works so well, on so many levels.
Why you should read this: Others have describe Girls as a monster story, a mystery or a sci fi epic. I would add social study, humour and characterization to this list. It’s all these things… and more. Girls takes it’s time to set up the people of Pennystown and eases the reader into the mystery. The dialogue is written extremely well and is hilarious at times. Although there are lots of naked women, innuendo and sexual symbolism, this is not an erotic story. It is however, refreshingly original, which is no small feat these days. I’ve read how some people were really turned off by the art but I thought it was well done. It’s simple, and each panel feels like a Jap-animation film cells due to blurred background. I liked that it was consistent and help me to recognize all the characters. If you like Twilight Zone and studies about people, you’ll love this book. It really was a blast to read.
This ends part of one of my two part list of recommendations. I think most people will enjoy this eclectic mix of books, if not the story, then hopefully the art, or the ideas conveyed by this talented group of storytellers. If you have any further thoughts on the books mentioned here, please feel free to comment, and stay tuned for part two of more equally entertaining reads.
I have been a huge fan if Michael Cho’s art since I picked up a copy of Back Lanes and Urban Landscape, his wonderful renditions of Toronto alleys and streetscapes. But I too found his venture into a graphic novel somewhat disappointing, largely due to most of the points you raise.
On a similar note, I just read Brian Wood’s Rebels and couldn’t believe I had waited so long to dive into it. If you’re a history buff, or just a fan of great art, this series will deliver.
This post is a great precursor to the holiday season and I hope generates more suggestions from CBD readers. Thanks for this Charlie.
Hey Charlie, me again. like many of your posts on CBD, this one got me thinking, and, upon reflection, I have thrown together a Chritsmas suggestion list, sort of like my own personal wish list (except I actually already have all of these books). Counting down from number ten, it goes something like this:
Cages (Dave Mckean): A great meditation on the meaning of art, life and freedom, all done in the amazing line-work McKean has become famous for.
The Killing Joke (Moore/Bolland): One of the truly great Batman/Joker face-offs in the history of comics, and nobody in their right mind could turn their backs on Bolland’s art.
Mister Punch (Gaiman/McKean): A lovely reverie on the innocence, and brutality, of childhood.
Marvel 1985 (Millar/ Edwards); A chance for the whole world to see how Tommy Lee Edwards can interpret the greatest Marvel characters in one of the greatest tales of the Marvel Universe.
The League of Extraordinary Gentleman Volume 1 (Moore/O’Neill): Probably one of the last gasps of Alan Moore’s real talent before he descended into drivel, but still a masterpiece.
Velvet (Brubaker/Epting): The first great spy yarn since Ian Fleming wrote James Bond and Napoleon Solo (I thank Jess Nevins for that little bit of trivia).
Nelvana of the Northern Lights (Dingle): One of the first of what I hope to be many reprints of classic Canadian Whites comics from our own Golden Age. Every proud Canucklehead should own one.
M (Muth): A brilliant adaptation of the Fritz Lang film of the same name. Muth just never ceases to amaze me with the diversity of styles he employs (by contrast, check out Sandman #74, done in Chinese brush).
Promethea (Moore/Williams): I know, another Alan Moore. what can I say, except this one is the absolute cream of his crop. And Jim Williams is a good buddy of mine, and I never miss an opportunity to tout his greatness. I think he is one of the very best artists in the field today.
And last but not least at the number one spot:
The Tale of One Bad Rat (Talbiot): If your friends ever find it difficult to believe that anything as lowly as a comic book can move them to tears, show them this. Bryan Talbot has written a brilliant discussion on the topic of incest and still managed to provide a cathartic and thoroughly thought out resolution at the end, that will bring a smile to your face as soon as you’ve dried those tears.
Just my humble contribution to the cause, and I hope you find something you haven’t read before that gives you that thrill that only a comic fan can understand.
Wow, thanks for the list Mel. Now that I’ve burned through my read list, I’m looking for more stuff to read so I’ll definitely check them out.
I think Michael Cho has great potential in the indy scene and I hope he’ll do another book soon. First outings can be daunting, but now that he’s gotten it out of the way, he can relax and do something with a bit more meat.
Thanks Charlie. Maybe we can get a few other top ten lists before Christmas. I know they’re hopelessly subjective, but you never know when you might turn somebody on to a book they had never considered before. I love hearing what other folks like to read. Maybe Walter and Mike could chime in here too. Thanks again for the opportunity to go on and on about our favourite hobby/passion.
Mel, we need to get you on a regular schedule. I’m sure your enthusiasm can help us discover more hidden gems to read. I’m thinking a monthly review or a top 10 list is right up your alley ^_^
I’ll second the nomination!
Mel, I hate to say this but I very rarely sit down and read a book for the pleasure of doing so. Like Charlie I have many other time consuming interests that have always gotten in the way. I read biography’s occasionally. The last sci-book was a re-read of John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. In comics I was on a run of Brubaker stuff culminating with Velvet which I also loved. We will see more of that character down the road . I do read a lot on line mostly about comics and their creators for some of the columns I write here. Charlie’s Underwater Welder/Jeff Lemire recommendation has been on my imaginary list for some time now. It will now be the next book I read. Sorry I can’t be of much more help……
Thanks for the vote of confidence guys.
And Mike, the best thing we ever did in our household was to stop watching network television about 15 years ago. We do watch the occasional movie on DVD, but a lot of the time we just have on the radio or some vinyl, and I find that makes for a much more reader-friendly environment.. And, like Harry Truman, I always read myself awake in the morning, Saturday and Sunday mornings being my favorites, because I can linger longer. Thanks largely to this method of time management, I get to read at least a novel a week and any number of comics and reference works. Try it for a month some time and you will be amazed at how quickly you can whittle away at that to-read list.
Meanwhile I will indeed take a regular gig under consideration.