The comics mania is in full swing this week in Egypt. A workshop by German comic-book illustrator Künstlern Isabel Kreitz and Egypt’s Magdy El-Shafaie (author of “Metro, Egypt’s first graphic novel) is currently underway and a number of comics exhibition are set to take place over the next few weeks. At the same time, the “Watchmen craze started to sweep Egypt with the release of the film adaptation last week.Most people regard comic books/graphic novels as a minor, juvenile literary form, associating it with superheroes and children’s cartoons that function as the ultimate geek fodder. The fact is graphic novels are now considered one of the most exciting, innovative and progressive narrative media that breaks boundaries every decade. The term ‘graphic novel’ was coined with Will Eisner’s monumental “The Contract with God Trilogy in 1978. Art Spiegelman’s “Maus followed in 1980, opening the door for great comic writers such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore to continue breaking new ground. Now, by the admission of several eminent novelists and critics, graphic novels have become a legitimate form of literature.The following list presents some of the most influential and revolutionary graphic novels published in the last 25 years. While numerous novels could’ve made our list, this is a small glimpse of the genre’s expansive history. For anyone unaware of the way graphics storytelling has evolved in the past 60 years, this should make for a fitting introduction.
BlanketsCraig Thompson’s 600-page autobiographical novel released in 2003 is genuine poetry. Thompson’s memoir, which has been translated into 13 languages, charts his childhood in a fundamentalist Christian household, his attempts to break free and his first love. It is an achingly beautiful story about obsession, guilt, the trepidation of growing up, and the incomparable rapture of first love. Thompson renders these themes with a visual grace and astonishing lyricism, producing a deeply moving story that fully exploits the medium to create a peerless emotional experience.
BoneJeff Smith’s highly entertaining fantasy series is the only graphic novel on this list suitable for all ages. Smith’s series ran from 1991 to 2004 and has been compiled into a 1,332 page single volume. A kind of comical “Lord of the Rings, the book centers on the three Bone cousins – the smart and valiant Fone, the devious and voracious Phony and the laid-back Smiley – as they leave the comfort of their hometown Boneville to be charged into a mystical realm where they must stop evil forces from conquering earth. Exceedingly funny with exhilarating action with an artwork both cute and aggressive on occasion, “Bone is pure fun.
The Dark Knight ReturnsFrank Miller turned the superhero myth over its head with a story that redefined the entire genre along with Alan Moore’s “Watchmen. Bruce Wayne resurrects his alter ego after 10-year hiatus during which Gotham has plunged into crime once more. Featuring, most memorably, a climactic battle with Superman and the intriguing confrontation with the Joker that shaped the bulk of “The Dark Knight movie, “Dark Knight Returns is a serious take on the Batman character packed with dark humor, noirish atmosphere and thorough, claustrophobic artwork.
L’ascension du haut mal (Epileptic)The French new wave comics that emerged in the 90s represent the second golden age of French/European graphic novels. Artists such as Marjane Satrapi (“Persepolis ), Joann Sfar (“The Baby Cat ) and Lewis Trondheim (“Little Nothings ) embedded the graphic novel with contemporary issues concerning culture, race and modern life. Chief among the new wave works is David B’s 1996 “Epileptic, a stirring autobiography with lush artwork that details the author’s childhood and his relationship with his sister and epileptic brother. Austere, emotionally frank and heartbreaking at times, “Epileptic is a story of a man recreating a different reality to escape the madness of real life.
Ghost World/David BoringBefore he turned all too experimental on us, Daniel Clowes produced two of the finest American graphic novels of the 90s. The first follows two pseudo-intelligent teenage hipsters trying to figure out what to do with their lives after high school. The hero of the second is a skinny 20-year-old security guard/wannabe filmmaker searching for his lost love. Both works center on offbeat characters attempting to find their place in the world. The first is funnier and sentimental; the second is more novelistic in its approach, intricate in its plot design and melancholic. Both are equally compelling, filled with crisp controlled drawings that shine a light on a different Americana rarely explored in mainstream comics.
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on EarthEasily the most groundbreaking graphic novel of the decade, Chris Ware’s 2000 masterpiece pushed the medium into new territories few believed existed. The titular character is a phlegmatic, self-effacing potato-shaped 36-year-old loner who meets his long-lost father for the first time over a thanksgiving dinner. The artwork is unlike anything committed before to graphic novel: Dense and meticulous, heavy with symbolism and contains complex diagrams and instructions on how to read the book. Ware’s daring technique perfectly serves his bleak study of alienation, despair and the hope found in the most mundane of things.
Maison IkkokuJapanese Manga fans will probably be discontent with our exclusion of classics such as “Akira, “Ghost in the Shell or “Fullmetal Alchemist in favor of Rumiko Takahashi’s little-known 1980 classic. Indeed, “Maison Ikkoku may not be as innovative and edgy as the more known manga, yet it does manage to stand out simply for its sheer endearment. It centers on the nutty tenants of an apartment building, the college-dropout Godai who wants to move out and the mysterious apartment manager Kyoko whom he falls in love with. Funny, melodramatic in parts, playful and romantic, “Maison Ikkoku is the equivalent of comedic soap opera; a comfy place you can’t help but revisit again and again.
The QuitterThe great Harvey Pekar is best known for his acclaimed cult comics “American Splendor. “The Quitter is, arguably, his best graphic novel to date; another autobiographical entry about a bright, apprehensive young man so scared by failure that he constantly keeps on quitting when things don’t go as planned.Abundant with Pekar’s signature sardonic humor and Dean Haspiel’s 60s-like cartoonish dawning, the brilliance of “The Quitter is the small moments Pekar weaves together to create his brutally honest world of misfits and ordinary men.
The SandmanSeventy-five issues, seven years and 2,000 pages; visionary British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman’s sprawling epic set the bar up high for every adult comic series produced in the 90s. The central character of the series is Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, who sets out to rebuild his kingdom after being imprisoned for 70 years in an occult accident. Combining myth, fairytales and literature with elaborate gothic art, “The Sandman, is, as Norman Mailer described it, “a comic book for intellectuals about death, fate and dreams.
WatchmenYes, the hype that have surrounded one of the bestselling and most acclaimed graphic novels in history is well justified. Alan Moore’s 1986 revolutionary work remains the most seminal work in comics’ history. Moore’s post-modernist, apocalyptic story portrays its flawed crime fighters with a searing psychological accuracy nearly most subsequent comics aspired to emulate. Moore’s pessimistic world vision comes to life via eclectic, innovative narrative techniques that often use juxtapositions and symbols. Check out tomorrow’s The Reel Estate for a full review of the cinematic adaptation of “Watchmen.