Five Hundred Words on Graphic Novels to Read and Read Again

The secret to becoming a competent writer is to write a lot and to read a lot. And while reading widely can help a writer in a general sense, it’s the practice of reading deeply that really helps us hone our craft.

It’s that belief that’s led me recently to move a slew of graphic novels to the small book rack that sits atop my roll-top desk. I’m writing a comic book series at the moment, you see, and I think it’s vitally important for me to have easy access at all times to good examples of the form I’m working in.

So, what’s in the rack? Here’s a brief rundown of what and why.

Kick-Ass by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., the basis for the 2010 film of the same name, is one of the most brutal graphic novels I’ve ever read. But it’s also steeped in comic book traditions and conventions, which gives it the feel of a classic. So, while I’m not aiming to write a classic—few who aim for that goal ever reach it—I do find this book instructive because of the way it marries the traditional and the modern.

Astonishing X-Men Volumes 1-4 by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday is, for me, one of the best entry-level X-Men stories out there. You could hand these four trades to someone who had no idea who the X-Men were, and they would get it. Every classic X-trope is here: persecution, a solution/cure to the mutant X gene, a resurrection, and even a trip into space. As I’m writing a book with a lot of backstory, I’ll be looking to this series for examples of how to include a rich history without alienating new readers.

The Ultimates Volumes 1-2 and The Ultimates 2 Volumes 1-2 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch re-tells the story of the formation of Marvel’s classic Avengers team for a more modern audience. Like Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man, The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2 distill everything that is awesome about a series with decades of history into a version of the story much more easily digestible for newbies. And since my philosophy on writing is to spin yarns that challenge the reader without alienating them, this is the perfect book for me to study.

Preacher: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon is the first book in what is quite simply the best series that Vertigo Comics ever put out. From the pacing to the characterization to the grand scope of the story, this one has everything I need to study.

Y: The Last Man - Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra has everything Preacher had, plus a post-apocalyptic world with only one man left on it. The imagination on display here is astonishing. It’s the second best series Vertigo ever did.

So, that’s what’s on my shelf right now. What’s on yours?