Five Graphic Novels You Need To Read

Every time I find a list about “must read graphic novels” online, they always have the same books on every list. They always shill for Watchmen. Then they get poignant by telling you to read Maus. Killing Joke is often name dropped as the seminal Batman story. And usually as a nod to the amazing Alex Ross’ art,  Kingdom Come  gets a spot. Though the last two spots of the lists always seem to vary between websites and journalists.

Some say Persepolis for its unflinching honesty, while others claim From Hell, for its period piece storytelling, augmented by moments of sheer brutality. And while every one of the above mentioned graphic novels are truly astounding in their own, distinctive ways, this time around, I chose to tackle a list that would focus on some lesser known graphic novels that maybe have not gotten the love or attention they deserve. It was not until I had finished compiling this list, that I realized how truly twisted I was. Just so you guys know,  these are not your typical superhero books. These are far more twisted tales, but compelling reads for just that reason. Here are five graphic novels you guys (and gals) need to read.

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse Volume 2: It Only Hurts When I Pee. by Ben Templesmith

First things first, Ben Templesmith is a frigging comic book genius. From his stunning and stylish artwork, to his wonderfully dark and humorous writing style, there is little you can pick up from the man that does not immediately impress. And when thinking of which Ben story I like the most, I cannot deny my love for the Wormwood character. I just think a perfect balance between fun, twisted, sexual, and bizarre.

It also doesn’t hurt that Templesmith is one of the nicest guys in the world, which makes all the surrealism of these stories seem even stranger, when you know they came form this soft spoken gentleman.

Now I realize that some people may find it strange for me to want to introduce them to a series in a second volume, as oppose to a first, as I am doing here. And I can understand that opposition, but let me explain why I went this route. It is the second volume in this amazing series that launches out of the stratosphere for pure, unbridled insanity. The flow of the writing and art finds its pacing in this book, and then never looks back.

Templesmith’s art style is second to none. Oh, and drunken leprechauns for the win.

All you need to know about this book is Wormwood is a worm, who goes from dead body to dead body, possessing them. And rather than ruin this amazing book for you guys, I am simple going to tell you a a few points of the story, just to whet your appetite and ensure that you feel obligated to pick up this book, which you will after you read these:

  • Squid men bent on world destruction
  • Lap dancing leprechaun queens
  • Possessed little girls
  • A badass, modern interpretation of the four houseman who live for hookers, blow, and Cheetos.

Like I need to say anything else. The book sells itself.

Black Hole by Charles Burns

With rumors that David Fincher was potentially set to direct a screen adaptation (but nixed it for the butt raping brilliance of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), it seemed this tale was set to bloom for a wider audience, and now seems to be back in a sort of movie limbo, which, because of this books amazing art style, may be for the best. I cannot imagine how they could have transferred this art style onto the screen. Some of the impact of the tale would have been lost in the transition, no doubt.

As a graphic novel, Black Hole stands as one of my favorite reads of all time. A chilling tale, set in Seattle in the 70’s, it is about a sexually transmitted disease that alters the appearances of those it effects. In this case, the town’s teenage population. And when I say alters the appearances, that is the nice way of saying “makes them look like a bunch of mutants.”

I spent 3 hours looking at this drawing one afternoon. I blame drugs.

From puss filled polyps that appear all over one boys face, to the girl who grows of tail and eventually sheds her skin, this disease is as terrible a disease as any author has ever dreamt up. But the beauty here is, you can see it as a metaphor for adolescence is general, and Burns admits that was his goal when creating it.

The book took Burns over a decade to complete, and when you see the art style, you will understand why. There is an almost wood carving, scratch board look to the art that pairs up perfectly with the dark subject matter. I will say, loss, alienation, mutation and blossoming sexuality have never looked more visually captivating.

Tail or not, I find the sheepish way she eats sandwiches to be oddly endearing. Can I have one as a pet?

I also feel obligated to tell you that this graphic novel is massive, and can be used to bludgeon someone. I know that may not seem an important factor when choosing a graphic novel, but when the inevitable robot apocalypse gives way to the zombie Armageddon, you will be grateful to have such a massive tome to deal out destruction.

And a well written, beautifully illustrated weapon at that.

Preacher: Gone to Texas By Garth Ennis

Before I tell you to start collecting this series, be forewarned: There are many books in the Preacher series, and as soon as you blow through the first one, you will NEED to buy the second and so on. Considering you will not be able to put these books down, that means you will most likely buy the entire series within a month. So unless you have an extra$150.00 laying around, I don’t suggest even looking at one panel from this amazing book.

And I know I was trying to focus on less well-known comics in this article, but I had to include Preacher on this list because, well, Preacher may very well be the best comic series ever.

 Oh, and I love Cassidy times infinity plus a thousand.

I know that claim may send some people running to the comment section to tell me I have no idea what I am talking about, but let me explain myself. I am talking about consistency. From start to finish, to say that Preacher was a compelling read is a huge understatement. The book becomes an addiction.

Gotta catch ’em all!

It is like the Bible, if it was written by David Lynch. And it is amazing. So what is Preacher about? Sit down for this one.

A drunken, almost faithless preacher who gets possessed by the offspring of an angel and a demon having a one night stand. The being he is possessed by (called Genesis) is made of an equal balance of pure good and pure evil, and for that reason, may very well be as powerful as God himself. Our hero, Jesse Custer, rounds up some friends ( in a former flame and an Irish vampire, Cassidy, who is one of my favorite characters ever) to go confront God and how shitty of a job he has done.

And A  LOT happens on the way.

Also, quick shout out to Arse Face. I love you, man.

Arseface emulated Kurt Cobain to AWESOME results.

The book is f*cked, and you all need to read it, now.

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  1. Good article. Definitely agree about Wormwood! One thing though, it’s Alex Ross, not Alex Jones’ Kingdom Come. Just wanted to let you know.

  2. I have not yet read any of these books. Will try them based on your recommendations.

    I do agree that Y: The Last Man kinda fell flat towards the end but man, that series was fun. People should also read the graphic novel of Wanted just to see the concept of a world ruled by supervillains (hey it’s not a superhero book technically) though the last chapter was extremely weak

    And I don’t know what it is about the Killing Joke but I still prefer The Long Halloween. Anyway nice list!

  3. I hope Berserk gets finished one day…writer is getting up there in age. Best manga ever though. Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind is also good, the 7 volume collection.

  4. Am I the only one who actually likes The Boys better than Preacher? Also, give Testament a look. It is basically an R-rated sci-fi interpretation of Bible stories that goes back and forth from biblical times to the future to illustrate the cyclical nature of the stories and it is goddamn amazing.

  5. The art in Black Hole is truly amazing. It has such an otherworldly quality to it that matches the unsettling feel of the story perfectly. The book itself might be massive, but it’s really not that long of a read. The panels are big and many are wordless, so you can finish it in a day.

    A few more of my favorites that, like Black Hole, lean more towards the novel part of the graphic novel spectrum:
    – Castle Waiting
    – Fun Home
    – Blankets

  6. Wormwood is a great and bizarre read. I love anything by Ben Templesmith and enjoy the kind of stories he attaches himself too. Oddly never read the 30 days of Night series though.

    I’ve read the first volume of Fables and there is something original and humorous about it that seriously made me rethink characters like Prince Charming.

    The others on this list that I don’t know do seem up my alley and I am intrigued by this ‘Popbot’ and the piece of art you attached to it. Maybe I’ll check it out.

  7. Great list as always. Now I have even more stuff to look into.

    I’d like to see a little more love for Runaways. At least everything that Brian K. Vaughn wrote for them. I bet Joss Whedon could direct the hell out of a film adaptation.

    Also, much love going out to Arseface.

  8. Preacher was a great comic for most of its run, but the last stretch was awful. The ending was both tonally and conceptually absurd (basically it sheds its dark humor for a maudlin western-style romance with the Preacher on horseback, crying over his girlfriend.) And Cassidy turns into a wimp.

    I highly recommend it though, provided one stops before the ending. Like a lot of ongoing comics, the questions and the journey are more interesting than the answers.

  9. For me, the greatest thing about doing these lists is that I can come to the comments later with a pen and paper, and walk away with a ton of new books to read based on you guys suggestions. Thanks for the feedback, guys. The Boys just climbed my rank of “must reads” cuz you guys have not steered me wrong yet.

  10. HUGE fan of Locke and Key, Y: The Last Man, and Fables. Thanks for the summer reading list!!

    A few others maybe:

    Sandman: The Dream Hunters (or anything Sandman-esque, really)
    Anything by Craig Thompson (i.e. Blankets, Habibi)
    Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s “Unwritten” series

    Thanks again!

  11. Great list but as far as *need* to read books, I fully believe everyone needs to read Transmetropolitan as well. It’s just one of those series that gets into your head and stays there, fermenting. I blame Warren Ellis.

    You may have convinced me to pick up the Wormwood series again. Oddly enough, I bought the first one in a dollar bin which didn’t give me high hopes but the artwork just looked too good to pass up so I guess I will have to get the second one. I am just glad that I am seeing Preacher on a list again. I loved that series.

    Another one I also recommend is a classic though, it can be a bit confusing for some, The Invisibles.

  12. @Lucien, no worries , mate. We have all done it.
    @Straenge, Good call about Transmetropolitan, it is a great book. And I did want to put The Invisibles because it is so insane and all over the place, but, I feared I might lose some people because that book is not instantly enjoyable for some people, it tends to take a little longer to get in to because of how insane it is, but I am a huge Grant Morrison fan and I agree with you.

  13. Just wanted to say thanks for mentioning Locke & Key. It is simply an amazing story. I have at least a passing familiarity with all of the titles you mention in this article; all of them are good, but for my money L&K is the top pick. (Preacher is every bit as incredible as you say, but the price consideration knocks it down a peg.)

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