A graphic novel is primarily a collection of artwork which contains comic content. It's a common misconception that the word novel refers to a particular type of literature. Writers like Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and others have revolutionised the field, elevating the graphic novel to another level, allowing others to recognise it as a legitimate work of art.
Landmark pieces like Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and The Sandman have won numerous awards, even receiving a place on The New York Best Sellers list, one of the biggest lists in the literature world. Lately, there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the distinction between comic books and graphic novels. Several professors from different prestigious universities even prescribe graphic novels as study curriculum in courses pertaining to literature and their significance through the ages.
Here is a list containing some of the best graphic novels out there.
The Eisner Award winning Sin City is a neo-noir series written by Frank Miller and published by Dark Horse Comics. It was first published in 1991 and continued into seven volumes. It has several intertwining stories and revolves around a variety of characters which take place in the fictional Basin City.
Marv, one of the primary characters is a low-life in a city descending into self deprecation. He spends the night with a blond bombshell Goldie, and unbeknownst to Marv, a hit was ordered on Goldie by the most powerful man in Sin City.
The most compelling part of the book, is the edge that the black and white artwork gives to it. The darkness and raw nature of the novel is evident from the very first chapter. Miller gives the feel of a city torn within itself and a less than moral protagonist in Marv.
The Dark Knight Returns
Frank Miller wrote this 1986 four-issue comic book miniseries featuring Batman and it was published by DC Comics. Due to its immense popularity it was collected into a single volume and re-published later that year.
The story tells the tale of a 50-year-old Bruce Wayne and chronicles his return to the mantle of the Bat. Coming out of retirement, Batman continues his crusade on crime in a world that has changed a lot since he first donned the cape and cowl. The critical and commercial success of the book resulted in a 2001 sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again.
Considered a landmark comic book, winning numerous awards for its gritty portrayal of the characters, the writing and the illustrations are by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson. It also topped the New York best seller list for several weeks. The book uses a satirical type of story-telling which involves misogynistic themes and humours dialogue intertwined with real issues. Because of its raw ideals and harsh real life tones, the story separates itself from typical super hero stories.
Watchmen has been called one of the greatest graphic novels of all time, and has dominated best of lists for years after its release. The Alan Moore penned comic has such complicated interwoven story-lines and subtle sub-text that it has been the focus of debates in universities and by different literary organisations across the world.
The story-line focuses on the last of an already fading breed of super heroes. They were once full of hope and banded together for the greater good. But the years have not been kind to them, and most of them retired from the spotlight. The death of one of their own, brings them back into the field and they strive to figure out who is responsible for the crime.
The ambiguity added to moral concepts, as well as the way the story is told, devoid of innocence, revolutionised the way comic books were presented.
Kingdom Come published by DC Comics, under their Elseworlds imprint is a four-issue comic mini series. The 1996 graphic novel was written by Alex Ross and Mark Waid and is illustrated by Ross, who has received universal praise for the art work.
The story is based in the future where there's a kind of cold war between the Golden Age heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League and a a rapidly growing population of largely amoral and possibly dangerous new vigilantes, in many cases the offspring of the earlier generation. In between these two armies is Batman and his team who attempt to contain the ramifications of an all out war, while also trying to foil the insidious plot of Lex Luthor.
The best part of the novel is the humanisation, where the world of the Gods among men is seen from the eyes of an ordinary man. Pastor Norman McCay guided by the spirit of vengeance, The Spectre, serves as the narrator through the novel. The concepts of fate and human nature are widely seen in the book and Alex Ross brings these ideals to life with stellar realism in the art work.
V for Vendetta
Yet another masterpiece written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, V for Vendetta is set in a dystopian future United Kingdom imagined from about 1980-1990. It centres around a mysterious masked vigilante calling himself V and works to destroy the government he believes is ruining the people around him.
Moore creates a thrillingly engaging story that is brilliantly led by a charismatic and witty lead character. Moore uses word play and theatrics to present a satirical look at a dictator like government.
Batman - Year One
Frank Miller yet again, writes a landmark novel about the caped crusader. Year One, as the name suggests details the life of Batman's origins on the job. The book revisits the brooding and dark look of The Dark Knight Returns. As a semi retcon of the already well known origin of Batman, Miller's Year One is widely considered his finest work on the world's greatest detective. But the true genius in the novel is Miller's use of James Gordon. He focuses on Gordon's perspective equally if not more than Batman's and his ability to bring out different layers of an already interesting character elevates the novel to a whole other league.
Daredevil - The Man Without Fear
Daredevil - The Man Without Fear a five-issue comic book is Frank Miller's take on his origin story is one of the best Marvel comics out there. Daredevil gains his extraordinary powers by a twist of fate, at the same time his father gets taken away from him. As with Miller's other novels, the dark and gritty tone is felt right from the start and the presentation of the pace and character development explains why Daredevil is one of Marvel's finest heroes.
The Sandman is one of the most famous and critically acclaimed graphic novels of all time. Written by Neil Gaiman and published by DC Comics with artwork by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Jill Thompson, Shawn McManus, Marc Hempel and Michael Zulli. By issue #47, it was placed under the imprint Vertigo Comics.
It revolves around Dream (from the Endless), who rules supreme in the land of dreams. The series had 75 issues and ended when Gaiman left. As one of Vertigo Comics' flagship characters The Sandman received universal acclaim and is one the few novels to be on the New York Times Best Seller's list (along with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns).
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: The Killing Joke forever changed the Batman universe continuity. Published by DC Comics in 1988, it 's one-shot super hero graphic novel written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland.
The story revolved around the shooting and paralysis of Barbara Gordon (a.k.a. Batgirl) by the Joker, an event which lead to her becoming the computer hacker and chief information highway for Batman and the Justice League.
The novel also made it clear that The Joker wasn't just another run of the mill villain, he was a homicidal lunatic that would stop at nothing.
The Astonishing X-Men
The X-Men one of the most popular super hero teams in the world, with diverse characters and brilliant story arcs, only get better with Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's run with The Astonishing X-Men. The run was a critical success from the get go and winner of multiple prestigious awards including Eisner awards. It also topped Best Of lists all around and had a successful publication run.
The book focused on Cyclops, the Beast, Wolverine, Emma Frost and the much awaited and celebrated return of fan favourite Kitty Pryde. From the opening issue the pacing was one of the finner points of the series. Whedon's combination of subtle comedy and ability to drive home the point of the plot worked beautifully with the already existing character arcs.
Transmetropolitan isn't like the other comics on the list, but is a unique in its own right. The comic which is a cyberpunk comic book series written by Warren Ellis with art by Darick Robertson was published by DC Comics.
The series was originally part of the short-lived DC Comics imprint Helix, but was then moved to Vertigo Comics. It revolves around the battle of a renegade journalist of the future Spider Jerusalem. He and his "associates" strive to keep the world from falling further than it already has. The series chronicles the battles Jerusalem fights and how he deals with the unwanted fame that his articles have brought him.
The Walking Dead
Many people know The Walking Dead as the hit show on AMC, but its original form was the graphic novel series written by Robert Kirkman and illustrations by Tony Moore. The black and white artwork and the ground breaking story-lines that killed off characters that were thought to be mainstays made this comic series one of the best rated and successful winning numerous awards including an Eisner AWard.
Hellblazer or more popularly known as Hellblazer - John Constantine was one of the first of its kind. A contemporary horror comic book series, it was originally published by DC COmics and then moved to Vertigo Comics in 1993.
John Constantine was created by Alan Moore and Steve Bissette in the middle of their critically acclaimed run on Swamp Thing. Initially just a supporting character, Constantine's popularity began to grow rapidly, leading to his own series, Hellblazer. It received positive praise during its run and today is the longest running series from Vertigo Comics till date. The comic made Constantine one of the most popular anti-heroes in the game and its writing and art work have been praised throughout its run.
Fables a comic series by Bill Wilingham and published by Dc Comics under its Vertigo imprint, tells the tale of classic fairy tales - Snow White, The Big Bad Wolf, Boy Blue and others. The first volume deals with the Fables being forced out and living in New York by an unknown 'adversary'.
The comic unlike any other gives classic fairy tales a dark and twisted edge. The raw portrayal of the characters and the dark nature of the story-lines engages the readers like no other.
From Hell written by writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell was originally published in serial form from 1989 to 1996 and collected in 1999. It dealt with the speculation of the identity and motives of Jack the Ripper. The title is taken from the first words of the "From Hell" letter, which some authorities believe was an authentic message sent from the killer in 1888. It exploded in popularity even though it wasn't a super hero story-line due to its intricate plot devices and its different forms of narration
It explores various existential themes and tries to derive what makes a killer tick. The psychological relevance of the book coupled with its interesting story-lines made it a critical success.
Honourable mentions: Marvels, Batman - Death in the Family, Hellboy, 300