For many, comics still resist. The graphic novel culture has attracted new public and changed the topic, yes, but there is still much to be done. Sometimes entering the world of comics is an adventure. Where do I start? What's the best thing I have to read? As in the cinema or the novel, the reader should ask himself the genre he feels attracted to in the ninth art. Obviously, in comics, there are as many stories as creators, as many styles as there are pens and genres, as you can imagine.
We have made this selection of 12 works that are fundamental to understanding and enjoying this art and are also different in their conception and qualities.
There is everything from humor to science fiction, including superheroes, essays, and historical chronicles. If you read all the selected works (recommendations that any advanced comic book writer will give you), you will be able to have a conversation as a scholar in the art of cartoons.
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Watchmen (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, 1986-1987)
Whether it's Swamp Thing, The League of Extraordinary Men, Miracleman, or Watchmen, there's one thing Alan Moore does better than anyone else: he takes an established concept. He turns it around until he takes it to another level, almost to the point of deconstructing the entire genre. That's precisely what he does in what is possibly the best superhero story in history, one that inherits era as a whole to destroy it and take superhero comics to another level. Don't be fooled by Zack Snyder's film adaptation of Dave Gibbons' lycra suits and classicism. In this series, Moore manages to break the established rules to delve into the philosophy and most profound human beings' concepts.
Sandman (Neil Gaiman and several cartoonists, 1988-1996)
Sandman could not be anything else but a comic book. Neil Gaiman's magnum opus penetrates the mind of the god Morpheus to design whole mythology that sits in the heart and humanity, but whose path is most atypical, as dreamlike as its protagonist. Sandman is also the best reflection of a whole era, in which DC Comics (and the publisher Karen Berger) decided to bet on an adult label that took them to new heights of quality. This new adventure was called Vertigo, and there its creators gave free rein to the imagination with total freedom. Gaiman builds his interwoven story almost to levels of modern Aesop fables, at times dark, at times colorful, but always with the British's unmistakable signature, which is not cut in mixing superheroes with vagabonds, history, William Shakespeare and Greek gods. There are so many characters and stories in Sandman that it would be impossible to keep one.
Maus (Art Spiegelman, 1977-1991)
In 1992, Maus became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. And it was no wonder. Art Spiegelman used his father's heartfelt account of the Holocaust to weave a human and real, raw but also the funny story of World War II that, above all, made an effort to understand all the decisions (however severely they looked back) of its protagonists. Maus, where the Jews were mice, and the Nazis were cats, also reflected, after all, Spiegelman's need to understand his father, with all his flaws and dark points. The biographical novel then became something that many of the independent authors who came later would copy.
V for Vendetta (Alan Moore and David Lloyd, 1982-1988)
"Remember, remember, November 5th. Conspiracy, gunpowder, and betrayal. Based on the historical character Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the British Parliament, the V-mask is an icon of our century and social movements. But Alan Moore did not have that in mind when he wrote V for Vendetta. The British bard took Fawkes' tale to introduce a revolution in a world not so far removed from George Orwell's 1984 and, in the process, to raise his voice against the Thatcher government or the fascisms against anarchy and its surroundings. All of this is told from the perspective of an impressionable young woman.
Contract with God (Will Eisner, 1979)
The term graphic novel had appeared before to refer to different works. Still, it was with this one that Will Eisner coined the meaning as we know it today: a compact and self-contained adventure and directed to the adult public, designed in vignettes. Eisner, known to the general public for his The Spirit, approaches this autobiographical story the Bronx of his childhood, the 1930s, through four sad interconnected stories. That New York after the crash of the grey and low 29 made the comic book travel to a new dimension.
Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1982-1990)
The genre of the dystopian future is recurrent in the history of comics. And the manga Akira is possibly one of its greatest exponents. It's 2019, and a nuclear war has devastated the great cities of planet Earth. There are androids, violence, drugs, extremist groups, and a child created in a laboratory that will save them all from government corruption, alienation, and the mechanization in which Neo-Tokyo is immersed. Katsuhiro Otomo thus turns his story not only into a tale of Akira's maturity and break with adolescence-while discovering his powers-but also a metaphor for the recovery of Japan after World War II, which is still walking to heal itself from the disaster of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Daredevil: Born again (Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, 1986)
Frank Miller's Daredevil is perhaps the most rounded, accessible, and adult story ever written in Marvel. And all possible because the author had in his hands a superhero for whom the publisher no longer gave a penny. He didn't have to worry about Spiderman's plot constrictions or going too far with Wolverine. His long stage started on a slow fire, introducing a varied staff of secondary and villains (where Kingpin stood out, of course, but also Bullseye or Elektra) and concepts that from that moment on will always accompany man without fear: his pessimism, religiosity, his thirst for atonement. Because even though Stan Lee created the hero, it was Miller who designed him as someone unique. His story converges in Daredevil: Born Again, where he took Matt Murdock to the lowest point of his existence. It isn't easy to choose whether the best Miller is in Batman or Daredevil. What is clear is that in the latter, he gave it his all. He counted everything he had to rely on. And he redefined the supertype comics for a new era, the eighties.
Marvels (Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, 1994)
Its name indicates it: this is a Marvel comic book, one that takes place in its vast universe, yes, and yet it is not your average superhero story. Its protagonist is photographer Phil Sheldon, an average person who has seen his world evolve since the 1940s, while men in capes, aliens, and super-villains roamed around New York. An intimate and personal account of existence is more complicated and epic than the Bible, a new mythology review without leaving your backyard. The genius of continuity, Kurt Busiek, and the spectacular Alex Ross, who delivers an incomparable realism with his almost photographic illustrations, narrate this adventure that shows that some of the most human stories about superheroes have the powers something complementary, part of the set.
Batman: The Return of the Dark Knight (Frank Miller, 1986)
If you only had to read one comic book from Batman's eight decades of existence, let it be one signed by Frank Miller. It can be Year One if you want to enjoy a story of origins. That one, however, has James Gordon as its real protagonist. Here everything is Bruce Wayne, although one different from which we are accustomed, one in his last days when he returns to take the bat's mantle to fight against Gotham's increasing rottenness. Theistic, dark and pessimistic, few have understood the powerless superhero and the author of Sin City, whatever the time.
The Incal (Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius, 1980-1988)
Jodorowsky and Moebius are essential names to understand how spectacular a comic can be. Pages that just by opening the volume will produce the Stendhal syndrome. Thus, it is not a coincidence that The Inicial, which mixes genres so common in the ninth art as fantasy and space-opera, is the most famous European comic in history. With a lot of humor and irony, the authors dare with humanity's oldest answers: Where do we come from, and where are we going? And that everything was born as an expansion of the film Dune that Jodorowsky never got to direct. The work also opened up a whole universe of possibilities in numerous sequels and derivatives as laureate as The Caste of Metabarons.
Understanding the Comic: Invisible Art (Scott McCLoud, 1993)
Understanding Scott McCloud's comic book is not just a comic book. It's an essay about how the world of comics works, made in comic book format. Is there a better way to explain it? But McCloud doesn't limit himself to his didactic work (which there is, and a lot of it), but his work is also a pleasant and entertaining reading. As mentioned above, the history, the art, the narration, and comics book are much better understood thanks to his pen. Possibly, after reading it, you will never see the art in cartoons in the same way.