If you tore through Netflix’s Stranger Things as quickly as I did and are craving more nostalgia-inducing science fiction, look no further than Paper Girls. Created by an all-star team including Brian K. Vaughan of Saga fame and Cliff Chiang, the artist behind Wonder Woman, Paper Girls is a coming-of-age story that reads like the twisted result of a partnership between John Hughes and John Carpenter.
Four preteen newspaper delivery girls trying to make their rounds early the morning after Halloween are met with hurdles in the form of costumed bullies, overbearing local police and mysterious masked figures with secrets aplenty. Those familiar with Vaughan’s work will recognize his signature oddball brand of science fiction here; the truly bizarre is interwoven with the ordinary in a way that brings out the best in both. The interactions between the paper girls and the surreal and strange characters they meet result in some of the snappiest dialogue I’ve ever read; this pre-teen gang genuinely feel like they fell right out of your favorite '80s movie and into this book.
Cliff Chiang reunites with colorist Matt Wilson here to create a truly dreamy nostalgic landscape. The almost flat pastel colors lend an ethereal air to the whole book; even the scenes that are grounded in reality have a certain otherworldliness to them that is well suited for the tone of the book.
Grab yourself a Crystal Pepsi, put on John Carpenter’s Lost Themes and prepare to get weird.
Dust off your Ouija board, draw a salt circle and prepare to get spooked. The creepiest season of all is upon us, and what better way to celebrate than with six ghastly graphic novels sure to keep you creeped out all month long?
American Vampire follows the often macabre adventures of the immortal bloodsucker Skinner Sweet throughout American history. Look no further for an inventive and twisted take on traditional vampire lore with an ever changing backdrop.
Baltimore is a long-running series that follows the titular character from the horrors of the trenches in WWI to the nightmarish dwelling places of ancient evils, and everywhere in between. This is a masterfully-paced suspense story that just keeps getting better.
Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham is the only superhero book you’ll find on this list, but its quirky combination of classic Batman characters and the otherworldly horrors of H.P. Lovecraft make for a spooky and surreal read.
The Beauty is a new series that imagines conventional physical perfection as a sexually transmitted disease with horrifying side effects. Dealing equally in body horror and suspense, this is an unsettling story that explores the disturbing lengths to which people will go in the name of beauty.
Colder is the story of Declan Thomas, a man with the incredible ability to cure mental illness in others. What Declan doesn’t realize is that his newfound power draws the attention of unsavory entities that seek to undo his work. Feel free to judge these books by their covers, because the frightening artwork that graces them perfectly suits the stories inside.
Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight is a double feature that pays homage to the outlandish B-movies of years long past. “Bee Vixens from Mars” and “Prison Ship Antares” channel the over-the-top absurdity and low budget charm of grindhouse cinema, even down to the fake posters paired with each story.
Robert Kirkman is already a seasoned veteran of horror-themed graphic novels, so it should come as no surprise that Outcast, his latest offering, is an unqualified success. Scary, tense and mysterious, this book checks all the boxes to make readers love the story and want to come back for more.
Outcast tells the story of Kyle Barnes, a man hiding from the world. Haunted by memories of violence in his childhood and divorced after an incident with his wife and daughter, he is entirely alone. He is given new life when he is offered the chance to help a possessed child. When the possessed child calls Kyle “Outcast” and speaks about Kyle’s childhood, he becomes determined to get to the bottom of it all. To tell any more would be to spoil the many, many surprises awaiting readers.
Kirkman does a great job of revealing just enough to keep the readers hungry and guessing — each answer leads to more and more questions. Just what does “Outcast” mean? How does this all tie into Kyle’s troubled life? And what is the sinister endgame behind it all? He also does not spare us from the gory horror and violence — panels are viscerally painted with the bloody results of interactions with the possessed. With his trademark prose, Kirkman makes us feel the exhaustion of Kyle’s struggle against darkness on all sides.
Definitely a great read for fans of the horror graphic novel genre or Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, this was so well received that it’s currently showing as a TV series on Cinemax. If you enjoyed this, I’d also recommend Joe Hill’s Locke and Key, James Tynion’s The Woods, and Scott Snyder’s Wytches — all series that are terrifying in their own right.
Wedding planning can be a bear — ask anyone who has done it and you’ll likely hear a bevy of stories about the ups and downs every couple deals with while putting one together. So when Lucy Knisley manages to bring levity and joy to the tale, you know you’ve found a gem. Her recent graphic novel, Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride, is nothing less than a delight.
Refreshingly honest and straightforward, she tells the tale of planning her own wedding from start to finish. Along the way, she includes hilarious discussions of bizarre wedding traditions and DIY attempts that fell a little far from expectations. This book really spoke to me. Her attitudes are decidedly nontraditional, and she struggles throughout the book to square a desire for a ceremony that honors all the right ideas while not being beholden to antiquated attitudes or the bridal industry complex. Her blend of humor and honesty is charming, and she had me hooked from the sweet story of how she met and fell in love with her future husband, through the fights and stress with family over so, so many details, all the way through the extremely touching and heartwarming ceremony itself.
I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the artwork, which is fantastic. The art manages to be lifelike and recognizable while maintaining a softness and jollity that helps tell a story full of emotions. I especially enjoyed her drawings of cats, which manage to be both adorable and haughty (as all cats are). The art was a great medium for the story, bringing her characters to full life.
This book shines forth as a beacon for every person who looks at a wedding and says, “That costs HOW MUCH!!? WHY???” With a fantastic sense of humor, an honest look at the business and traditions of weddings and a true-to-life telling of her own experience, this book offers it all. Whether you’re planning your own wedding or just want to laugh at hers, I couldn’t recommend this more. And if you liked this, definitely give her earlier book Relish a try.
Lisa Hanawalt’s new graphic novel Hot Dog Taste Test is a collection of pieces mostly written for the culinary magazine Lucky Peach, but as you probably guessed by the title, Hanawalt’s idea of foodie culture is more casually absurd than you’d expect.
Primarily known for co-creating and designing the characters on Bojack Horseman, Hanawalt has proven herself to be a singular cartoonist as well as a humorist. Simultaneously low-brow and fantastically clever, she comes across like a more wizened version of the kid at the back of the classroom. The one you shouldn’t call on if you don’t want her to derail the entire lecture.
Through her eyes (and her Dumb Dirty Eyes), the world is a vulgar, illogical place — and just a shade surreal. In lush watercolors, she illustrates a hot dog eating contest that also includes a “best in show” section where hot dogs are led around on leashes by their owners. She also explores millennial insecurities like aging and irresponsibility (“Wow, I’m four times as old as you!” she says to an 8-year-old.), while also totally owning the fact that if she had a time machine all of her historical research would be toilet related.
Fans of Bojack Horseman will enjoy her anthropomorphized animal characters like Tuca, Lisa’s socially anxious toucan persona who struggles to prepare dinners that are basically “bananas and ranch,” and others will enjoy her keen eye and wicked sense of humor. Just don’t take her cooking advice. You’ve been warned.
The year is 2089 and humanity’s vices have only grown more severe with time; the only escape from the bleak reality of a world wrecked by pollution is to sugarcoat the dreary with flashy new virtual distractions. The neon-splashed cyberpunk future of Rick Remender and Sean Murphy’s Tokyo Ghost: Vol. 1 is equal parts entertaining and unsettling.
Constable Led Dent is a ruthless servant of the criminal overlords running Los Angeles, numbed to the horrendous acts of violence he commits by his seemingly unbreakable addiction to constant artificial audiovisual stimulation. Led’s only remaining link to the real world is his partner and lover, Debbie, whose unwavering dedication to finding a way to get Led clean lands them with a dangerous job in Tokyo, the last bastion of technology-free living in a world obsessed with staying connected.
Artist Sean Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth are a flawless art team. Murphy’s dynamic lines and Hollingsworth’s masterful use of texture and color make for page after page of truly jaw-dropping artwork. Frenetic action sequences are rendered in hyper-detailed gory glory, the futuristic media projections are colorful and full of playful nods to current pop culture trends, and the tranquil landscapes of Tokyo stand in stark contrast to the gaudy streets of Los Angeles.
Remender often uses his stories to explore topical ideas pushed to their extremes, and Tokyo Ghost is no exception; while the exaggerated technology and over-the-top characters exist firmly in the realm of science fiction, you’re sure to latch onto at least one idea in this book that will make you examine the way that you interact with the world.
If you’re as blown away by the art in this book as I was, try The Wake, an Eisner Award-winning series that pairs the same art team with writer Scott Snyder and somehow manages to make fish people scary. Seriously.
Five eccentric geniuses, the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit, are gathered and given free rein to improve the world as they see fit. Years after the five initiate their mysterious means to “make the 21st century more interesting,” they begin to see the bizarre and occasionally horrifying repercussions of their inexplicable experiment. Injection by Warren Ellis is a truly unique experience; it dips its toes in science fiction, horror, action and even a little bit of traditional folklore, and meanders nonlinearly through different characters’ stories, leaving it up to the reader to decrypt the tale of “the Injection.”
Long after the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit have parted ways, they each begin coming into contact with the twisted fruit of their earlier labor. What began as a seemingly innocent computer program eventually leads to a number of horrifying scenes, including a computer speaking through a mutilated human host and an ancient legend about monstrous pixies being made real by a malicious artificial intelligence. These surreal scenes and the more grounded everyday lives of the characters, including a surprising number of sandwiches illustrated and mentioned throughout the course of the book, are rendered masterfully by artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire, whose styles mesh wonderfully to highlight the rapidly shifting tone of the book.
Fans of Warren Ellis will recognize his signature combination of science and magic at work here. The two are closely linked in this story, and Ellis takes his time exploring the similarities as he slowly unravels the truth behind the mysterious “injection.” Something like a particularly dreamlike episode of the X-Files, Injection is a wild ride that explores the ways that people interact with technology and the shocking ways that technology could start to react. If you enjoy Injection, try Moon Knight: From the Dead by the same creative team.
Speculating about the possibilities and ethics of new technologies has long been the domain of science fiction. As we stand on the cusp of virtual realities and cloud computing, two new books revisit these contemplations with fresh voices and compelling tales.
Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal is Katya Gould’s vernacular recounting of a mysterious abduction that left her cut off from other people and, more direly, from Internet access for one week. An antiques dealer with a recently acquired typewriter, she was on her way to a client meeting when a chance encounter in a forest disrupts her plans, and the plans of her mysterious abductor. Through Katya’s recounting, Kowal contemplates the pros and cons that come with our gradual externalization of memory through technology. Her future society envisions a culture that values wabi-sabi (a Japanese aesthetic that values the imperfections that come with objects being handmade and well-used) above all else and prizes the authenticity of experiences when its members are unwilling (or unable) to seek them out for themselves. With the thrilling elements of Gillian Flynn and an engaging tone reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, this novella doesn’t lack in substance despite being a mere 85 pages long.
Sometime in the early 21st century, “the Cloud” burst and everyone’s online secrets rained down upon them, ruining relationships and destroying lives. So the Internet was abolished. The police force merged with the press corps, new inventions like dreamcoats and flatex were created so that anyone can look like anything (for the right price) and people’s identities are carefully guarded secrets. It is in this version of the year 2075 that Brian K. Vaughan (of Saga fame) and Marcos Martin stage The Private Eye, a classic noir mystery told first as a webcomic and now in print. A vigilante PI begins a double-blind background check when his client is killed and he is framed as the prime suspect. To prove his innocence, he begins to dig deeper with the assistance of his sassy sidekicks and uncovers a megalomaniac’s sinister plans. Reminiscent of Blade Runner, this graphic novel doesn’t just pose the obvious questions about identity but also critiques how much the Internet has actually helped the modern age.
After 30 years of legal troubles kept it from seeing print, Miracleman: The Golden Age by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham is a lost classic that is well worth the wait. For those unfamiliar, Miracleman was the first “serious” superhero, who began the “grim ‘n gritty” style of comics in the 1980’s.This was a time when writers started asking what would happen if superheroes existed in the real world. The answer was usually violent. But for a comic that came from the same era as cynical classics like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman is surprisingly optimistic.
The story of Miracleman is basically about a Superman knockoff who discovers that he’s actually the product of government experiments and brainwashing. He decides to break the cycle of superhero antics by abolishing all governments and setting up a global utopia over which he rules as a god. It’s a pretty shocking concept, but when Neil Gaiman took over writing the book he did something even more audacious: he took the idea of a world without crime and ran with it. Instead of focusing on Miracleman, the book suddenly became a series of vignettes exploring how average people react to finding themselves in a utopia.
This was Gaiman’s first comics work and so it’s surprising that it’s some of his best. The stories in this volume are both wildly imaginative and emotionally grounded. We’re introduced to various people — a father making a pilgrimage to Miracleman to ask him to save his daughter’s life, a spy learning to live in a world without espionage and even a resurrected Andy Warhol questioning existence and getting back into silk screening — each of them trying to understand what it means to be human in a world that is suddenly (more or less) perfect. Fans of Gaiman’s Sandman series will find plenty to enjoy, and even non comic book fans will discover a book that proves comics don’t have to be violent to explore adult ideas.
Life would be rock star awesome if we had super powers, right? Well, not really. Take a look at Jessica Jones, a depressed private detective self-employed at Alias Investigations. Before that, though, she was a mediocre, costumed superhero with unimpressive super power abilities, at least when compared to big names like Storm and Invisible Woman. Follow me as I give you a sneak peek inside Jessica Jones: Alias, volume 1, a graphic novel penned by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Michael Gaydos.
In Volume 1, Jessica works as a private detective at Alias Investigations to solve superhuman- related cases for her overly concerned clients. She takes on a job that turns out to be iffy. For instance, while she is out conducting surveillance for a case, she captures a man on video changing into his superhero costume. His name is Captain America, and his identity is a secret. The same case lands her in an interrogation room with the cops for suspicion of murder. Jessica realizes she was set up to film the secret identity of Captain America and to be the fall guy for a murder. Her plan is to find the mastermind behind this dirty scheme. Although Jessica Jones’ superhero days are possibly over, her future as private eye is looking mighty bright.
I totally admire the illustrations by Michael Gaydos. I love the panel layouts and the way he draws the characters’ facial expressions. The coloring by Matt Hollingsworth has a film noir-ish vibe, which is a plus because I love classic Hollywood films. The dialogue is engaging. The protagonist is mysterious and intriguing. I look forward to reading more about Jessica Jones. If you relish film noir, crime, mystery, private detectives and superheroes, read Jessica Jones: Alias, volume 1. If you find yourself liking this graphic novel, then check out Marvel's Jessica Jones television series, which is available now on Netflix. When you're finished reading Jessica Jones: Alias, volume 1, and you find yourself wanting more, be sure to pick up a copy of volumes 2, 3 and 4 at your nearest BCPL branch.