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Right Stuf's Guide to Graphic Novels!

Right Stuf's Guide to Graphic Novels!

-Written by: Chris T.

Some of you keen-eyed customers may have noticed that, back in the fall, we expanded our selection by adding some Western graphic novels. This particular project is something that’s dear to my heart. Before I joined the team at Right Stuf, I spent over a decade working at a comic and game shop. While I have a big place in my heart for the anime and manga we all love, I also am just as big a fan of comics, whether standard superhero fare or unique, independent stories. And a lot of these titles are going to be familiar, too, since many of these have been made into movies and TV series. So I thought I’d help out those of you wanting to test the waters by suggesting some great reads to add to your bookshelf.


Saga

When people sought out gateway titles to try something else besides the usual Marvel and DC stuff, I always had an automatic go-to suggestion, because it was just simply that good: Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s Saga. The story revolves around Alana and Marko. Standing on opposite sides of a war between the planet Landfall and its moon, Wreath, winged soldier Alana and horned spellcaster Marko fall in love and have a daughter, Hazel. With both sides of the war furious at the thought that these two could come together, the family begins a life on the run from assassins, armies, and whatever threats pop up on their journeys.

Vaughan has a track record for making incredible stories, from series like Y: The Last Man and Runaways to writing on three seasons of Lost. But in my opinion, this is his standout story, a wild, vibrant mix of space opera, fantasy and the struggles of parenthood. The world of Saga is populated with naturally grown wood spaceships, a royal family of TV-headed robots, and giant cats that can detect when you lie. Staples then brings this world to life with vibrant, detailed art that absolutely stuns. With moments and artwork that will stop you in your tracks, this book is easily one of my all-time favorites, and shouldn’t be missed.

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Kick-Ass

Mark Millar is one of the biggest names in the world of comic creators, partly because of his success rate in getting his stories adapted for the big screen. Whether it’s classic superhero fare like Civil War and Wolverine: Old Man Logan or original ideas Wanted and Kingsman, Millar’s stories are popular on the page and the screen. Netflix banked on this success by buying Millar’s comic label, Millarworld, in 2017. One of Millar’s most iconic tales, though, is that of Kick-Ass.

Dave Lizewski is a high school kid with a tough life. His mom passed away when he was younger, he’s not very popular, and he’s always dreamed of being a superhero. But one day, he decides to make that dream come true. He buys a wetsuit, starts working out, and foolhardily gets mixed up in the gritty, violent life of a vigilante.

The world of Kick-Ass is a brutal one. Millar’s tale doesn’t give a lot of happiness to Dave, in or out of the costume. He’s bullied at school and beaten on the street, and comic legend John Romita, Jr. portrays Dave’s life in gritty detail. Romita creates a fun, bloody mess around Millar’s words, building a story that shows that even though the life of a superhero might seem magical, the reality is a lot harsher.

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Monstress

Maika Halfwolf is an Arcanic, a mystical creature with vast power, but can pass as a human. And when the world is ruled by the Cumaea, an order who consumes Arcanics to gain power, Maika’s one of the lucky ones. After getting captured by the Cumaea, Maika must reach deep down to find the strength to escape. But Maika has one other secret: that source of strength can look right back and lead her to dark places.

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s Monstress is one of the most stunning books in the world today. Liu has built a dark, rich world, equal parts Fullmetal Alchemist and The Promised Neverland, filled with steampunk elements and eldritch demons that make this place unique and familiar at the same time. Maika gets occasional levity in her life through the fox girl she rescues and the sardonic, two-tailed cat that accompanies them. But the demon that lives in Maika’s body is in a constant tug of war with Maika, granting her extra power but biding its time until Maika’s will weakens and it can take control again. Takeda, a Japanese artist who started out in the video game industry, takes the art to wild places, mixing art deco style with Asian flavor and lush, dark colors to form a unique world that must be seen to be believed.

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The Umbrella Academy

Gerard Way is known to millions as frontman for the band My Chemical Romance, but he’s also become a well-respected comic creator. He’s launched his own imprint at DC Comics, Young Animal, and created Peni Parker and her robot SP//dr, who went on to appear in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. But his first major entry into the comic industry was also his biggest, the Dark Horse series The Umbrella Academy.

Way’s tale centers on 7 unique young people. They were all born in the mid-20th century to mothers who weren’t expecting at the start of the children’s shared birthday. After being adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a.k.a. The Monocle, he molds the children into a team of superheroes, which eventually splinters. But 9 years later, tragedy brings them back together to deal with a potentially apocalyptic betrayal.

Gerard Way shows off some retro aesthetics and a love of the weird in his writing, and Brazilian artist Gabriel Ba is the perfect complement to his story. Ba’s style is chiseled and gritty, with a heavy use of shadow and contrasting colors reminiscent of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. If you’re already in love with the Netflix series, or just interested in a stranger take on classic comic heroics, this book is for you.

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Watchmen

To wrap up this list, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the most pivotal graphic novel works of all time, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen. This 1986 graphic novel laid out the road map for modern comics, opening up the dialogue on whether superheroes were beyond reproach, while paving the way for darker, more intense stories to come.

In an alternate 1986, America won the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon is still president thanks to the end of term limits, and nuclear war seems like a given, thanks to the intense antagonism between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Superheroes are partly to blame, making a pivotal impact on World War II before being outlawed in the late ‘70’s. As tensions rise globally, a former hero is assassinated, causing a vigilante called Rorschach to investigate who is behind the killing. What Rorschach discovers is a series of events that could change the course of human history, for better or for worse…

Watchmen is a fascinating study on the concept of the superhero, as well as the psychological impact it has on the heroes themselves. Donning the costume isn’t easy, but it has lasting ramifications on those who take up the duty. The search for truth drives one hero to cases of extreme paranoia. The gift of a unique power ends up severely alienating another from his connection with humanity itself. And the addictive drug of post-hero fame leads someone to commit unspeakable atrocities. The good guys don’t always save the day in the end. There might not even be that many “good guys.” This story has led to numerous adaptations, from the Zach Snyder film and the HBO TV series to Doomsday Clock, a crossover sequel series which shows the Watchmen universe entangling with that of Superman and the Justice League. But if you want the best bang for your buck, the original graphic novel is the way to go.

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These five titles are just a sampling of the amazing graphic novels we’ve got to offer here at Right Stuf, and we’ll be adding more soon. If you’re willing to give them a chance, you’ll see that the storytellers we have in the Americas and Europe have just as many fascinating tales to share as their counterparts in Japan. So if you’re looking for something different to read, why not open up your worldview, re-teach yourself to read left-to-right, and check out one of our great graphic novels?