500 Essential Graphic Novels review

A book that could end up costing you an awful lot of money, 500 Essential Graphic Novels has enough to inspire weeks of debate...

Read this, and you might be buying a lot of graphic novels afterwards...

People love graphic novels. People love essential books. Put the two concepts together and what have you got? Geek heaven.

This guide really does exactly what it says on the tin. It lists 500 graphic novels that no self-respecting geek should be without, and gives you plot summaries and reviews them. And if your wallet can stand the strain, it also gives some further recommendations. For example, if you like Asterix And The Great Crossing, you should check out the Smurfs…

It has to be said that their definition of a graphic novel is fairly broad. Trade paperback collections of comics count as graphic novels in this instance. All of which goes some way to explaining why Wonder Woman Archives Vol.1 made the cut.The top 500 are listed in no particular order, which means you can leave the heated debates about whether Watchmen is better than Batman: Year One (don’t worry, they’re both in the book) to the pub. The books are sorted into 10 different categories – including super heroes, fantasy, horror etc, and indexed by title, writer and artist.

This is one hell of a read and has been impeccably researched. Pretty much everything Alan Moore has ever written has made the cut, which is fair enough. Several works by the comics journalist Joe Sacco are also included.  Art Spiegalman’s epic Maus gets a chance to shine, and Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar both get several entries.

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The great thing is that 500 Essential Graphic Novels is not elitist or snotty. Herge’s Tintin In Tibet rubs shoulders with Frank Miller’s Sin City.

Of course, part of the fun in reading a book like this is to see what makes it in, and more importantly what doesn’t. Some are in the book for their historical significance. Others are not. Few would argue with Dan Clowes’ Ghost World – but Marvel Zombies? I mean, really? And while Spy Vrs Spy makes it onto the list, there’s no Dilbert. Surely, that can’t be right?

And therein lies the appeal of this book. Comic book fans will spend hours pouring over every detail, recommendation and comment. It is a bloggers dream. Although, for the record, I’m with the reviewer who said calling a series The Death Of Superman did rather give the game away over the ending. And without wishing to go offend too many people – I thought it was a load of rubbish. I know it sold a lot of copies and if you still have the black armband, bully for you.

Hopefully, this book will give some of the lesser-known graphic novels out there a chance to shine. It was great to see Cerebus getting a mention or two.And you will end up spending a fortune after reading this book. So consider yourself warned.

What this book does prove is how wide the graphic novel and comics have developed as an art form over the last 100 years. They have come from the back pages of the daily newspapers to pride of place in every bookshop. You even see people reading graphic novels on the Tube these days. Mainstream respectability doesn’t get much better than that.

I even saw a middle-aged man, who was wearing a suit, reading Watchmen on a Virgin train recently. They’ll be adapting these things into movies next – you just wait and see!

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4 out of 5

Rating:

4 out of 5