Ottawa Citizen Declares 2003 "Year of the Graphic Novel"

“The Citizen's Weekly: Reading” / The Ottawa Citizen / The Ottawa Citizen / December 7, 2003

Endnotes: Dare to get graphic: From bestsellers to Hollywood adaptations, this was the year of the graphic novel. Of course 'popular' doesn't always mean 'good.' PETER DARBYSHIRE considers a list of the year's critical hits

The Fixer

By Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco pioneered "comic book journalism" with Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, harrowing documentaries of life in war zones. Here Sacco tells the story of Sarajevo that the media couldn't -- or wouldn't -- tell about the siege of the city. In this Pulitzer-worthy book, he uses the accounts of Neven, a footsoldier, to reveal a complex reality in which allies preyed upon each other and fact became indistinguishable from fiction. (Drawn & Quarterly/Raincoast, $36.95)

The Sandman: Endless Nights

By Neil Gaiman

Returning to the critically acclaimed comic series that made him famous, Neil Gaiman presents seven new tales of the Endless, immortal beings who personify such concepts as Destiny, Dream and Desire. A different artist illustrates each tale -- assignments that were perfectly matched to story and character. Endless Nights lacks the complexity and breadth of the original series, but Gaiman fans will love it anyway. (DC Comics, Little Brown, $37.95)

The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist

By Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon teams up with Dark Horse comics to present The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, a comic anthology series featuring characters from his Pulitzer-winning novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Presented in the style of comic book eras from the '40s to the present, the series pays homage to the forgotten pioneers of the form. (Dark Horse, $8.95 U.S.)

Quimby the Mouse

By Chris Ware

Thanks to Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, graphic novels are being taken seriously as an art form. Quimby the Mouse is a collection of comic strips featuring the misadventures of a cartoon mouse who endures a Beckettian existence of suffering and despair. Ware infuses Quimby's tales with fake ads and animation iconography, deconstructing the very medium of comics and reassembling it as a hybrid art form that is part autobiography, part existentialist tract and part meditation on the creative process. Ware is the James Joyce of comic artists. (Fantagraphics Books, $24.95 U.S.)

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

By Mariane Satrapi

Persepolis tells the story of the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath from the perspective of six-year-old Mariane Satrapi. Part autobiography, part history of Iran, Satrapi reveals the human impact of the revolution by focusing on the struggle of her family, wealthy secularists, to adapt. The story is beautifully complemented by the artwork, a simple but elegant mix of western and Middle Eastern art styles. Persepolis is simultaneously an elegy for Iran and a celebration of the spirit of the Iranian people, especially those who continue to resist the rule of the mullahs today. A must-read for all members of the Bush administration. (Pantheon, $26.95)

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

By Alan Moore

While the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an older book, it deserves a mention because of its recent re-release and film adaptation. Moore creates a bridge between the literary and comic book worlds by casting characters from classic novels -- Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain -- as the equivalent of superheroes. The plot follows the quest of the League to thwart the destruction of London, but this is just an excuse for Moore to explore his favourite subjects: the responsibility of power, the human side of myths, the perils of conformity. Along the way, Moore throws in nods to comics history and enough literary allusions to keep even Harold Bloom happy. A modern classic. (DC Comics, Little Brown, $37.95)

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

By Kim Deitch

Destined to become one of the canonical texts of the genre, Boulevard follows the growth and decline of an animation studio, whose employees are driven mad by a hallucinatory cat that is kind of a composite of Mickey Mouse and his countercultural opposite, Felix the Cat. Equal parts history, allegory and artistic romp, Boulevard is both an exploration of the role of the artist and a sharp critique of the ways animation has been drained of artistic merit and social value by the entertainment industry. (Pantheon, $32)

Summer Blonde

By Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine is the Raymond Carver of comics. Summer Blonde collects eerie tales of urban life, despair and isolation. While Carver identified the failures of the American Dream, Tomine charts its transformation into nightmare. Tomine's characters, all damaged in some way by society, explore the casual brutality of teenagers growing up in the media bombardment of the first Gulf War and the alienating effects of office life. A chronicle of the CNN generation. (Drawn & Quarterly, $26.95)

Nufonia Must Fall

By Kid Koala

A 21st-century love story and a musical novel, Nufonia is created by Montreal DJ Kid Koala. The story, which comes with a CD to be played while reading, follows a near-obsolete robot who falls in love with a human office worker in a world where everything is on the brink of a breakdown. Only daydreams offer solace. The story is told in black and white and without dialogue, but it has all the tenderness of a Charlie Chaplin silent film. Encore. (ECW Press, $29.95)

Louis Riel: A Comic-strip Biography

By Chester Brown

Chester Brown depicts the story of Louis Riel in spare black-and-white panels with a minimum of nuance -- the characters are mainly ciphers -- but the result is anything but simple. Brown takes Canadian history and manages to make it (a) entertaining and (b) a bit more complicated thanks to the attention he pays to construction of the Riel myth. Brown explores Riel's lesser-known characteristics. A "comic book" that should be required reading in history classes. (Drawn & Quarterly, $36.95)

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