I’ve been asked more than once in the last week to recommend graphic novels outside of the usual suspects (The Sandman, etc.), and there are a couple of things that have come to mind as eclipsing most everything else on bookstore shelves- this is by no means a complete list of my favorite books, but there is no question that these are three of the very best ever created:
(1) LAIKA by Nick Abadzis
actually made me cry, it was so beautiful. This is one of those stories that wouldn’t work converted into a movie, as a novel, or as anything else than what Nick has created: with his marriage of words and images, this story about the animals and people involved in the launch of the Soviet space program is the very definition of a Graphic Novel.
I don’t really want to say much, except that it is hands-down one of the best things I have ever read in any medium. And while I allow myself more than my fair share of questionable taste, this is something that appeals to all of the best in me. I am begging you, buy this book. You will thank me.
(2) AFRODISIAC by Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg
is another one I don’t want to say too much about, BUT- if you loved Black Dynamite, or Blaxpolitation as a genre, or 1970s comics, this is the best send-up EVER. It follows Afrodisiac, through a series of stories a few pages each, from through every major era in comics history: we see Afrodisiac as a hot, sexy, brother… then on the cover of Romance Comics, Sci-Fi themed stories, fighting Gods and Robots as a series of pretend comic companies attempt to reboot the character for a new generation. This book has everything: the re-using “number one” time and time again, weird crossovers, varying coloring techniques for each period, peculiar special guests (Richard Nixon was his tag-team wresting partner in one referenced shark-jumping storyline)… and through these story fragments, we get a glimpse of a character who is more real than many who actually existed through all these times.
This book is SO good that I actually bought two dozen copies to give as gifts, that’s how much I want people to see how amazing this is. (Not to mention a fantastic design job by AdHouse books.)
Hollywood, please take note of these two gentlemen; Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg, please get ready for your close up. Brilliant.
(3) The Rocketeer, by Dave Stevens
is the very definition of Classic. FINALLY out in a complete edition after decades of collectors having to hunt down expensive early editions, this series was responsible in the early 1980s for refocusing the eyes of the world on a woman who had lapsed into obscurity: the notorious Bettie Page. Unquestionably some of the best art ever seen in comics: this is pin-up art come to life, with a story that is pure Art Deco era passion: rocket packs, headstrong heroes, lumpy-faced thugs, and of course… Bettie!
Dave Stevens was one of the first people to extend a firm hand of friendship when we showed up eight years ago at San Diego Comic Con. (Charles Vess and Michael Kaluta are two other faces that stand out strongly in my mind from that first year.) He must have made ten trips back and forth fro his booth to ours, and half of those times he’d dragged someone new along with him. The other times, he was just coming back to say hello and stand and any times I was busy, I would catch him out of the corner of my eye, carefully studying the Art Nouveau objects.
The second year we were at San Diego, I made a point to wander over on opening night to say hello- I mean, this was the guy who made one of my favorite books, THE ROCKETEER- but his lovely girlfriend said he’d be there later. Then the next day, the same; and the day after… By the end of the weekend, William Stout had hinted that Dave wasn’t feeling well, and this scenario repeated for the years to follow, at both San Diego and Wondercon in San Francisco. It was becoming clear that something wasn’t right, and sadly on March 11, 2008 we all learned that Dave had lost a battle with Leukemia. If the definition of immortality is in one’s art surviving the crushing weight of time, then Dave Stevens is without question an immortal, because I without exaggeration have never met one person who read this book that didn’t become not a fan, but a FANATIC about this work.
Last note on this, the foreword by actor Thomas Jane really sums up the cool factor of this character, and it was a huge pleasure to read it. It sets the stage perfectly for the story that follows. A wonderful presentation of a legendary body of work.
It’s now 7:14, I’m supposed to be packing for Wondercon (yes, it’s on Easter weekend) in San Francisco. Come by our booth (#1332) and help us celebrate the launch of our new website Haute Campe by picking up a copy of our Freaks magazine, you wont regret it! Jeremy Bastian will be signing copies of Cursed Pirate Girl all weekend, and issue #1 is SOLD OUT at the distributor but we are bringing a handful of copies to the show…