10 Notable Graphic Novels of the Last Decade

(Originally published in Rolling Stone India, January 2010)

I remember feeling panicky doing this list. Too many titles to consider, and 10 is too less a number. I asked my editor if she would let me make multiple lists, for superhero, romance, manga, sci-fi and so on, but space was a constraint. So I took a deep breath, and chopped down my choices to these 10. Sure, I excluded a lot, but I stand by this list. How many of them have you read?

1. Scott Pilgrim

Writer/Artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley
The hardest thing about praising Scott Pilgrim is this – instead of yapping on about how good it is and why one should read it, you could do nothing better than just thrust a copy of the series into someone’s hands. One of the breakaway successes of the decade, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series is about an everyday rock-band guitarist from Toronto, his dimension-hopping girlfriend and her seven evil ex-boyfriends, and a bunch of the awesomest supporting characters ever. A postmodern cartoon series featuring more pop-culture references than you can shake a stick at, Scott Pilgrim speaks perfect Twentyfirstcenturyese – a truly enduring series of this generation.




2. Y The Last Man

Writer: Brian K Vaughn; Artist: Pia Guerra

It sounds like the perfect male fantasy – a young man named Yorick Brown and his pet monkey are the only survivors of a planet-wide holocaust that kills every male creature on this planet. But being the last man on earth comes with its disadvantages, as Yorick, accompanied by a scientist and a secret agent, embarks on a journey across the world to find his estranged fiancée and finds himself the target of everyone from male-hating cultists to military strategists. Writer Brian Vaughn brings together a number of themes and plot-lines seamlessly towards a bittersweet ending, and this series remains a high-point of the mainstream sequential storytelling of the decade.




3. Ultimates

Writer: Mark Millar; Artist: Bryan Hitch

Simple recipe: Take a serving of Silver-age superheroes, remove the tint of nostalgia from the wrapping, add a dash of the current socio-political climate and serve with a healthy dose of cynicism. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Bush era reimagining of Marvel’s Avengers not only ramped up the action all the way to eleven, but also ended up making the comic a testament to the way the world went insane in the double-noughts.






4. Blankets

Writer/Artist: Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson’s graphic novel is not just a love story. It’s a memoir of a boy’s coming of age, of religion and family and the choices that we make on the way to adulthood. Set in Wisconsin, Blankets follows Thompson’s early life in a fundamentalist Christian family and society, the near-obliteration of his love for art by a din of scorn and piousness, and his first love, Raina, who changes his outlook towards life. In a way, the black-and-white art accentuates the timelessness of the themes addressed by Thompson, making this book one of those rare gateway volumes for casual readers.




5. The Goon

Writer/Artist: Eric Powell

It’s ironic – from winning awards for the best humour publication, The Goon has gone on to win accolades such as Best Continuing Series and Best Multimedia Artist, and even an International Horror Guild award. That’s because Eric Powell’s labour of love effortlessly straddles multiple worlds – at one moment, it features toilet humour and slapstick situations that cater to the lowest common denominator, and in the next it becomes an emotional saga of friendship, loyalty, love and revenge. Add to it the Powell’s completely unique painterly style which has evolved over the years to something that leaps off the printed page and you have a series that just gets better with every chapter.





6. All Star Superman

Writer: Grant Morrison; Artist: Frank Quitely

Before Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely began writing their twelve-chapter story of the world’s most familiar superhero, Superman, as a character, was at his nadir – fans complained of the lack of present-day relevance, writers bemoaned the lack of storytelling engines for the characters, others just did not care. But in course of those twelve issues, the writer-artist team not only made Superman resume his rightful place in the comic-book pantheon, but they also crafted a perfect saga of heroism that spanned time, dimensions and universes, with an epic, note-perfect ending. Never before has the Big Blue Guy epitomised truth, justice and humanity so effortlessly as in this Eisner Award winning series.





7. Fables

Writer: Bill Willingham; Artist: Mark Buckingham

What if fairy tales do not end happily-ever-after? Bill Willingham tries to address that notion in his ongoing series, one in which characters from folklore and fairy tales co-exist among normal people in the present-day, the bulk of them in exile in a neighbourhood in New York City. These characters exist in avatars you had never envisaged. Imagine Snow White as a hard-as-nails politician, Cinderella as an Emma Peele-esque super-spy, and the Big Bad Wolf a bad-ass sheriff. From murder mysteries to swashbuckling adventure to all-out war against a common enemy (who might be the last person you could imagine as a war-mongering Adversary), Fables makes a habit of turning genre conventions on their head.





8. Planetary

Writer: Warren Ellis; Artist: John Cassaday

In Planetary, Warren Ellis examines the very mechanisms of what makes genre fiction tick. He weaves archetypes from pulp fiction of the early 20th century – comics, schlocky horror movies, science fiction – into a series that parallels the works of Philip Jose Farmer; a shared universe seen through the eyes of three “archaeologists of the impossible”. While the later half of the series flagged a little because of erratic production schedules, Ellis’s writing and Cassaday’s magnificent artwork made fans across the world gasp when the last issue came out a few months ago, concluding a decade-long series.






9. The Walking Dead

Writer: Robert Kirkman; Artist: Charlie Adlard

Before zombies took over popular culture this decade, no one could have predicted that a black-and-white indie comic book series where would become the most perfect survival horror tale ever written. Walking Dead is like a George Romero film that does not end. What makes the series so groundbreaking is the way writer Robert Kirkman keeps his characters so vulnerable – there is no guarantee that a cast member would make it through the next chapter, and absolutely no warning about what lies ahead for the protagonists.







10. Promethea

Writer: Alan Moore; Artist: JH Williams III

Promethea, on one hand, has the heart-stoppingly beautiful art of JH Williams III, a man whose immaculate visual design makes every page-turn evoke gasps of wonder. On the other, it features the Grand Guru of the graphic novel, Alan Moore, at his psychedelic best, writing a treatise on magic, feminism and mythology. A complicated series that left many readers polarised about the creators’ intent, Promethea remains one of those rare examples of virtuoso artistic expression that stands the test of time.







Final thoughts:

1. Of course order does not matter. Are you kidding me?

2. Obviously, all series are to be considered in their entirety. With the exception of Fables, which is valid only from issues 1-75, and the two one-shots 1001 Nights of Snowfall and The Last Castle, and Ultimates, where I’ve considered Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s two-volume run as canon.

3. The list is very mainstream, glad you noticed. The keyword is “notable”.


Aren’t you glad I don’t twitter so much?

The more I read comics, the more I realize that Batman and Superman cannot possibly exist in the same universe.

It will take me ten minutes to tell you who Robin is, right now.

It will take me five minutes to explain whether Batman is dead or not.

After reading Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, I think Neil Gaiman should stop writing superhero comics. He should have after 1602.

I absolutely HATE how, in DC, every superhero fawns every other superhero. Superman is so awesome?? Wow, we didn’t know, Flash.

And nobody in the JLA uses superhero names anymore – it’s all Connor or Bruce or Diana or Clark.

I think it was Brad Meltzer who began both these trends with Identity Crisis, and now everybody seems to be doing it.

I want to read all the low-key superhero comics released in the last 5 years. Blue Beetle, Manhunter, Ant-Man, The Order. That shit is all good.

Captain Marvel and MI-13 is getting cancelled with issue 15? Just when I was thinking this would be one of my regular monthly fixes.

Now that 100 Bullets is over, I am waiting for the opportune moment to read the complete series. In one sitting. The last time I did that was with issues 1-50.

I also need some time off to read Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, an 850+ page autobiographical manga that goes into detail about the beginnings of the manga industry in Japan.

Am still looking for the first two of the three Tatsumi collections that Drawn and Quarterly brought out – I regret not buying them in Blossom when I saw them, way back in 2005 and 2007.

I recently did a Top Ten Superhero Graphic Novels list for a magazine. I am still feeling guilty about the ones I left out.

Did I tell you about the time I found a better-than-decent issue of Batman 181, the first appearance of Poison Ivy, for 10 Rs at the Sunday book market?

Hayao Miyazaki has returned to drawing manga after a long time, with a biography of an aircraft designer released in early 2009.

What is it with Miyazaki and flying?

Comicbook culture would have reached its peak the moment all of Tezuka’s works and all the Koike/Kojima collaborations are translated and in print.

Another manga-ka whose works are begging to be translated – Sanpei Shirato. The dynamic storytelling in Kamui, the only one of his works translated so far, still manages to leave me breathless.

Blade of the Immortal is in its final arc in Japan, a couple of more years and Dark Horse will come up with the last volume. Fist-pump!

Now if only Kentaro Miura would get off his ass and finish Berserk.

Alan Moore’s Miracleman scars you for life. Don’t read Miracleman if you want to keep enjoying superheroes.

The densest work Miller has ever written is The Dark Knight Returns. Elektra: Assassin is a close second. The 8th issue has got to be one of the greatest endings ever.

Like everyone else, I also hated Miller’s Spirit. The nadir was the part where the female cop says ‘Elektra complex’ some eighteen times in a row.

And this whole cliche of naming minor characters and landmarks in superhero movies with names from the comicbook industry makes me spew.

Yes, all that was fan-service.

Neal Adams, Norm Breyfogle and Kelley Jones are the three greatest regular artists to draw the Batman.

Brian Bolland never did a monthly stint on Batman, so there. Mazzuchchelli did only four issues, and Don Newton died too early.

JH Williams 3, Frank Quitely, and Darwyn Cooke are three names that will make me buy a comic without stopping to check what lies within.

Chuck’s bedroom ( in…uh…Chuck) has a poster of Y The Last Man.

Juno’s bedroom ( in…well…Juno) has a poster by Tara McPherson, she who did the Snow-Rose-Totenkinder story in Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall.

I own a first printing of Will Eisner’s Contract With God. Should I still buy the new reissue of the Dropsie Avenue trilogy?