Tag Archives: 1001 comics

Graphic Content – American Born Chinese

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
31/501Title: American Born Chinese
Creator: Gene Luen Yang
Year: 2006
Country: USA

After a graphic series as complex and compelling as Monster it was a weirdly massive shift to start on American Born Chinese. At least when I was reading Monster I didn’t have to look over my shoulder every time a racist character came onto the page.

As a graphic novel, American Born Chinese deals a lot with stereotypes. It deals with the idea of stereotyping across three separate story arcs that end up being neatly tied together in the end. Almost a bit too neatly to be honest, but hey it was an interesting ride.

The first of the threads is a retelling of the backstory of the Monkey King from Journey to the West. It’s a cute way to start the graphic novel and it features the best artwork of the three. It makes me think that I should read that old epic, but I’m sure that feeling will pass.

The remaining two tell the stories of stereotyping against Asian-Americans in high school. The first one is a straight telling of the main protagonist as he negotiates being one of only three Asian kids in his classes. The level of racism encountered in these threads is actually upsetting. As an ex-teacher who witnessed this between students, and as someone who went to a school where racist jokes were not punished they should have been, I was taken aback.

However, the racism is there to make a point. The whole piece is about stereotypes and how they can isolate and trap you or even force you to homogenize in order to feel some form of acceptance. The way that the concept of stereotyping is done differently depending on the thread, but the most blatant is the character of Chin-Kee (yes, I cringed too).

Both the extreme negatives and positive Asian stereotypes (e.g. Engrish vs high school attainment) feel extremely on the nose as you read through this graphic novel for the first time. However, once the three stories tie together you get a better idea that this was meant to be a deconstruction rather than pure shock tactics.

Personally I found the way that the three lines tied together in the end to feel a little bit forced, but it doesn’t prevent the enjoyment of American Born Chinese. Nor does it diminish the fact that this is a fairly unique third culture voice in a 1001 book full of superheroes, talking dogs and assorted manga.

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Graphic Content – Monster

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
30/501Title: Monster
Creator: Naoki Urasawa
Year: 1994-2001
Country: Japan

And this is why I read manga. It has been a while since I have been so drawn into a work of fiction. I’m not sure what book or manga/comic I found to be as ‘unputdownable’ as Monster, might be The Sandman and that was over a year ago.

So, let’s start at the beginning. The central character is gifted brain surgeon Dr Kenzō Tenma who finds himself on the run when he is under suspicion of murdering a number of his hospital superiors. The culprit? Well, it just happens to be the young boy whose life he saved.

Oh and that’s just the beginning of how deep this rabbit hole goes. We are talking about a massive international conspiracy where children are psychologically experimented on and the end result is the one of titular monsters: the charismatic and creepy Johan Liebert.

The whole story takes place over the course of 18 volumes (162 chapters) and it is amazing how none of the pages feel like they have been wasted. The story is tight and is able to do it in a number of varied ways. My favourite diversion was when 1-2 chapters was spent telling a rather twisted children’s story (with the appropriate creepy art style).

Whilst the conspiracy theories and the mind control are the bread and butter of what makes this an exceptional manga series, it is the characters that truly make it. By the time you reach the end the cast is massive. A cast of characters that spans two countries and features people from every walk of life.

Other than the main three characters of Tenma and the Liebert twins (Johan and Anna), the best character have to be Grimmer (pictured) and Inspector Lunge. Both of them find themselves entangled in the incredibly complex web and for very different reasons.

I don’t think there is a single person in Monster who isn’t messed up in some way. Grimmer and the Liebert’s are both victims of psychological manipulation, Tenma loses everything that he had after being falsely accused, Lunge is an obsessive… the list goes on.

On another tact here – I loved how the manga treated Germany and Czechia. Sure there are moments where the Japanese manners creeps into the character interactions, but most of the time it feels remarkably authentic. Hell, you have someone whose favourite food is weisswurst – now that is writing I can get behind.

The reason I read this so soon was because of the anime series being so renowned. I figured it would be better to read it first, and now the animated series sure has a lot to live up to. I mean, I know it’ll be better than Hajime no Ippo, but I do wonder how well they’ll bring Tenma and Johan to life.

Graphic Content – The Perishers

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
29/501Title: The Perishers
Creator: Maurice Dodd
Year: 1959-2006
Country: UK

The Perishers was the UK’s answer to the Peanuts strip. I have never read a Peanuts strip, although I have seen some of the animated shorts. Honestly, I think it might have been a bit of a mistake doing The Perishers first. Hey ho, it’s easily available online and sometimes you need an easy win.

For those who have never heard of The Perishers – this was a daily comic strip that was featured in the UK’s Daily Mirror newspaper. It centres on 3 children, a dog and a baby living in a bit of a blah suburban area of London.  They would get up to ‘humorous’ adventures the way that kids seem to have in the world of comic strips.

I never read these strips expecting something ‘laugh out loud’ funny. How many people can say they have had a good belly laugh from a newspaper comic? I mean I’ve chuckled a bit at a Dilbert or two. but that’s about it.

Needless to say, this was fine. As comics go it is very much of it times when it comes to the gender roles occupied by the two boys and the girl. She’s bossy, one boy’s lazy and the other is messy. I am sure if I read more of it there might be more to it but I think I got the basics down there.

The best strips that I read had Boot (the dog) or the baby as the central character. Why? Because the point of the strip is that you are hearing their thoughts as they comment on the voiced characters. Those comments on life and being a dog or baby still felt accurate some 60 years after being written. Some of the other antics… not so much.

For many Brits The Perishers was a real part of their routine. I mean this ended 11 years ago and it did not take long for re-runs to start up again because of readers writing in. For me, it was an interesting snapshot of some parts of life back in the early 1960s.

Reading dailies for this list will always run the risk of repetition and being very much of their time. Honestly, I do prefer it when I look at proper comic books or graphic novels. Still, it’s an education.

Graphic Content – Lady Snowblood

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
28/501Title: Lady Snowblood
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Illustrator: Kazuo Kamimura
Year: 1972-1973
Country: Japan

Right, so the first thing I had to remind myself of whilst reading Lady Snowblood is that it was originally published in the Japanese edition of Playboy. I bring this up because there is a whole lot of nudity; something that I had to deal with as I was reading this on a crowded train.

Does the nudity make a lot of sense in the narrative? Sometimes, yes. Most the of time it is gratuitous, as is a lot of the sex (both hetro- and homosexual), but you can kinda take it as artistic license. Like how you would feel a lot of the swearing in a Quentin Tarantino film is down to his choice as a director.

I bring up Tarantino becuase Lady Snowblood and the films based on this manga were a source of inspiration for Kill Bill. Once you’ve read this you can see where he got a lot of inspiration for a bunch of the scenes.

ladysnowblood2

In essence, Lady Snowblood is a story about retribution. The main character, Oyuki, was born to a woman in prison (who seduced prison guards in order to get pregnant) and has become an assassin to take revenge on the four people that wronged her mother.

Over the course of the four volumes we watch as Oyuki takes on a number of contracts, prepares for them with different pieces of training and then goes about executing her plan. As you would expect she always succeeds, but it plays well with the expectations since there were times where I thought she might be in some legitimate danger (such as the time when she was tied to a tombstone and was about to be assaulted by a man with a gargantuan penis… )

The central thread of revenge, although deviated from, is never forgotten though. By following it you cannot help but feel awful for Oyuki. Her life is dedicated to avenging the mother she never got a chance to meet. We never really see her have fun or, aside from a short chapter, do anything that could be described as familial. It’s all work to satisfy the end goal and she’s never truly happy.

By the end of the manga she completes her mother’s retribution and we see her weapon (a sword concealed in an umbrella) floating away on the tide. I saw this and had the hope that this means she was able to carve out her own identity and live a quasi-normal life.

Graphic Content – Shock SuspenStories

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
27/501Title: Shock SuspenStories
Creator: William Gaines and Al Feldstein
Year: 1952-1955
Country: USA

Man, it has been too long since I last read something for the comics list. We’re talking about 5-6 months here since my last one (Promethea). Thanks to some long-term engineering works on my train line, I don’t usually have the space to bring out a tablet… since I would have to balance it on some fellow commuter’s head as I am pressed against the wall.

I’ve moved carriages in the morning which means that I am more likely to get a seat, ergo my first comic entry in ages: the anthology series Shock SuspenStories.

In each issue of Shock SuspenStories you get 4 standalone stories united under the umbrella of having a shock or twist ending. There are broad categories of story within the 18 issues such as crime, science-fiction and horror. Many of them feature a moral lesson against racism, drugs or adultery (although it’s always women cheating on their husbands in these comics and that started to bug me after a while).

Being a collection of stories by a smattering of authors there is a variation in the quality. Some of the moralistic stories read more like scaremongering. Then again, this was the 1950s and they were not at all ready to accept the idea that marijuana may not be the gateway to hell.

Still, you had some cracking stories within this collection. Some of them are as close as to shocking as you can conceivably get after 5-6 pages of panels. Since a lot of these do hinge on the twist I’m just going to give the titles and encourage you to find these panels for yourself. They aren’t a bad way to spend 5 minutes, so here are 10 that are really worth a go:

  • The Neat Job (Issue 1)
  • Yellow (Issue 1)
  • Halloween! (Issue 2)
  • Under Cover (Issue 6)
  • The October Game (Issue 9)
  • …So Shall Ye Reap (Issue 10)
  • …Three’s A Crowd (Issue 11)
  • The Kidnapper (Issue 12)
  • Raw Deal (Issue 15)
  • …My Brother’s Keeper (Issue 16)

After the steaming pile of colonial racism that was Robinson Crusoe I think I am going to be sticking with comics for a while before I want to get back to prose. The next comic I’m going for was one of the things that ended up inspiring the Kill Bill films – so I have to say I am looking forward to this one.

Graphic Content – Promethea

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
26/501Title: Promethea
Creators: Alan Moore, J. H. Williams III and Mick Gray
Year: 1999-2005
Country: USA

I never realised how interesting the teachings of Kabbalah were. Not a sentence I expected to write when I started going through these comics. Then again Buddha taught me a lot about Buddhism – so I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised to encounter religion… even if it not something you would expect when starting the comic.

Promethea looks like a superhero comic. In many ways it is a superhero comic. There are heroes, villains and, of course, a central figure in Promethea herself. Yet, for two of the five collated books they decide to teach the Kabbalah Tree of Life. Very interesting and it allows for a huge variation in art styles in order to explain the different levels of consciousness. However, you would have thought that this would play into how Promethea brings about the apocalypse… it doesn’t.

Essentially the character of Promethea is a superhero whose mantle has been assumed by numerous women over the centuries. How do you summon her? Through creativity e.g. poems, novels, artwork etc. Interesting idea since she is meant to reside in the collective subconscious (known in this as the Immateria).

The present incarnation is Sophie Bangs, a college student who is studying Promethea in the role of a oddly recurring fictional character. Her role as this incarnation of Promethea is bring about the apocalypse. Of course being don’t want this to happen because, you know, people aren’t stupid.

So in the first two collections she is battling demons and a secret society known as the Temple. We also have the crazed super-villain the Painted Doll and a recurring comic known as the Weeping Gorilla who spouts maudlin phrases like ‘Why do good things happen to bad people?’

Promethea2

This is not a comic for someone who wants to read something easy. It goes pretty deep into Moore’s own philosophical leanings and, hell, it’s able to educate. There is so much in this on the occult and it’s links to sects of Judaism that it can be easy to crinkle your nose up at it. Well I didn’t, but hub did.

The thing that keeps it all going is the artwork. This is a stunning series of comics and some of the panels would be worthy of framing. Promethea is an oddball in it’s medium because, compared to others I have read, we are moving towards something truly intellectual.

Therefore this is not a comic for everyone. I, however, really enjoyed it.

Graphic Content – Buddha

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
25/501Title: Buddha
Creator: Osamu Tezuka
Year: 1972-1983
Country: Japan

As I have mentioned in previous posts – the 1001 Comics list is one that I am doing together with my husband. If, oh reader, you are ever wondering who picked the comic – the manga is always me.

When talking about a work like Buddha it is key to mention that going into this I had no idea about the history of the Buddha. The only thing that I knew was that he was a prince who traded in his life of privilege to become a monk and (eventually) move hundreds of millions with his teachings.

What makes Buddha all the more interesting is that it was written in a secular fashion by a non-Buddhist. Because of this I felt far more able to settle into the groove of the game without looking for moments where the author was trying to convert me (read a Bible comic or two and you’ll know what I mean).

In fact, not only does he take a more balanced secular view (whilst still adhering to the story and making Siddhartha (aka Buddha) godlike), but he also makes it into a gritty historical epic. Not gonna lie, I was easily able to consume the entire series in a week. If it was not for a two day work meeting in Warwick University this would have been finished even quicker.

Buddha is riveting reading. The fact that (with the exception of Buddha himself) no character is safe means that you are always kept on your toes. We are talking people who looked like they could be major characters being starved to death, impaled by spears or even cursed to live the rest of their life as a mindless beast who ends up blinding themselves by staring at the sun for too long. It’s brutal!

Oh and the living people don’t exactly make it out well. Many of the monks are ascetics; as in they exercise extreme self-discipline (due to the belief that suffering = enlightenment). There is a regular character who ends up with his eye burned out because, you know, asceticism. He isn’t the only one who ends up with their eyes being burned out either. Seriously, the idea that you would get ascetic monks that would end up being crushed to death or picked to death by birds is just… wow.

And yet, with all the suffering and trials that we see it is still the parable that bookends the manga series that sticks in my mind. Rather than describing it here is a video of it:

This is why I loved Buddha. It opened my eyes to a whole different part of history. Sure it hasn’t particularly wanted to make me become a Buddhist, but that wasn’t the point. What it does do exceptionally well is entertain whilst teaching you about someone you would not have known too much about. It’s hard to do and only Ernst Gombrich’s A Little History of the World is the only other work that comes to mind which does the same… and it’s been too long since I read that.

Graphic Content – Jingle Jangle Comics

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
24/501Title: Jingle Jangle Comics
Creators: Steven Douglas & George L. Carlson
Year: 1942-1949
Country: USA

Right, so apparently we are statistically behind on children’s comics  and so we opted to do Jingle Jangle Comics. It’s from the 1940s and, boy, it has not aged well.

To start off with I need to give it a bit of slack when it comes to content as it is aimed at children. Most of the text reads like a transcript from an appalling night in an improv club. I bet as a child I would have found the puns funny (in the same way I found a joke about a caterpillar with wooden legs funny). In the cold light of adulthood it’s just a bit boring.

Oh and racist. In places this is a very racist comic. For example there is a black manservant called Mahogany that, at some point, is basically used like furniture. Also dotted around are the recognisable stereotypes of cannibalistic natives and regular black people with the big red lips. It was… uncomfortable to read this on my train right to work. Even more so than Gone With The Wind because at least then it wasn’t visually racist!

It makes me wonder how many of this sort of comics are left for me to encounter in the 1001 list. Makes me want to stay clear of this era for a while now… or at least comics where this is likely to form part of the material.

Now it wasn’t all bad. As a comic it is made up from a number of smaller stories similar to Beano or Dandy. I quite liked the Bingo stories for their more leftfield take on fairytales, but after a while that also became a bit grating…

Graphic Content – The Incal

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
23/501Title: The Incal
Writer: Alejandro Jodorowsky 
Illustrator: Moebius
Year: 1981-1988
Country: France

How has The Incal not been made into a film yet? I know that Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn announced his intention a few years ago, but having read the original six books of the Incal story it’s a wonder that this hasn’t been done before. It has most certainly had ideas borrowed from it (The Fifth Element is the first example that springs to mind, and not just because of the court case mentioned on Wikipedia), but as of writing this we are nowhere near an actual adaptation.

The thing is, I have no idea why it’s taking so long. Here we have high brow space opera that has heavy philosophical dealings and a very distinct look. Really it’s like if someone took the mindset of Ghost In The Shell, set it in space and have it be about preventing the end of the world. I’d watch that! It would make for an amazing anime series.

At the basic level it’s a very common story of the reluctant having to help save the universe. When I mean reluctant I mean really reluctant. John DiFool has absolutely no interest in being separated from his synthetic whisky and fembot prostitutes – then again his hand gets forced time and time again. He actually ends up fathering an entire race of clones at some point in the adventure… small plot point but among the weirder ones.

Talking of weird – in this universe the emperor is some sort of giant conjoined fraternal twins in a jar. There are also giant jellyfish creatures that can be genetically engineered to stave off the forces of darkness. It’s a weird world and the depth that Jodorowsky gives it is astounding.

I won’t pretend that I completely understood all of the metaphysical implications in The Incal. There are times where this series feels like it is going a bit too high brow (which can make the leaps in logic feel a little bit too far), but you go with it. I mean, I am not entirely sure how or why Solune undergoes his transition or what the Incals themselves actually are… two things that are really quite integral to this.

To be honest, this is one of those comics that I find hard to really put into words. It feels more like an experience than just a serialized story. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this and I’ll need to have a go at the other titles in this series.

Graphic Content – Ghost World

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
22/501Title: Ghost World
Creator: Daniel Clowes
Year: 1993-1997
Country: USA

Teenage angst is one of those topics that comes up a lot in films and comic books; usually to mixed or negative success. It feels rather quaint nowadays to acquaint angst with just teenage years when there is now so much more attention on so-called ‘quarter life crises’ (not that it’s a new concept or anything, just more widespread).

Still, this is where we were in the early 1990s and it is because of this clever and thoughtful depiction of angst that Ghost World found itself on the the 1001 Comics lists. That is of course underselling it, but having had to sit through the angst-fest of Fast Times At Ridgemont High  (that was meant to be a comedy, right?) I know I enjoyed Ghost World in both film and graphic forms a whole lot more.

This 88 page collection charts a few months after two misfit best friends graduate high school. I hate using the word misfit here, but with their distaste of the mainstream, incredibly cynical take on the world and their difficulty with connecting with anyone other than each other – well I am not sure of the word.

Now this makes Ghost World sound incredible nihilistic, but there is a fantastic streak of black and absurdist comedy that runs through it. This is a world where they somehow make a successful jokes about the popular girl at school getting a facial tumour, amateur satanists and media whores that defend child molesting priests.

Okay, so maybe I have gone off topic here. The big draw of Ghost World is the relationship between Enid and Becky (with the good hair?). Their ups, downs and fights just feel so realistic; even when the topic of their flight feels slightly out of the ordinary.

Artwise I found it interesting that all the pages were tinted blue, making this a black, white & blue comic. It’s something I did not notice on the first read, but when I went back to have a quick flick through before writing this up it suddenly hit me. It’s almost like viewing the story through an iceberg or with melancholic coloured glasses. It makes me wonder if this had an effect on my reading of the comic on a subconscious level.

With its brutally honest take on life as a teenager and the associated angst this is one of those graphic novels that should really be recommended to anyone going through this stuff. Good to know you’re not alone, you know?