Graphic Novels

I have been reading graphic novels since the experience was transformed, for me, by Frank Miller’s masterpiece ‘Batman: The Dark Knight Returns’ in 1986.

Or at least that proved to be my catalyst towards reading ‘bigger’ comic strip stories. Having graduated from classic British children’s funnies, comics like ‘The Beano’ and ‘Shiver & Shake’ to the voracious consumption and repeated re-reading of any American superhero comics I could get my hands on (Marvel & DC of course). Although ‘Commando’ was another popular title with boys like me in the late 70’s, I managed to miss key titles like 2000AD when it started in the UK in ’77.

Anyway from Miller’s masterpiece my interest grew (at least as extensively as finances allowed) to me discovering Alan Moore’s own masterpiece, ‘Watchmen’ and Dave Sim’s enormous ‘Cerebus’ saga, spanning 300 issues, 6000 pages and 26 years of creative output. I was also still collecting a range of titles, superheroes included.

As more and more titles of genuine quality have made it to the market, I have read those in preference to the superheroes, although storylines in that genre have grown-up enormously in recent years too.

So although I have been reading ‘Palomar’ by Gilbert Hernandez in between novels, I have also been reading other titles.

Y The Last Man by Brian Vaughan
I have been reading this in a series of trade paperbacks, 1-3 in this series so far (equivalent to original issues 1-17). The concept of this story initially interested me the most. At a certain single point in time in 2002, every man on the planet dies (almost instantly) from a plague of unknown origin. With the exception of one man, Yorik Brown, this story follows his life from that point forward. There are unsurprisingly conflicting forces among the women populating the planet, and even those who don’t immediately want him dead on learning of his existence may not all have his best interests at heart. In fact it appears he has become the single most significant piece in a power struggle which is beginning to be revealed as the story unfolds.

The art is not the most sophisticated or inspired I’ve seen in comic books, and this can be an important factor in conveying the emotional tone of the story. One only needs to think of work by someone like Bill Sienkiewicz (‘Elektra: Assassin'[with Frank Miller], ‘Stray Toasters’, etc.) to understand the powerful influence the artists style can have on the work as a whole. However in this case Pia Guerra (pencils) and José Marzán, Jr. (inks) do a workmanlike job of moving the story along and the best that can be said for their contribution is that they don’t get in the way of the writing.

So far the plot ideas have held sufficient promise to keep me involved, if sometimes falling a little short in the execution. Some of the developments could have done with a little more exploration before moving Yorick onto the next challenge. That said I suppose in a life or death struggle no one should be hanging around…

I’ll stick with this one for at least one more volume, and that proves that despite it’s shortcomings it has enough going for it to hold it’s space in my over-crowded reading list.


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