Special Guest: Zachary Hardy’s Top Five Graphic Novels
Hey there, Sleepwalkers! We have a very special guest with us today! Here to present his Top Five graphic novels, please welcome Zachary Hardy!
Hello, I am Zachary Hardy. I am the brother of Ross Hardy, the architect of Later I Will Destroy This Earth! I would like to take the opportunity to let you know about the five best graphic novels that I have had the chance to read. My collection is not as good as my brother’s, nor do I have my brother’s analytical mind when it comes to the comics medium, but I will try my best to be as in-depth as possible.
This list is eclectic and is solely based on my opinion. Please feel free to deride or criticize my choices for this list.
5. Smile-written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier (2010)
Considering what the rest of this list holds, this might seem like a strange pick. Nevertheless, I am going to get the fluff out of the way before I delve into the heavier fare. Smile is an autobiography of Raina Telgemeier’s adolescence in San Francisco, California. The time spans from 1989 to 1992. The premise of this work is Raina’s experience with braces, middle school, changing dynamics among boys and BFFs, and even the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Through the emotional highs and lows, as well as her burgeoning talent as an artist, she eventually learns to love herself for who she is on the inside.
This is a book that, although it is meant for the junior high age range, can be enjoyed by people who had to have braces in their adolescence and also suffered the slings and arrows of middle school. Knowing that these were events that actually took place (my brother was born in 1989) make the character of young Raina even more relatable and all the more fascinating to watch as she matures into a young women who uses her talent for drawing to discover her own inner beauty. Her artwork is also stunning in its simplistic yet mature rendering of every day scenes.
4. Ghost World-written and illustrated by Daniel Clowes (1998)
I read Ghost World when I was transitioning from high school to college. Because I read this at such an important time in my life, I was able to really feel the existential angst that is a part of the narrative. The story centers around Enid Coleslaw, a teenager who has just graduated from high school and is beginning to get her feet wet in the world of adulthood. She and her friend, Becky Doppelmeyer, spend their days hanging around diners, used music stores, and playgrounds discussing topics that range from politics to the loss of Enid’s virginity.
This book rather predicted the modern hipster. With a cast of colorful characters, including a Satanist couple and a self-proclaimed astrologist who looks like a creepy version of Don Knotts, this comic is a surreal experience that one has to read to fully appreciate. Clowes scripts dialogue with a precision that fully digs deep at the underlying fears, hopes, and delusions that are a part of modern youth. The artwork also gives the comic an atmosphere that could almost be described as a mixture of David Lynch and Terry Gilliam.
3. Green River Killer: A True Detective Story-written by Jeff Jensen and illustrated by Jonathan Case (2011)
I am a true crime buff and Green River Killer fascinated me from its horrifying prologue to its serene ending. The comic deals with the hunt for the Green River Killer, one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. He terrorized the Seattle, Washington area for more than 20 years. In 2003, he was revealed by DNA to be Gary Leon Ridgeway, a Mr. Ordinary who has confessed to murdering 49 young women. Jeff Jensen is the son of Tom Jensen, one of the detectives who spent 188 days interviewing Ridgeway and gathering information that would put him away for the rest of his life.
This graphic true crime novel is different than most of the standard true crime books that I have read. For one, it focuses on the detective Tom Jensen and his own personal quest to gain closure and answers about why Ridgeway committed such horrific acts. We see Tom in his younger days in Naval Intelligence, honing the skills that he will use to help hunt the Green River Killer. The non-sequential story is told in shifts back and forth from the past and present, giving the reader insights into not only the personal struggles of Tom Jensen, but also a look into the psyche of Gary Ridgeway. The whole story plays out like a movie, one with a well-written script and enough insight into the case to make the investigators and the perpetrator seem more real then what is ever presented in newspapers or on the programs of Investigation Discovery.
The artwork that is done by Jonathan Case is also a great selling point for this graphic novel. Combining realistic images, like those drawn by Dean Haspiel, with a noir-influenced black and white inking, lends a tremendous aura of intensity and brooding tension. This, as well as another graphic novel on this list, is a great read for followers of the true crime genre.
2. My Friend Dahmer-written and illustrated by Derf Backderf (2012)
Jeffery Dahmer ranks among one of the most loathsome serial killers in modern American history. His grotesque story of rape, torture, murder, necrophilia, and cannibalism are well known. However, not too many people know about the adolescence of Dahmer and this graphic novel chronicles a serial killers high school days as told by one of his friend Backderf.
This was one of the most fascinating reads that I have ever devoured. Backderf lays out the high school experience of late 1970s middle America and shows the many facets of life in a small town life that can turn a maladjusted loner into one of the most evil monsters in history. Backderf tells about the oddball that was Jeffery Dahmer, a teenager that wanted to belong but was never able to connect with anyone. The themes of closeted homosexuality, bullying, and peer ridicule help put perspective on how a person evolves during the teen years into the adult that they will be for life. Backderf never excuses the crimes committed by Dahmer, but his narrative offers a sympathetic view into the personal hell of who may ultimately be a tragic figure.
Backderf’s illustrations, with their quasi-caricature quality, lend an air of surreal beauty and savage honesty. The tension within the drawings a palpable, especially with the sequence that details the aftermath of Dahmer’s first murder.
1. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Directors Cut-written and illustrated by Jhonen Vasquez (1997)
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is to the goth subculture what American Psycho is to yuppies. The story revolves around Johnny C., a psychotic and sadistic serial killer who tortures, kills, and dismembers people with the least provocation. However, this work is not really a sensationalistic splatter fest. It is a deep and intriguing look at topics such as violence in modern society, the fine line between what is truly good and what is truly evil, and the potential for destruction that dwells within humanity.
Johnny is a troubled individual, a person who is sentenced to his own personal damnation. He hates humanity, is suicidal, and lives in his own demented reality. This satirical portrait of the prototypical follower of the goth/emo movement is probably one of the best satires that have ever been conceived. I was familiar with the work of Jhonen Vasquez going into this novel (he created the short lived series, Invader Zim) and knew I was in for a wild ride. The combination of artwork that looks like a cross between H.R. Geiger and Tim Burton coupled with deep and witty dialogue combine to make a graphic novel that is equal parts horrific, hilarious, and insightful.
Thanks, Zachary! Hey, Sleepwalkers–if you liked what you just read, Zach has more! Check out his literature portfolio here, and be sure to tell him what you think!