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Graphic Novel Friday: Best of the Year

Our editors pushed up their ruby quartz glasses and debated a Top 20 list with the fierceness of Black Panther and the eloquence of Cypher. What follows below is a collection of New York Times bestsellers alongside blockbuster reads and indie darlings. Of course, no list can cover everything, so we hope Omni readers will share their picks in the comments section below.

Best of the Year 2014 in Comics & Graphic Novels

  1. Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast
  2. Saga Deluxe Edition Volume 1 HC by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  3. The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by The Oatmeal and Matthew Inman
  4. Batman: A Visual History by Matthew K. Manning and Frank Miller
  5. Seconds: A Graphic Novel by Bryan Lee O'Malley

And that’s just our Top Five! Find 15 more selections (and more highlights in other categories) in our Best of the Year store!

--Alex

Graphic Novel Friday: Grant Morrison's Tragic Triumph

A few hours after I finished The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, something happened: I got it. Now, I can’t shake the sense that I read the best superhero single issue of the year.

Morrison’s Multiversity project (available digitally on comiXology and Kindle, and in our third party marketplace) is a grand one for DC Comics: eight single issues--each a #1, and each issue features a parallel earth, complete with its own heroes and villains. Morrison promises that all of these #1 issues will eventually form a larger whole, a macro-look at DC’s Multiverse, a collection of 52 parallel earths targeted by a villainous collective known as The Gentry. Sounds convoluted, but the beauty of starting at #1 every time is that readers can jump in anywhere and catch a glimpse of a world that is brand new.

Pax Americana #1 features a world populated with heroes who resemble those from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen (or, rather the Charlton Comics hero analogues that Moore used to populate his story). Readers may recognize The Question/Rorschach, Blue Beetle/Night Owl, Dr. Manhattan/Captain Atom, and so on, but this is only the top layer of Morrison’s story, and a familiarity with its framework is not at all necessary. Rather than follow the same deconstruction path that Moore paved, Morrison writes a love letter to superhero ideals while horribly undoing them.

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Graphic Novel Friday: The Long Halloween

BatmannoircoverOctober is here, October is here! With the onslaught of all things pumpkin-flavored (but who can resist?), now is the time to settle down with a good fright. This month, publishers prepare the very be(a)st in spooky reads, and comics are no different. October kicks off with the appropriately titled Batman Noir: The Long Halloween, a gorgeous reissue of a classic Batman tale.

Originally released in single issues in 1996 and 1997, The Long Halloween is a year-long murder mystery set in the early days of Batman’s career. Writer Jeph Loeb manages to weave nearly every main Batman villain into the noir narrative (and then a few lesser-knowns, like Calendar Man, winner of the least-threatening supervillain name ever), along with an origin story for Harvey Dent/Two-Face. The thirteen-issue run grew in such popularity and influence that a sequel, Dark Victory, followed along with a tie-in, Catwoman: When in Rome—and elements can be found in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. DC Comics keeps the fandom alive by releasing various collected editions over the years (including a spectacular Absolute Edition for hardcore fans).

Batmannoirpage1Now in a new “Noir” hardcover, The Long Halloween comes in a strictly black-and-white presentation—but with letters and dialogue balloons intact. It’s a fascinating study of how a comic looks at the inked stage, and it’s a showcase for Tim Sale’s blow-the-Batcave-wide-open artwork. The opening page features Bruce Wayne drenched in a thick shadow, stating, “I believe in Gotham City,” while his pallor is now a stark white [click left image for a larger version]. Double-page spreads are free from color distraction (no offense to original colorist Gregory Wright), and the reader can obsess over Sale’s line work and his fanaticism for musculature and sweeping Gotham cityscapes.

As I flipped between this and my color edition, I noticed how much thicker Sale’s lines appeared in the new Noir edition, and how much more I lingered over the artwork, as opposed to puzzling through the narrative. It’s a case of less being much, much more—carved like this, The Long Halloween glows.

--Alex

 

Graphic Novel Friday: Hello Kitty(!) at 40

Hello Kitty is 40 years old. How did this happen? I remember first encountering Hello Kitty’s visage in a puffy sticker pack belonging to my sister. Then she appeared on purses, backpacks, notebooks, clothes, cards, and soon celebrities began to co-opt her image—and then Hello Kitty was everywhere. To celebrate the 40th anniversary milestone, Perfect Square enlisted significant talent to tell 40 stories (plus one for good luck) in the life of Hello Kitty and her friends. The results are a lot of fun, no matter the age of the reader—and now I’m online looking for vintage Hello Kitty puffy stickers.

Top 10 Reasons to Read Hello Kitty, Hello 40: A 40th Anniversary Tribute

10. “Cast the Pie,” Chuck BB’s story, sets Hello Kitty and her crew in medieval times with cloaks, eye patches, helmets, torches, and a scary dragon.

9. Juan Calle sends Hello Kitty into outer-space in “Lost & Found,” complete with a lovable alien cyclops.

8. That cover…you cannot resist…that adorable cover.

7. Full color interior, although a few artists employ beautiful black and white pages as well.

6. The artists appear to be free to express their indie selves—like Theo Ellsworth’s weird Hello Kitty rollercoaster ride to…well, I’m not sure, or Cynthia Liu’s mushroom-laden “Hello Kitty in Dreamland.”

5. The spooky-themed stories like “The Picnic of Peril” by James Turner and “A Frightful Night!” by Brian Smith—perfect for trick-or-treaters in October.

4. Gene Luen Yang pits Hello Kitty against a minotaur in his story.

3. Every few pages, the stories stop to give the artists a chance to write “What Does Hello Kitty Mean to You?”

2. This is Hello Kitty at age 40. In another 40 years she will likely rule us all. Best to appease her now.

1. Reading or even flipping through this book is the equivalent of smiling: it’s infectious and best passed to a nearby friend.

Happy Birthday, Hello Kitty! (File under: things I never thought I'd type)

--Alex

Ma, Pa, Yo, and Up: Celebrating Two-Letter Words, with Roz Chast

101Last week, cartoonist and illustrator Roz Chast was named a National Book Award finalist in nonfiction for her illustrated memoir, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? She's also recently collaborated with singer-songwriter Stephin Merritt (of The Magnetic Fields) on his quirky-cute book, 101 Two-Letter Words, which goes on sale next week. (Sept. 29, Norton)

101 Two-Letter Words is an ode to Scrabble-friendly words such as et, id, and aa (a type of lava). Each of the 101 words is accompanied by a four-line poem by Merritt, and a cartoon by Chast, who calls herself a fan of Merritt's music and who recently told the Wall Street Journal that the collaboration "was so much fun."

That's how we'd describe the book, too--so much fun.

Here's a sampling...

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A few no-brainer two-letter words: at, go, hi, no, up.

A few of the more obscure ones: ka, oe, qi, xu, za.

 

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Merritt explains in the book's introduction that, as a musician who's often on the road, he plays a lot of Words With Friends on his phone. He started writing these poems as mnemonic devices to help him remember the two-letter words that were acceptable in Scrabble.

 

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RozWith the Magnetic Fields, Stephin Merritt has written, produced, and recorded ten albums, including 69 Love Songs, which was named one of the 500 best albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Roz Chast has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker since 1978. Her cartoons have been collected in What I Hate, Theories of Everything, and The Party After You Left. She also illustrated The Alphabet from A to Y, with Bonus Letter Z, the best-selling children’s book by Steve Martin.

> See all of Roz Chast's books

Graphic Novel Friday: Summer Fantasy

Complete-EQLast time on GNF, we covered our favorite summer science fiction reads. This week, let’s talk fantasy. Fans of the genre know that fantasy tends toward the epic, which means it can sprawl into giant tomes that serve as bookshelf anchors—and fantasy comics are no different. This summer, publisher Dark Horse Comics unveiled two gigantic collections with enough heft to crush the laps of readers everywhere.

The Complete Elfquest Vol. 1 by Wendy and Richard Pini: You know it’s an epic fantasy when the title says both “Complete” and “Volume One.” I’m new to Elfquest—although I’m familiar with the fandom that surrounds it and the stylized elves who sport impossibly great hair. This one has been on my to-read list for a long time, but since the previous collections are out of print, it took Dark Horse Comics’ initiative to finally bring me up to speed. And wow, this is a great example of DIY creators who had a vision and made it happen. Do you like elves? Well, here are 700 pages of elves: elves riding wolves; elves descended from aliens; elves trying to live in peace but thwarted; elves, elves everywhere! Once the narrative finds its groove there is no turning back.

And for Elfquest obsessives, Dark Horse will release Elfquest: The Original Quest Gallery Edition, an oversized hardcover collecting the first five issues—scanned from Wendy Pini’s original artwork (October 2014).

The Ring of the Nibelung by P. Craig Russell: Adapting Richard Wagner’s Norse saga-influenced opera is a task that only an artist like P. Craig Russell could attempt, and his achievement earned two Eisner Awards.  Now, the entire multi-volume saga is collected in one 400-page hardcover. The praise could stop at “It’s gorgeous,” but there is so much to love here, from the character designs, the depth of emotion in characters’ faces, Russell’s expert use of symbolism, and the never-ending high fantasy of it all.

This is an adaptation to end all adaptations of Wagner’s opera—and the fact that it was done in comic form is what makes this such a gem. Plus, despite Tolkien’s purported dismissal of any influence, there is quite a Lord of the Rings tinge here, with a character not unlike Gollum coveting a gold ring that curses anyone who wears it. Then there’s the rainbow road that leads to Valhalla (Hello, Mighty Thor!), and plenty more “A-ha!” moments for fantasy fans. Russell’s adaptation does an expert job of highlighting just how influential Wagner’s opera was on the epic fantasy storytellers of yesterday and today. With this new edition, the source material is sure to influence writers for many years to come as well.

Hark! Omni readers, what fantastic comics have you read this summer?  What say thee?

--Alex

 

 

Graphic Novel Friday: Sci-Fi Summer

There are still a few days of summer to enjoy, and everyone is talking about science fiction and the blockbuster that ruled them all: Guardians of the Galaxy. Heck, we covered the comics, too! If you’ve seen the film and want to read the next big things in the genre, then turn your star-gazer below to our top three picks of new graphic novels that explore space, time, and beyond:

Trillium by Jeff Lemire (Vertigo): Writer/artist Lemire goes off the deep end, and readers who follow him will be richly rewarded by the journey’s end in this 2014 Eisner Award Nominee for Best Limited Series. Protagonists Nika (from the year 3797) and William (from 1921) find themselves at a cross-time crossroads, their destinies impossibly intertwined. Lemire plays with the book packaging and panel structures to literally shape the two narratives, and he invents his own alien language (a key is provided in the collection). It’s heady, daring, and satisfying.

The Bunker Vol. 1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari (Oni Press): Originally released via comiXology, this title gained a strong following thanks to its topsy-turvy plot: five friends hike into a forest to bury a time capsule, only to find one already there when they start digging—and it’s big. The bunker they unearth holds envelopes with letters written by their future selves, detailing an impending apocalypse. Initially, the letters seem to encourage extinction prevention, but the present-day friends quickly realize that ulterior motives may color the messages. Can they trust their future selves—and if the letters are true, can they trust each other?

Letter 44 Vol. 1: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule and Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque (Oni Press): Two disparate stories, one set on Earth and one in space, rely heavily on paranoia and action. On Earth, President Blades takes office only to discover that the previous regime kept many disturbing things hidden from the American public—chief among them a mysterious, alien space cannon and the American crew sent up to intercept it. As Blades encounters increasing subterfuge and danger the deeper he looks to the stars, the crew engages not only alien technology but the terrifying truth behind it. Plus, one of the crew members is pregnant, and nobody will name the father’s identity. The tension mounts with each chapter, and the tiny moments of payoff only serve to keep the pages turning.

My oxygen tank is just about dry, Omni readers.  What summer comics have you searching the stars for more?

--Alex

Weird Science

What if everyone on earth aimed a laser pointer at the moon at the same time? What if you could drain all the water from the oceans? What if all the lightning strikes in the world hit the same place at once? What if there was a book that considered weird, sometimes ridiculous questions, and it was so compelling that you found yourself skimming its pages to find out what would happen if you threw a baseball at light speed?  With What If, Randall Munroe has written such a book. In the same style of his extraordinarily popular xkcd webcomic, Munroe applies reason and research to hypothetical conundrums ranging from the philosophical to the scientific (often absurd, but never pseudo) that probably seemed awesome and inscrutable in your elementary school days--but were never sufficiently answered. 

Enjoy this exclusive thought-experiment from the author (and it's not even included in the book). What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions will be available in hardcover and Kindle on September 2, 2014.

 

Q: If you built a very smooth ramp from the highest point on Earth (Mt. Everest) to the lowest (Dead Sea), then stood at the top on a rolling office chair, would you roll down? How fast would you go?

So you got bored in a meeting and decided to take your chair for a ride.

What If by Randall Munroe



Bring oxygen tanks. And food.

A ramp connecting Mount Everest to the shore of the Dead Sea would have a very gentle slope of only 1/10th of a degree. If you were standing on it, it would seem flat.

The slope would be so gentle that the chair would need precision bearings or a pneumatic air cushion to reduce friction enough to roll—and even then, air drag would limit you to a terminal velocity of about running speed.

What If by Randall Munroe



You'd also need the ramp to be enclosed. The top of Mount Everest pokes up into the jet stream, a river of hurricane-force wind wrapped around the planet. Unfortunately for you, that wind is going in the wrong direction. Without something to shield you from it, it would blow you back up the ramp.

Ok, let's go!

What If by Randall Munroe



You depart the peak of Everest, trundling slowly west, and the ground falls away beneath you. You glide out over the peaks and valleys of the Himalayas without coming close to touching another mountain.

After two days, you leave the mountains behind and slide across the Punjab region of India and Pakistan.

What If by Randall Munroe



You then cross southern Afghanistan and pass into Iran, where you finally sink low enough to breathe without oxygen tanks.

In central Iran, you hit the ground for the first time since you started rolling. Your track intersects a mountainside near the peak of Shahan Kuh. You pass through a convenient tunnel and emerge on the other side.

What If by Randall Munroe



You cross from Iran into Iraq, sinking lower and lower. Because the air is several times denser here than at your starting point, your terminal velocity has dropped from running speed to jogging speed.

A little over two weeks after you started rolling, your ramp sinks low enough to touch the desert. In western Iraq, you fall beneath ground level and enter another tunnel. You cross from Iraq into Jordan over 600 meters below the border.

What If by Randall Munroe



You roll through the darkness for four days, passing completely under Jordan, and finally emerge into the light on the shores of the Dead Sea.

After twenty days, you and your faithful chair have reached the end of your journey from Earth's highest land to its lowest. You take a swim; in the dense saline water, you float much higher than normal. Be careful not to get any in your eyes.

What If by Randall Munroe



And now you should probably get back to that meeting. They'll get mad if you don't return the chair.

What If by Randall Munroe




What If by Randall Munroe

Graphic Novel Friday: Gilbert Hernandez's Big Year

At the end of July, hard-working and prolific artist and writer Gilbert Hernandez won the Eisner Award for Best Short Story (“Untitled” in Love and Rockets: New Stories #6), to which he stated, “The biggest surprise was the story they chose; a wacked-out fantasy that I didn’t think anyone would take seriously. All in all, it’s a great honor.” From long-running familial dramas, all-ages adventures, grindhouse terrors, erotica, and the…wacked-out, every new or collected work from the now Eisner Award-winning artist is reason enough to investigate and celebrate. For longtime fans and soon-to-be devotees, 2014 presents plenty of opportunity to explore Gilbert’s latest and newly collected stories.

July: Fantagraphics expands their Love and Rockets library again with Luba and Her Family, a collection of later-period L&R works from Gilbert. 

September: A fall two-fer month—first is Bumperhead, an original graphic novel from publisher Drawn & Quarterly that’s billed as a tangentially related story to last year’s Marble Season. It’s a beautiful, oversized black and white hardcover. Then all eyes will be on Love and Rockets: New Stories #7 (Fantagraphics),  where Gilbert follows up his Eisner Award-winning story with new shorts alongside brother Jaime (who also won an Eisner this year: Best Writer/Artist for Love and Rockets #6).

October: Gilbert never shies from the explicit, and readers should be prepared for plenty of passion in Loverboys from Dark Horse Comics, an original graphic novel that promises a “torrid romance” between a young man and a woman who used to be his seventh grade teacher. 

December: OK, we’re still holding our breath for the delayed-but-gotta-be-worth-it Love and Rockets Reader: From Hoppers to Palomar by Marc Sobel. It promises a comprehensive, academic, and in-depth look at what makes Love and Rockets so rewarding.

Just in case you missed it: In May, Dark Horse Comics published Fatima: The Blood Spinners by Gilbert, which is a bizarre, gore-drenched zombie tale that truly sets itself apart from any other zombie comic. 

What a year--congratulations, Gilbert Hernandez!

--Alex

Amazon Music Book Club: Gym Class Heroes’ Travie McCoy on Self-Help Books & Graphic Novels

Thanks to our friends at the Amazon Music Notes blog for this "Book Club" Q&A with Travie McCoy, frontman for Gym Class Heroes, discussing self-help books and graphic novels. Amazon Music Book Club explores the literary influences on today's musicians.

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Reading has a formative effect on a person, inspiring how they see the world and understand their place within it. This seems even more pronounced for artists, who take pieces of everything they experience with them into their own creations. With that in mind, we want to know how reading and literature influence your favorite musicians and the songs they’ve written.

Travie McCoy, frontman New York City’s rap/pop/rock outfit Gym Class Heroes, has always loved books and has been interested in stories and how they can be told from an early age. Although literary references only occasionally pop up in his songs, McCoy--who’s currently working on his second solo album--is deeply influenced by what he reads. We spoke with Travie about his history with reading, how much self-help books can actually help and his love for graphic novels.

What sorts of books were your entry point into reading as a kid?

I loved Roald Dahl books and anything by Shel Silverstein. Where The Sidewalk Ends and stuff like that. I also loved Where The Wild Things Are. But I think Shel Silverstein was my favorite. He actually came to my school and spoke when I was younger and it blew my mind. It was really awesome. Those types of books were my sh*t. And then we’d have book fairs and the Choose Your Own Adventure books came out, which I loved. I loved graphic novels, too. Hellboy, which I am still a fan of.

What’s your most memorable reading experience from your childhood?

There is a book called The Contender by Robert Lipsyte. That was the first book I read without anyone telling me to or having to write a paper on it. I just picked it up and read it. It was a really cool book. It was about this kid who got out of the ghetto and became a boxer. It was really intense. I finished it and I was like, “Whoa, I read a book!” I didn’t have to and there was no consequence if I didn’t, so it was awesome.

Do you still feel that sense of wonder when you finish a book now?

Kind of! It feels good to have the last few pages left and knowing you’re about to finish it. The last five or six pages is always completely good stuff so I get the trembles when I get there. It makes me happy. That’s the best feeling.

Is there a certain type of book you’re drawn to now?

I love self-help books. When you’re younger you think you know everything and then there are these people who are older and have been through everything you’ve been through and have written books about it. I started buying them. I’ve always drawn to the self-help section of any bookstore.

Do you find that they really do help you?

Yeah. There was a book a friend of mine gave me that started my self-help journey. It’s a book called Meditation In Action. It’s a book about how to deal with stress while you’re actually in the situations. You think about meditation as being in a peaceful place, but this is more dealing with the workplace or other people on a daily basis. It was a cool book. I read it three or four times.

What are you currently reading?

A friend of mine gave me The War of Art. Going into writing the record I’m writing now I hit a wall and he was like “Yo, if this book doesn’t help you I don’t know what will.” It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time. It’s been super helpful as far as when I do get writers block. I have tricks now to get out of those times or getting my mind off knowing that I do have writers block.

As a fan of graphic novels, could you suggest a good place for readers new to the genre?

Frank Miller. He did the Sin City series. They’re really easy to read and the illustrations are amazing. I thought the books would be ruined in the movie and the movie just made me more excited to read more Frank Miller. The story is really bold. There’s not a lot of words but the ones that are there are really powerful. If anybody wanted to jump off into graphic novels those would be the starting point.

Does the books you read directly influence your songwriting?

Yeah, of course. Anything I find valuable and knowledgeable sticks with me, and I think that knowledge is passed on, whether it’s in conversation or song. I think the last time I put something I read directly in a song was on Gym Class Heroes’ album The Quilt. There was a song called “Drnk Txt Rmeo.” I took some lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and twisted them. I don’t know if anyone has actually caught on to that yet. It was pretty fun.

Is there a certain book you would recommend to fans of your music?

There isn’s a certain book, but anything by Shel Silverstein, if fans of my music want to understand where my writing is coming from. They were funny, a lot of them had rhymes to them, the stories were great. My music is telling stories a lot of times and adding some humor and rhymes. Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl helped a lot with that.

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