“Why don’t more people know about [INSERT GRAPHIC NOVEL TITLE HERE]? [INSERT GRAPHIC NOVEL TITLE HERE] is the best thing ever!
~Every cheated comic book nerd ever.
With almost a century’s worth of tradition, comic books have absolute metric craptons of excellent, well thought-out content, even after you have subtracted the 90% of crap that infests every medium, as predicted by Sturgeon’s Law. And while this 10% might sound pretty damn promising, a lot of it just has simply been lost to time and lack of reprints, mostly due to their lackluster sales.
Which makes sense, from a market perspective: how many newfangled nerds know about the work of Rick Veitch? Who among the steampunk nerds have even heard of the unbridled lunacy that’s in the work of Bryan Talbot? Heck, how many otaku do you know that know the work of Boichi or even Kago Shintarou? Even if you factor in those creators’ excellence, their work often slips through the cracks, by virtue of simple logistics.
Others were simply…too far ahead of their time
When we compiled this list, we had decided on a specific theme (given that ‘underrated comic book lists’ litter pretty much every nook and cranny of the Internet): we considered creators and authors of works that were teetering on the brink of being forgotten, drawn from our own nerdy stockpiles and put them together with the sole purpose of presenting works of a single volume, so that you can check out for yourselves, with minimum cost.
Think of it like sampling sushi from a shady corner store; it’s relatively harmless and will at best, give you a bad case of the Friday Night Fizzies, while leaving you all the richer (and wiser) for the experience.
THE BALLAD OF HALO JONES
“Anyone could do it”-Halo Jones
The Ballad of Halo Jones is the perfect starting point for anyone that likes more space opera in gritty black-and-white. This is the graphic novel that tells of the epic journey of Halo Jones, a brown-eyed girl from the Hoop, an enclosed floating colony where the 45th-century US government ships its unemployed, just to get them out of the way.
Beginning as a humorous look into the dead-end lives of its people, Halo Jones shows the protagonist realizing she is trapped in the confines of her own world, making a break for it as a stewardess on an intergalactic cruise liner, coasting along a string of dead-end jobs for 10 years before she finally gets herself caught in the middle of a costly intergalactic civil war.
The best part about this graphic novel is that it wastes no time with introductions: Alan Moore’s writing and Ian Gibson’s rough black-and white work put you straight into the action and keep everything familiar, even as Halo finds herself caught in the middle of extraordinary circumstances. A must read, if you’re into scifi for the spectacle, instead of the hard science hullaballoo.
SCUD THE DISPOSABLE ASSASSIN: THE WHOLE SHEBANG
“It’s cool to be a robot”-Scud, Heartbreaker series 1373
Alright, so the future sucks. Unknowable years into humanity’s possible history, we come in contact with weird aliens, go through the Rapture, Armaggedon gets put on hold indefinitely and we finally reach a point where we can kill our problems with guns. Of course, with murder still being illegal, our only alternative is to buy a handy robot-killer from a street-corner vending machine and have it eliminate our crappy boss just in time for it to self destruct, leaving no evidence behind. It’s a pretty sweet deal, if you ask us.
Scud tells the story of a Heartbreaker series model assassin who, upon realizing what awaits him when his monstrous first hit is finally dead, decides to put her into indefinite stasis and work as a hired killer for the Mob to pay off his hospital bills. Along the way, Scud discovers the true meaning of friendship with a multi-dimensional friend, gets turns into a were-bot and competes in the manliest sports event ever invented. Also, he fights zombie dinosaurs.
Despite its daunting length (786 pages is a damn tall order), the graphic novel is stuffed to the gills with awesome action scenes, has endearing characters and fresh, weird concepts every step of the way. It will keep you on your toes through the entire read and by the time it’s done, you’ll wish you had more.
Also, Scud pretty much invented dual-dual gun wielding. I mean, how can you compete with that?
THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT
“Now this is more like it!” –Luther Arkwright, hoisting a chaingun
Hey kids! Do you like superspies? Do you like parallel universes and cosmic catastrophes and dashing, centuries-old men with psychic powers? Or are you just in the market for a version of Doctor Who that kills every bad bastard in the multiverse? Well, Luther Arwright is just what the doctor ordered!
Penned by creative monster and all-around insane person Bryan Talbot, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright were a healthy mix of old-school James Bond (not the newer, grimy boring type mind you; the Cold War one, with the sports car propaganda) and the adventures of the man from Gallifrey. The story unfolds through dozens of parallel Britains, as Luther struggles to undo the damage of an oppressive regime, is filled with time-travel assisted shoot-outs and, best of all, is told in such a way that you don’t have to bother with the huge amount of lore and weird tech! You can just grab the story, read it through, get blown away by the awesome art and then go back treasure-hunting for references!
And yes, it is an expensive purchase (especially considering Amazon’s asking price of 38 dolaridoos) but it’s in a hard-cover casing that will impress your nerdy friends, daunt small children and old people and will make you appreciate classical painting techniques all over again. A must-have, especially if you are artistically inclined.
FRAGMENTS OF HORROR
“Please, please dissect me as fast as you can, senpai!”-Dissection-Chan, memeing it up
Everyone has that one friend who keeps saying how they’re really into horror. You know the type: too edgy for you, claims to have seen Cannibal Holocaust and sometimes goes on tangents about how not-scary the American Ring remake was. Well, have we got a treat for that kind of guy!
Fragments of Horror is a great way to start someone off into the long journey across the powdered glass hellscape that is Junji Ito’s work. It’s a collection of short stories, ranging from the gorey black comedy of Dissection-chan, the most eager body donor you’ve ever met, to monstrous fungi festering inside your bed all the way to the story of an adventurous weirdo who literally struggles to keep his head on his shoulders.
The stories are grotesque and weird, with a considerable crapton of gore thrown in, just for good measure. It’s nowhere near as horrific as the legendary Drifting Classroom series, but if you’re looking to get a head start on Japanese horror, this graphic novel is the thing for you.
ABRAXAS AND THE EARTHMAN
“Your face, Earthman? That’s a thing of the past!”-Captain Rotwang
Moving away from the black-and-white, here’s a doozy from the realm of full-color. Abraxas And The Earthman is an old school science fiction story (in the grand tradition of Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock) that is a space opera adaptation of Moby Dick.
Now, don’t you go cringing just yet. This list wasn’t put together to impress art school freshmen. Despite its daunting idea, Abraxas is only 85 pages long, but it tells the story of a kidnapped human submarine captain, forced into the service of an outer-space whaler to find a drifting Old One and it’s fit to burst with strange locales and weird aliens. Abraxas and the Earthman might seem like a lot to take in, if you just decide to browse its awesome art, but the story is simple to follow and jammed with action.
Yes, a lot of the elements in the weird scifi og Rick Veitch haven’t aged all that well. In fact, some of the elements in it might make the universe that the graphic novel takes place in seem like a scrapped 70’s Doctor Who episode, but the core of the story (fixation and delusions of grandeur with a hint of intergalactic genocide) make this for a damn compelling read.
ANAMORPHOSIS NO MEIJUU
“This story…it’s a bit weird…” –Yajima, the TV director
Reality TV is filled to the brim with awful ideas. Like for example, when an intrepid crew from a Japanese channel decides it would be an awesome idea to re-create a gruesome murder scene and then have 20 people try to solve the mystery so they can win 10 million yen, even as they are slowly being dragged into hell. Oh and Jersey Shore wasn’t exactly Emmy material, either.
Anamorphosis no Meijuu is a horror manga penned by Kago Shintarou, a prolific gorror mangaka and an all-around weirdo. While most people like to look back to his super-disturbing one shot called Suck It as the most messed up work to come out of good old Nippon, Anamorphosis definitely gives it a run for its money.
Part Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (with off-hand story tangents that turn into the scary-weird at a moment’s notice), part primetime murder mystery with a dash of grindhouse movie charm, Anamorphosis No Meijuu is only recommended for readers that err on the less superpower-y and more on the OH GOD WHY side of body horror.
“I will be the greatest game-maker in the galaxy!”-Albino
Alejandro Jodorowsky is probably the creative weirdo uncle every nerd would ever want to have. His work is mostly haunted by his legendary Dune movie that never was and his space opera is flashy and epic, even if its suffers from the occasional bout of cheesiness.
Technopriests is the graphic novel that contains the adventures of Albino, a lone bastard techno-genius who wants to be the very best vidya game creator in the galaxy. The comic book is pretty much a space opera adaptation of the modern game developer’s attempt to rise to the top of the industry, sprinkled with the kind of naked cynicism you could only get from a person who’s sick and tired of living off the things they love.
While Jodorovsky’s understanding of how VR works makes the science…iffy at best, the story is chock full of epic strangeness and with epic art to match. A perfect match if you wanna get deeper into space opera, but never knew how.
OMEGA THE UNKNOWN
“Everything is coming up Robots!” –The Mink, D-List Superhero
There’s something to be said about standalone superheroes: while they don’t always break new ground, sometimes they can give you the hope you need to try and bring them back again. Omega The Unknown was a very weird occasion for Marvel in 2007, back when Jonathan Lethem and Farel Darlymple decided to re-imagine one of the company’s forgotten anti-heroes.
Omega: The Unknown was a 10-issue limited series that condenses everything that was unique and weird about 70’s superhero comic books: a concise plot that’s fit to burst with possibilities, a new cosmology that’s just waiting to be discovered and a truck-load of fisticuffs with impossible future murder machines and nanoviruses, sent to kill a superhuman fugitive and the strange mute kid that he’s linked to.
If the above paragraph caught your eye, then the graphic novel is worth a read. Omega’s story is an interesting insight into the legacy of Marvel’s evolutionary dead ends when it came to superheroes and while a lot in the story structure isn’t immediately impressive on the first read-through, it’s definitely worth a look if you have decided to delve into the poor career choice of writing for comic books.
“All we made was a cancer treatment…for rats”-Jun Shiozaki
Manga is a diverse medium with tons of great stories to tell, especially when it comes to science fiction and horror. HOTEL is one of those lesser known, surprising catches that make for a great introduction into hard scifi.
Written and penned by a mangaka whose work doesn’t really focus on the genre (a lot of Boichi’s early work is straight up weird pornography), his stories still pretty much capture the essence of science fiction: from the age-old story of a patient AI struggling to preserve the last remnanats of humanity all the way to a scientist obsessed with repopulating Earth with tuna, the stories are funny and thought-provoking throughout.
Don’t think of HOTEL as a strictly science fiction manga, but instead as a way to get into the genre as a whole: once you’ve read its stories, you will have pretty much gotten a good hang of the archetypes and will be (kinda) ready to tackle some of the biggest fish in the genre’s ocean.
SO, WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?
Your nearest bookstore would be a good choice. Or a comic book retailer, if those are still around. You can also check Amazon or go through backlogs on eBay, if you’re gonna go full-on nerd on this. If even a single one of those items in the list made you want to explore the medium further, then we would be more than happy to hear it. If not, then please let us know if we forgot any of your own favorite graphic novels. We’d be more than happy to append them.