Reader’s Shelf: Let’s Get Graphic, July 2012

With fans like Jonathan Lethem, Junot Díaz, China Miéville, and Michael Chabon and the recent trend to adapt prose novels into graphic novels (of which Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli’s adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass is a classic example), the ties between comics and literary authors are stronger than ever. You might recall Audrey Niffenegger’s 2010 graphic novel The Night Bookmobile, but did you know that Patricia Highsmith in the 1940s made her living writing superhero and crime comics, or that Dashiell Hammett teamed with illustration legend Alex Raymond to present the adventures of Secret Agent X-9? Here are other examples that prove that the walls between text and image are porous at best.

Best known for her essays on Islam and the Middle East, G. Willow Wilson has written several graphic novels as well. In 2009, Wilson and illustrator M.K. Perker released Air. Vol 1: Letters From Lost Countries (Vertigo: DC. 2009. ISBN 9781401221539. pap. $9.99), introducing flight attendant Blythe and launching a series that examines issues of faith, terrorism, and life in the 21st century. Here, Blythe becomes involved with an extremist group that claims to be taking the airways back from terrorists but whose true agenda will lead her on a strange and mystical journey into the secret history of aviation. Wilson fills the story with quirky, memorable characters, and Perker renders them with a realistic line that makes for a truly strange reading experience when juxtaposed with the comic’s more mystical elements.

Although Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941, not many female creators have been given an opportunity to write the character. DC Comics attempted to remedy this oversight with Wonder Woman: Love and Murder (DC. 2009. ISBN 9781401217082. pap. $12.99), by best-selling author Jodi Picoult. In her version, Wonder Woman in disguise as Special Agent Diana Prince is assigned to capture Wonder Woman. Despite mixed reviews, fans will appreciate Picoult’s skill for characterization and plotting.

Greg Rucka has moved back and forth between comics and prose throughout his career, writing series like Batman and The Punisher while also producing novels in both the crime and espionage vein. Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition. Vol. 1. (Oni Pr.; o.p. but widely held; Vols. 2-4 are in print and readily available) follows agent Tara Chase and her colleagues in British intelligence, focusing heavily on character and the personal toll of spy work without ever skimping on action and suspense. Throughout the series, Rucka works with talented illustrators who render bureaucratic machinations with the same sense of dynamism they bring to gunfights.

Tasked with helping DC Comics revitalize the classic character Green Arrow for the 21st century, thriller novelist Brad Meltzer dove into the character’s history, sending him on an emotional journey through his past victories and defeats and building to an honest-to-goodness tearjerker of an ending. Standing as a modern classic of superhero comics, Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest (DC. 2004. ISBN 9781401200442. pap. $14.99) combines bold adventure with thoughtful characterization.

Noted for his quirky novels, no-holds-barred memoirs, and work on the HBO series Bored to Death, Jonathan Ames also produced a pseudoautobiographical graphic novel. The Alcoholic (Vertigo: DC. 2009. ISBN 9781401210571. pap. $14.99) follows the mis adventures of noir writer Jonathan A, as he struggles with love, family, and his own self-destructive tendencies. Sounds like a drag, but with Ames’s wit and insight and cartoonist Dean Haspiel’s bouncy illustrations, Jonathan A’s story is as funny as anything you’ll find in this format.

Fans of Chris Roberson’s best-selling fantasy and sf will find plenty to love in i Zombie. Vol. 1: Dead to the World (Vertigo: DC. 2011. ISBN 9781401229658. pap. $14.99). Instead of devouring human flesh, zombie Gwen would prefer to paint. Still, a girl has to eat. Once fed, she takes on her meal’s memories, leading her into mystery and adventure. Roberson packs Gwen’s world with an array of monsters, ghosts, and ancient prophecies, while legendary cartoonist Mike Allred supplies fun visuals that perfectly accompany Roberson’s anything-goes vibe.

Stephen King was closely involved with the creation of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born (Marvel. 2007. ISBN 9780785121442. $24.99), working with King expert Robin Furth and longtime comic scribe (and novelist himself) Peter David to present the origin of the titular gunman. David and illustrator Jae Lee perfectly capture the grandeur of the Dark Tower series, adding layers of depth that will enthrall fans old and new alike.

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at