Habibi-Eustace-Persepolis-Wilson-Building Stories

When I read my first graphic novel, I was astonished at how impressive I found the piece of work before me. The artwork and imagination that had gone into portraying a simple story truly blew me away. It was of course the work of Chris Ware that had me feeling this way. Since reading his graphic novel Building Stories, I went on to discover some wonderful pieces of work within this genre. What I simply adore about these novels are that you simultaneously get to appreciate both art and literature. It’s almost a more heightened sense of pleasure than reading a novel that hasn’t been illustrated. The graphic novels that I’m recommending to you today are the ones that I felt fully transported me to another time and place. When I was reading them I was so lost in the world that had been created and that to me is a sign of a great piece of work and that’s why I’d like to share them with you today. So without further ado, (and in no particular order) I’d like to present to you my top five graphic novels.

1.Habibi – Craig Thompson

“Set in the place where Christianity and Islam began, it explores the fundamental connection between these religions, and also the relationship between the first and the third world and the increasingly important battle for the earth’s resources.”

Habibi is, at its heart, a moving love story. Accompanied by simply stunning illustrations, Craig Thompson brings to life the story of Dodola and an abandoned baby named Zam. The novel follows their journey through life, their ever-evolving relationship and the struggles they face with and without each other.

What I really enjoyed about this graphic novel was that it explored both Islam and Christianity, their similarities and differences. The connection between these two religions has of course been explored many times before but here it was done in such a poignant manner because it was deeply connected to the suffering of the characters within the novel. That depth definitely added something special to the story and certainly made me feel more connected with the protagonists even if some of the sensitive subject matter were things I couldn’t relate to.

It takes a very special book for me to put it down and feel like I needed a moment to let it all sink in but this was definitely one of them. I couldn’t possibly put into words how beautiful the illustrations are and how rich the overall novel is but you’ll understand what I mean when you go buy a copy, read it and cherish it forever.

Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 9780571241323

2.Eustace – S.J. Harris

“Poor Eustace is not very well. Convalescing in bed, his world is confined to the four walls of his grand and gloomy room.”

Set during the First World War, Eustace is a fairly grim novel that much to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed. The pencil-sketched graphic novel definitely set the right tone for both the surreal and twisted events that occur. A neglected Eustace whose life consists of occasional visits from his aunts, and days spent eating tepid, tobacco-speckled soup has his life turned upside down with the arrival of his mysterious Uncle Lucien. Wanted by the police for fraud and embezzlement, Uncle Lucien hides out in Eustace’s room (under his bed) and brings with him a whole array of characters – prostitutes, drunkards, journalists and pick-pockets to name but a few!

I really enjoyed the fact that Harris effectively captured the inner workings of a child’s mind because it made me very aware of the innocence of poor Eustace in this whole story. The unusual plot combined with the unique characters made this bizarre but utterly exceptional piece of work a pleasure to read. It’s funny and bleak and like me I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to guess what happens next at any point in the story. You should all have this book on your shelves if I’m completely honest.

Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780224093583

3.Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

“The intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, and the great-grandaughter of Iran’s last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.” 

Persepolis is an insightful, moving and thought-provoking memoir about a young Satrapi growing up in Iran during the rise of the Islamic Revolution. This version of the book includes both part 1 & 2 of the series. I found that the bold, black and white illustrations were a nice way to accompany a story that involved lots of emotion and looked at many serious issues such as religious conformity and the political narrative of the time. That being said, her memoir is very funny at times, especially her portrayal of herself as a child. I liked the fact that it had me thinking at all times. I wanted to research more into Iran because of this novel and I think if you’re sparking someone’s hunger for knowledge like that, as an author you’re definitely doing your job correctly.

I don’t think this is a graphic novel for everybody as it certainly won’t appeal to all tastes and opinions, but those who do end up reading it I’m sure will, just as I did, appreciate the narrative and how much it will teach them about Iran and the Islamic revolution that took place there.

Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780224080392

4.Wilson – Daniel Clowes

“In his first all-new graphic novel, one of the leading cartoonists of our time, Daniel Clowes, creates a thoroughly engaging, complex and fascinating character study of the modern egotist – outspoken and oblivious to the world around him.”

Wilson is a marvellous character who is a reflection of so many in Western society. He’s a lonely man, searching for a deep connection to someone or something in his life. So after the death of his father, he goes on a hunt for his ex-wife leading to the discovery that he also has a daughter. And inevitably, his desire to mend his broken family goes more than a little awry!

I think I loved this novel mainly for the brutally honest manner in which Wilson portrays his thoughts. The character is strangely relatable and likeable but also contentious and unpleasant. But I think everyone will be able to find a little bit of themselves within Wilson. The illustrations stood out for me because the colours used in each section of the book varied depending on the mood or situation; at times a series of illustrations are quite pale and pastel colours are used, and at other times they are so vibrant. A must-read for anybody who is just discovering graphic novels – not too serious and a lot of fun to read.

Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780224090612

5.Building Stories – Chris Ware

“In Chris Ware’s own words, ‘”Building Stories” follows the inhabitants of a three-flat Chicago apartment house: a thirty-year-old woman who has yet to find someone with whom to spend the rest of her life; a couple who wonder if they can bear each other’s company for another minute; and finally an elderly woman who never married and is the building’s landlady…’”

Building Stories will certainly create a lasting impression on anyone who has the pleasure to read this graphic novel. I know I won’t be able to praise this book and its author highly enough but I’ll do my best. Chris Ware created something exceptional when he developed Building Stories. The book, which can be read in any order, comes in many different forms. One section of the story is in a newspaper like format, the other in little comic strip booklets, there is a big poster and some books too. Oh and a magazine. It all sounds so exciting and that’s because it is! Remember the joy of reading a pop-up book as a child? It’s just like that.

Reading this was such a great pleasure because with each section you choose to read you discover a new emotion, character or scenario that adds to the lives of the characters, making their personal stories more complex with each illustration. It is a truly beautiful read from beginning to end.

“Whether you’re feeling alone by yourself or alone with someone else, this book is sure to sympathize with the crushing sense of life wasted, opportunities missed and creative dreams dashed…”

If there is one book out of the five that I’ve listed that you simply must read as your first graphic novel it would have to be this one. It’s a remarkably emotional experience and you certainly won’t regret the purchase. In fact, forget all the others. Just read this. Thank you.

(Yes, that is how much I loved it.)

Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780224078122

Some of the books I have recommended above are discounted if you purchase them online from www.waterstones.com so good to check there first! Let’s not forget our local bookstores or charity bookshops either. Some of them contain some right gems and for a much cheaper price so it’s worth a little wonder in.

Oh and before I forget – Chris Ware has been working on another “comic novella” going by the name of ‘The Last Saturday’ and each Friday a new instalment appears online on The Guardian website – it’s a real treat. Here’s the link: http://www.theguardian.com/books/ng-interactive/2014/sep/13/-sp-chris-ware-the-last-saturday-graphic-novel

Do you think I missed out any great graphic novels from the list? Tweet me or comment below. All praise and book chit-chat can be emailed to me at hello@humairaaslam.com