my3books: 3 graphic novel series I want to read right now

I had a momentary burst of private, internal nerves at the thought of going public with my longstanding comic book fandom, but then I watched John Hodgman geekily roast President Obama at the Radio & TV Correspondents' Dinner last week. After all, I told myself, if the president can flash "PC" the Vulcan high sign, I can surely go public with these facts:

  • that I grew up a DC fan, mostly gorging on the many varieties of Batman comics
  • I came to maturity on Neil Gaiman's eternal Sandman series
  • I handsold Maus in bookstores
  • I repped Viz's mind-altering manga once upon a time
  • I now evangelize the gospel of graphic novels as a sales rep for Fantagraphics, among other publishers.

Not that any of this will be news to those who know me or who follow my Twitter feed.

Even someone who works with graphic novels and comics daily will occasionally be surprised by a new author or illustrator sneaking up on you, or a series of books that has been running under your radar for years will suddenly pop up into your consciousness. This spring, that's happened twice, and I was prompted by my daughter's summer reading to finally track down a third series that I'd been meaning to check out.

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Fables (Vol 1: Legends In Exile)
written by Bill Willingham
Vertigo (DC) | 9781563899423 | $9.99 | 2003

Fables began life as an ongoing Vertigo/DC comic in 2002, written by Bill Willingham. It concerns a hidden neighborhood in New York City called Fabletown, where the principal characters from folklore and fairy tales have come to live. I've seen the regular issues on comic shop shelves, but never picked them up.

The covers for the series (through issue 81) were originally drawn by James Jean, who has recently begun publishing with Chronicle Books, with two new projects coming out this fall: Kindling (a portfolio of 12 poster prints) and SKRWL (a set of illustrated journals in a slipcase). Vol 1 contains issues 1 through 5 and an original short story. (The Wikipedia entry for the series contains a list of all the subsequent collections.) The story arc of issues 1 to 5 consists of the hunt for the apparent murderer of Rose Red, Snow White's sister.

The whole idea of this series - fabulous characters come to real-life NYC, mix with humans, have adventures that span a variety of genres: murder mysteries, conspiracy theories, capers, etc. - is so rife with Gaiman-esque storytelling possibilities that I just can't resist it.

Apparently, I'm not alone. This past winter, ABC gave the greenlight to a pilot for a tv adaptation of Fables, hoping to find some new magic to follow in the footsteps of Lost. There's been a painful silence since that December announcement, but it's an intriguing idea.

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Flight: Volume 1
edited by Kazu Kibuishi
Villard Books | 9780345496362 | $19.95 | 2007

This is the series that my daughter Alice reminded me about - last week, she was reading and re-reading a copy of Flight: Explorer Volume 1, which is a sibling series aimed at kids from 9-12.

Although Flight Vol 1 was first published by Image Comics in 2004, Villard Books has since picked up the series, republishing the first two volumes and bringing out three more to date. I remember seeing a few volumes at Anderson's Bookshop when the reissues first came out.

Flight was originally invented by series editor Kazu Kibuishi as a showcase for his own works and those of other up-and-coming writers and artists and animators. The covers are absolutely stunning, and to be honest, all make me feel a little youthfully optimistic. Look at the cover for Flight, Volume 5 (left). To see the list of contributors, and all they've gone on to do, is pretty impressive.

Kibuishi is also the author of the acclaimed series Daisy Kutter and the Amulet series from Graphix (Scholastic).

I'm looking forward to this summer's release of Flight, Volume 6 - it's due out in late July.

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Scott Pilgrim (Volume 1: Precious Little Life)
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Oni Press | 9781932664089 | $11.95 | 2004

This is another series that's been moving right along under the radar for a couple years, but it all just burst back into my awareness with a post yesterday at BoingBoing by Cory Doctorow raving about the series. I could spend a lot of time crafting a clever description of the series, but Cory just does it so well:

Scott Pilgrim is a 23-year-old Toronto slacker who falls in love with an Amazon delivery woman who's just moved from America, but in order to date her, he must defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends, who have a variety of super powers (my favorite is the vegan, who has the vegan power of moving things with his mind). On the way, we find out about Scott's friends -- slackers, successes, screw-ups, beauty queens, lovelorn ninjas, a whole charming host of them -- and his history and run through a series of genuinely touching, ha-ha-only-serious flashbacks about Scott's life.

The series looks sweetly hilarious - the Globe And Mail described it as "a Crouching Tiger set in Archie's Riverdale."  There's also a movie adaptation currently filming, based on the entire series, to be called Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Edgar Wright is directing (yes, the very man who brought us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz!) and Michael Cera has been cast as Scott Pilgrim.

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Since I mentioned Fantagraphics up there at the top of the post, I can't really leave without giving you a bonus pick - have you seen the terrific graphic novel anthology they've been putting out? Mome, Volume 15: Summer 2009 is just out.